Negombo beach scene
Fish : Out of Water
Having grabbed my bag from the reclaim carousel and fought my way past the various traps and incarnations of the Lord of Scam that materialised before me at Bandaranaike International Airport, attempting to trick me from the righteous (i.e. cheap) path to Colombo I feel I still fall at the final hurdle, suspecting I'm ripped off by the public bus driver to town. I now know this to be true. Darn it! I tried so f**king hard! My phoney-baloney radar and Scam-o-meter both set to maximum strength. New arrivals. Fresh fish. Offerings to propitiate the Lord of Scam who's hordes line up to devour us upon disembarkation to a new land, one and all.
One of the attractive out-rigger or 'oruva' canoes of the prawn fishermen
Like shooting fish in a barrel.
A lot of sweat, frustration and confused bus and rickshaw drivers later I am finally deposited outside the gates of the High Commission for the Republic of Indonesia. I sit a long while besides the ‘Visas Here’ sign awaiting the consular section's reopening at 14.00pm but it's at 14.45pm, still waiting, that a security guard shows up and tells me the embassy's closed for the day. A national holiday in Indonesia. Perfect. A notice to this effect would have been nice guys! This and all my attempts in the last 6 weeks to make contact with the Indonesian Embassy in Colombo to sort the next phase of the journey out can be summed up in three words : not very successful.
On the train heading back north already to Negombo I buy a packet of crispy fried-wheat prawn cakes from an itinerant snack vendor who swings his basket of fishy wares up and down the carriages.
'Drift Wood' (abstract)
These greasy offerings are served in paper pouches made of reconstituted pages of children's school exercise books. The pages stuck together, mine covered in the blue biro scrawl of a bygone English diction lesson. Each sentence written in the curvaceous Sinhala script with the pupil's attempts at the English translation beneath. It's so great! Each of the four pages that form the packet, without any alteration from yours truly, reads like a little abstract, minimalist poem some of which I'll relay to you 'cos hey, we've some time to kill on this train :
Prawn Poem No.1
She will be unable to dance.
They will be unable to smile.
It will be unable to fly.
I will be unable to forgive, open, make, see, hoot, call.
Negombo : trawling makes you dozy :)
I will be able to open.
I will be unable to open.
We will be able to make.
The Fisherman. The Father. My Friend.
Christopher wakes and leaves his wife Rani's side at 2.00am six days a week to take to the darkened waters of the Indian Ocean to try to trawl a living for his family from her nowadays ungenerous depths. Negombo is a famous fishing community town and also represents a strong enclave of Catholic devotees garnering it the nickname, proudly relayed to me many a time, of 'Little Rome'. Rani explains that of 'every 190 people in the area, 170 will be in the fish industry and Catholic.'
Such is so for Christopher who in despair at the increasing number of desperate fishermen chasing a dwindling stock of fish started renting a former driving school building (painted illustrations of driving instructors still visible on the shop walls), turning it into a food and convenience goods kiosk store which Rani and various relatives and children are deputised to run from 7.
Listing boat in Negombo Lagoon
00am until 22.00pm. Forty years old and near illiterate himself having dropped out of school he's got four kids to put through schooling plus private extra tuition if he can continue to afford it. They moved into a bigger, new home four years ago too. Financial burdens still hovering overhead. On a bad day, and there are many of those these days he explains in the patchy but admirably passable English he's managed to cobble together from interactions with Negombo's seasonal tourist population, he may only bring home 100 Rupees (65p) after expenses.
Another gentleman I meet in Negombo town on the Lagoon bridge, Paul Anthony is also taking further steps in face of the decreasing income from fishing. He sells fish in the market, 250-300 Rupees/ £1.50 - £1.80 per kilo of prawns (Negombo's main catch) though little of that is profit, and he's barely able to make ends meet and put his kids through school.
His English is excellent and he explains that though well into his forties already he is currently willing to pay the princely sum of £20 ( 3,360 Rupees) 'per session' he claims to take English classes in Colombo. This sounds a lot. Maybe he meant per course? But either way, this is a major sacrifice/ gamble for his future as he enthuses 'Once I have good enough English then I will be able to get a job in a hotel and after that the future will be okay. It is a hard life.'
So fishing's a bum game for now in Negombo until fish stocks recover. But Christopher is rich in family life and love and this flows out of him in acts of great hospitality and generosity the like of which I am rapidly getting used to in Sri Lanka.
'Thanks Jesus' - Negombo is a predominantly Christian fishing community whereas many other such communities (paticularly in the east) are majority Muslim.
Even in my very first days this country just bowls me right over with its genuine openness and warmth and kindness. Dodgy bus drivers forgotten in a trice. Christopher, just the first of several individuals who seem to sincerely want to draw me into the lives of their families within only a matter of moments of knowing me. I tell Christopher it is appropriate that he should treat travelling strangers so kindly given his name, Saint Christopher being the patron saint of such souls.
On day two of my time in Sri Lanka I am invited back, tired though he is, to his home where we talk whilst the sounds of lots of fuss and laughter behind a curtained entrance to the kitchen eventually produce Christopher's pretty eldest daughter Christnee and a pot of ginger tea with biscuits.
Bro and sis :)
Rani, fatigued from her time in the shop but grinning all the way ( 'Steve, Steve, hey Steve!'
) also goes to great effort to cook me dinner even though none of the family will be joining me in my repast, having munched earlier or elsewhere I presume. I hope. As I chomp my way through noodles and coconut chutney and a grand omelette and a morsel of bony fish in curry sauce Christopher talks of his family and hopes for the future whilst The Future in the form of his younger daughters and son whirl around the living room, chasing and slapping one another and squealing. 'As long as I have food and my family I am happy.'
I feel deeply touched to be a part of this scene.
Fish : Into the Blue Again
It's been over a year since I last went scuba diving.
One of my kind hosts : Harrison-Fernando and two of his grandchildren
Off of Ko Lipe, Thailand's southernmost habited island. In many ways, having taken time to learn scuba in the UK in 2008 with a potential trip such as this quietly brewing in my mind, I have been foolishly over-restrained, rarely doing it when the opportunity was there owing to budgetary nerves. I have promised myself I must let out the purse strings in Sri Lanka and Indonesia and get back into The Blue. A wonderful surge of relief floods through my body, salt-water like fresh blood pumping through tired, parched veins as I roll back off the sides of our boat The Black Horse and into the Indian Ocean with a 'SPLASH!'
That initial tumble of disorienting froth and bubbles and blue-green waters and blue sky all rolling around one another. And then you stabilise.
Negombo Lagoon at sunset
Take a first glimpse below you at that deep blue unknown. Everyone okay? Okay. Thumbs down. Down we go...
Prawn Poem No.2
Our uncle doesn't laugh.
He doesn't punish.
It doesn't fly.
Our mother doesn't advise.
Our father doesn't ask.
She doesn't believe.
It doesn't beat.
The Mechanic and The Carpenter's Son
Negombo town sits besides its eponymous Lagoon, fed by the Indian Ocean, where the majority of the large fishing community's boats and out-rigger canoes ( 'Oruva' ) are lined up and docked at various times of day. The bright colours of their fibreglass bodies reflected, casting small rainbows between sun and water.
Train to Kandy
'Thanks Jesus' and other tattoos of faith printed on their hulls. A good number have seen better days and some lie, just waterlogged corpses listing beyond repair into the shallows. Fishermen sit in their boat holds wrapping netting around their big toes, stretching them out and carefully mending any holes.
It's not long after I cross the main bridge that bisects the lagoon, and begin strolling into a residential area that I am greeted by grinning Harrison-Fernando. A tall lean man, though muscular in a sinewy way in his chest and shoulders from his years working as an engineer/ mechanic. It's only a matter of one minutes small talk on the street before I am kindly invited into the family home.
I am offered drinks and a quaint little scene ensues whilst I sit twiddling my thumbs and acting dumb for one of Harrison's silent inquisitive Granddaughters.
Prawn Cakes and English diction :)
Harrison and family spin in all directions, caught between the priorities of introductions (this takes a while given the size of some Sri Lankan families) and trying to find an implement to open a cold bottle of 7-Up for me (this takes a while too and the rising sense of embarrassment amongst my hosts is palpable). Various branches and generations of the family are represented in the usual open-house crowd of relatives that throng in these still family-strong societies. Vegetables are being chopped and peeled with great zeal on the porch.
Harrison produces old black and white photographs of both himself as a younger man and one of his sons currently working overseas. Dubai I think? Or was it Abu Dhabi? As an engineer Harrison earns about 30,000 Rupees a month (approx £180) and considers this sufficient for his needs.
It's a respectable wage, and more or less fixed. A better position than his fishermen friends. His English is faltering but he is possessed of a vast lexicon of warm, winning and expressive smiles and so the conversation is little hampered. I drink my 7-Up. Sip, sip. He proudly points to a tacky laminate poster image of Jesus hanging on a wall opposite two monstrously tacky Photoshop portraits of family members. Jesus strides forth from the clouds, his right hand upraised palm towards the audience with some kind of laser beam of love & peace shooting from his palm. His heart, wreathed in thorns and on fire. 'Are you a Christian?'
Harrison enquires (as do many people in Sri Lanka). 'Well, yeah you could say that I am'
I vaguely offer.
Technically not untrue as I was baptised ( and have my little engraved silver/pewter christening cup to prove it ), attended a Church of England primary school and, from time to time, the church itself, but I feel kinda bad claiming this false fraternalism. But it makes people in Sri Lanka super happy to have an Englishman of a 'Christian' nation in their midst and after six months in India preceded by two months in Turkey I'm tired of trying to explain the alternatives. And that there are some. Sip, sip.
Harrison-Fernando and I step out of his home and stroll along the streets, his lanky form towering over me like an old knotted tree. We stop at a small road side tinkering shop where several rickshaws sit in various states of repair and disrepair. A younger man hammers and files away at the body work of one that had been totally mangled on one side after an accident with a bus.
Kandy : Garuda flaps and swirls in traditional Kandyan Dance
Rickshaw drivers, as in India, are ten a penny in Sri Lanka and I often wonder how such a large population of them can be supported. The main 3 kilometre strip of Negombo's main tourist beach drag is absolutely crawling with these little shiny one-eyed green, red and faun metal-bodied bugs. Christopher had explained to me that with failing fish stocks rickshaws were seen as the only main alternative employment for the towns young men, but that still-to-recover levels of tourism following post-Tsunami and LTTE concerns mean this is a precarious living also. The younger mechanics are seeking Harrison-Fernando's clearly much respected advice on bodywork so I offer my thanks again, leave them to it and walk on.
Fish : Underwater tigers, lions, angels and rays
Heading down into the blue with Skerik and Kerry, a Brit PADI Dive Master of some 500 dives experience.
The tiny blurs over very large bats take flight over Kandy Lake
It's great to be back in the Great Blue Yonder Below. Much as it would be beautiful, we often wish, to frolic and fly with the beautiful birds of the skies, whilst to some extent humans have 'conquered' the air, we can never truly be of flight. Be with the birds. But in the sea, though for a limited time only, one is absolutely free. Free to float and spin in all directions and to become a part of the new environment and to swim - to feel like you're flying - side by side with all of that world's most beautifully coloured and often not so nervous inhabitants. The reefs I dive in Negombo whilst not of spectacular topographical value (no interesting coral formations etc) are absolutely brimming with a diversity of some of the most beautiful sea life I have yet witnessed in my brief underwater career.
Queuing for the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
Several species of banner fish with the long trailing head and tail fins, flapping like Tibetan prayer flags in the breeze, thus bringing them their name. Parrotfish with their bright scaly plumages and coral-crunching beaks that give them theirs. Moon and cleaner wrasse and plenty of blennies on the bottom. Various box and puffer fish, always amusing for their strangely cuboid bubble appearance and a large porcupine fish with all its big saucer eyes and its spines lain flat whilst it slumbers. We spot a stone fish or two - DON'T EVER TOUCH THOSE! They're ugly for a reason and we should be thankful they give us fair warning of their toxins. An Octopus eyeballs us from under a rocky outcrop and then starts to writhe and curl further into itself and its shelter like an imploding mobius strip.
Blue Lily : Sri Lanka's national flower
Its colour changing. Blanching white with fear or warning. The most beautiful marble-skinned 'reticulated' eels, some of considerable size, with honey-comb leopard-print skins of luminescent yellow and white sway in the sea's invisible breeze. Their mouths gasping open and shut in a way that looks threatening but is only breathing. The fabulous sounding Indian vagabond butterfly fish, long fin batfish, oriental sweet lips and something that looks like a leopard fish but might not have been. Although it's daylight, a few lion fish venture out of their shades. These creatures never cease to enchant me, so dangerously hypnotic is their fierce war-like tiger-stripe patterning when contrasted with their graceful floating passage through the water. Their many poison-spine banner-fins spreading in wide fanning arcs, fluttering and giving them the appearance of imperious Chinese junks with Yangtze winds ruffling their sails.
Pink lily's waiting to be peeled in false bloom
Some of the most eye-catching fish for me are the various angel fish. You need to spot them both as juveniles and then in their unmissable adult incarnations. As young the blue ring and emperor angel fish are small and mainly black but patterned with incredible contour line patterns of bright neon blue. As adults (and they grow to a good ole size) a complete transformation has occurred, the neon blue bands now having spread apart to reveak thick bright before buried seams of yellow-gold, like warmth bubbling up from volcanic cracks. Magical stretch marks of Mother Nature. Bright swatches of white too, and their grey-black 'superhero' eye masks look just great!
The most memorable encounters of Dive Day One are several large groups of cuttlefish that we come across ( 'The most I've ever seen in one place!' Kerry later exclaims ).
Pink Lilies (detail)
These are beautiful creatures with their opalescent tiger-stripe backs and emotion denoting shifting-pigment skins. Their white 'skirts' rippling away. I'd not seen them in their natural environment before and in fact only recently witnessed vast numbers of crates of them sadly brought to the Fort Kochi fish auction with their black inks dripping like ghastly blood from their mouths. It's mating season apparently and they do indeed seem paired off. Cuttlefish couples courting and dancing elegantly around one another. The larger males usually protectively above his lady, keeping his oversize eyes out for competitor males and we strange diver beasts. They raise two of their long facial tentacles up high in a gesture of threat and defence if either of us gets too near.
King Coconut : one of Sri Lanka's snacking mainstays
We also happen upon a huge sting ray lying idle on the sea bed like a blue-grey UFO grounded by the Bermuda Triangle, its tail tapering into the sandy bed. It's at least a metre and a half in diameter. As Kerry moves around it clicking away with his underwater camera it suddenly becomes uncomfortable as he starts to face it head on and like a hover craft starting up its turbines, starts to ripple its circumference to effect take-off. Rather foolhardily I am floating about 2 metres above it and fin quickly away as it rises gently, not in a hurried, panicked or aggressive manner but one needs to be careful of those tails. I am not keen to join the short but illustrious list of Steves who have met their end upon one. It turns and flaps away into the distance.
Sex and Alcohol
Not more than 5 minutes after leaving the hospitable world of Harrison-Fernando I am beckoned over to a little hooch/ beer shack by its proprietor Jay.
A freshly beardless Stevie and Abdin and Salim at Kandy Market
Jay speaks next to no clear English but, as with everybody else is keen for a chat and I continue to be in an accommodating ‘Ah, what the heck’ kinda mood. Besides a cool beer to chase that 7-Up would just hit the spot. He motions me inside, behind the grille, into his gloomy chamber to drink my Baron‘s Beer Strong Ale. He says 'iz okay'
and is happy.
We patch together some semi-successful small talk (smiles filling in the blanks) in the darkened recess of his establishment. Dusty plastic crates of empty bottles of Anchor, Lion, Carlsberg and Baron’s Beer stacked one on top of the other with a look of never being likely to make it to a recycling depot. A bunch of these dark green and brown bottles are ranged in an ancient begrimed glass-fronted refrigerator that hums away.
I'm thinking predator and prey not looking soooo dissimilar in this shot ;)
A bucket sits in front of this brimming over with bent, discarded bottle caps. Behind us a backroom area even darker and grubbier than the front, strung with spider webs and home to broken overturned wooden tables and chairs and endless empties.
Jay is a good Christian lad too. A picture of John the Baptist with a baby Jesus upon his left shoulder sits propped upon a tiny shelf above the little counter. Jay, as with many people on my travels would like to know if there’s any chance he could find a job in England (with the unspoken inference that maybe I could help). At 32 he’s been married 10 years, his wife staying at home looking after the children while for the last 3 years he’s rotted away in the dark dank of this hooch hole for maybe 300 Rupees a day ( £1.
80). If he were to have two bottles of the beer he sells his wages would be gone.
’I have passport and address, is okay no?’ He ferrets around in the grubby wooden money draw for a folded bit of paper that turns out to be a photocopy of his passport with his address and mobile phone number hand-scribbled in blue biro on the reverse. The hope and hopelessness of the situation, not an uncommon one, is tragic. The pitiable idea that this tatty bit of Xerox paper might just be the key to a brighter future. I try to mumble non-committal vagaries such as ’bad unemployment’ and ’economic problems’ in the UK at the moment and tell him frankly that his English is not yet good enough but that if he wants to try for a visa he should contact the British Embassy in Colombo.
Poster Politics, the Sri Lankan General Election looms on 8th April
I neglect to let him know what I’m sure he already knows, that in their own undoubtedly diplomatic way they’ll tell him to get stuffed.
Jay asks me the usual questions : name, age, profession, marital status ’Are you married?’,
the response ‘No’
leading to the usual response of shock and then furtive propositions. ’How you like good Sri Lankan girls?’
I respond in my usual polite evasive manner to these obvious sexual-economic feelers often floated by solicitous men into the path of a conversation : ’Well so far all of the Sri Lankan people I’ve met have been very kind and friendly. Some of the nicest I’ve met.
And the ladies are often very pretty with warm, friendly smiles it’s true.’
Detail of wood carved Embekka Devale temple
Not to be defused this way Jay seedily informs me that ’It just 2,000 Rupees
[about £12] for nice Sri Lankan girl for one night.’ ‘How does a family man like you know that Jay?’
I tease. ‘Oh no, not me!’
he blusters. ‘I good man. I married. I have wife and two children. I just hear one two places in town.’
( I’m told it’s 3,000 a night in Kandy
lads so, ya know, as the guide books always say ‘shop around’
Kandy : detail of the Embekka Devale temple
.. “H-h-hey ladies, ladies, laaaadeez...please calm yourselves. I never enquire after such information but men like to proffer it unbidden to solo male travellers such as I and I feel it is only my responsibility as a comprehensive blogger to pass such information on to the travel community!”
;) Juuuust messin’!
Warming to his naughty conspiratorial theme a mobile phone is produced and proudly pressed into my hand and all of a sudden Jay sets a mini porno flick to running for me. Jeez! The wonders of technology. The Information Age. What next?! I sit and stare and sip my beer. A courtroom scene. Sip, sip. A pretty, young dark haired judge brings her hammer down in pronouncement upon some long-haired hulk of a Westerner looking mournful in the docks.
Lankatilaka Temple in the surrounds of Kandy
Ms Judge promptly descends from the bar and I suppose it’s at this point that if this movie had had the budget to warrant a single line script she would have uttered ’Now I hear you’ve been a very naughty boy.’
Instead, script dispensed with, she swiftly removes her horn-rimmed glasses, lets loose her hair and unbuttons her judges robes and smock to reveal a not wholly unexpected lack of further garments beneath. Just her nubile, hazelnut brown little body with its two little umber nipples pointing sternly at the accused. ‘Is this a famous Sri Lankan actress?’
I ask for want of any other conversation at this point. ‘Yes, yes.’ 'Oh... um?.
Prawn Poem :D
Sip, sip. ‘Yes, look I have German also...’
he smiles fumbling the phones buttons. (Does the language matter in such things?) Cripes!
I accelerate my rate of beer sippage - sip, sip, sip - but in a gesture of matey male solidarity reclaim the phone as urged. ‘I do hope you don’t leave this lying around for your children to find Jay?’
This time some muscled slab of meat lies back on a sofa whilst some blonde lady with just her black Lycra leggings still on tries to coax life into his porn star semi-erect with her lips. Moans emanate from the phone. Moan, moan. Sip, sip. Lick, lick. The scene changes and The Beef’s now on his knees returning the fellatellic* favour he had only just been receiving with gusto.
For reasons I won't bore you with I no longer travel with my underwater camera so you shall have to make do with my words and this school wall painting :)
Lady Lycra is squealing with phoney porn-actress pleasure. Jay is grinning. Maybe he could work the black economy in some London Soho spunk-show-shop? Suddenly a customer is approaching the hooch bar! Lady Lycra squeals. Christ, christ, christ Jay! Take the phone, take the phone I flap and motion. ’It’s okay, it’s okay’
he reassures me, refusing to relieve me of porno-phone, as some pot-bellied prawn-selling sweat-ball of a friend enters our seedy inner sanctum of beer bottles and blow jobs and plonks his flabby bum onto an upturned beer crate. His white ’American All Stars’ sports vest stretching taught over his stomach. I continue to hold the phone with its increasingly loud ululations of pleasure at arms length, pinched between two finger tips like holding up and unsavoury piece of evidence at a trial. ( ‘Now I hear you’ve been a very naughty boy!’
... ‘Nothing to do with me guv!’
). I'm beginning to worry people, families passing on the street will soon hear (perhaps Harrison-Fernando!) and look in and spot this furtive little foriegner and 'friends'.
Prawn Man and I are not introduced. Sip, sip. He is chattering and laughing. ’Blah-blah-blah England ha,ha,ha - blah, blah, blah...’ Lady Lycra is now being sodomised from an angle almost as inventive as that of the camera shot that reveals this to be so. ’What the f**k am I doing here just fifteen minutes out of a good, wholesome Christian home?’ I continue to think to myself with a beer in one hand and pornography in the other. Definitely the weirdest of my early days door step interactions with Sri Lanka. The Beef runs his treacle through Lady Lycra’s honey locks, he, the video, my patience and beer all spent. Prawn Man departs, wobbling away on his little scooter. I wish Jay the best with his visa application and take my leave, tottering away into the dusk in a light-headed manner not being used to either alcohol or porn these days.
Prawn Poem No.3
He doesn't bite.
The girl doesn't bring.
He doesn't insult.
She doesn't eat.
Fish : Floundering
We've already made the drop 16 metres down to the sandy sub aquatic desert below once. They clearly haven't landed us on the proposed reef for dive number two. Off target. Even with a GPS. Sherik's father, a fisherman since the day he swam out of his mother's womb can apparently drop you with unerring accuracy onto any of Negombo's thirty or so dive sights with nothing more than a glance to shore and a good old seaman's instinct. But we're heading down the anchor line this time, Sherik confident we'll find the reef. We don't. He motions he has a problem with his mask (again?!) and for Kumar and I to stay put whilst he ascends to sort it. This should not be necessary but I'm getting used to this friendly but phenomenally unprofessional Dive Leader. It's just me and Kumar twiddling our thumbs on the bottom now. Kumar a forty something Indian ex-pat employee of Standard Chartered Bank in Dubai on only his seventh dive and whom I'd had to show how to correctly hold the Demand Valve in his mouth before we downed earlier.
Sherik seems to have disappeared. I'm hoping Kumar doesn't freak out on me. But he seems fine, all eyes on me. It's incredibly peaceful down here aside from the dull threat of my 'first dive to go wrong' throbbing in my temples. The visible terrain is absolutely featureless. Just flat sandy sea bed as far as the eye can see, 20-30 metres at least, in every direction. Disorientating but strangely calming. The boat’s anchor or only companion, slipping and leaping through the sand every few seconds not having found any hold down here, our only connection with an alternative physical reality.
I turn from Kumar's gaze and sit down. A puff of sandy grit exhales up from the sea bed and floats back down. I stare out into and around the blue nothingness. I feel nervy and calm at the same time. Kinda like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. Testing his father's unusual graduation gift, a set of aqualungs, by stubbornly sitting on the bottom of the family pool trying to avoid attention and his Future and responsibility. A quiet, drowned desire for life still to be full of questions and uncertainties. Which at 16 metres down in a country I barely know yet and nothing but sea all around it certainly is. The anchor zips along another half metre, clawing the sandy bottom in vain and then suddenly lifts off and up, up and away into the blue expanse above. Eventually disappearing like a rusty-barbed angel suddenly recalled to Heaven. Great! We're totally alone now in this sub-aquatic tundra. What the f**k's going on up there? No dive leader. No dive computer. No DSMB (Delayed Surface Marker Buoy) for safety and a boat churning it's propeller at 16 metres above our invisible heads. Kumar stares at me expectantly through his expensive tempered glass diving mask. I just wanna be alone down here in a state of unadulterated peace to ponder my future or fish or nothing at all a little while longer... my first dive to go wrong ... rule number one of diving, and life in general... just keep breathing.
* Is ‘fellatelic’ a word?... well, it is now. Careful not to confuse it with the similar sounding ‘philatelic’ which being concerned with stamps refers to a markedly different pursuit though both, it should be observed, involve a certain amount of licking.