Following their security incident last month, many users of LastPass are in the process of cycling
their security credentials for many of their accounts1.
I don’t use LastPass2,
but I’ve had ocassion to cycle credentials before, so I appreciate the pain that people are going through.
It’s not just passwords, though: it may well be your “security question” answers you need to rotate too. Your passwords quickly become worthless if an attacker can guess the answers to
your “security questions” at services that use them. If you’re using a password safe anyway, you should either:
Answer security questions with long strings of random garbage3,
Ensure that you use different answers for every service you use, as you would with passwords.4
In the latter case, you’re probably storing your security answers in a password safe5.
If the password safe they’re stored in is compromised, you need to change the answers to those security questions in order to secure the account.
This leads to the unusual situation where you can need to call up your bank and say: “Hi, I’d like to change my mother’s maiden name.” (Or, I suppose, father’s middle
name, first pet’s name, place of birth, or whatever.) Banks in particular are prone to disallowing you from changing your security answers over the Internet, but all kinds of other
businesses can also make this process hard… presumably because a well-meaning software engineer couldn’t conceive of any reason that a user might want to.
I sometimes use a pronouncable password generator to produce fake names for security question answers. And I’ll tell you what: I get some bemused reactions when I say things like “I’d
like to change my mother’s maiden name from Tuyiborhooniplashon to Mewgofartablejuki.”
1 If you use LastPass, you should absolutely plan to do this. IMHO, LastPass’s reassurances about the difficulty in cracking the encryption on the leaked data is a gross exaggeration. I’m not saying you need to
panic – so long as your master password is reasonably-long and globally-unique – but perhaps cycle all your credentials during 2023. Oh, and don’t rely on your second factor:
it doesn’t help with this particular incident.
2 I used to use LastPass, until around 2016, and I still think it’s a good choice for many
people, but nowadays I carry an encrypted KeePassXC password safe on a pendrive (with an automated backup onto an encrypted partition on our
household NAS). This gives me some security and personalisation benefits, at the expense of only a little convenience.
3 If you’re confident that you could never lose your password (or rather: that you could
never lose your password without also losing the security question answers because you would store them in the same place!), there’s no value in security questions, and the best thing
you can do might be to render them unusable.
4 If you’re dealing with a service that uses the security questions in a misguided effort
to treat them as a second factor, or that uses them for authentication when talking to them on the telephone, you’ll need to have usable answers to the questions for when they come
5 You can, of course, use a different password safe for your randomly-generatred
security question answers than you would for the password itself; perhaps a more-secure-but-less-convenient one; e.g. an encrypted pendrive kept in your fire safe?
It’s that time of year again when I comparison-shop for car insurance, and every time I come across a new set of reasons to hate the developers at Confused.com. How do you confuse me?
Let me count the ways.
No means yes
I was planning to enumerate my concerns to them directly, via their contact form, but when I went to do so I spotted this bit of
genius, which clinched it and made me write a blog post instead:
Turns out that there’s a bit of the old sloppy-paste going on there:
I guess nobody had the “consent talk” with Confused.com?
That’s not my name!
Honestly, I’m used to my unusual name causing trouble by now and I know how to work around it in the way that breaks the fewest systems (I can even usually
get airline tickets without too much difficulty nowadays). But these kinds of (arbitrary) restrictions must frustrate folks like Janice Keihanaikukauakahihulihe’ekahaunaele.
I guess their developers didn’t realise that this blog post was parody?
Also, that’s not my title!
This one, though, pisses me off:
This is a perfect example of why your forms should ask for what you actually want to know, not for what you think people want to tell you. Just ask!
If you want to know my gender, ask for my gender! (I’m a man, by the way.)
I don’t understand why you want to know – after all, it’s been illegal since 2012 to risk-assess/price car insurance differently on the grounds of gender – but maybe you’ve
got a valid reason. Which hopefully you’ll tell me in a tooltip. Like you’re using it as a (terrible checksum) when you check my driving license details, that’s fine!
If you want to know my title, ask for my title! (I prefer not to use one, but if you must use one I’d prefer Mx.)
This ought to be an optional field, of course, and ideally you want a free text input or else you’ll always have missed somebody (Lord, Reverend, Prince, Wing Commander…).
It’s in your interests because I’m totally going to pick at random otherwise. Today I’m a Ms.
Consistency? Never heard of it.
It’s not a big thing, but if you come up with a user interface paradigm like “clicking More… shows more buttons”, you ought to stick to it.
Again, I’m not sure exactly what all of this data is used for, nor why there’s a need to differentiate between married couples and civil partnerships, but let’s just assume this is all
necessary and legitimate and just ask ourselves: why are we using drop-downs now for “More…”? We were using buttons just a second ago!
What’s my occupation again?
There’s so much to unpack in the “occupation” part of the form that I’m not even sure where to begin. Let’s just pick out a few things:
The student thing is just the beginning, though. You can declare up to two jobs, but if the first one is “house person/parent” you can’t have a second one. If you’re self-employed, that
has to be your first job even though the guidance says that the one you spend most time on must be the first one (this kind of thing infuriated me when I used to spend 60% of
my work time employed, 20% self-employed, and 20% studying).
I’m not saying it’s easy to make a form like this. I know from experience that it’s not. I am saying that Confused.com make it look a lot harder than it is.
What do you mean, you live with your partner?
At a glance, this sounds like a “poly world problem”, but hear me out:
I put Ruth‘s martial status as married, because she’s married to JTA. But then when it asked how she was related to me, it wouldn’t accept
“Living together (couple)”.
Even if you don’t think it’s odd that they hide “living with partner” button as an option to describe a married person’s relationship to somebody other than their spouse… you’ve still
got to agree that it’s a little bit odd that they don’t hide the “spouse” button. In other words, this user interface is more-okay with you having multiple spouses than it is
with you having a spouse and an unmarried partner!
And of course this isn’t just about polyamorous folks: there are perfectly “normal” reasons that a person might end up confused by this interface, too. For example a separated (but not
yet divorced) couple, one of whom has a new partner (it’s not even inconceivable that such a pair might share custody of a car). Also interesting is the fact that the form doesn’t
care about the gender of your spouse (it doesn’t ask for “husband” or “wife”) but does care about the gender of your parent, child, or sibling. What gives?
Half a dozen easy fixes. Go for it, Confused.com.
Given that their entire marketing plan for most of the last two decades has been that they reduce customer confusion, Confused.com’s user interface leaves a lot to be
desired. As I’ve mentioned before – and speaking as a web developer that’s been in the game for longer than their company has – it’s not necessarily easy to get this kind of
thing right. But you can improve a form like this, a little at a time. And every little win counts for something: a more-satisfied returning customer, perhaps, or a new word-of-mouth
Or you can just let it languish and continue to have the kind of form that people mock on the public Internet.
It’ll be a year until I expect to comparison-shop for car insurance again: let’s see how they get on, shall we?
Update (21 January 2021): Confused.com Respond!
I didn’t expect to receive any response to this post: most organisations don’t when I call-out the problems with their websites (not least
because I’m more than a little bit sarcastic about it!). I never heard back from the Digital Climate Strike folks, for example,
when I pointed out that their website was a great example of exactly the kind of problem they were protesting. But Confused.com
passed on my thoughts to Product Manager Gareth who took a look at them and gave me a £20 Amazon gift card by way of thanks. Nice one, Confused.com!
Quick cache and dash while in the vicinity. Overshot the obvious parking place and so parked up the road at the premises of “Q Associates”. Figured they wouldn’t mind given than it’s
Sunday. Plus their company has the same name as my surname, so I could probably claim it’s mine if anybody challenged me. Cool solution!
Hello, friendly insurance salesman I spoke to earlier today! I’ve been expecting you. Also: sorry.
I’ve been expecting you because you seemed so keen to finish your shift and search for me and, with my name, I’m pretty easy to find. I knew that you planned to search for me because
after I caused so much trouble for your computer systems then, well, I probably deserved it.
I’m sorry that what should have been a click-click-done exercise came down to a live chat session and then a phone call. I don’t mean to be more work for people.
But thank you for being friendly. And useful. And generally awesome. I expected a painful process, perhaps because that’s what I’d had from my last insurer. You, on the other hand (and
your Live Chat colleague who I spoke to beforehand) were fantastic. Somehow you were more-pleasant, more-competent, and represent better value than the insurer we’re coming
from, so thank you. And that’s the real reason that I hope you’ll follow through on the suggestion that you search for me by name: because you deserve a pat on the back.
“the local part of my email address is just the letter ‘d’ by itself, which means microsoft has imposed the interesting restriction that my randomly generated password cannot
contain the letter ‘d’”
the local part of my email address is just the letter 'd' by itself, which means microsoft has imposed the interesting restriction that my randomly generated password cannot contain
the letter 'd' pic.twitter.com/tqTklyotTj
It’s always been a bit of an inconvenience to have to do these things, but it’s never been a terrible burden: even when I fly internationally – which is probably the hardest
part of having my name – I’ve learned the tricks I need to minimise how often I’m selected for an excessive amount of unwanted “special treatment”.
This year, though, for the very first time, my (stupid bloody) unusual name paid for itself. And not just in the trivial ways I’m used to, like being able to spot my badge instantly on
the registration table at conferences I go to or being able to fill out paper forms way faster than normal people. I mean in a concrete, financially-measurable way. Wanna hear?
So: I’ve a routine of checking my credit report with the major credit reference agencies every few years. I’ve been doing so since long before doing so became free (thanks GDPR); long even before
I changed my name: it just feels like good personal data housekeeping, and it’s interesting to see what shows up.
And so I noticed that my credit report with Equifax said that I wasn’t on the electoral roll. Which I clearly am. Given that my credit report’s pretty glowing, I wasn’t too worried, but
I thought I’d drop them an email and ask them to get it fixed: after all, sometimes lenders take this kind of thing into account. I wasn’t in any hurry, but then, it seems: neither were
2 February 2016 – I originally contacted them
18 February 2016 – they emailed to say that they were looking into it and that it was taking a while
22 February 2016 – they emailed to say that they were still looking into it
13 July 2016 – they emailed to say that they were still looking into it (which was a bit of a surprise, because after so long I’d almost forgotten that I’d even asked)
14 July 2016 – they marked the issue as “closed”… wait, what?
I wasn’t in a hurry, and 2017 was a bit of a crazy year for me (for Equifax too, as it happens), so I ignored it for a bit, and
then picked up the trail right after the GDPR came into force. After all, they were storing personal information
about me which was demonstrably incorrect and, continued to store and process it even after they’d been told that it was incorrect (it’d have been a violation of principle 4 of the DPA 1998, too, but the GDPR‘s got bigger teeth: if you’re going to sick the law on somebody, it’s better that it has bark and bite).
My anticipation was that my message of 13 July 2018 would get them to sit up and fix the issue. I’d assumed that it was probably related to my unusual name and that bugs in
their software were preventing them from joining-the-dots between my credit report and the Electoral Roll. I’d also assumed that this nudge would have them either fix their software… or
failing that, manually fix my data: that can’t be too hard, can it?
Apparently it can:
Equifax’s suggested solution to the problem on my credit report? Change my name on the Electoral Roll to match the (incorrect) name they store in their systems (to work around
a limitation that prevents them from entering single-character surnames)!
At this point, they turned my send-a-complaint-once-every-few-years project into a a full blown rage. It’s one thing if you need me to be understanding of the time it can take to fix
the problems in your computer systems – I routinely develop software for large and bureaucratic organisations, I know the drill! – but telling me that your bugs are my problems
and telling me that I should lie to the government to work around them definitely isn’t okay.
At this point, I was still expecting them to just fix the problem: if not the underlying technical issue then instead just hack a correction into my report. But clearly they considered
this, worked out what it’d cost them to do so, and decided that it was probably cheaper to negotiate with me to pay me to go away.
Which it was.
This week, I accepted a three-figure sum from Equifax as compensation for the inconvenience of the problem with my credit report (which now also has a note of correction, not that my
alleged absence from the Electoral Roll has ever caused my otherwise-fine report any trouble in the past anyway). Curiously, they didn’t attach any strings to the deal, such as not
courting publicity, so it’s perfectly okay for me to tell you about the experience. Maybe you know somebody who’s similarly afflicted: that their “unusual” name means that a
credit reference company can’t accurately report on all of their data. If so, perhaps you’d like to suggest that they take a look at their credit report too… just saying.
Apparently Equifax think it’s cheaper to pay each individual they annoy than it is to fix their database problems. I’ll bet that, in the long run, that isn’t true. But in the meantime,
if they want to fund my recent trip to Cornwall, that’s fine by me.
When Claire and I changed our surnames to the letter Q, six and a quarter years ago, I was pretty sure that we were the only “Q”s in the world. Ah Q‘s name is a transliteration into the Latin alphabet; Stacey Q is a stage name that she doesn’t use outside of her work (she uses Swain in
general); Suzi Q‘s “Q” is short for Quatro (perhaps popularised because of the
similarly-named song, which came out when she was aged 7; Maggie Q‘s “Q” is short for Quigley (she finds that her full name is almost impossible for her fans in East
Asia to pronounce); and both Q and Q are fictional. We were reasonably sure that we were the only two people in the world
with our surname, and that was fine by us.
After Claire and I split up, in 2009, we both kept our new names. In my case, the
name felt like it was “mine”, and represented me better than my birth name anyway. Plus, I’d really gotten to enjoy having a full name that’s only four letters long: when my poly-tribe-mates Ruth and JTA (each of whom have almost 30 letters in their full names!) were filling out mortgage application forms recently, I was able to
get through the pages I had to fill significantly faster than either of them. There are perks to a short name.
I can’t say why Claire kept her new name, but I’m guessing that some of our reasons overlap. I’m also guessing that laziness played a part in her decision: it took her many months to
finally get around to telling everybody she’d changed her name the first time around! And while I’ve tried to make it possible to change your name easily when I launchedfreedeedpoll.org.uk, there’s still at least a little letter-writing involved.
Now, though, it looks like I may soon become the only Q in the world:
Personally, I thought that after she passed her PhD she’d
have even more reason to be called “Q”. I mean: “Dr. Q”: how cool is that? It sounds like a Bond villain or something. But on the other hand: if she wants to downgrade to
an everyday name like “Carter” then, well, I guess that’s up to her. I shan’t blame them for not opting to hyphenate, though: “Carter-Q” sounds like a brand of ear bud.
Seriously, though: good for them. If those crazy kids feel that marriage is for them, then I wish them the best of luck. And let’s face it, we’re approaching a bit of a lull in this run
of all-of-our-friends-getting-married, so it’ll be nice to have an excuse for yet another wedding and a fabulous party (I’m jumping to conclusions and assuming that they’re going to
invite me, especially after this blog post!).
In other name-related news, look out for me in the Money section of tomorrow’s Guardian, where I’ll be talking about deeds
poll, as part of their series of articles on scammy websites. I always knew that it was only a matter of time before my photo appeared in a national newspaper: I guess I should just be
thankful that it’s for something I’ve done right, rather than for something I’ve done wrong!
tl;dr: [skip to the end] I’m closing my Facebook account. I’ve got some suggestions at the
bottom of this post about how you might like to keep in touch with me in future, if you previously liked to do so via Facebook.
A little over three weeks ago, I was banned from Facebook for having a fake name.
This surprised me, because I was using my real name – it’s an unusual name, but it’s mine.
I was interested to discover that Claire, who shares my name, hadn’t been similarly banned, so it seems that this
wasn’t part of some “sweep” for people with one-letter names, but instead was probably the result of somebody (some stranger, I’d like to hope) clicking the “Report this as a fake name”
link on my profile.
There are many, many things about this that are alarming, but the biggest is the “block first; ask questions later” attitude. I wasn’t once emailed to warn me that I would be
banned. Hell: I wasn’t even emailed to tell me that I had been banned. It took until I tried to log in before I found out at all.
I don’t make much use of Facebook, really. I cross-post my blog posts there, and I keep Pidgin signed in to Facebook
Chat in case anybody’s looking for me. Oh, and I stalk people from my past, but that’s just about the only thing I do on it that everybody does on it. I don’t really
wallpost, I avoid internal messages (replying to them, where possible, by email), and I certainly don’t play fucking FarmVille.
So what’s the problem? It’s not like I’d be missing anything if I barely use it anyway? The problem is that my account was still there, it’s just that I didn’t have access to
That meant that people still invited me to things and sent me messages. My friends are smart enough to know that I won’t see anything they write on their wall, but they assume
that if they update the information of a party they’ve Facebook-invited me to that I’ll get it. For example, I was recently at a fabulous party at Gareth and Penny‘s which they organised
mostly via Facebook. They’d be forgiven for assuming that when they sent a message to “the guests” – a list that included me – that I would get that message: but no – it fell silently
away into Facebook’s black hole.
Following this discovery, here’s how I spent the next three weeks:
Facebook gave me a form to fill in when I tried to log in, explaining their “Real Names” policy and asking me to fill in my real name and explain “what I use Facebook for”
(“Ignoring friends and stalking exes, same as everybody else,” I explained, “Why; what do YOU use Facebook for?”).
It then asked me to scan and upload some government-issued photographic ID, which I did. It still wouldn’t let me log in, but it promised that somebody would look at my ID soon (and
then destroy their copy) and re-enable my account.
I periodically tried to log in over the next few days, without success: I was to wait, I was told.
After about a week, I received an email from “Rachel” at Facebook, who explained the “Real Names” policy and asked me to provide my REAL name, and a scan of some photographic ID. I
replied to explain that I’d already done this once, but complied with her request anyway.
Another few days passed, and I still hadn’t heard anything, so I filled in the Contact Forms in the Help section of Facebook, asking to have my request processed by an actual human
being. I provided by ID yet again.
Another few days later, I received an email from “Aoife” at Facebook. It was pretty-much exactly the same as the earlier email from Rachel. I replied to explain that we’d
been through this already. I supplied another pile of photo ID, and a few sarcastic comments.
Another couple of days passed, so I dug up the postal addresses of Facebook’s HQ, and Mark Zuckerberg‘s new Palo Alto house (he’s tried to keep it secret, but the Internet is pretty good at this kind of
detective work), and sent each of them a letter explaining my predicament.
Yet more days passed, and we reached the third week of my ban. I replied to Rachel and Aoife, asking how long this was likely to take.
Finally, a little over three weeks after the ban was first put in place, it was lifted. I received an email from Aoife:
Thanks for verifying your identity. Note that we permanently deleted your attached ID from our servers.
After investigating this further, it looks like we suspended your account by mistake. I’m so sorry for the inconvenience. You should now be able to log in. If you have any issues
getting back into your account, please let me know.
So now, I’m back on Facebook, and I’ve learned something: having a Facebook account that you can’t log in to is worse than not having a Facebook account at all. If
I didn’t have one at all, at least people would know that they couldn’t contact me that way. In my situation, Facebook were effectively lying to my friends: telling them “Yeah, sure:
we’ll pass on your message to Dan!” and then not doing so. It’s a little bit like digital identity theft, and it’s at least a little alarming.
I’ve learned something else, too: Facebook can’t be trusted to handle this kind of situation properly. Anybody could end up in my situation. Those of you with unusual
(real) names, or unusual-looking pseudonyms, or who use fake names on Facebook (and I know that there are at least a dozen of you on my friends list)… or just those of you whose name
looks a little bit off to a Facebook employee… you’re all at risk of this kind of lockout.
Me? I was a little pissed off, but it wasn’t the end of the world. But I know people who use Facebook’s “single sign-on” authentication systems to log in to other services. I know
people who do some or all of their business through Facebook. Increasingly, I’ve seen people store their telephone or email address books primarily on Facebook. What do you do when you
lose access to this and can’t get it back? When there’s nowhere to appeal?
And that’s how I came to my third lesson: I can’t rely on Facebook not to make this kind of fuck-up again. No explanation was given as to how their “mistake” was
made, so I can’t trust that whatever human or automated system was at fault won’t just do the same damn dumb thing tomorrow to me or to somebody I know. And personally, I don’t
like Facebook to seize control of my account and to pretend to be me. I come full circle to my first realisation – that it would be better not to have a Facebook account
at all than to have one that I can’t access – and realise that because that’s liable to happen again at any time, that I shouldn’t have a Facebook account.
So, I’m ditching Facebook.
None of this pansy “deactivation” shit, either – do you know what that actually does, by the way? It just hides your wall and stops new people from friending you: it still keeps all of
your information, because it’s basically a scam to try to keep your data while making you think you’ve left. No, I’m talking about the real “permanent deletion” deal.
I’m going to hang around for a few days to make sure I’ve harvested everybody’s email addresses and pushing this post to my wall and whatnot, and then I’m gone.
If you’re among those folks who aren’t sure how to function outside of Facebook, but still want to keep in touch with me, here’s what you need to know:
I like email! Remember email? I’ve always preferred it to Facebook messages anyway – that’s why I always reply to you by email, where possible. My email address
is pretty obvious – it’s my first name @ this domain name – but if that’s too hard for you, just fill in this form to get in touch
with me. If you’re up for some security while you’re at it, why not encrypt your email to me.
I like instant messaging! I may not be on Facebook Messenger any more, but we can still chat! The best way to get me is on Google Talk, but there are plenty of
other options too. Here’s how you do it. Or if you’re really lazy, just check at
the top of my blog for the little green light and click “Chat to Dan”.
I like blogging! Want to know what’s going on in my life? I never updated my “wall” anyway except to link to blog posts – you might as well just come look at my
blog! Too much like work? Follow my RSS feed and get updated when I post to my blog, or keep an eye on my Twitter, which usually gets links to my new blog posts almost as soon as they go up.
I like sharing!I’m not on Google Reader any more, but when I find fun
things on the Internet that I enjoyed reading, I put them in this RSS feed.
Subscribe and see what I’ve been looking at online, or just look at “Dan is Reading…” in the right-hand column of my blog.
And I’m not opposed to social networking! I’ve just reached the end of my patience with Facebook, that’s all. Look me up on Google+ and I’ll see you over there (They also have a “Real Names” policy, which is still a bit of a problem, but
I’m sending them a pre-emptive “Don’t ban me, bro!” email now)!
Ironically, the only Facebook accounts I’ll have now are the once which do have fake names. Funny how they’re the ones that never seem to get banned.
I have an unusual name: I’m pretty sure I’m the only person with my name in the world. It’s not the quirkiest name in the world – I have two names, the first one is pretty common, the
second one is unusual but isn’t a swearword or “Elephanthead” or something, it’s all in the Latin alphabet, etc. – but it is a little strange.
Three weeks ago, Facebook blocked me from logging in. I wouldn’t have noticed except that my phone failed to log in to Facebook Chat, and told me that I needed to log in on
facebook.com first. When I logged in, I was shown a form that stated that “Facebook is a community where people use their real names,” and that I had to “Supply my real name, as it
appears on government-issued ID.” So I did.
Then it asked me to upload a photo of said ID, so I did.
After a week, Facebook emailed me to remind me of their real names policy and asked me to tell them my real name and to send them proof, as before. So I did so. This time I sent not
only my driving license but also my passport.
Another week goes by, and they email me again with exactly the same text. I email back, asking if they actually read my last email at all. This time I provided photos of my
passport, driving license, and carefully-censored pictures of my bank card, work ID, college ID, medical insurance card, etc.
Another few days go by, and they send me the exact same email again, asking for the same information yet again. I’ve tried to contact them by email and through their help system to
ask how long this is going to take, and whether a human being is ever going to actually read my emails, but haven’t heard anything back.
I wouldn’t care, if I could at least delete my account: but I can’t, because I can’t log in to do so. They’re holding my data captive. My account still “looks” like it’s fine, so my
friends try to contact me, invite me to things, etc., and I never hear about it. It’s a good job that I don’t use Facebook to log in to anything (that I’m aware of), or else I
probably wouldn’t be able to use that too.
What do I do, Reddit? Is there some trick to actually getting Facebook to listen to you, or at least some way to delete your account without being permitted to log in to it?
tl;dr I’m banned from Facebook for using a fake name, but I’m not using a fake name. They’ve asked me to prove it, and I have (three weeks ago), but they just keep replying to
ask me to prove it again.
Okay, that’s not what that message actually says, but that’s how I chose to read it. It turns out that my name isn’t
real. I went through their forms to tell them that “no, really, this is my name”. They also asked me “what I use Facebook for”, to which I – of course – answered “chatting to friends
and stalking exes, same as everybody else – why, what do YOU use Facebook for?” But when I submitted the form, it just ran me back around in a circle back to where I started.
Also: Facebook! Is that exposed HTML code in your message? Dear me.
I’d be less frustrated if I didn’t just send them a copy of my driving license earlier this year, in order to prove that my name was really my name. I guess that the media
claims that Facebook keeps all of your information indefinitely aren’t true, and in actual fact they have the memory of a proverbial goldfish.
I’d be more frustrated if I actually used Facebook for anything more than pushing blog posts out to people who prefer to see them on Facebook, and occasionally chatting to people,
thanks to the wonderful pidgin-facebookchat plugin.
So on average, I suppose, I’m pretty indifferent. That’s the Facebook way.
On this day in 2009 I’d just announced that Claire and I had broken up after our
seven year relationship. I attacked Virgil‘s omnia vincit amor (love
conquers all), countering that our love for one another was not sufficient to prevent the difficulties we’d been having. That the breakup was among the most structured,
carefully-negotiated, and amicable of I’ve ever heard detracted only a little from the pain of the ending of the romantic part of our relationship.
You’ll note that I’ve always been careful not to say that our relationship ended, because it didn’t. It changed: we transitioned (bumpily, and with difficulty) from a romantic
relationship to a friendly relationship. You’ll also notice that I don’t use the term “just” friends unless that clarification is absolutely necessary (after all, why are friends “just”
friends: what’s wrong with friends? – I’ve another blog post on this very topic under construction).
It’s gotten easier, over this last year, to deal with the breakup: but it’s still hard. We had a huge place in one another’s lives, and that doesn’t simply evaporate. From my
perspective, at least, I still feel at least a little bit “derailed”: like, if you asked me 18 months ago about where I’d be living now, or what I’d be doing, then I wouldn’t be able to
say with any certainty that it would be this life I now have. That’s not to say I’m not happy: I’m enjoying what I’m doing now (although a little more free time wouldn’t go amiss!).
It’s merely that I haven’t yet fully got used to the fact that I’m not quite living in accordance with the same plans that I used to have.
There are folks who’ve criticised our breakup, saying that we’d both have recovered from it better had we tried harder not to keep in contact, not to remain friendly,
etc. I don’t know whether I agree or not – but I dispute that it would have necessarily been better. One thing that’s actually been really helpful over the last year (for me, at least,
and I’d guess for Claire too) is that we’ve been able to get support from one another. That’s a remarkable and unusual thing: but then, we were a remarkable and unusual couple.
And isn’t supporting one another what friends do?
Getting better all the time. Sorry to mope.
This blog post is part of the On This Day series, in which Dan periodically looks back on
years gone by.
Just thought I’d briefly share all of the different ways I’ve been saying goodbye to Aberystwyth and the people there, along with some photos:
I’d hoped to make a proper blog post about the barbecue/bonfire we’d had to “see of” JTA and I (and later Paul, who’s leaving later this year, and sort-of Ruth, who’ll now be visiting far less-frequently), but I decided to wait until Rory got around to uploading the photos he’d taken. He still hadn’t done so by the time I left town, so, you’re stuck with the handful of pictures
that I took.
You can even see Rory on the right of that first photo, taking pictures, the swine. As usual for our beach barbecues there was no shortage of food nor booze, and a copious
quantity of firewood. Also a huge amount of paper and cardboard which needed disposing of before the move, which lead to one of the most violently spectacular beach fires we’ve ever had
– perhaps second only to the time that Kit, Claire and I found large parts of a bar (as in, one that you serve drinks over at a pub) and ignited it , many years ago.
As the light grew dim I recited a poem that I’d thrown together earlier that evening, for the occasion, expressing my fondness for this place where I’ve spent the last decade or so. I’d
promised that I’d put it online, so here it is:
MEMORIES OF AN OLD FRIEND AND FORMER LOVER
In nineteen hundred and eighty five,
When I was – ooh – nay high. [with gesture sadly absent when recited over Internet]
I first set eyes on this Welsh town,
It’s mountains, sea and sky.
And beach (sans sand) and shops
(now closed), and pier (missing an end).
And thought myself, “This place, perhaps,
Could someday be my friend.”
Thirteen years passed – lucky for some –
And found me here again
In search of a place to come and learn
[I had a line here about how long it takes to get here by train, but I’ve lost it!]
My open day was sunny (aren’t they all?
how do they make it so?)
As I visited the campus and
The quaint town down below
That day, as I sat on that hill, [again with the gestures! – this was Consti, of course] looked down,
And saw a pair of dolphins play
I realised I’d found a friend: this town
And loved her, in a way.
My love and I were something sweet.
My friends; they envied me,
As she and I would come back, merry,
With a traffic cone or three.
Ten years I gave her of my life,
And treasure every one.
A decade’s love and hope and dreams under
Wales’ (intermittent) sun.
But this was young love: first love, p’rhaps
And wasn’t built to last,
And so the time draws swiftly near
That it becomes: the past.
The friend I’ll think of, as I chew
A slice of Bara Brith
She’ll always be here, in my heart,
In other news, you have no idea how hard it is to find fitting rhymes for “Aberystwyth”.
Of course, I’d hoped to say goodbye to the Samaritans branch where I’d volunteered for the
last few years, and I’d hoped to do so at an upcoming curry night that had been organised at the branch. Little did I know that more than just an excuse to say goodbye, this little
party had been geared up almost entirely to see off Ruth, JTA and I. There were tears in our eyes as we saw some of the adaptations to the training room.
The meal was spectacular, the beer and wine flowed freely, and we each left with a special gift showing how much the branch cared for each of us. I still have no idea how they managed
to orchestrate so much of this without any of us having a clue that we were letting ourselves in for more than just a curry and a pint or two.
As I left the branch for the last time, I passed the reminder sign that reads “Have you signed up for your next shift?” and thought, with a little sadness – no, no I haven’t.
As if there weren’t enough curry in my diet, the lads from SmartData and I went
out to the Light of Asia for a meal and a few drinks (during, before, and after) to “see me off”. This
felt strange, because I’m not leaving SmartData – at least not for the foreseeable future – but continuing to work for them remotely in my office on Earth that I’ve taken to calling “SmartData’s Oxford branch”. But this does mark the end of me
seeing them (at least in person) on a day-to-day basis, and it was also an excuse to catch up with former co-worker Gareth, who came along too.
I should have thought to take a picture.
I couldn’t have felt like I’d said goodbye to my life in Aberystwyth without saying goodbye to Claire, who’s been a huge part of it for, well, almost eight years. She and I got together
one evening in my final week, there, to break apart the QFrames (the picture frames full of mementoes from QParty). It was a somewhat emotionally heavy time, but – I suppose – an
important part of getting some closure on our break-up, last year: if there was ever going to
be a part of me that was perpetually tied to Aberystwyth, it’d be the half-dozen picture frames full of photos and letters and gifts that represented “us” that I was lugging around.
Now, I’ve got to find something new with which to furnish the walls of Earth, and my housemates seem keen to help with this mission.
It’s been a long process – saying goodbye to everybody – but at least that’s the Aberystwyth chapter complete. Right: what’s next?
We’ve had several rough months, and several even rougher weeks, and this seemed to be the best solution to a variety of difficulties we’ve faced recently. It’s hard to answer the
question as to whether the split could be described as mutual, but it can certainly be described as amicable, if that’s enough. If not, then perhaps it might help to understand that
we’re both, little doubt, unhappy, but that it’s better to end things now in a friendly way than, say, in six months time in an unfriendly way.
I’m sure that neither of us want to go in depth into the issues behind this break-up in the public forum, but I’m sure that those of you who are our friends are more than welcome to ask
privately, “what happened?” I apologise to everybody for whom this comes as a shock (i.e. most of you, from what I gather).
I’ve no doubt that Claire and I will continue to be close friends and will kick arse in all the fabulous ways that you’re used to, whether in one another’s company or apart. And I
expect I speak for both of us when I say that there’s a slap on the wrist waiting for anybody we catch “taking sides”: there are no sides to be taken.
Virgil wrote that omnia vincit amor – love conquers all – but he was
wrong. Despite our love for one another, if Claire and I had carried on the way we were, people would have ended up hurt. I’m feeling drained and miserable, but it’ll pass, and all will
be well again. For a quarter of my life thus far I’ve been Claire’s, and she’s been mine, and through one another we’ve done so much. For the last seven and a half years I’ve been
thankful for the great richness of experience that my relationship with Claire has brought. There will always be a special place in my heart for her.
Thanks for reading. I think I shall go and sit quietly for a while, now.
To mark the second anniversary of QParty, I thought I’d cook Claire and I a meal consisting of foods that begin with the letter Q. How hard can it be, right? Turns out it’s more difficult
than you might first expect.
My first thought was quails with qvark dumplings, but, would you believe it, both of these things turn out to be hard to get in Aberystwyth. Not wanting to
have to resort to Quorn™, we ended up having a quirky mixture of foods that have probably never
before been seen on the same plate: