Last night, I went to the Empire cinema in Leicester Square for the opening ceremony of this week’s China Image Film Festival in London – the biggest Chinese film festival in Europe.
The ceremonial side involved lengthy bouts of people explaining that everyone had worked very hard and how culturally important film was and encouraging rounds of applause for officials who stood up and waved to the audience. After 40 minutes, I whispered to the friend who was with me:
“This is like living under communism.”
There were the distinguished guests from various organising committees and some officials had flown in specially from Beijing but also present, inexplicably, were the former mayor of Redbridge in suburban London and the Chairman of South Cambridgeshire District Council, who gave a speech in which he said he had visited China, but never seen any Chinese films there, so he was grateful for this opportunity. The man standing by him who translated his speech into Chinese looked a bit surprised, as if he could not understand who this man was or why he was giving a speech.
I had some sympathy with the translator.
The former mayor of Redbridge gave no speech, which I thought was a pity, as I would have been interested to hear what he said.
The opening film of the Festival was Apart Together, which won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at last year’s Berlin Film Festival.
In one scene a couple, married for almost 50 years, decide to get divorced but discover that they cannot get divorced without first having a marriage certificate which they do not have because they got married shortly after the chaotic civil war between Mao Tse-tung’s Communists and Sun Yat-sen’s Kuomintang nationalists when official marriage certificates were the last thing on people’s minds.
So they have to get officially married in order to be officially divorced on the same day.
Communist bureaucracy, eh?
How the almost entirely Chinese audience laughed!
No wonder they love Yes, Minister on TV in China!
After the ceremony and screening, I got a tube up to St Pancras station and leapt into the front carriage of a Capital Connect Thameslink train, just before it was due to set off.
On the seat opposite me was a small but expensive-looking pack of 15 computer CDs left behind by someone.
As I was sitting at the very front of the train, I jumped off and tried to give them to the train driver.
“I’m not allowed to accept any lost property,” he said apologetically. “You have to give it to the station staff – that bloke down there the other side of the barrier.”
It was an eight-carriage train. I looked at my watch. It was two minutes before the train was due to leave.
“I won’t have time to do it and get back on the train,” I told the driver. “And the station I am going to is unmanned at this time of night.”
“What you could do,” he told me, sympathetically, “is leave it on the seat and, if it’s still there at the end of the journey, I can collect it when I check the carriages.”
So I did that.
Whether anyone nicked the discs or whether they were still there when he checked the carriage I do not know.
I am a lover of the surreal but not of bureaucracy.
But rules is rules, eh? They’re there for a reason.