Thursday, 26 May 2016

I Login To My Account

Never mind my fluffiest pet, my mother's home town, or the maiden name which makes me think of my favourite word: the answer to my secret question is, "I've forgotten my password".

I have a stash of regularly used means of logging in, some of them weak, some moderate and some achieving a strong rating. It's like Lord Harlech is in my computer, issuing British Board of Password Censors certificates to my latest inventions, and occasionally awarding me a Certificate 18.

There's some sort of formula governing passwords.  It goes something like: the complexity of the word / number / capital letter / (no symbol) combo is inversely proportional to the frequency with which the account is logged into.  I think it's that way around.

What I mean is, that if it's a website I use rarely, I make the password increasingly complicated in desperate reinventions of what seemed like a good idea at the time. (My electricity account - really?  I'm expected to check this regularly enough to remember the number I attributed to the mismatch of the middle names of my pet rabbits from 1973?).

There's a problem.  Those sites I log-in-to  log into  login to ... into which I log frequently end up having the least secure passwords.  The sites which make me most vulnerable, and which need most security, in fact.  You know the ones I mean. 

Saturday, 21 May 2016

I Uncover A Souvenir

One of the anomalies of my teenage years was that I had two penfriends: one Swedish, and one German, but the languages I learnt at school were French and Italian.

With my own children, I've tried to break the inheritance of linguistic mis-match.  So my younger son who learns French went to France on a school trip.  And my elder son, who learns German, has had a German penfriend, and been to Germany twice on school trips, and to Berlin with his father.  So when I found a souvenir brochure about East Berlin when sorting out my books today, I did the new thing, and showed it to him.

I went to East Berlin in 1980 as a guest of my German penfriend's family, after taking French and all the other O levels, when the DDR was at the height of its pride. 36 years later, finding the brochure I've kept since then was a surprise.  I had forgotten all about it, and about its tone.  "Take a good look around our city," it reads on page three.  "It is plain to see  that no one here has any fears about what the future has in store.  Young people know what they are learning and studying for."  I remember feeling slightly ill-at-ease leaving West Berlin, crossing through Checkpoint Charlie and having to account for myself in a few halting phrases to an East German border guard.  If only I'd learnt German, or gone to France instead, I too would have known what I was studying for - life would've been clearer.  According to page five, the vague sense of dis-ease I experienced must've been one I brought with me - "There are no crises here ... though ... much remains to be done in order to overcome the legacy of capitalist tenement building ..."

That German holiday was wonderful - for the first time I flew, sailed a dinghy, ate black cherries straight from the tree, gargled the national anthem and played tennis indoors.   I was to have another wonderful holiday in 1982 in Sweden - the souvenir that remains from that trip is an absurdly giant yellow comb which I won at the Gothenburg funfair.  There, I felt completely at ease.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

I Take A Remedy

My back has been put out.  Again.  Again, I have been shuffling like that penguin tending her one egg.  Again and again I have lamented the moment I bent down last Thursday (inducing a familiar-at-the-moment-it-happens-but-not-before-twang in my lower spine) even though regret in this  matter is absurd. 

How would I have known not to bend in order to make eye contact with the person with whom I spoke? Were I to have known, and then to have acted on this knowledge, I'd also have to regret the moves I committed when younger: the ones which have resulted in an ongoing back-weakness.  These moves included the lifting of concrete slabs to lay the foundations for a shed (to prove something), the helping H out of the bath twenty or more years ago (to prove something else) and I would be an entirely different person. 

Since the twang, I've been trying to alleviate my discomfort by getting horizontal as much as possible.  This led to my lying on the grass at the Rec last Sunday whilst my younger son shot hoops. I hadn't the heart or body for our usual basketball vocabulary extension, or for joining in, so whilst I watched I took a call from my longest-serving friend. 

At times of pain, it's one's longest-serving friends that count.  I didn't pretend to be anything other than an unattractive mix of stoical and miserable.  "What do you suggest?" I asked after a much too detailed description of the moment of my well-intentioned but ill-advised bending.  "Next time you're in that situation," she answered, with the wisdom of someone in the know,  "don't bend to speak with the person - look down. And gin.  It's gin for a back, brandy for a stomach and whisky for a chest.  So gin.  With ice and lemon."

Saturday, 7 May 2016

I Revise For GCSEs

It must be exam season - the sun came out on Wednesday coinciding with my son's first written GCSE paper.  It brought back memories of O levels and light evenings spent chanting lines from Keats: My heart aches and a drowsy numbness ...; muttering the order of the C19th British Prime Ministers: ... Wellington, Grey, Melbourne, Wellington(2), Peel ...; declining Latin nouns: servus, serve, servum ... and trying to memorise the elements of the Periodic Table: hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium ... 

I've been helping my son revise by asking him questions from cards he's made.  Fortunately, the answers are written on the other side.  This evening, we were mainly revising Chemistry.

I enjoy the sense of prowess which comes with committing facts to memory.  In the week before my university finals I remember feeling that my brain was more agile and alert than it had ever been before.  It was alive with Anglo-Norman French, and information and theoretical  understandings about the quality of the reigns of British Medieval monarchs, about the reasons for and consequences of the Bruce invasion of Ireland, about the differences between the Cluniac and Cistercian ways of life.  None of this knowledge shaped what I went on to do in life (just as well, as it's almost entirely escaped me), but back then, I loved it for its own sake.

These days, it feels like I have forgotten more than I ever knew.  I like to think this is because my brain is now full of all the practicalities of life - the best recipe for brownies, how to change a washer, the required tyre pressures for my car when carrying  a heavy load -  and not because my memory is in decline. 

My son has a different explanation:  "It's not surprising you find the Chemistry hard, Mum," he remarked, twinkling.  "In your day, they'd only discovered four elements - earth, wind, fire and water!"