Sheena McDonald gazes into the dying embers of her affair with China.
Death. if you‘re not in the business. comes
as asurprise. Despite the
arrival of those conventional heralds. Disease and — if you‘re lucky — Age. it's almost impossible to anticipate how it will be. what you will feel. when it happens.
[don‘t mean dying. I mean being bereaved. However precisely you may fear the loss and the grief. however honestly and feelingly you . may weep in advance. you find it . impossible toanticipateentirelythe ending of another life which you had come. to a greater or lesser degree. ‘ to take for granted.
What you do — and what you cannot possibly do before that other life has been ended — is this: you scrabble around in your brain. endlessly. obsessively. rootling out every scrap of recollection of your dead friend. 'l'rivial conversations. idle moments. glances. jokes. anxieties — all the dross and fluffof mortal life is gathered in indiscriminate armfuls to be turned over with meticulous misery in the sleepless hours between dusk and dawn.
The odd thing is that it's the dross and fluffthat threatens to dominate the mental death-mask that your brain is moulding. The grand moments and set-pieces diminish in importance after death. It's the frailties and weaknesses that define more than the triumphs — leave those to the obituarists.
Sounds like the end of the affair'.’ l It‘s the same. I think — particularly if she‘s married someone else — until I
you achieve the afterlife of
pragmatic middle-age or marital disillusion. when civilised friendship
is supposed to cast its bland l benediction over passions past. l (Yeah — tne too -- believe it when I see it . . .)
But it wasn't the death of love which this week set me rummaging my memory like a veritable mourner. but the ritual massacre and disembowelling of the pro-democracy movement in China.
And I found myself in the ludicrous state of the distant and little-known acquaintance who turns up at the f funeral and is moved to uncontrollable snuftling and whumping. while the nearest and dearest stand in stoic and dry-eyed dignity. My two-week trip to (him two years ago. through which I became as involved in and knowledgable about (‘hinese life as any roots-truffling American peering glumly through the rain-streaked porthole of a luxury
coach is about Scotland. had
endowed with me with all the sentimental possessiveness and consuming regret ofcalf-love.
And what did my memory produce? Plenty of fluff and dross. certainly. All the National Geographic shots: bare-bottomed babies in bunny-cared hoods: kite-flying toddlers — yes. in 'I'iananmen Square; skinny teenage boys pushing coal-laden handcarts up the endless gradients of (‘hongquingz the clash and colour of a peasant funeral by candlelight: the pavement tradespeople peddling letter-writing and bike-repairing along with nameless hubble-bubble preparations fora long and healthy life.
And then. more prosaic and suddenly more sinister. there were the countless tea-ceremonies. hosted. no doubt by those very cadres whose entrenched corruption had initially spurred the students on to call for a rethink on the purpose and practice of reform.
Most precious of all are memories of informal conversations with individuals whose friendly inquisitiveness was unsurprising as long as the possibility of meeting them and their like again seemed real. Now that the prospect of a return trip is remote. and the circumstances of any such post-3 June 1989 visit foreseeany unsavoury. every encounter and conversation acquires disproportionate significance and poignancy.
'I'ime heals. they say. The bereaved complete their memory-picture of the dead. and sustain a relationshop with that. And that's where this month‘s events in Peking and beyond quit the lugubrious metaphor. We are not inappropriate mourners at an inevitable funeral. It seems to me important that we understand however ditn and distant our own acquaintance with China. that life there is only ‘getting back to normal‘ if your perspective is stuck behind the glass with the air-conditioning. ‘Normality‘ in (‘hina is now a tireless state of fearful vigilance and struggle. against not only the repressive terror of vain old men. but against the insidious materialism hawked by the West which corrupts before it liberates. and sends tyranny scudding after temptation. And then there's the racism implicit in the British revulsion at the prospect of offering sanctuary to erstwhile citizens who happen to be not just brilliant managers — but yellow-skinned.
You can dry your eyes now. ’I‘herc's work to be done. if you like. And. if you're not in the business. no flowers please . . .
The opening of the ‘Wealth ol a Nation' exhibition atthe Royal Scottish Museum on Edinburgh's Chambers Street is an attempt to put on display a ‘shop window' at the vast collection at Scottish artelacts held by the nation's museums.
The exhibition has whittled it down to 500 items. ranging lrom a gold collartound in Dumtriesshire that dates back turther than 200080 to a turbine from the Clydeside-built 0E2. The intention ot the organisers is to give an indication ol the wealth olScotland's cultural and historical heritage. in the hope that Scots themselves will take advantage of it.
Interestingly, the sponsor olthe exhibition isthe Royal Bank otScotland. which in 1781 put upthe money torthe Society at Antiquaries ot Scotland to set up a museum in thetirst place. Their sponsorship meansthat entry will be tree throughout its six-month run.
'The Wealth at a Nation‘ has been running since 10 June. tollowing an opening by that other example ota curious Scottish artelact the Tory MP (Malcolm Ritltind). and will run until the last day ol1989.
FASHION BY DEGREES
Alongsidethe degree exhibitions olpainting.
sculpture. design and architecture. the annual lashion show at Edinburgh College olArt has become ' a. one at the high points olthe College's year. and an event carefully scrutinised by professional designers. who are well aware otthe impressive number at graduates subsequently tinding jobs in the lashion industry.
2The List 16— 29 June 1989