It was just a standard grey work day – albeit a Friday – and I was engrossed in working on a student appeal when one of my work colleagues sidled through the office door with a guilty air about her. My heart sank as I wondered what had gone wrong with the ruddy website this time, but she surprised me by informing me in a somewhat overawed whisper, “I’ve just seen Millie Knight!”. “Whaaaaaat?!”, I exclaimed in disbelief, “Where?!”. “She’s buying something from the street kitchen!”, replied my colleague.
Without further ado, we both
raced as fast as we could walked sedately back down the other end of the corridor to my colleague’s office, which offers a panoramic view of the rather misleadingly grandly named ‘Jarman Plazza’. This is the outdoor area between the Jarman and Marlowe buildings, whose cold grey slabs pretty much just merge into the cold grey buildings on either side. It floods whenever we have heavy rain and becomes a skating rink in the winter. But anyway… I dashed over to the office window and proceeded to do that thing you see in films where the policeman parts the slats of the blinds and peers through suspiciously. At this point, my colleague marched across the room and vigorously yanked the entire blind up by its frail cord. We gazed out of the window, and there she was: Millie Knight, the Paralympic skier, wearing a dark blue GB sports top and ordering something from the street kitchen (a little mobile fast food outlet at one end of the ‘plazza’). She was shortly joined by another lady and they sat down together with their food at one of the picnic benches.
“Ooooooh, I want to go and say hello!”, I squealed like a teenager at a boy band concert. “Do it, do it!”, cried my colleague, with a huge grin on her face and all but clapping her hands in delight as she egged me on. “Oh, but what would I say?!”, I wondered aloud in sudden panic. “And I can’t really interrupt their lunch, can I?! That would be a bit rude. She must get sick of people bothering her.” “Nooooo”, encouraged my colleague, “Just go!”. At that point she had to leave herself – off to the University Sports Centre for a spot of netball practise.
I gazed out of the window once more, before reluctantly trudging back up the corridor to my own office, wondering if Millie would still be there when I went out for lunch at 1pm and how I could possibly manage to say hello if she was. Upon asking various people for advice on what to say, I received replies ranging from the brief, “Congratulations” (on her two silver and one bronze medals in the recent Winter Paralympics), to the rather more detailed, “Hi Millie, my name’s Emma and I write blogs about RD (retinal detachment) and I wrote one about you called ‘Blind skiing’, as I think you’re so inspirational and incredibly brave.”
Needless to say, I (as usual) spent far too long thinking about it rather than taking action, and by 1pm Millie had vanished. On the way to meet my friend for lunch across campus, I bumped into my aforementioned colleague who shall henceforth be known as ‘the Millie spotter’, returning from the Sports Centre. “Did you say hello?”, she asked me. “No… she’d gone!”, I wailed. “You didn’t see her at the Sports Centre then?”, I asked hopefully. “No”, she shook her head. “Oh well, I might go and loiter outside for a bit just in case she’s there”, I said. However, we agreed that it was probably unlikely that she was partaking in exercise after a street kitchen meal, which tend to look pretty substantial.
Despite loitering suspiciously outside the Sports Centre, there was no sign of Millie Knight and it became clear that I’d missed my chance. I had no-one to blame but my own nervousness about meeting Scary New People and my irritating tendency to overthink everything. But next time, I told myself firmly, I would be brave. Next time, I would leap out of my seat and march across the Jarman Plazza with purpose. Next time I would go and say hello. Hmmm… I wonder if I’ll ever get the chance again…
Note: You can read more about the amazing Millie Knight in my post, ‘Blind skiing’. Or, of course, you can just Google her and watch some of the incredible videos of her in action. Warning: you may need a cushion to hide behind.