Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The stuff that dreams - or nightmares - are made of!

I’m a retired lady and, as such, have very little stress in my life. Stress is a thing of the past. I inhabit a stress-free zone. Gone are the days when I had deadlines to meet, reports to write, huge, great documents of planning to produce for my line manager, immense piles of students’ coursework to assess and a million other things to do. Even back then when I had all those things, I used to pride myself on “not doing stress”. I used to work on the principle that if you made a list, prioritised it and the worked through it, it would all get done eventually. That does not mean that I never burnt the midnight oil at times, but even midnight oil can be burnt calmly! 

So why do I have anxiety dreams?

As a rule my anxiety dreams involve turning up to teach a class and finding that it is completely different from what I had planned for: a different subject area, a different topic, a different group of students, a different place even! Or there is the classic one where I stand there delivering a lesson and nobody, absolutely nobody, takes any notice of me, nobody even acknowledges that I am there. Sometimes it involves trying to find my way around a building, a building I thought I knew, in an attempt to deliver a lesson at a specific time. A variety of scenarios but always teaching related.

But last night was different:  it was bank cards and PIN numbers. As is usual with dreams, I remember none of the details, just that I could not match PINs to cards. Goodness knows where that came from!

Those PIN numbers, “el numero secreto” the Spanish call them, can be the bane of your life. When they first came into being I sort of ignored them. You couldn’t use them when purchasing stuff by card as you can nowadays and I just carried on going to the bank to withdraw money directly. The only cash machine around was outside the bank and so it was just as easy to pop in and get cash.

And then we went to France on holiday, with a stash of French francs in hand. (This story pre-dates the Euro.) All was fine until we realised that we were going to run out of ready money. We had our bank cards with us but neither of us had ever used a cash machine. So eventually we went along to a branch of our bank in a French town and asked for help. Goodness knows what we would have done had we not spoken French.

The bank people could not understand our problem and pointed us in the direction of the cash machine outside. Ah, but we needed the magic number, the PIN, the number we had never memorised and certainly did not have with us. I am not sure quite how we persuaded that French bank manager but he made a phone call to our branch in the UK and eventually conceded to let us withdraw some cash. We were very frugal for the remaining few days of the holiday and kept our fingers crossed that we had enough. It all worked out.

Back home in the UK, we rediscovered the PIN numbers for our bank cards and, dragging ourselves kicking and screaming into the 20th century with its modern banking, we taught ourselves how to use cash machines.

And now we all have PINs and passwords for a while range of things: not just bank cards but online banking, online accounts for this and that, magical numbers and passwords to unlock phones and computers and programmes within computers. And we are supposed to memorise them all! Another nightmare!

After a prolonged stay Spain I once discovered that I had completely forgotten the PIN for my credit card. I had not used the card for months and my brain had shunted the memory into a back drawer, indeed into the very bottom of that back drawer. Quite frightening! I had to request a new one when I returned to the UK.

Now I have rather more cards and a series of mnemonics which are supposed to help me remember them. All the advice is not to write them down. No wonder I have anxiety dreams!

Of course, nowadays contactless shopping gets around some of the problem of PIN number remembering. The iPhone can even do some of it for you. You just show your card or your phone screen to the card reader and, bingo!, the money slides out of your account. A kind of modern witchcraft!

Eventually it will be like the science fiction films and we’ll do it all with a finger print or a thumb print or retina recognition technology.

How soon before they find a way to hack into finger prints and eyeballs?

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