When I was a teenager I’d be walking through town.
A middle aged woman – roughly my mum’s age – would smile and say “hello” to me.
Occasionally, I’d say “hello” back.
After all, you need to humour some people.
Then again, my sexual knowledge now included the fact the older women could be attracted to younger men.
Was that why they were smiling at me? Hmmm…
Two days later I’d be on the wrong end of a telling off. “Betty said she saw you in town. She said ‘hello.’ You just ignored her.”
If it wasn’t Betty it was Peggy. Or Audrey. Or Joan.
Every time I went into town I managed to upset one of mum’s friends.
And it was always reported.
I was baffled. Mum said Betty, Peggy and co. had been to our house. Had they? That must have been when the football was on.
And then I fell in love. I spent three perfect months losing myself in her beautiful green eyes. No-one had ever loved like this. No two lovers had ever been so close…
And then one day I met her accidently. Somewhere out of context. Somewhere I didn’t expect to meet her.
More accurately, she met me. Because I didn’t recognise her.
I didn’t recognise The Only Girl I Could Ever Love.
Only for a split second. But long enough for her to notice.
I clearly had a problem.
Not that anyone believed me.
“Have you got your contact lenses in the wrong eyes?” was the usual, remarkably unhelpful, suggestion.
And so I wandered through life in a state of permanent embarrassment. Every time I met someone the trick was to get “So what are you doing now?” into the conversation as quickly as possible.
Then I could play some sort of desperate 20 questions with myself before they realised I didn’t have a clue who they were.
“I’ve got a medical condition that hasn’t been invented yet,” I told Jane one day (obviously when I’d made sure I was talking to my wife).
She was doubtful. And irritated. Whatever my condition was, she was fed up with it.
“Who’s that again? She’s in it a lot.”
Once upon a time my wife had enjoyed costume dramas. Now she had to watch them with the small child she’d carelessly married.
“It’s Elizabeth I. The programme’s called Elizabeth. Obviously she’s in it a lot. Now will you shut up and let me watch it?”
Gradually the children became aware that dad couldn’t recognise anyone.
Family film nights took on a whole new dimension.
“Which one’s Legolas, dad?”
“We’re watching Pirates of the Caribbean. Don’t be stupid. Legolas isn’t in this.”
“Yes, he is. And Elliot Carver.”
And when the film finished and the children rushed to the kitchen to re-fuel I’d stay glued to the credits as recognition gradually dawned.
When Ben was nine he was diagnosed with dyslexia. A light went on for him.
And for me.
Clearly his inability to recognise words in a normal way was linked to my inability to recognise faces in a normal way. Or at all, come to that.
I started to research the condition. And what do you know? It exists.
Face blindness. Or – if you really want to impress your wife – prosopagnosia.
Apparently one in 50 of us might suffer from it.
So I’m not alone – which is good. And now I’m not embarrassed to tell people I meet that I won’t recognise them tomorrow.
It’s not all bad news either. Guess who else thinks he might have the condition? Brad Pitt.
Yep, it’s uncanny how many things Brad and I have in common…