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Friday 22 November 2019

How not to forget PINs

A tip from my accountancy years in the early 1970s.

Price tickets in shops sometimes used to bear codes showing cost prices. Next to the price, say £9.99, you would see something like I.WR, which secretly told senior salespeople that the price the shop had paid for the item was £6.50. It allowed them, if appropriate, to decide what discounts they could give. It could also be used to value the items in stock.

It was based on words or phrases made up of ten different letters, for example:


The ten-letter word stands for the numbers 1234567890, so, using COLDWINTER, I.WR represents £6.50. 

There were various tweaks to make things more difficult to decipher. An additional letter such as X could be used for repeated numbers such as .00 or .99 so that £10.00 could be coded as CR.RX. Or an interchangeable substitute such as Q could be used for zero, £10.00 becoming CQ.RX. Foreign code word were more secure still, especially in less common languages such as Welsh or Gaellic, because even if someone had collected all the letters they would be hard pressed to put them together and guess the code word.

Some more possibilities:


I use it to keep a note of secret numbers such as credit card PINs. It is not difficult to have two or three credit cards, a couple of debit cards, log-in PINs for phones and computers, not to mentions longer sequences such as customer numbers for online banking, building societies and National Savings. We are told not to use the same PIN more than once and not to write them down. How are we supposed to remember them all?

I do in fact know the PIN for my main card but keep a code book for other numbers. I have sometimes even written PINs on cards in code. I could go so far as to tell you that the PIN for my HSBC card is TPEF. No one can decipher it without the ten-letter code word.

You learn to translate between the letters and numbers quite quickly. It’s good brain exercise and insures against embarrassing senior moments at the shop till. It will keep me going until we are all forced to change to fingerprints or other biometric IDs.

Mind you, you’re stuffed if you forget the secret word. 

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Lost Entitlements

16 seater minibus and 7.5 tonne van and truck
They don’t want you driving these once you’re 70

In 2009, the BBC programme Watchdog reported that DVLA* were removing entitlements from driving licences reissued after a change of name or address. Drivers found they had lost the right to drive motorcycles or other categories of vehicle.

It may be conspiracy theory but the rumour is that many people who are qualified to ride motorcycles have not done so for years, and DVLA do not want them to start again because of the dangers. Some who do still ride motorcycles had to re-take their motorcycle driving test because they were unable to prove they had passed it years ago.

2-stroke Velocette motorcycle (Wikimedia Commons)
2-stroke Velocette
You can understand the outrage. My dad felt the same. He passed his motorcycle test in the nineteen-thirties and rode through the war on his 2-stroke Velocette as an Air Raid Patrol Messenger (childhood polio ruled out active service). Yet, around nineteen-seventy, he was dismayed to notice he no longer had the motorcycle entitlement on his licence. Not that he wanted to ride again – he wouldn’t have dared – it was the principle.

This is a page in his old licence. Until 1973, driving licences took the form of little red books issued by County Councils. They had to be renewed every three years or annually before 1959. West Riding residents sent their licences to 14 St. John’s North, Wakefield, where a new three-year (or one-year) sticker was pasted in.

1950s driving licence

They really knew how to stick things in those days but, as best he could, my dad peeled back through the thick wodge of renewals in his old licence book and discovered that what used to be Category III (later G) “Motor Bicycle (with or without side-car) …” was there in 1939 but not in 1940. I still have his licence with all its stickers and what appears to have happened is that his motorcycle entitlement was not carried forward when he passed his motor car driving test. Oversight or clerical error, he seems to have ridden his Velocette through the war illegally.

What annoyed him even more was that he worked with someone who started to drive before tests were introduced in 1935 and was licensed to drive just about everything you could imagine. Despite never having taken a test of any kind his colleague could drive both cars and motorbikes. My dad had passed to drive both but could now only drive cars. It was no consolation that somehow around 1950 he had bizarrely acquired the right to drive a road roller. 

Now, I feel hard done by too. Did you know they remove some of your entitlements when you get to seventy?

Most people currently in their fifties and sixties can drive 16-seater minibuses and medium-sized vans and trucks (up to 7.5 metric tons or tonnes: categories C1 and D1). They are there on my paper driving licence (many people now have plastic photocards but green paper licences issued before July 1998 remain valid up to your seventieth birthday unless updated due to a change of name or address, but at seventy you have to change to a photocard).

pre-1998 UK driving licence

The rule is that you can drive 16-seater minibuses and 7.5 tonne vehicles if you passed your car driving test before 1997 (partly subject to Restriction 1: not for hire or reward). Those who passed after 1997 are restricted to 8-seater minibuses and smaller vans up to 3.5 metric tons. However, at 70, they take away the higher entitlements and restrict everyone to the lower limits. You can keep the higher ones by taking a test and asking a doctor and an optician to certify your fitness to drive, for which no doubt they charge, but that’s too much faff.

Even to continue driving ordinary cars and smaller vehicles, I have to send back my paper licence, self-certify I’m fit and can see, and get a photocard. It will have to be renewed every three years. I will no longer be able to hire 7.5-tonne trucks or drive minibuses. Not that I ever have. It’s the principle.

What I don’t get is this. If it’s all right to self-certify I’m fit to drive a car or a 3.5-tonne Transit, why can’t I self-certify for slightly bigger vehicles? Maybe we should all go out and hire flatbed trucks and big box vans while we still can, just for the fun of it.

I suppose it’s like with some people who own guns: restrictions should apply to everyone else but themselves.

16 seater minibus and 7.5 tonne van and truck
Hire one while you still can - just for the fun of it.

*DVLA – the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency which until 1990 was called the DVLC for -Centre.

Friday 1 November 2019

The Peter Rabbit Plate

Wedgewood Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit Plate

Decided to stay in bed after not sleeping because of a painful throat and a constant stream of mucus running down inside threatening to choke me. What with shivering and various aches, I felt terrible. But Mrs D. cares for me well. She asked if I wanted anything. A cup of tea and a couple of plain oat cakes duly arrived. It was all I could face. The only thing is that when you are not well you are supposed to get the Peter Rabbit Plate. The oat cakes were not on the Peter Rabbit plate.

The Peter Rabbit plate spends most of the time in its original cardboard box and comes out only when someone is ill. You might know the story it shows: the one in which Peter has been naughty by sneaking into Mr. McGregor’s garden and eating so many vegetables he feels sick, and Mr. McGregor spots him and chases him with a rake, and Peter gets wet hiding in a watering can but eventually makes it home tired and frightened. Then, Peter is unwell during the evening so his mother puts him to bed and makes him some camomile tea; ‘One table-spoonful to be taken at bed-time.’ It is a suitable plate for someone who is ill.

Wedgewood Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit Plate
So, there I was, really poorly, hands gripping the bed clothes to pull them up over my head just like Peter in the picture (except that my ears weren’t sticking out), and yet no Peter Rabbit plate. Anyone would think I was only pretending.

You won’t believe that I’ve never been thought ill enough for the Peter Rabbit plate. Even when I had proper flu and lost two stones in weight, or when I came home in pain after a nasty operation for an epididymal cyst, there was no Peter Rabbit plate. Mrs D. once got it. So did the children. But me, never!

The day I get the Peter Rabbit plate I shall have very grave cause for concern.

Wedgewood Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit Plate Box Wedgewood Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit Plate