Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Cats & Bags

Much time has elapsed since the beginning of this blog and I have in the time between posts learnt a great deal. First and foremost and pertinent to the prior posting, yet unknown to me at the time of writing, there was more to my story than I knew at the time of writing.

After a very long and as is customary, tenebrous conversation with my father one recent evening on a subject revolving around a specific incidence of facial recognition from his past, an incidence fact he had as a matter of course always maintained that whilst he 'never forgot a face' he could in this instance, place the man and the face, yet not the place. This led me to believe that he was in all likelihood someone at the higher end of hypothesised spectrum with regard to facial recognition abilities, yet no super recogniser.

During this discussion however, he elaborated that for reasons which must remain shrouded, he had been lying. In an incidence in his private life years ago, he had laid eyes on the aforementioned individual in only a passing moment and in a capacity unrelated to his own presence in the situation, yet when confronted with his image in a different and momentous capacity decades later, knew the face, the situation and the place. The gravitas of the situation supplied the name, which remained an unencountered from the sighting in decades passed.

This leads me to look at my prior story of our sweeper and to make further observations:

1. Did my father also recognise 'the man who sweeps up in Woolworths'? Possibly, possibly not, but the point of note is that whilst possessing the same ability as my mother, he - for whatever reason - mocked her. This leads me to:

2. The hypothesis that some super recognisers can be seen to be either unaware of, or intentionally conceal their ability. This is evidenced by 'Jennifer' in the BBC article.

I can for my part, exclaim a complete ignorance of my own super recgognitive ability. I thought only that I had been brought up to be polite and that when everyone I recognised did not recogise or outwardly acknowledge recognition, they were perhaps either rude or had their reasons for mostly customarily dismissive displays.

In addition I attest to telling what I deem to be 'embarrassment avoiding white lies' in the everyday, with regard to admitting whether or not I have met people before, in exactly the way described by 'Jennifer' from the above BBC article. This prompts me to put forward the notion that super recognisers feel a need to 'fit in'.

I personally, am never happier when in foreign lands or places far from home. My love of travel aside, there is also solace in the equalizing effect brought on by not recognising the same people from your hometown, day in-day out, whom you do not know and have never spoken to; From the man who stood in front of you in the bank once 3 months ago, to the workers in local shops and businesses.

I suppose I have - as with 'Jennifer' and my father - been aware that whilst acting honestly is always a definite preference, it is - under certain circumstances - far more comfortable for all concerned, not letting the cat out of the bag.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Beginnings - The man who sweeps up in Woolworths

Of course, beginnings are where one starts any story, any journey, but who is the man who sweeps up in Woolworths? And what on earth could this character bring to bear on an exploration of super-recognition? For my family, the man who sweeps up in Woolworths has a status almost legendary, somewhat comical, yet always entirely sigh inducing. The only person not sighing at the metaphorical campfire right now is my father, as it is always he who tells the tale.

Somewhere in the early 1970s's, my mother and father are in a public place. My mother is testing the patience of both herself and my father by the torment that is knowing a face. Knowing that you have seen it before and then feeling the need to recall the situation and the reason you recognise this person. However, the man who passed my parents on the street - as my mother exclaims with triumphant delight - is the man who sweeps up in Woolworths! She knows this because he has ginger hair, has an unendearing look to him and uses a particularly wide-headed broom most suited to his task. The important part here is that this observation has no context, either from their conversation, where they had visited that day nor even from any form of close professional familiy ties to the department store in question. Consequently my father thinks my mother strange and mocks her outlandish observation.

Roughly 35 years later, my mother and father are in public again on the outskirts of town when the man who sweeps up in Woolworths rears his ginger, unendearing head once again, this time on a passing bicycle. After the better part of four decades, the story of the man who sweeps up in Woolies is known throughout our family and family friends, due in no small part to having been wheeled out for laughs and mockery between sprouts at Christmas dinner, drinks on a night out, or simply for lack of any other suitably entertaining new material. Sadly, my mother failed to learn that to point out the same man again after his long hiatus from public life with regard to the social-comic circles of our family's conciousness would be...unfortunate.

My mother is a super-recogniser. We have since discussed this new-fangled concept to some degree after it caught my attention at the start of this year that these supposedly 'super' recognisers' abilities were that which I deemed to be the norm. My everyday. It set my mind alight with correspondingly parallel anecdotes from my own past. Apparently I was not the norm and it is probable that I see the world quite differently to most others. I am now sure that with the demise of Woolworths as a high street ever-present, no-one sweeps up there anymore and though I have never owned a dog, I have a feeling I'm not in Kansas anymore.