My Night With Jennifer S

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First I should explain that the use of the word 'night' is not intended to be strictly binding. Or accurate. I use it as a metaphor to convey a sense of Northernness. Winter is approaching and it's one of those afternoons when the sky closes in and shop lights are shining very brightly, even though it's only quarter to two.

Now that I have got that straight, I can reveal that it was October 5th, a Thursday, in St Anne's Square, Manchester. I was seriously considering, as I gazed at the St Anne's church clock, whether I could make it back to court without having to race across Crown Square. At least, I reflected, I was wearing brown Nike trainers and not loose, black loafers, which are difficult to run in.

It was almost raining. There was a keen wind, the sort that seems at one moment not to exist and then the next, as you turn the corner towards Habitat or reach the crossing before the rake to Piccadilly, it slaps you hard, threatening to divest you of even the most closely guarded, hidden warmth. It's like one those capricious winds described by Count Almasy in The English Patient; the kind that on a bad day seem to contain a screech of laughter. ('What is that noise?/The wind under the door./What is that noise now? What is the wind doing? / Nothing again nothing.')

If I had not been looking so intently at the metal hands on the magnificent 18th century clock tower, I would have been staring at the ground, which I am inclined to do when walking. Once, when pondering the ground, mooching through the sleepy streets of Rye, I passed Paul McCartney, almost shoulder to shoulder. It was only seconds afterwards when Jude said, 'That was Paul McCartney,' that I looked up, turned round excitedly and recognised the back of his head, disappearing down the hill.

On the other hand, I suppose that if I was one of those Romantic types, I would have been gazing at the sky, the clouds formation and their constant scudding (very Wordsworthian); maybe conjuring up a couplet or two and testing their buoyancy by constant repetition

Yet on this day I was where was I? oh yes, clock gazing. So then suddenly, out of the corner of my eye on its downward trajectory, I noticed the colour of a woman's hair as she approached. What a glorious corn-marigold colour it was on this bleak and night-like afternoon! Then I thought, what a striking face she has. I think I am reasonably well brought up (as well as being neurotically self-taught) and I'm sure that my mother always said that it was rude to stare.

I have never been able to accept that it is wrong to stare at striking women. Rather it seems to me that for such women to whom is due homage, obeisance, what-you-will, there is a positive duty to stare. As it is also probably one's duty, just once, to travel to Egypt and to stand and stare, en plein soleil, into the eyes of the sphinx of Gizeh.

So I stared and in the next second thought, ooh, isn't that Jennifer Saunders? The woman passed me. I stopped and anxiously adjusted my raincoat, which I noticed was lopsided, so that if she happened to stop and glance back at me, I would not appear too dishevelled, too desperate looking. I continued to stare at her ample retreating figure. No skeletal fashion wraith she! She was wearing dark blue jeans, designer jeans probably, with a white label on the rear pocket and above, a fluffy white sweater, the edges of which protruded below her denim jacket. She was accompanied by a taller woman, with shiny black shoulder length hair. They were both carrying glossy carrier bags with tasselled handles.

I suppose that I could have followed her for a few hundred yards. I am sure that if I had rummaged quickly through the lining of my raincoat, I might have come up with a Marks and Spencer receipt or cinema ticket stub. I could have asked her to sign that, adding, with as much self mockery as I could muster as someone once said to Julia Roberts - 'Thanks for being interrupted.' Perhaps she would have replied, in a post-modern, ironic manner, 'Absolutely fabulous, sweetie.'

The reality was that if I lingered any longer I would be late getting back to work. The Magistrates would be waiting. How could I explain to them that I had bumped into Jennifer Saunders during my lunch hour and just couldn't get away? Iconic age or not, epiphany or no epiphany, I had to go. And so, I turned up my collar against the wind and with a little skip, the merest hint of homage to the presence of celebrity, began to run.

Jayne Gill - November 2000

Jennifer Saunders

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