It’s Not (Quite) All About Me (part two)

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I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I am aware that when I do, I drive my wife barmy with “What was she in? Was it that thing with wosname, out of the thing set in Oldham – or was it Glasgow – you remember, she was having an affair with the bloke out of the Pampers advert, you know, the one with the lip – kept a sockful of marbles in his trouser pocket… oh, what was it called?” And I can’t let it go. I will spend the next fifteen minutes trawling around on Google, eventually deciding that I actually know her from all the previews they’ve been running for this series and return in time to find that she’s been murdered by the woman from the Specsavers advert. I often wonder why my wife gets so overcome by tiredness whenever I turn up to watch a program with her: why she’s usually gone up to bed before I have had time to tell her that the woman playing the detective’s wife was actually the murderer in a program I watched the week before… or was she the zookeeper with hives? “Oh, that’s this? Sorry, I didn’t realise. Of course, it was the librarian all the time wasn’t it? You don’t know? No, of course you don’t. It’s only just started hasn’t it? I’ll just go and… trim my nasal hair…” Anyway, it is now out in the open, isn’t it? I shall address it.

And I am useless at the kind of social chit-chat that is shared with acquaintances rather than friends. My brain, full of questions – “Do I know them? Do I know their name? Do they have children? Maybe I know their partner… Do they even have a partner?” – freezes and I do nothing but nod like a tongue-tied mute (if that’s even possible) in fear of saying something crass (normally asking after the health of someone whose funeral I have recently attended) until we part, at which point I remember who they are and realise how rude I have just been. I’ll address that too…

And – my word this is disturbingly easy – I am a terrible travel-companion. Travel makes me anxious and I have an almost pathological fear of being late: put the two together and I become a bloody nightmare. I insist on always being so early to the airport that I have more than enough time to become nervous beyond comprehension. Even a giant Toblerone is not enough to settle me. Eventually ladling me onto an aircraft is a blessed relief to my family as I am, by then, struck dumb with terror. Fear of flying, contrary to what people may try to tell you, is not irrational. Expecting a giant metal tube with wings not to come crashing down to the ground is, to my mind, irrational. Disaster is the logical conclusion to the bloody thing being up there in the first place. It’s not the crashing that scares me, it’s the moments before (and I am not thinking about the in-flight food). It is the realisation that I am, thanks to the bloody-minded check-in algorithm, half an aeroplane away from my nearest and dearest, strapped in next to an over-lubricated first time flyer, trying to explain that ‘no, there will be no bar service as long as the plane remains pointed straight at the ground.’ I have realised that the only that thing settles me to the scientific rationale of powered flight is gin. But I’ll address that as well…

I could go on. Sadly, it would be very easy. Trouble is, of course, that whilst I am fully conscious of all the bad characteristics of which I am aware, they undoubtedly pale into insignificance alongside all of those of which I am unaware. How can I address what I am unaware of? I could ask someone, of course, but I don’t really want to hear the answer. It might be long and painful. It might involve traits that I had always considered endearing. It might mean that I can never eat or sleep again. It might mean that I have to change the way that I breathe. It might mean that I have to stop breathing altogether in certain circumstances – e.g. the pause before the winner of Strictly… is announced. No, I can’t seek outside input: I am no Piers Morgan, but even so the results may be too unpredictable and the solutions too drastic. You see, I am reconciled to the fact that I am not very good, but I do not honestly want to be made aware of the myriad ways in which I am actually quite bad.

I could, of course, stop making this all about me and start considering the flaws of those about me, but, in the end, that would only reflect on one person and you might be able to guess who that would be. Besides, I’ve become quite reconciled to being cranky, I just don’t want to be cranky and friendless, thank you very much. I’ll consider my own flaws and you can consider yours – if you have any, of course – I am jumping to conclusions. I’ll address that too…

Niles, I’ve got news for you.  Copernicus called and you’re not the centre of the universe. – Frasier

Facing the Music

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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