I have, in my short time on this earth, done many different jobs. I have also done these jobs in many different places. As a result of all this ‘chopping and changing’ I have met a lot of folks.
Now I may not remember your name or where you came from or what town/city/company you worked for, but, I will always remember your face. If I’ve worked with you or met you before, I will recognise you.
You would think that this would be a handy thing to have, this almost automatic recall of a face. It admittedly has been an overall good thing.
I came to England in 1982 just after a gut-wrenching divorce from my first wife. I was keen to get here and escape the bad memories my last base held. My first day here, I kept seeing this guy around the base. I knew that I knew him. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out from where or even when.
I was about to dismiss him as a mental mistake when he caught sight of me. “Hey Smithy, how the hell are ya.” The moment he spoke I knew it was Jerry. A guy who’d helped me get through Basic Training in the USAF. We had a great visit and my first day in a foreign country was made a bit easier by meeting an old mate.
Unfortunately as years went on my ability to always recognise a face let me down a few times.
I started working for the Her Majesty’s Ministry of Justice in 2003. I was a glorified ‘gate keeper’ for lack of a better term. My very first day, I parked up my car and started walking to the reception building. In front of the building a chap sat in his car with his window down. As I approached the car I realised that this fellow looked familiar.
Positive that I must have worked with this fellow before, I decided that the reason he looked so familiar was that I must worked with him before.
I approached him and his car with a big grin on my face. He turned and looked at me as I came up to his car. He had a tentative smile and he looked at me a bit expectantly. Just as I got within ‘hand-shaking’ distance of him I realised that I did not know him at all. Well not personally at any rate.
The man in the car was television presenter Paul Heiney. Just as he opened his mouth to either greet me or tell me to “bugger off” I made a sharp left without breaking my stride and detoured around his car and went in the building. My face was beet red with embarrassment when I realised that I had never worked with this man. I was grateful that the penny had dropped that I only recognised him from TV. Goodness knows what he thought.
The next time I decided I recognised a stranger, it was written all over his face what he thought of it.
Roughly five years passed before I again saw someone who I was positive I knew. I was going into the Tesco’s supermarket about a mile from where I was then living. It was after work and I needed to nip in and get a few things. As I walked through the electric barriers I saw a familiar looking man in a long coat and fedora hat.
He looked to be a bit older than me, but once again, I was positive that I must have worked with this guy somewhere before. I made a beeline straight for him. Again I had that big ‘I know you’ grin on my face. He stood frozen in front of aisle one. As I got closer his eyes widened and he cocked his head, dog like, and peered into my face. As I got closer I realised two things.
Firstly that, no I did not know this man and secondly that he was about to either run, call security or get ready to defend himself from this grinning madman who he’d never before laid eyes on. It was then that I figured out who he really was.
I’d been watching a BBC dramatization all week about Steptoe and Son (a hugely popular comedy show from the 60’s and 70’s) and the older chap in front of me had played Wilfrid Brambell one of the original stars of the television sitcom. His name was Philip Davis and I had on the television the night before.
I veered off to the right of him, grabbed something off a shelf and trundled on as if nothing had happened.
Since these two potentially embarrassing situations, I no longer trust my ‘face recognising’ ability. I do think though that the problem lies with England. It is only in this country that you can bump into celebrities in the strangest and least likely places.
On the day I married my second wife we had our reception in a little pub out in the middle of nowhere. I am pretty sure it was called The Hole in the Wall Pub. A very appropriate name. Halfway through the reception my father-in-law leaned over and told me that he had just had a word with the publican and that Trevor Howard was in the other part of the pub having a quiet meal with his wife.
And he was.
If I see anyone now that I ‘think’ I know, I just keep walking. I figure that if I really do know them, that they might recognise me. If not, well at least I won’t be arrested for ‘stalking’ anyone!