I’ve never been too good with names

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“I’ve never been too good with names but I remember faces” – It’s a shame about Ray – The Lemonheads

I went to a pub quiz last night. We started out as a team of three which became six by the time various waifs and strays arrived. I like pub quizzes. I’m one of those people that is able to keep hold of what, on the surface of things, appears to be useless information. I don’t know why this is, but I’ve been this way all my life. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

Let me give you an example. A few years ago I moved to Germany and had to learn the language in order to do my then job. It was very hard work, not helped by my age or the complexities of German grammar (I mean, is it really necessary to have 12 variations of the word ‘the’?). But there were certain phrases that stuck in my mind straight away. It started when a German friend ordered a shandy (beer with lemonade) on a night out. I explained to him that in England, a shandy drinker was another term for somebody who wasn’t manly and asked if they had the equivalent in German. Yes her replied, and then told me about:

  • Weicheier – a soft egg (the traditional term)
  • Beckenrandschwimmer – the type of person who only swims in the shallow end
  • Warmduscher – The kind of person who has warm showers
  • Schattenparker – the kind of person who parks their car in the shade
  • Handyamguerteltraeger – the kind of person who wears their mobile phone on their belt
  • Charterflug Landungsklatscher – the kind of person who claps when the plane lands

It was these phrases, rather than terms that would have been more useful, that threatened to emerge during my German lessons from then on in. All from one conversation.

So, back at the quiz, I was in a positive mood. With my ability to regurgitate useless facts I would be in my element. The first round was film and television, another area of knowledge that I take pride in. This was going to be easy. We were going to win. Or so I thought.

Can you give the first name and surname (half a point for each) for the main characters in Big Bang Theory?

I could feel the blood drain from my face and the first flutter of panic. I love Big Bang Theory. It is one of my favourite TV shows. It consistently rides that fine line of both loving and taking the mickey out of it’s subject matter – science geeks – without denigrating them. Each of the main characters has their own distinct personality and is given time to grow in your affections. It is brilliant. Yet as soon as the question was read out my brain froze. Why? Because I have a terrible memory for names.

Not all names. I can recite the 2005 Ashes winning side to you, I could probably give you the names of the majority of the 1978 FA Cup winning Ipswich Town side, but most of the time I have real trouble remembering people’s names. It’s not like I walk around oblivious to people I know. I rarely forget a face, I just happen to have a lot of friends called ‘mate’.

I sat there, mouth open, desperately trying to dredge a name, any name, out from my mind, but only one came out.

“Penny!”

This probably also says a lot about me. I could see the characters, tell you jokes they had cracked, let you know who was the engineer, who the physicist, who the biologist who loves dissecting brains, and the number of belt buckles another of them owns, but not a single name came to mind. We had lost before the first round was even halfway through.

When it came time to mark the answers, it all came flooding back.  Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter, the two physicists; Penny, a waitress and aspiring actress; Howard Wolowitz the engineer and Rajesh Koothrappali, the astrophysicist who becomes mute in front of beautiful women.

How could I have forgotten their names, especially Sheldon? Why was it that these names, like so many others, escaped me? Yes, we did manage to claw some pride back in getting the highest score in matching the fast food slogans to the company (have it your way – Burger King) but even that came with a loss of dignity as our poor dietary habits were exposed.

I’ve been told that forgetting somebody’s name is a sign of lack of interest, but in my case this isn’t true (at least, not for Big Bang Theory). It’s a weakness, one of my a chillies’ heels (although given the number I have, a chillies should have been a millipede). Still, it could have been worse. I could have been friend who turned up late, halfway through the quiz. By this point we were close to the lead, but enough points back that the leading team needed to fail badly for us to have had a chance (they didn’t). When my friend was asked if he knew the names of the characters in the Big Bang Theory he reeled them off, one after another.

So he got the blame.

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