other things like men and recipes and how to handle sciatica. Maybe at the end of the night there might be a ‘hands up, who liked the book’, and a decision on what novel we were going to read and forget for the next time.
So Margaret Atwood, one of my favourite authors ever, came and went within four feet of me, and I was so panicked by my own amnesia I didn’t even say ‘howaya’. The kind- of irony of the whole situation being that the reason I was in RTÉ was to talk about the book I’ve just had published myself — the launch for which had been the evening before: an evening dominated
‘Wouldn’t it be great to have an app that recognises faces like the one that recognises songs?’
by memories of my amnesia.
‘Hello PJ, thank you so much for coming,’ I said to an old acquaintance, a man I hold in high regard, whose name is Noel. He does look a bit like another guy I know called PJ, who hadn’t been invited — so why did my mind do that? Greeting someone with the wrong name is like saying ‘hello’ with a small slap across their face. Then I’m talking to someone I’ve known for years, another personally well-known person joins the conversation — it’s up to me to do the introductions. I blank. Names kaput, instead I cleverly try and orchestrate a window whereby they can ‘organically’ say their names to each other — by running away. It’s hideous when someone recalls your name, and you can’t reciprocate. ‘Anne’ (in my case) they say with warmth, and in a flash their name, that was on the tip of the tongue, is gone. I can remember everything else about the person — but socially to be able to instantaneously put the name to the face seems to encapsulate the depth of the impression the person has made on you — in a way that running through a litany of detail about them doesn’t.
Then, it got worse, much worse. Because I had to sign books, my books, as generously bought by people I know, especially invited to the occasion of its publication. And I kept blanking. ‘So who will I sign this to?’ I’d ask, my palms sweating, as another name bit the dust. Phew, if it was to someone else, and I was handed the name, and oh the mortification of ‘Just make it out to me.’ I got away with a few, ‘how exactly do your spell your name again?’ but did utter, ‘I’m so sorry, I’ve forgotten your name’ once.
Someone who suffers from the same dilemma told me later that what they do is mentally run through the faces and names of acquaintances they expect to meet before social occasions. Someone else said wouldn’t it be great to have a face recognition phone app like the ‘Shazam’ one that recognises songs. You’d just surreptitiously hold the phone up to the face of the person whose name evades you, and get it from cyberspace. Imagine it going wrong, though. ‘Ah Muhammad, so good to see you’. ‘My name’s not Muhammad, it’s Noel.’ ‘Oh. Sorry about that, Noel.’