Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Sunday, 4 May 2014
We got up to the old 'put the face in the newspaper up to your own' tricks yesterday, and this was the most charming result. The rest were just plain scary.
When you think of all the billions of people there are in the world, isn't it just amazing that us humans have the ability to recognise someone we may have only met once when we run into them in a crowd, thousands of miles away from home and without any points of reference?
Without having studied the few photos I have ever seen of her too hard (except for that Google Streets picture of her looking out to sea...), I know I could spot Sarah Toa in a crowd with absolute certainty.
I'm pretty sure that the ageing process doesn't detract much from the ability either - I think I would know Cro too, despite not having seen him for about 45 years.
Like those freaky speed-readers do with books, we all have the ability to look at a photo of a face for about 2 seconds, then say "Right. Got it. Logged", and it stays logged for the rest of our lives.
There was one exception to this though, and it surprised me even more than usual.
I remember my first day at school very well, despite being just under five years old. It was the trauma of it, I suppose. Some kids love school and getting away from home, and others do not. I was of the latter variety.
I had to be dragged into the playground by my mother, and it didn't help that she was also showing signs of emotion at being parted from me for the first time in my short life to date.
I remember the commotion of about fifty excited children, all raring to embark on their new lives and screaming with joy at meeting each other, eager to find out what the outside world of school had to offer. I remember being shown a coat-hook which had been designated as mine and mine only, and it could be recognised by a coloured sticker of an animal which - for want of the ability to read my own name - represented me.
We were all ushered into a room which reeked of Plasticine before being assessed in a sort of triage system to see who was the most damaged. There was one other boy who was also in tears, and the teachers thought that the most humane thing to do was to put us on a small, wooden desk together so we could share our grief.
"I want to go home," he wailed.
"So do I," I wailed back, and we set each other off again.
This seemed to go on for ages but, in reality, it was probably about five minutes before we were lined-up on our chairs with the rest of the children to play at 'being on a bus'. Everyone wanted to be the driver. Through wet eyes, me and the other boy weakly smiled at each other as we pretended that we were on a bus that was taking us home.
About forty years later, I was at a party here in Bath - a long way from my Surrey Infants School - when a man of about my age came up to me and said, "You're Tom Stephenson, aren't you?"
As I looked at him, trying to remember where I had seen him before, he reminded me that we had shared a desk at that school, and we had both been in tears together - for about five minutes.
Not only did he recognise my face, but he could also put a name to it. Astounding.