A comments exchange with Frankie the other day had me thinking about the odd tricks my memory plays. The thing is, I have, in several regards, an exceptionally good memory, which is an incredibly useful gift in my line of work, and was also fairly handy when I purported to be a historian: the ability to remember in the middle of XExam where in twenty files a particular document is to be found -or even that it exists- or to keep in your head the details of an exceedingly complicated trust and corporation structure is not to be underestimated.
Like most such gifts, it has some appalling bugs. It works best with words and sounds: I can remember whole screeds of text, place obscure quotations from things I haven't read in years (which is why I become enormously irritated when I can't) and remember exactly how people sound. One odd failing is that I have serious difficulty remembering people's names until I'm familiar with the person involved - I learnt the embarrassing way to write down names on a piece of paper when in court and eventually ended up consciously working on memory tricks to cover it. Even with people I know well, names can occasionally go astray or, (as was the point in the original comments thread) become attached to the wrong people, particularly if there's some connexion in my head between the "wrong" and "right" people concerned.
Even worse is that my visual memory is completely buggered. It's a real struggle for me to call up mental pictures, even those of things and scenes I see every day (how this works with the fact I also have a very good sense of direction, which I would assume is something to do with subconscious assimilation and interpretation of what I see, is not entirely clear to me). And at the extreme end of this, I am almost completely unable to visualise faces. To give some idea of the extent of this, I cannot visualise my mother's face. I can visualise that of my father and one of my sisters, the sister who largely looked after me when I was an infant, but not my brother or my other sister. Most other people, with a very few notable exceptions - almost hopeless. (I have no problem with recognising anything or anyone when I see them, it's imagining them when I don't that's the problem.)
Except, except, for a trick that puts the lie to this: I can call to mind photographs with which I'm familiar, eg the photos of my close friends usually to be found on my wall. So I can't recall what people looked like the last time I saw them - but I can call up a memory of a photo of them. (Which means that memories of most of my friends involve backdrops of various Oxford and London pubs)
Is this bizarre? (Is dr_d in the house?).
I also discovered on Friday that I can't actually remember what I did for my 21st birthday. I have my suspicions about the reasons for this, but it's nonetheless rather sad, not to mention bloody irritating, as a consequence of generally having a decent memory is absolute fury when it fails, so James, Stephen, Matt, Ruth, Lyd, Marie: you were all there and occasionally pass by here, do enlighten me if you can remember.
In other news I have had a day fuelled by such righteous ire and indignation at all concerned, on all sides, in certain pieces of litigation that I'm not sure I should be allowed to go and poke an epee at people in anger now. I'm going to do it anyway though: I think it's precisely what I need.