Bletchley Park; Home of Secrets

We went away last week to stay in Harrow; that's why I was off the radar. I know it sounds silly, but I don't like to advertise big absences on the web, especially not now Mr AJ's business uses the home address as a base. It's just a precaution, not a reflection on how trustworthy I think my blogfriends are!
But anyway, we went and had a fantastic time so, with your permission, (or not, I really don't mind and I'm doing it anyway) I have written up the day by day account and I am going to post it here as daily as possible when I get back to work.


So, Day One;
We travelled down on the Friday night and stopped off at Bicester Travelodge. We find breaking the journey down helps so much from the point of view that you get an extra night away, the adventure of a night as a family of 5 crammed into a room for 4 , and the early start next morning which gives you virtually an extra day of holiday.

Usually when we go to Harrow we use it for shopping, settling in and a visit to Bicester village (with the range of shops that I look at and think "How much??? On clearance?") where we dodge Japanese tourists and eat a late breakfast at Pret a Manger before setting off again. This year I was feeling less inspired to spend money we don't really have on stuff we don't really need, so I figured that in the name of experientialism (my new favourite thing to be; I am an experientialist, not a materialist) we could spend the time better visiting a place I've wanted to see ever since Kate Winslett and Dougray Scott met eyes over the crossword puzzle. And the fact that Benedict has recently lifted the profile of the place even higher might have had something to do with it as well.


So we went to Bletchley Park. It's a fascinating place for a historian or  a mathematician or a computer nerd. It's a fascinating place generally, since the whole story had been so comprehensively covered up during the first thirty years after the war, only to go completely stellar now as a result of films, documentaries and, of course, the tragedy of Turing.
The estate still has a feel of somewhere they let you into cautiously, but getting out will be harder; the fences are still up, and the huts ranked along the drive to what was once a pretty country house look so alien against a sculptured lawn and lake with small fountain.


If you don't know the story of Bletchley and the breaking of the Enigma machine, then the introductory exhibition is a must. We are nerds (or geeks, whichever is the right term) and were perfectly happy to meander round rather than follow their organised route. Besides which, we had a limited time to spend and we knew what we wanted to concentrate on.

There are huts set up to resemble the code breaking areas manned by crossword addicts, mathematicians and clever people recruited just for the purpose, areas where broken code was translated into good English, huts where machines whirred round trying endlessly to break that day's cipher so that we could have a head start on the Nazi plans and be able to move against them. There were period details, posters warning that "Careless Talk Costs Lives" and information, information, information.

The machine designed by Alan Turing was called the Bombe and run by WRNS who had to set them up and take them to pieces every day. There is a working model in one of the buildings which we stood and watched for quite a while. The process was complicated, the whole rigmarole of catching messages, coming up with a possible menu based on regular words in use, entering those into the Bombe and linking the ins and the outs together only to end either when the code had been picked or the day was over at midnight, to strip the machine down and set up again for a whole new day must have been repetitive, just so slightly boring and also noisy. It was an honour to learn that one of the visitors there that day was a 92 year old lady who had been a Wren working in the Bombe Shed. She had never seen the machine for 70 years, and would not stop talking about it, pointing out the parts she remembered, the noise that one machine made ("and we had quite a few in the shed") and the fact that at the end of the war the machines were turned off, stripped down to component parts and not even one left as a museum exhibit.


There was an exhibit about the Imitation Game, parts of which were filmed at Bletchley, and an exhibition about the people, including Alan Turing, who built the first thinking machines during the war that changed and became the things we now love and use as computers. Hi story is so sad, a real morality tale of bias against diversity, and a real blow if one considers that he was only 41 when he died, and what potentially was lost in future developments. I'm so glad he was pardoned posthumously, and hope that the same acceptance could be offered to all the post-war offenders.


We watched The Imitation Game that night and it gave its meaning extra depth, having seen what his work had contributed to the war and the shortening of the conflict.

Comments

  1. I've never been to Bletchley park but would love to go. Thanks for the virtual tour on this post. I didn't realise that some of the Imitation Game was actually filmed there. I loved the film & now really want to visit.

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    1. It was really a good place. My brother had been, so we knew it was a good day. And with the film coming out on DVD in time for Easter, the chance to visit while we were down South could not be missed! Thank you for popping over; do you have a search on for blogs that mention museums or how on earth did you end up finding me? Just interested!

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    2. I think I must have found you through a comment you made on a blog I follow. As a new(ish) blogger. I'm making an effort to find blogs that link in some way to mine. Any tips for building a readership would be greatly appreciated. X

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  2. Bletchley sounds and looks fascinating - I'm going to really make an effort to visit (another one for my very long list). And I think I too will try to be an 'experientialist'!

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    1. My word of the year. I will spend money on experiences not things, and try to clear the clutter of my life both mental and physical. (with grateful thanks to James Wallman of Stuffocation who introduced me to the term)

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  3. I would love to visit there someday. My husband considers Turing a personal hero and he'd be fascinated too. I haven't watched the film yet but we definitely will. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. We cried, At the film and at the exhibition. I hate wasted lives, and unnecessary meanness to anybody.

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  4. What an interesting place to visit, somewhere I'd like to go myself one day.

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    1. It goes very well with a visit to Harry Potter and a night in a Travelodge between!

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  5. What a terrific day out. Something for you all there at Bletchley. It's somewhere I have been wanting to go for years an d I shall get there one day.
    Lisa x

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  6. It looks absolutely fascinating. I have to admit I also love a Travelodge. X

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    1. £30 a night booked in advance, enough space (just) for 5 people, as long as one sleeps on the floor, and convenient locations; we use them a lot to get a headstart on the holidays!

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  7. Oh, I would absolutely love to visit Bletchley Park....so, so fascinating. How wonderful that you went! I also cried buckets at the film....it's so, so, so sad, that this brilliant, brilliant man was treated in this manner....(I have tears rolling down my cheeks just thinking of Benedict Cumberbatch's masterful portrayal in his final scene in the newer film - I haven't seen the Kate Winslett version - must do, as I *love* her). Love your declaration that you're an experientialist now.....I think the prices in Bicester Village would be enough to cause even the most die-hard materialist to think twice before purchasing!!!

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    1. My eldest said there was a lot of dust in his eyes when he was watching (he cried too) and it is a brilliant film.

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  8. looks like a truly fascinating place to visit.

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    1. It was! And really good for teenagers, who can see the traces of the past in the modern world if you let them. My historian liked it for one thing, my engineer for another. My philistine daughter was less impressed but appreciated that the second world war would have lasted much longer, and that it was a place full of women doing really valuable work!

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  9. It does look an interesting place to visit, one for when my kids are a bit older I think. Experientialist is an excellent word!

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