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The Scrivener: It's Who They Are

Enthusiastic conversationalist Brian Barratt recognises that chatting to the people we meet makes our world go round.

'You keep popping up all over the place,' I said.

I was talking to an amicable young lady at a local pharmacy. She works occasionally at this pharmacy and also at another owned by the same people.

'Yes, I have two uniforms. One for here and one for there.' The two pharmacies are associated with two different buying groups. Each has its own house colours and identifying symbols, you know the sort of thing.

'And another for the supermarket,' I said. She also pops up at the check-outs at a nearby supermarket from time to time.

'I have three jobs and three uniforms.'

'No,' I said. 'You have four jobs. Seven children, is it?'

'Only three! But being a mother is another job, maybe with another uniform, yes.'

Isn't it interesting how we recognise people by the uniforms they wear? It's a reminder of that silly joke from years ago about not being able to recognise your own next door neighbours if you meet them unclothed at a nudist camp.

I confess that I've never been to a nudist camp but in my publishing days I attended many conferences of teachers and educators (where everyone remained fully dressed). It was sometimes embarrassing when a person would greet me with a friendly outspoken, 'Hello Brian!' and I had no idea who that person was. Perhaps I suffered from Senior Moments long before I became a Senior — but the real reason is that I've always had a poor memory for faces even though I'm a people person.

After I'd stumbled through the routine of, 'I'm sorry, I can't remember...' or 'Please remind me...' or something like that, light dawned. They would identify themselves as the Librarian of a particular school, or the English teacher of that college, or the lecturer in something-or-other at which university, and so on. Then I had a mental picture of where I usually met them. Set in their usual place, with their usual surroundings, I knew who they were. And their 'uniform', the clothes they usually wore at work, probably helped to complete that picture.

It happened again only a couple of months ago. While having a cup of coffee at one of my favourite pavement cafés, I was engaged in conversation by a friendly couple of about my own age. The man recognised me immediately but I had no idea who he was. He recalled listening to me give a talk at a teachers conference years ago. Later, I checked my résumé and confirmed that I had given a talk at a conference of the Victorian Association for Gifted and Talented Children in 1992. That's 20 years ago. He remembered. I had forgotten.

Perhaps my talk was informative enough for him to retain an impression. I tend to think that it was more likely to have been a rambling disaster, as I was a layman among professionals.

Maybe he remembered my beard, but it was dark brown 20 years ago and now it's white. Overall, and judging by the rest of his conversation, I just think this chap had an excellent memory for people and events.

On the other hand, I had a nice chat with a woman last month which went in a totally different direction She recognised me. She knew who I was. She was convinced that I owned the jewellery shop which she occasionally visits. It took me a while to assure her she was mistaken. Her memory for people and events had created a rather confused picture in her mind. In this case, it was because of my voice. Evidently I speak in a similar way, with a similar English accent, to her jeweller.

And that triggers the memory of another story about my voice. Over 30 years ago, when I was a book publisher, I was sitting in a homely little café with one of my authors. Just talking while we ate. Then a woman came rushing out from the kitchen toward me, but stopped in her tracks, embarrassed, when she saw that I was not Sean Connery. It was his voice she thought she had heard.

How she confused my voice with his was a bit of a mystery. I don't have a Scottish accent or a husky tone. Not at all. My audiologist tells me that I have a good, clear, baritone voice, and that's as far as the similarity goes. Anyway, the lady had a laugh, I did a poor impersonation of Sean Connery, we chatted for a while, and she brought us an extra cup of coffee, on the house.

Although I've used the perpendicular pronoun about 40 times, this ramble has not been about me. It has been about the people who pop up in my life, in our lives — who they are, how they dress, where they come from, what they do, how they speak, how we differ, what we have in common. Without them, daily life would be pretty dull and pointless, wouldn't it? It's other people who make our world go round.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2012



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