I have always been terrible at remembering names; whether it is the names of animal or plant species, books I've read, places I've been, movies I've seen, or, worst of all, people I know. What makes this the worst is that I may come across as rude, which would annoy me. Any of the others just suggest I am a bit dim, which wouldn't bother me.
The following is a template for a conversation I could have any day of the week.
"Hi, Ann." I am walking down the street of a local town and, looking to the source of the voice, discover a well-dressed, pleasant lady a few years younger than myself.
"Oh, hi, how're you keeping ?" I know the face well, but what's her name? "Had you a good summer?" I ask, struggling to think of something that will trigger a recall.
"Weather wasn't great but we made the most of it. How about yourselves and the girls?" Where is she from, how do I know her? Through school, farming, a friend of my husband Robin's? I start going through the alphabet. Not Ann, I'd remember that. Maybe Audrey, Barbara, Catherine, Denise? No.
"All good, thanks. And how are all in your care?" I ask, having remembered she has kids.
"The house is very quiet now. Shane started big school last week." OK, so she has a number of children, the youngest is Shane and, with a child's name like that, chances are her name is not too exotic either. Elizabeth, Fiona, Geraldine, Helen? No.
All the while my mind is racing, I try to keep up some semblance of a normal conversation. "Will ye go to the Ploughing?"
"Sure, don't you know that Tim would die before he'd miss the Ploughing." So her husband/partner is Tim, they're local and possibly farmers. Tim and Irene? Tim and Joan? Not Joan. Maybe Jane? No.
The more I panic, the worse I get, so I try to slow my thoughts and try letters from the middle of the alphabet. Mary, Noreen, Olive, Patricia? No. Still no joy so then I try to work out whether her name has one syllable or more: Rose, Sheila, Teresa? None of those either.
Then something makes me think its two syllables, and short ones. Vera? No, that's not the middle of the alphabet. Tara? Could be Tara. No, that's not quite right. Anna? Oh, flip, I'm back to the start.
But I'm sure now that this is kind of the format of her name as it is of her daughter, who plays hockey with Sarah.
"The hockey will be starting back soon," I say. I can feel it coming to me. "Yeah, we'll be up early then on Sunday mornings," she sighs. "That reminds me, I must get a new gumshield for Alva. I'll see you then," she says, turning away.
"I look forward to it," I say.
A split second later, it dawns on me. Orla. Its Orla. "Bye Orla," I desperately call, but she is just out of earshot.
I remember once hearing that if you say nothing in a conversation other than the other person's name, it will be worthwhile to them; but, if you don't say their name, nothing else you say will make it worthwhile.
I know there are other tactics to assist name recall but the alphabet method is the only one which I have found to be of help. And obviously its not much help either.
Of course, there is a simple solution to this, in that you front up and say "sorry, I've forgotten your name". But I am usually too embarrassed to admit this, as I will often know the person quite well.
The obligatory wearing of name tags would, of course, sort it out for good. But, given how simplified our lives have become, what with calculators to do our sums, sat navs to get us places, spellcheck on our word processing programmes, this would remove one of our few remaining common mental exercises.
There are also, apparently, ways to circumvent the situation. Like when you go to introduce someone whose name you've forgotten to a third party, you first say "oh, sorry, I've forgotten your name". And they, of course, say their first name. Then you say, "oh no, I know that, I meant your surname." So then you get that too. But whether I'm not fast enough to pull this off or cynical enough to try it, it is something I couldn't do.
Robin is no help as he's not great on names either.
If we are out together and he bumps into someone whose name he doesn't know or has forgotten, he doesn't try to introduce me and instead acts like he is on his own. It even sometimes crosses my mind that I should join the conversation "oh, you haven't introduced me to your friend." Instead, I ramble by and wait up at a discreet distance.
He was horrified when I told him what I was going to be writing about this week and especially how he was, once again, going to be cast in a less than flattering light. "Tell you what, honey," he said, "you're going around the Ploughing on your own."