Sunday, August 17, 2008

Being on the Radio
It's all been a bit strange this last couple of days. On Thursday night I was at the Broca Cafe, round the back of Brockley Station for a meeting of a writers circle I joined recently. It was formed two or three years ago by members of a a writing class at Goldsmiths - the same one I did last year. So we had an ex-teacher in common even if I was a new member. Anyway, before we started on a writing exercise someone asked me if I'd done any talks on China with Olympics making it so topical.
I was surprised, because it hadn't really occurred to me; I'd submitted a couple of articles about my year in Tonghua to the Dimsum Website as well as covering some cultural events but hadn't thought specially about anything to do with the Beijing events.
So I as surprised by a phone call next morning. An Irish voice said ' I 'd like to talk to Sheila Cornelius' and 'Do you have time to talk? I assumed it was someone trying to sell me something so I said 'I'm about to go out', which was true because R had proposed a drive to Whitstable. We needed to go early as we were meeting friends for drinks in the evening.
'I'm from Talkradio in Dublin and we wondered if you'd agree to contribute to a programme tomorrow night. It's called Culture shock and it's about China. You've written a book about Chinese cinema?' Of course, I had, and I would be willing if she could let me something more about the topic. Would the evening be convenient for me if she rang back? No, it wouldn't but I'd be in in the morning.
I'd forgotten that next morning, Saturday, I was due at the local library for a crime reading group, starting at 10.30am. Never mind, maybe they'd ring before 10am when I needed to leave,and after that R could field the call. I'd struggled to finish Val Mc Dermid's 'Beneath the Bleeding', specially for the meeting.
When I got back, no phone call. Disappointing, but after all I hadn't made myself available the night before. I assumed they 'd found someone else.
We went to the cinema at West India Quay in the afternoon. It was 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' which I'd been eager to see for a while. Coming back, R suggested we go for a walk. I'd better be in at 7pm for the start of the programme because I'd agreed in theory to be on it.
Unlikely, said R - as they hadn't rung back. So at 6.30pm he went off for a walk on his own and I listened to a message on the answer phone. It gave a number to ring and I was told I'd be part of a panel of four people and I'd be asked about how the Chinese were represented on film.
I was in a quandary because I'd put a chicken to slow cook and I could imagine R would arrive back when I was already on the phone to Dublin, doing his usaal of coming in and calling upstairs to me if I wasn't in sight. So I wrote a note in big letters so he'd see it straight away, and sure enough they rang at 7.05pm when he was still out. I thought I'd use the plug-in phone in the bedroom, as the others are on stands and tend to lose their charge after twenty minutes or so.
'Hello this is Talkradio, and I will now transfer you to the programme desk'. I listened to some Irish sporting news for about five minutes, except I wasn't really listening because I was so nervous. Eventually, when Fionn Davenport introduced the programme and said they were going to kick off with an item about China I felt a bit calmer. The other three panel members were in the studio in Dublin and I was a 'on the line from London, Sheila Cornelius, visiting Lecturer in Film at Morley College.' That was a while back, and taken from the blurb on the back of my book, but I wasn't about to interrupt him. For one thing he was speaking very quickly and was already putting a question to the first panellist, a Mr Wang, who was head of a Chinese school in Dublin.
He was asked about how he's adjusted to cultural differences in Ireland and the part that traditional Chinese beliefs played in his adjustment. He gave a typically diplomatic response about being open and accepting to everything. He mentioned Buddhism and although the wasn't himself a practising Buddhist he'd been influenced by the the Confucian emphasis on on harmonious living . Another Chinese panellist, this time a woman, and a Catholic, responded to a question about religious tolerance in China and a man called Connor Cleary, who'd been a correspondent in Beijing for five years talked about media censorship. I was asked how far filmmakers could work inside the strict censorship rules and I was able to say they got roundit to an extent, citing Zhang Yimou as an example of someone who'd had his films banned. He's often been able to fool the censors.
The others came in again, talking about freedom of expression in the arts. I was thinking I'd said my piece when Fion said they'd just received a text message which asked wasn't it true that Zhang Yimou's films showed that if you messed with authority you would always come out badly and what did I think? It was unexpected but I gabbled on a bit about how the films showed that authorities had responsibilities too and how it all went wrong when power was abused. The caller had mentioned 'Curse of the Golden Flower' and I knew it quite well, having reveiwed it for Dimsum. Phew!
'So, openness, harmony and individual expression' said Fion Davenport in a voice dripping with irony, and went on to introduce the next part of the programme. A voice thanked me for taking part.
To my surprise I'd enjoyed it. I hadn't dried up, and I'd been more or less coherent. R said I'd spoken rather quickly, but I'd been taking my cue from the others.
R had come up for a nap as soon as he came up, so was lying on the bed beside me. Fortunately, I noticed in time that he'd set the timer alarm to wake him up after fifteen minutes - the seconds were counting down - and I turned it off. It's not all plain sailing for us 'on the line from London' pundits.
Dimsum extract about Curse of the Golden Flower:
About my book:

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