A view backstage at Beverley Minster

I’ll forget my own name next

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford reluctantly admits to a social disease.
Now, before we get going there’s one thing you should know about me. I’m a straight-shooter, a pretty straightforward sort of guy, I wield a sword of truth. I’m not someone who sees a wrong and won’t right it. I will stand up; if I have to – I am prepared to name names….
Except I can’t, because I’ve flipping well forgotten them.
It’s a pain in the proverbial but, I am afraid to admit, I just find it incredibly difficult to remember some names.
It’s my own fault I suspect – although I shall try and blame science too. When I was a child it was confidently asserted by people in white coats who smoked pipes that the human brain could not develop after birth – you had what you were given and, on a daily basis, millions of bits of it died until, if you were lucky, you just about managed to beat it to the grave. So anything that didn’t come easily to me in the memory department were dismissed as just one of those things that couldn’t be helped.
Then research came out showing that London public taxi drivers (cabbies) who had undertaken ‘The Knowledge’ (the incredibly demanding process of memorising how to get from every street in London to any other completely randomly-nominated street) had a more developed section in the ‘memory’ part of their brains than ordinary people. In other words the brain was a muscle like any other one in your body and the more you exercised it the more it grew and the more stuff it could deal with.
Sadly, this neurological knowledge came much too late for my social skills. I was so full of myself as a youngster (teen, twenty-something and even a thirty-ist) that I had never seen the need to remember the names of acquaintances. I was so darned self-important that I allowed this particular memory muscle to atrophy during the all-important formative years when I should have been developing it.
 And now it’s pretty useless, and I’m ashamed by this.
When our current vicar first arrived at the Minster I watched him consciously working his ‘name-recognition’ skills, closing his eyes as he tried to create connections between faces and names – and it worked. Within a week or so I was airily talking about the special requirements of parishioner ‘A’ only for him to interrupt and say: “Ah, you mean ‘so-and-so’” and, of course, he was right and I wasn’t.
It’s so bad that I can forget a name just walking from one end of the church to the other. A while back I took a  message for Virger John from someone who I’ve known for at least eight years and we’d been talking about only a few minutes before – and he also gave me his name over the phone. John was only around the corner but by the time I’d got his attention it had vanished again. I could describe him, his wife, his job title and role within the church family – even pass on his message accurately – but his name? Forget it!
It’s an incredibly specific failure of memory as well, as I discovered last month when the artist who created the masterpieces in our retro-quire turned up to check how we were looking after her creations. Before her visit I would confidently rattle out her name to the many visitors who wanted to know more, but now I’ve met her this information has obviously been transferred to this other part of my mind which is about as reliable as the Met Office’s five day forecasts.
Oh, I’ve learned various strategies to cope, and I’ve got a good memory for faces but it’s so embarrassing not to be able to say: “Hi Fred” when ‘Fred’ greets you by name. And the world is a poorer place as a result. I am aware of a Zen aphorism that states: “Better to see the face than to hear the name,” but frankly that’s cobblers.
“What’s in name?” sks Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. “That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” Sorry old what’syourname, but I disagree. The names that people have are important and I promise, promise, PROMISE to try harder in future to remember them, because it shows appropriate respect.
However, I have discovered that I hardly ever forget the name of someone who buys me a drink. Odd that.
First published October 2010 

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