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Forgive Me if I Don’t Recognise You

Forgive Me if I Don’t Recognise You

Ernest Hemingway wrote of the difficulties that reporters have with stuffing their heads full of other people’s stories. He said that they risked forgetting their own stories and thus having a bad memory for their own lives, and I can really relate to that.

Let me tell you one story you might find amusing, I was out at The Forum in Tunbridge Wells a few years ago and I spent a while chatting to this guy, and at the end of our conversation I said: ‘…anyway, it was so nice to meet you.’

He said: ‘Actually we’ve met before.’

‘I’m so sorry,’ I said, ‘have we?’

‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘at a barbecue.’

I must have looked confused: ‘Oh, there must have been loads of people there,’ I said.

‘No,’ he replied, ‘there were only three guests: you, me and your partner.’

‘Oh god,’ I said, ‘I’m so embarrassed, I’m so sorry I didn’t recognise you…’

Anyway, I turned to the womam standing next to me and said: ‘Oh, you won’t believe what just happened,’ and recited to her the conversation I’ve just told you. I said to her: ‘Don’t tell me you were at the barbecue too.’

She replied: ‘It was my barbecue.’

I was so embarrassed.

I honestly think that Hemingway was right, the number of other people’s lives I have packed into my tiny brain has meant some space for data has been sacrificed – and in my case, it’s faces. I’m one of those people who can remember random phone numbers from my teens, or the lottery numbers I picked in 1994 when the National Lottery started – although I’m too chicken to see if I would have won by now if I’d carried on playing – but I can’t remember people’s faces very well, and that leaves me terrified of not recognising my customers, and indeed anyone I’ve met before.

I’ve always worried about seeming rude to people in case they think I’m ignoring them, and because I have this weird thing in my brain, I always assume people don’t recognise me either and so, I don’t say hello even if I do recognise them for fear of them being embarrassed because they don’t recognise me!

And so it goes.

Hemingway warned about this

Yesterday, two customers came into the shop who I have met before socially, and I started my sales spiel before they said: ‘You do know we’ve met before.’


When they remind me I know instantly of course! Cue loads of apologies from me.

The other day I saw one of my customers outside the coffee shop as I was about to get a coffee and sort of did a half hello in case he was one of my customers, although in fairness, that day I didn’t have my glasses on because – and that’s another problem – I don’t wear my glasses all the time which means most people look like fleshy blobs to me. I’ve now started wearing contact lenses in the shop.

It’s weird for me because I’ve spent most of the last ten years inside on my own writing books and recently, of course, I’ve abandoned this hermitic lifestyle for a sociable one.

I remember when covid hit feeling all smug because everybody else was giving up their work and social lives, or their commutes into London, and I said: ‘Well, nothing much has changed for me.’

Yet as the months went on I thought: Hmmm, maybe that’s not so cool after all.

So a few months ago to try and persuade myself to be more sociable and less writerly, I decided to get a puppy and it was her coaxing me out of the house that made me realise I actually like hanging out with real human beings rather than the fictional ones I create for books.

I think I’ve adapted really well to seeing humans every day when to be honest before a week could go by and I could see no-one but my daughter, my puppy and my cats, Derek and Clive.

But I’m still left with this weird facial recognition thing, or rather this lack of recognition thing, so all I can say is I’m going to try really hard to recognise everybody but if I don’t please forgive me and don’t think you’re not important to me or I don’t value our chats because I do. I’ll probably remember the age you told me your cat was when it died, or the last book your little boy bought and loved from here, but Hemingway had it spot on about reporters, we pack our heads with the lives of others and sacrifice our own.


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