I remember the face

Gayle discusses the effects of advancing age on the memory

THE other week, I had a bizarre conversation in a chip shop.

A man waiting at the counter leaned over to say: “Hello - how are you? Haven't seen you for ages.”

Although his face looked vaguely familiar, I had no idea who he was, so I said: “Yes. In fact, it's so long, I don't really remember who you are.”

Completely unembarrassed, he replied: “No, well I don't really remember who you are either, but I recognise your face.”

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We spent a bit of time trying to work out how or when our paths might have crossed in the past before giving up and saying goodbye. This is obviously an age-related thing, because I find I can often remember a face, but I can't always put a name to it.

A month or so ago, I met someone I used to know when I worked for the local council in the 1980s. We both recognised each other - we said hello, how are you, talked about old times. Then she said: I'm sorry but I can't remember your name at all.' and I said, 'Well, that's a relief, because I can't remember your name either.'

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I know I'm not the only one with this problem, because the BBC has been running a series of programmes on Memory and there is a widespread advertising campaign for Dr Kawashima's Brain Training video game, apparently effective at saving you from those embarrassing moments when you can't remember the names of people you went to school with.

I do all those things that are supposed to help keep your synapses in working order - like doing crosswords and puzzles, or performing complicated tasks at work, but I still have inexplicable lapses.

Part of the problem is that I have a complicated life. I have difficulty remembering where I am supposed to be, and what I should be doing at the best of times.

At home, I can purposefully walk from one room into another, or go upstairs and find I have completely forgotten what I was going to do there. But having a fairly full diary and a lot of demands on my time, the possibilities for mistakes open up exponentially!

In the past week, I have arrived half an hour late for an appointment because I had forgotten the occasion had been rescheduled, driven straight past the turning for the A12 when I should have been driving down it (just because the sign said Colchester and I knew I wasn't going there) and gone to the wrong village for a meeting because I hadn't checked the venue before setting out, late and in a hurry.

This last mishap involved tearing off up the A14 at a rate of knots (no, officer, I wasn't speeding, honestly) getting there and realising I was in the wrong place, then driving equally furiously in the opposite direction, back along the same bit of road to the place where I should have been.

Ah well, I got there in the end. I suppose I should remember to be grateful for small mercies.

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