'Fantastic. It was fantastic. You're fantastic. The album's fantastic'

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The Independent Culture
At the Lloyd Cole gig party in Camden Town, a blonde human whirlwind in a red dress all but elbows her way through my kidneys to get to Cole and announce, with brisk enthusiasm: "Fantastic. It was fantastic. You're fantastic. The album's fantastic." "Well," mutters the singer, "that's very kind, but..."

"No," she snaps, firmly. "Fantastic. Goodbye." She vanishes into the crowd, and everyone stands around awkwardly and says: "That was very nice of her." "Lovely," says Cole. "But I wasn't happy with the performance tonight. Not really."

"No honestly," we all say at once. "It was great." "Really?" "Yes, honestly," we all hurriedly reply. "Really excellent."

And the next night at the Jerry Lewis/ Lee Evans Funny Bones party in Hanover Square, the very same lady practically knocks me to the floor in her quest to confront Evans.

"Fantastic," she briskly snaps. "You're fantastic. The movie is fantastic. Just fantastic." Once again, this mystery lady, a hit-and-run eulogist, vanishes into the crowd, and in her wake we are left to murmur: "How thoughtful of her to make the effort." "Yes," says Evans. "Thoughtful."

Showbiz fans fall into three categories. There are the Engagers: those who pointedly avoid any reference to their subject's stardom (which would be an admission of inferiority) and instead engage them in lengthy conversation on some tenuous common ground. ("Aren't you Jerry Lewis? Weren't QPR terrible this season?") Then there are the Starers: those who become embarrassingly silent when confronted by celebrities, in the vain hope that if the silence is long enough they will eventually do something. Of course, they invariably do. Once, after an agonisingly mute five minutes in the bar of the Post House Hotel in Cardiff, Tom Waits became so frantic to break the silence that he recited his tour itinerary and forthcoming album plans to me and my friends, including the unforgettable line: "Um... and I'm thinking of calling it 'Rain Dogs'."

And, like the lady in the red dress, there are the Serial Enthusiasts, the SAS of partygoers, who storm in, say something nice, and storm out again. And tonight, at the Funny Bones party, I find myself standing next to her at the bar.

"What did you think of the movie?" I ask. "OK," she shrugs. "Not great, you know." "But you told Lee Evans it was fantastic." "Well, you do, don't you," she replies, testily.

"Surely so much enthusiasm ceases to mean anything when bandied around so liberally?" I suggest.

"Oh, piss off," she replies, and goes off to talk to Katie Puckrik.

Pretty soon, I find myself standing next to somebody from Oasis, and I grin and nod. He nods back. We look at each other for a while, and I grin again. He nods. I nod. Then he settles against the bar and turns to me. I prick my ears in anticipation of our impending conversation. Then he looks away again.

"So," I begin. There is a silence. "Um," I say. "What do you think of United's chances?" "In what?" he asks. "In football," I say. "Oh," he says. "I don't know." Then we nod at each other and he heads off, slightly apologetically, in the direction of the lady in the red dress.