My Ever-Increasing Difficulties with Names

“I have always been bad with names…”

So began a blog post I wrote many moons ago wherein I described how terrible I have always been at remembering people’s names. 

The quote above is a link to that post, if you’re bothered. There’s quite a funny and true ‘story-against-myself’ at the root of it.

I mention it so that you know I haven’t forgotten that I’ve written about this stuff before. I haven’t. My memory is pretty darned good, I reckon… for everything except names.

So, yeah, ‘Bad with Names’ that’s me and that’s always been me.

Only it’s getting worse.

The other evening seemed to offer an escalation in my uselessness at recalling names. Please allow me to briefly recount the events for you.

I was at Writer’s Group, which is a little thing I go to most alternate Monday evenings. It’s a low-key affair where a small number of people come and read out bits of their stuff and receive a little encouragement and perhaps a measure of constructive criticism. It’s small-time and nice. I like it.

Last Monday evening, one of the writers coined the phrase ‘That’s All She Wrote’ in the piece he read. I started to wax knowledgeable about the expression, rattling-on about how it most likely derived from the 'Dear John' letters which sweethearts sent to their on-duty soldiers to break up with them. Apparently there was a joke wherein a soldier told his buddies how he had got a letter from his girl that started ‘Dear John’ and his buddies said, ‘go ahead, read it out to us’ and he replied, ‘that’s all she wrote’.

That's when the name-blank thing happened.

I was recalling a famous Country singer of the 40’s and 50’s who died tragically young and who had penned many hits which live on to this day. He had written a song called ‘Dear John, I Sent Your Saddle Home’ in which the expression ‘That’s All She Wrote’ turned up.

Yes, but what was his name?

I won’t play this game with you now. It was Hank Williams, of course. You know that, I know that… I just couldn’t remember his damn name. I did what I usually do in these circumstances, I shut down all extraneous communication in order to try to summon the name from the depths of my recalcitrant mind. It wouldn’t come. The writer’s group looked on in growing apprehension as I (rather pointlessly, it has to be said) tried to  think of Hank Williams’ name. “It starts with a ‘C’,” I remember saying at one point. That didn’t help much, as you can imagine.

So, okay, nothing all that unusual here. I couldn’t remember a name. Big deal. Yes, quite, but it’s what happened next that plumbed a new depth for me.

I suddenly remembered Leonard Cohen and his song ‘The Tower of Song’. It has a lyric that I like quite a lot and I am very good at remembering lyrics. I knew for a fact that the Country Singer (Hank Williams) was name-checked prominently in that song. So all I had to do was run through the lyrics til I got to the man's name. Easy.

I knew all the lyrics. I particularly like that Hank Williams verse. It’s got a lot of mood, I think. Here’s the verse, in case you don’t know it:

I said to Hank Williams,
“How lonely does it get?”
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet
But I hear him coughing
All night long
A hundred floors above me
In the Tower of Song.

So I started to say this lyric aloud. I saw it as clear as day inside my head. Every word.

Every word… except Hanks' name.

It was the oddest thing. It was as if somebody had censored the song in my head, Tippexing-out every mention of the name. Everything else was recalled perfectly but the name was a blank.

I said to ***************,
“How lonely does it get?”
***********  hasn't answered yet

How bloody weird is that? Eh?

I got so frustrated with myself that some kind soul had to finally look it up on his phone and put me out of my misery.

I’ve always been bad with names.

But this, for me, was a whole new low.

Marking the Turn

Friday evening at six pm saw me standing in the little park at the centre of our town and staring up towards the sky. People were probably saying, “look at that eejit,” but that’s nothing new, I reckon.

The little park at the centre of my town is called The Mall. It’s quite like a village green on the same style as, say, Twickenham Green (where I also used to live, once upon a time, long long ago). I walk through The Mall on the way home from work most days and that’s what I was doing on Friday at 6.00pm. Collar turned up, laptop case slung nonchalantly over shoulder, feeling the weekend coming on… when I was stopped in my tracks and forced to look upward and take note.

This only happens to me twice every year and it usually on The Mall. It's what I tend to call my ‘Noting of the Season’. Because that’s what it was, that’s what had happened. Suddenly and unexpectedly, a bit like that Mole-Rat thing in ‘Groundhog Day’ (all right, yes yes, I know it was a Groundhog) I came out of my hole and saw what season it had suddenly become.

And it had suddenly become Spring.

I said this only happens to me twice a year and that’s pretty-much true. The other time is Winter. I stand on The Mall and I stop and I note that it is the Depths of Winter. I know why it happens in Winter, because it’s also Christmas Time and that’s about the only time in a year when I stop for a week or ten days and become quite insular. For the rest of the year, I spend my time running around like a March Hare, residing largely in my head along with my own imaginings and stupid worries. The seasons slip by and I hardly notice them at all. But on Christmas Night, when most sane people are comfied-up watching Dr Who or The Downton Abbey Special, I go for a walk and I generally end up on The Mall and I can guarantee that I will be the only soul there and the depth and darkness of Wintertime will strike me in that moment and I will mark it.

That’s not a bad thing. I like Wintertime. It’s a time of warmth and protection for we, the lucky ones who have the resources to weather the storms. So, yeah, Autumn and Summer may often sail past me but I take note of Winter.

Then there was Friday at Six. The other season that doesn’t pass me by… didn’t pass me by. I don't know why this one hits me, it's probably just the natural buzz of plants-and-such waking up and coming alive again. Whatever it was, Spring had arrived on The Mall and I stopped and I let it sink in for a moment. It was the trees. This morning as I walked through, I felt sure they had been bare, bereft of life or colour but now…

… now…

They didn’t have ‘leaves’ per se and many of them still had nothing at all to show, but some of them had buds which has just erupted into compact green bushels. More the ‘promise of leaves’ than actual ‘leaves themselves’. But there they were all the same. Where, this morning, there had been bare boughs now there was an instigation of green.

It was a tiny golden/green moment so I stopped to look. Not to sigh poetically (as if) or certainly not to draw attention to myself. Just to Mark the Turn.

How many Turns do we get to Mark in our lives? Not too many. When you Mark a Turn, it’s best to stop and imprint it on your retina, sink it down into your mind.

A wise man once summed it up quite well:

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Well said, John Hughes.

And good man yourself, Ferris.

How Green is Your Grass?

Imagine if the grass you see is different to the grass that I see and, indeed, different to the grass that everyone else in the entire world sees. Imagine if we all see grass differently.

Imagine if we all see absolutely everything differently.

You see grass. I see grass. We both know that grass is green… but what constitutes ‘green’? Is the ‘green’ that I see the same ‘green’ that you see and how could we possibly know that it is?

Imagine that this was true of everything in the world. That my apprehension of something is hugely different to everybody else’s apprehension of it and that I never-once even dreamed this was the case. What a strange and terribly lonely world that might be.

It is.

Wake up, Ken, it is.

The grass that I see is different to the grass that you see and so are the cars and the sky and the buildings and the carrots and the roof-slates and the toilet rolls.  What I see is not what you, or anybody else, sees. It’s mine.

If you don’t believe me, if you think I’m just typing out fantastical rubbish here, then stop for a minute and think.

Think about the Movies.

The Movies, as is often the case, will bring us to the truth of things.

You watch a movie and I watch a movie. It’s the same movie in every single respect, let’s say we’re even in the same room when we watch it. Everything is the same. Except I love it and you hate it. It’s the same movie but we see it differently. We react to it differently. It shows itself to us in different ways.

So it is with the grass and with everything else too.

We inform the things we see with our own being. Things like grass. We do it with our memories (grass made my arse damp once), the peculiarities of our senses (grass smells like that stuff Mum used to rub on my chest when I was small and wheezy), our physical foibles (grass makes me sneeze) and our prejudices (grass is just stupid). In this way I can hate grass while you can love it, even though it's the same grass.

We are, each and every one of us, imprisoned in an individual sensual and emotional world of our own making, unable to truly share any experience with anybody else.

How awful and lonely and sad.

Well, no, not necessarily.

We can learn, can’t we? About other people’s perceptions of things. We can hear what they feel about stuff and this can then colour and even change how we feel about that stuff too.

It’s easier to talk about the Movies in this context than grass but it applies equally to both. I hated the movie, you loved it. Fair enough. I’ll listen to why you loved it. If you’ll tell me, that is. Maybe I’ll hear about some good stuff I overlooked in the movie while I was so transfixed with hating it.

Maybe my locked-up individual view of this godforsaken world will be made a little bit brighter and more positive if I can only hear what you have to say about it and try to understand a little bit of what you feel about it.

Your grass is green?

Mine too.

How green is yours?

Going In by the Bank Door

My bank has some new doors. 

They’re designed to increase security, I reckon. To stop people with guns and balaclavas rushing in and swearing and rushing out again with our hard-earned cash. This is a good thing, we need the bank to look after our cash. Not a trace of irony here. None.

The trouble with the new bank doors is that, although they may well thwart the robber-hoard and keep our euro safely abed, they do nothing to ease customer passage in and out of the bank.

In short, these new doors are just a massive pain in the hole.

They act like an airlock. You go in the first set of glazed double doors and find yourself in a small lobby facing another identical set of glazed double doors. All fine. The trouble is that the second set of doors won’t open until the first set of doors are securely closed behind you. It’s for security, you see. If balaclava-ridden thuggies breach the first doors they will have to stand and wait before they can get through the second set and this allows some time for all sorts of buttons to be pushed and breasts to be clutched.

Well done, the bank, you’ve done it, I reckon. You’ve defeated the robbers. Of course, in defeating the robbers you’ve also defeated the poor customers too. You’ve thrown out the baby-depositor with the bank water.

The customers are bemused, deflated, outraged, frustrated and slightly-sweary about these doors. I can confirm this for I myself am a customer.

Let me walk you through the new-bank-door experience.

You arrive at the entrance to the bank. You have a small cheque you wish to deposit. Life is pretty darned good. You are surprised to see that the area behind the glazed entrance doors into the bank is wedged with a human mosaic of people, all pressed up against the glass, swollen-faced and distorted.

There’s a little square white button to the side of the door and you push it in that spirit of exploration and scientific betterment which drives practically all forms of human endeavour. The doors burst open and the trapped people all spill out from within onto the pavement at your feet. Rather like that little Kintner boy in ‘Jaws’ might have done if it had been the right shark and not just some number-plate-munching impostor from upstate. They pick themselves up, the spilled-people, dust themselves down and mutter-off into the irreparably-spoiled morning.

A select few denizens of the between-door area have not fallen out because they were far enough back in the darkened bowels of the lobby to survive the intemperate horror of the door release. They now beckon you inside like hungry witches, their shrivelled fingers crooked in faux welcome. You object. You explain to them how you can’t really go anywhere until they come out of the lobby so why not just come on out and stop inviting you in? It’s only good sense but these lobby-lingerers don’t see it that way. It’s almost as if, in the small timescale they have spent in the bank lobby, they have become institutionalised and reluctant to abandon the unquestionable security of the betwixt-door area.

You humour them, you enter the lobby and now the spell is broken and the welcoming residents suddenly understand the need to get out, to escape. They bombard you with their perambulators and their lollipop-drooling offspring as they make one final all-out bolt for freedom.

Suddenly they are gone and it is just you in the lobby. Silence falls. The outer door eases slowly to that closed position which will enable the inner door to be opened via a similarly square and white button which currently mocks you with its imposed impotency. You watch the inner door swoon towards the consummation of its closure and, when it is within millimetres of completion, you turn to punch the white square button that will allow you into the inner sanctum. You punch the button. Nothing happens. What new hell is this now? You turn, the outer door is wide open again. Some megastar with no hair and milkbottle glasses has pulled the door open at the last minute. You shoot hostile glares and him which his thick glasses and his shiny pate simultaneously conspire to reflect back at you. He is remorseless or impervious, whichever, one of those things that annoying outer-door-opening people are.

In a huff, you move to the outer door and try to make a silent point about your annoyance by trying to pull the door to a closed position before some other gobshite shows up outside. The door weighs exactly the same as those barbells which the Lithuanian Weightlifters attempt to lift for show right after they’ve secured the Olympic Gold Medal. You feel an ancient hernia pop somewhere deep down in your groin and still the door will only close at whatever speed it chooses.

Finally it is closed and a new person arriving outside is accosted with a hostile glare of such magnitude that he falls away from the door in shock and awe. Meanwhile the Megastar has activated the inner door and has slipped away into the murky halls of banking. Now a new hoarde, trapped within holding their completed business slips for far too long, stampede into the lobby blocking your exit. Deaf to your protestations, they pull the inner door closed and this door responds much easier than the outer one ever would. Of course it does. You are trapped, trapped and now doomed to face the exit charge all over again. Not to mention the shock and awe merchant from outside who will derive much glee from informing you that he can’t go anywhere until you come out so please stop beckoning him in.

The new double doors into the bank may keep my meagre money safer but I sometimes wonder if it is worth the cost in human misery that it extorts minute by minute by minute.

It is a thing that is utterly without joy.

Wait, I take that back. There is one joy.

When you finally get inside and have joined the automatic teller queue and you have nothing at all to do for the next few minutes, it is fun to watch the people trapped in the maelstrom of the door lobby living the horror for themselves.

That bit is quite good actually.