(16 December 1917 - 19 March 2008)
Written for The Light Millennium by:
At a young age of 22 I started living in the same house as Arthur C. Clarke, I was orbiting around him from 1976 until shortly before his death in 2008. I was married to Arthur’s diving business partner so my life was a constant whirlwind. It was either fans to see Arthur and be inspired or TV crews filming a program on space, science or futurist possibilities or tourists begging to learn diving from Arthur’s dive School. Arthur loved receiving all the attention as he had no partner, he was devoted to the future of science, humanitarian projects and inspiring students to think outside the square. Arthur attracted much attention when he wrote the film screen script for Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 a Space Odyssey”. Later it was from his words in his book that the first space explorers would write letters to him saying words like “ Thank you Arthur it was just as you said it would be” written on NASA letterhead and framed on the wall. Arthur knew and met most of the first USA & USSR space explorers personally and some like Yuri and Allan Bean better known as “Buzz” visited him until his death and eventually his funeral. Arthur drew the crowds dead or alive!
I have many memories of Arthur, the quirky, genius, loving doting grandfather to my children, the smiling face that loved to greet the hundreds of Science Fiction fans that flooded our home, the professor, the amateur astronomer showing students the heavens from his balcony telescope, the scuba diver in his eighties etc….. and the devoted animal lover.
One of my favourite memories is when we shared the care of a baby monkey way back in 1978/1981. The baby monkey was a loveable Western Purple Faced leaf eating Langur, and she kept us so busy we never gave her a name only “Monkey Baby”.
Monkey Baby was the epitome of agile with the ability to move over, under, through or around most objects, gardens, houses and any maze with the ability to cause accidental destruction to most things in her path. Our neighbours can confirm her behaviour, I am grateful that she never suffered their rathe. She was a threatening creature when she wanted to steal their avacados, flowers, kitchen fruit and ride on one the back of a neighbours great dane. Our “Monkey Baby” had a reputation for reaching for Ian Pieris’s tobacco pipe stand and remove one or two of his treasured pipes! Never once did he make a fuss by complaining of this invasion.
Photos provided from the Office of Arthur C. Clarke
Baby also had the idea she was human, that I was her mother, Arthur was the close sister/brother and my mother in law in reserve for extra love in the event we were busy. So we were a family living in a large two storey colonial house in one of the best residential areas in Colombo. We allowed her to roam the garden area surrounding our house which seemed a good idea as we felt this way she could access all the plants and nutrition she needed. Our house had all the bedrooms upstairs with large tropical open windows including the bathroom. “Baby” would visit us via the bathroom window if she could not get your attention via other windows.
I felt it was advantageous that she wear a nappy and diapers were not available in Sri Lanka at that time so my girl friend, a New Zealander, Cherry Holcomb manufactured perfect tiny triangles with a hole for her tail. It was a marvellous invention. Arthur loved to have her clinging to his body, so it was a vital invention and a great gift idea. But he needed to learn how to apply a nappy to a very active, inquizative little “ person”.
So the lesson was carried out with Monkey Baby sitting nervously on the shelf of Arthur”s blue shaving mirror in his bathroom. Baby could observe herself from that angle but choose to look behind the mirror or turn and check what we were doing behind her. She was a wild animal and became extremely nervous and just wanted to cling to one of us. So the nappy procedure was a vital aid to our life style standards. Arthur had big hands and I will never forget his attempts to learn how to apply the tiny piece of towelling and attach it with a safety pin in the same way that it was held in place for human babies. I explained that he needed to place his hand between the nappy and the monkey’s tummy skin. Gosh! The look on his face when he finally realised what I meant! His ability to write about space, adventure and advanced ideas of travel, technology and futurist living styles had nothing to do with his real life. His knowledge for “doing” was zilch! he was not a physical doer, very practical but it was others that helped him achieve his normal life skills. It was either myself or Hector who would sort out his day to day needs.
If Arthur couldn’t learn something his patience diminished but he managed to achieve the manoeuvre after repeated frustrating attempts plus threats from me that he could not possibly have the “Baby” in his shirt at his writing desk without this safety net nappy! For those not familiar with the behaviour of monkeys, here is the tricky part of keeping a wild animal in a human environment: Monkey Baby was very comfortable clinging onto a human body but in the event of:
Dog, Unknown person, inexplicable movement, a monkey’s first response is to climb to a high spot in our case it was usually a human head. She always felt comfortable in a high position, then if she was really scared she would defecate. AND, yes it could go all down your head or where ever….. I never did get a photo of Arthur in this predicament. Life for us was very simple in some ways but very busy in others.
Arthur and I would plan each time we moved around the house as to weather who would take the monkey or what would happen to the house contents if she suddenly pounced either on house workers or visitors. Monkey Baby’s vision was remarkable, she could spy on us from a distant high tree in the garden through a window and track us down usually crying and whimpering until she got what she wanted. There was no hiding for us!
I often wondered how she survived the threat of the kitchen cook’s knife. Arthur’s beloved cook hated her and I caught him threatening to kill her one day.
The same Monkey Baby escaped our garden to venture into the garden of the President of Sri Lanka at that time, Mr. J.R. Jayawardena. I received a message that a monkey was terrorising the President’s guards and that we should come and retrieve it at once or it would be shot! I promptly told them that the monkey was Arthur Clarke’s as I was only a insignificant young white foreign girl. I instantly gave the instruction to our skinny tall gardener to get around there “ lipity stick” and collect Baby with the special instruction that she must walk on foot all the way home. It was a quiet Sunday morning so I felt that this walking home was appropriate punishment. ( it was a bit mean as I knew that being in a evaluated position is security for monkeys).
I drove my car past as the gardener walked her home. She looked like Clint Eastwood with her bandy legs walking along like a cowboy and when she tried to climb up the gardener’s arm, he obediently pushed her down. I forever feel guilty.
[Left to right] Valerie Ekanayake, her baby, Sir Arthur C Clarke, Monkey Baby and Hector Ekanayake
Photos provided from the Office of Arthur C. Clarke
Another Arthur Clarke Monkey Baby story:
It was a common problem in our house of five bathrooms. We noticed we always had things missing ie toothpaste, toilet paper, toothbrushes, combs etc and that things seemed to reposition themselves from time to time…. It was a constant problem and we often thought that the cleaners were messing with our stuff.
Arthur’s elderly mother visited from the UK to spending some months with us and was accommodated in the bedroom next to mine. I heard a frantic scream, ran into her room where I witnessed Mrs. Nora Clarke, a tiny lady trying to adjust her tangled grey hair.
Mrs. Clarke wouldn’t stop screaming she was yelling at the top of her voice, demanding that Arthur come to her rescue. Poor lady was terrified. Arthur arrived promptly on the scene, became instantly agitated on hearing that Monkey Baby had stolen his mother’s blue heart pills. But what happened next was so upsetting for his mother as Arthur was overcome with fear that her pills had been thrown through the large open window and would be quickly gobbled up by the monkey. It took a few minutes for me to understand why Nora was so angry with Arthur…. He of course had only concern for the monkey swallowing them. Arthur had completely ignored the concern and fear on his mother’s face as she digested the reality that she had lost all her vital heart medicine which was only available in U.K. She was liveried!
She eventually wrote a book about her impossible son Arthur and her family called “My four feet on the ground”. This book gives a reader a true insight into the simple life she endured bring up her son Arthur C. Clarke who would become the Godfather of Telecommunication in 1945 with his prediction of satellites in space.
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Special Thanks to Valerie Ekanayake for her contribution to The Light Millennium. Posted on December 11, 2016.
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Interview with Valerie Fuller-EKANAYAKE (May 2005)
More on Arthur C. Clarke on the LightMillennium.Org
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• Two Universal Men event | Photo Album
• EgoGram 2006 of Sir Arthur C. Clarke
• Rebuilding after Tsunami: Sri Lanka's next challenges by Sir Arthur C. Clarke
• Tidal Wave (Dec. 2004)
• Visits to Sir Arthur C. Clarke (2005)
• Egogram of Sir Arthur C. Clarke (2005)
• A Tribute for Sir Arthur C.Clarke's 87th Birthday
• May you live many thousands of years, Sir Arthur C.Clarke!
• Friends, Earthlings, E.T.s - give me your eyes! - egogram of Sir Arthur C.Clarke (2003)
• Warm peace breezes from Sri Lanka and New Year Wishes (2003)
Science - Redefining our Religion and Fairytales
• Arthur C. Clarke: Links the ancient with the futuristi, and shows how they might be compatible... by Julie Mardin
(Issue#New Year 2003, Dedicated to Sir Arthur C. Clarke)
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