In my ‘real life’ I work in a shop and virtually every day I face the agony of somebody saying to me “Do you remember me?” The answer, almost always, is “No”. I have a terrible problem in recognising faces. Even when the face has not changed, I have huge difficulty remembering to whom it belongs. Given a face that I last saw in childhood, I am completely at sea. As I see people often enough, their features do begin to seep in – I remember my children for instance – but it does take a while. I have lost count of the number of times that I have gone through an entire conversation with an acquaintance without once realising that the person I was talking to was not the person I thought I was talking to, but that they were too polite to say.
There are ways around it; there are strategies I can use, but they require an awful lot of effort to maintain, and I can’t do that all the time, for everyone. My problem seems to lie in the recognition of facial features – I am about as reliable as the Facial Recognition software used by the police. Knowing that somebody has, for instance, a big nose, does not help me unless that person just happens to be called Rose, then I remember them. It’s called mnemonics I think. It doesn’t have to be a facial feature that I focus on; it can be a trait, a habit, even something that somebody else has said: anything that I can put a name to, that is recollectable and that I can immediately associate with that person. If you wear glasses and I recognise you, don’t ever change them or we’ll have to start all over again. Many of these mnemonics are not kind; they rely on personal irregularity in order to be memorable. They are often not nice – I’m not proud of that – but they work and, quite frankly, you will never know about it anyway Twitchy… I’m sorry, Mr. Ritchie.
I find the whole thing intensely irritating and weird. I remember the faces of friends and family, obviously. I struggle with people I haven’t seen in a while, people I only meet occasionally or people I have only just met. The most annoying aspect is that I don’t always recognise the people that I really should, yet, for some unfathomable reason, there are some people that I can recognise for no reason at all. My ability to recognise a face bears no relation to my desire to recall it. Often it’s the faces that I really don’t want to recognise that lodge themselves first. And I am fully aware that people might think that I am just being an arse; that I can’t be bothered to recognise them, or even worse that I am being obtuse and, for whatever reason, I am just pretending that I don’t recognise them. I’m not. The only thing that I can tell you for sure is that if I don’t recognise your face it is not because I don’t want to. It could, however, be because you don’t have a big nose.
By way of natural compensation, I suppose, I am very good with voices, inane facts and I can often spot a tune before the first note has finished. I might not remember your face, but sing me a song and I’ll name the tune in a flash…
Every single ray leaves a little trace
There’s a blind man smiling, the sun on his face
Maybe what we don’t have we don’t need anyway…
Available Light (W. Porter) Willy Porter