‘You are Pablo Picasso and I claim my £5’
While strolling aimlessly among the crowds one evening during my holiday, I was stunned to see Picasso cycling slowly past me, engrossed in thought. But this wasn’t a personal visitation as my husband, some paces ahead (I know my place), had already turned to follow his progress — or should that be His Progress? — with disbelief. Somehow this happens all the time, especially on holiday, so it came as no surprise to find Burt Bacharach eating at the next table at our restaurant a couple of hours later.
I have begun to suspect that I am more prone to seeing doubles than most people, and have decided to pathologise this condition by calling it physiognomania. To be sure, newspapers and websites from time to time run ‘separated at birth’ or ‘is X really Y’s lovechild?’ columns, but as both the people featured are celebrities of greater or lesser magnitude, the similarity is always going to be less than you would get between one celebrity and a random member of the public, so I don’t feel this type of filler journalism is really worthy of the term physiognomania.
Perhaps the root of my physiognomania lies in the exciting challenge the Herne Bay Carnival would throw down every summer, printing in the carnival programme a fuzzy, rear-view picture of their own Lobby Lud (always, it seemed, with flat cap and sticky-out ears). If you spotted him walking around in Herne Bay on the day of the carnival, you could stop him, challenge him, and if you were right, you won £5 — but only if you were carrying a copy of the carnival programme. I longed to spot him, but I never did.
Anyway, I’ve run with it. A large part of physiognomania is just being a people watcher, while keeping your mind open for similarities. It’s not often you get handed a dead ringer on a plate, or on a bike, in Picasso’s case, so you have to develop your skills, progressing from ‘that man looks a bit like Sven Goran Eriksson’ to real refinements such as being able to isolate particular features. It takes a certain proficiency to be able to say ‘that woman looks like a cross between Pam St Clements and Mona Washbourne’, but if you can discern that someone has, say, Lily Allen’s eyes and Victoria Pendleton’s mouth, you have achieved the heights of advanced physiognomania.
It’s important not to let preconceptions about age or gender cloud your perception. I was delighted to find that the etiolated Lord Stanhope, who briefly adopts Kaspar Hauser in the film about his enigma, bore a striking resemblance to a very dainty young woman of my acquaintance, who would have been at least 60 years younger than him. Let ‘anyone can look like anyone’ be your maxim.
There are times, though, where the resemblance seems to be only in the eye of the beholder — or at least of this beholder: I’ve never been able to get anyone to see the likeness between Emma Thompson and Nicholas Cage. If anyone out there can see the resemblance, let me know, or send us your own suggestions, though sadly we’re not offering £5.