SANDI TOKSVIG Never for­gets a face

This month Sandi’s feel­ing a lit­tle sheep­ish that even a farm­yard an­i­mal may have bet­ter ob­ser­va­tional skills than she does. Food for thought…

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Contents - IL­LUS­TRA­TION CLARE MACKIE good­house­keep­

Af­ter 36 years of ap­pear­ing reg­u­larly on tele­vi­sion, one of the up­sides of my life is that lots of peo­ple I’ve never met be­fore stop me for a chat. The down­side of my life is that they some­times choose to do this at awk­ward times. Pos­si­bly my worst mo­ment was be­ing caught on the loo in a pub­lic ladies’ room, when the lock was faulty and the per­son who burst in didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate that I might want to be alone.

I never cease to be im­pressed, how­ever, that peo­ple ac­tu­ally recog­nise me at all. I some­times strug­gle to place mem­bers of my own fam­ily, let alone some­one off the telly. I am hope­less at a party. Peo­ple I know per­fectly well loom into view, grin­ning win­ningly, and not a sin­gle name ap­pears in my head. I know I know them. Pos­si­bly I even know them well, but all I can muster is ‘Hello, dar­ling’ as an open­ing gam­bit.

I don’t know why I’m so bad at re­call­ing who is who. I read re­cently that even sheep are per­fectly ca­pa­ble of spot­ting a celebrity out and about. There was a mar­vel­lous ex­per­i­ment where sci­en­tists both­ered to train some will­ing ru­mi­nants to recog­nise the faces of for­mer US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, ac­tors Emily Wat­son and Jake Gyl­len­haal and news­reader Fiona Bruce. I’m not sure how the boffins came up with that quar­tet of folk, or why the lives of Welsh moun­tain sheep might be im­proved by their ac­quain­tance, but the video footage is ex­tra­or­di­nary. Show a sheep two pho­tos and you can see a look come over their woolly faces as they take a minute to fig­ure out which one they al­ready know. I have that same stare of con­cen­tra­tion at par­ties all the time but no one ever gives me a food pel­let if I get it right. It never oc­curred to me that food might be the miss­ing piece of the puz­zle in my poor re­call.

As if the sheep didn’t make me feel hope­less enough, it turns out there are also chimps, goats, pi­geons and honey bees that can spot a pal in a crowd. Even fish can use their glassy stare to divine friend from foe. The archer­fish is in­ge­nious. If it fan­cies a bug sit­ting on a leaf over the wa­ter, it turns its mouth into a wa­ter pis­tol, shoot­ing a jet so ac­cu­rately that the in­sect is knocked down into eat­ing range. No sci­en­tist can leave such a tal­ent un­tapped, so they put a com­puter mon­i­tor above an archer­fish aquar­ium and showed the sharp-shoot­ing fish two faces. I make it sound sim­ple but they trained the fish to spit at one of the two im­ages, giv­ing them food when they got it right. The bright­est fish suc­ceeded 86% of the time, which is way higher than I man­age at any work gath­er­ing. Again, food seems to be the key.

Of course, I’m not alone in my poor fa­cial-recog­ni­tion abil­i­ties. I get plenty of peo­ple who ap­proach me in the su­per­mar­ket con­fi­dent that I am a) in their bowls club b) their child’s pi­ano teacher or c) – my ab­so­lute favourite – a fel­low mem­ber of the Sal­va­tion Army. Of­ten, to save em­bar­rass­ment, I go along with what­ever the per­son wants me to be. I en­quire about their child’s pi­ano prac­tice pieces or be­moan my loss of form on the bowl­ing green. I do it to save any awk­ward­ness and be­cause the only time I ever cor­rected some­one, it back­fired spec­tac­u­larly. I was out shop­ping, hor­ri­bly late for an ap­point­ment, when a pass­ing woman grabbed my arm and de­clared, ‘Hello! How nice to see you!’ ‘How nice to see you,’ I replied. The woman smiled. ‘You don’t re­mem­ber me do you? We were at school to­gether.’

I could lit­er­ally feel the clock tick­ing on my wrist and I knew I needed to get away, so I said some­thing I’ve never said be­fore. ‘I’m very sorry but you’re mis­taken. I work on tele­vi­sion and you’ve recog­nised me from some show or other.’ She shook her head. It turns out I’m an id­iot and we were at school to­gether.

Any­way, I’ve been hon­ing my skills. I con­cen­trate when I’m in­tro­duced to any­one, I re­peat their name, and I try to seek out some fa­cial fea­ture to im­print on my mind. I think it’s go­ing well. So far I can ab­so­lutely recog­nise Barack Obama, and I can also nail Fiona Bruce – as long as some­one feeds me.

I some­times strug­gle to place mem­bers of my own fam­ily

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