“The bank manager pushed the cheque across the desk and pointed at it.
‘Is this your signature?” he asked Forbes.
‘It’s my signature’, said Forbes, barely glancing at the cheque.
He knew he was in the clear…”
Pandora interrupted. We were reading a story written in the 1960s. The bumptious bank manager and the brash Forbes were deep in a scene set in 1965.
‘What’s a cheque?’ asked Pandora, child of the new millennium.
‘Well, in those days, instead of paying people actual money, you could write the amount on a piece of paper, called a cheque, and give that to them instead. Then they could take it to a bank and the bank would hand over the money from your account.’
‘Why didn’t they just use an ATM?’
‘They didn’t have ATMs in those days. Or internet banking.’
I turned back to the story. Forbes had to bluff his way out of this one. But Pandora had another question.
‘What’s a signature?’
I reflected on the things that had slid into irrelevance in the digital age.
‘Well…it’s when you sign your name.’
‘You mean like AUSLAN for deaf people?’ Pandora has a friend who’s deaf.
‘No, not like AUSLAN. Like when you write your name.’
‘I write my name all the time. Am I signing? I’m not signing…that’s AUSLAN.’
‘No, a signature is a special way each person has for writing their name, usually in curly writing, and it’s a way that no-one else can copy, or at least not very easily. So if you sign a cheque, for example, the bank people know it was you who agreed to pay out the money.’
‘That sounds dodgy to me. Why didn’t they use fingerprints? I bet I could copy a signature.’
‘You couldn’t do it exactly. And anyway, copying signatures is illegal. It’s called forgery.’
‘What if the person can’t write?’
‘They usually just put an X. But you couldn’t do that on cheques.’
‘That’s stupid! Anyone can copy an X!’ They should have digital ID.’
‘I know, I know, but digital IDs and passwords weren’t around when this story was written.’
‘No passwords? That’s pretty insecure. Did they have fingerprint ID?’
‘No, just the signature. Want to see my signature. Bet you can’t copy it.’
Pan comes closer to watch me scribble out the familiar script, second-nature to me. She is skeptical about this signature idea, but though she takes the pen from me and tries, she can’t repeat my signature. Her attempt wouldn’t fool anyone. Impressed, she demands help to concoct her own signature.
After trying out a few flourishes she settles on a wild and gothic name for her signature: “Pasblat Freeboog”