Jonathan Dodd‘s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
I stopped at a petrol station in Portsmouth this morning because I was short of diesel and it was going to be a long trip to Milton Keynes. I had forgotten to stock up on tasty snacks and nibbles for the week, and my eye was caught by a delightful display of Walkers Max Deep Ridged Paprika Crisps. Now you can say what you like about chocolate, or whatever else you adore, but I personally would only accept a one-way ticket to Heaven if they could guarantee me an unlimited supply of these.
The thing about Walkers Max Deep Ridged Paprika Crisps is their rarity. They’re like truffles, hardly ever making an appearance on shop shelves. I don’t know why. You’ll never find them in supermarkets. I even seriously thought about getting myself a dog once, one that could be trained to sniff out genuine Walkers Max Deep Ridged Paprika Crisps. Beware cheap and disappointing imitations though. I bought some suspicious-looking Pringles once from one of those 98PLand shops, and they were thin and insipid. Come to think of it, none of the goods in there looked like they were up to the usual retail standard.
You’ve been in here before!
Faced with this unexpected deluge of joy, I grabbed as many as I could carry and stacked them on the desk. And the nice young lady looked me in the eye and said – “I know you! You’ve been in here before! I remember you used to fill up and buy loads of these very crisps!” I was astonished, not only because it must have been at least two years ago since I stepped foot in there, but mainly because I am always astonished when someone recognises me.
People telling me that I stick out isn’t a surprise, because they do quite often. But I always do a double-take when people do recognise or remember me. I think it must be because I don’t feel like I should stick out or be memorable in myself. I just feel like I’m me, doing what I do and going about my normal daily business. I don’t feel different to anyone else, and I’m not always sure whether the people who say this are happy about it or not. Perhaps being bothered enough to spend time and trouble even thinking about this sort of thing marks me out as being different. I am always flattered a little bit though, even when the trigger for the memory is a packet of crisps.
I’m the spitting image of Colin
But sometimes another entirely weirder thing happens. Someone will start talking to me as if they know me really well, except that I have no idea what they’re talking about. When they call me by the name they think is mine, I’m able to correct them. They always swear blind that I’m the spitting image of Colin, who used to lecture at the College, or Dave, who they used to work with at Metal Box, or some such other person. I wonder if I do really have doppelgangers out there, or whether their memory is somewhat faulty. I do know that I would never mix people up, because I have such a bad memory for faces.
Not having a visual memory is something I’ve always felt lumbered with. It probably isn’t possible to be lumbered with the absence of something, but it feels like that. I couldn’t draw someone from memory (actually, I probably couldn’t draw them if they were sitting in front of me either). I have difficulty describing people from memory too. Oddly though, if I see someone I used to know, I always know that I know them, although usually it takes me a very long time to remember who the owner of this instantly-recognised face is. Regrettably, there’s no name for the practice of holding conversations without letting the other person know that you can’t remember who on earth they are. But there should be.
Introducing the ‘diacritic umlaut’
This means I also don’t have a very clear idea of what I actually do look like, and I wouldn’t remember anyway, so it follows that you could be the spitting image of me and standing right in front of me and I wouldn’t know. I think I’d hope that you would be kind enough not to mention it. Many years and several lifetimes ago I used to live in a town in Berkshire called Thatcham. People I knew kept telling me that someone else living there looked just like me. I once went to a party, and the next day one of my friends told me my doppelganger was there too. He thought it was very funny, but I had no idea who he was talking about. For some reason that made him laugh even harder.
Having used the word doppelganger several times here, I thought I ought to look it up, in case I had picked up the wrong end of an imaginary stick. And I learned two new things. It seems that the two dots on the ‘a’ are called a ‘diacritic umlaut’. I have no idea what that means, or what difference it makes to the word, but I still think it’s a glorious thing. And even more exciting is the idea that your doppelganger is supposed to be the evil or negative side of you.
We need a legal definition here
The whole doppelganger thing is fraught with difficulty. Does your doppelganger know that you exist? If so, are you simultaneously their doppelganger? The concept of co-doppelgangering comes to my mind. If I believe that my doppelganger is the bad side of me, does he think I’m his bad side? Can you have more than one doppelganger? Would you feel inadequate if you didn’t have one? If you think someone else has a better doppelganger than you, would you be suffering from doppelganger envy? What, ultimately, is the definitive test for doppelgangerism? We need a legal definition here. Someone should tell us. They might even be foreign. They certainly sound as if they are. If this was last week, I’d have wanted to ask the candidates where they stood on doppelgangers.
But the thing I really need to know is this – Does my doppelganger also like Walkers Max Deep Ridged Paprika Crisps?
If you have been, thank you for reading this.
Editor’s note: Using umlauts in the copy causes a problem for our system, so we’ve had to convert them all to ‘a’.