The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

A Walk In The Park

Over the weekend, visited Bletchley Park with Mrs Wife and various chums. Bletchley Park – or The World Famous Top-Secret Bletchley Park, as the guide leaflet paradoxically described it – is where Alan Turing and various other Boffins spent the second world war cracking Jerry codes, famously – and top secretly – the Enigma cipher, starring Kate Winslet, which was solved using the Bombe, and less famously – but even more secretly – the Lorensz machine cipher, solved using Colossus, the world’s first computer.

You get to see all this stuff, apart from Kate Winslet. There’s a museum full of Enigma machines, which are like small portable typewriters but with a lit-up letter display instead of somewhere to stick the paper, and then you can visit the mansion, where the code-crackers worked at the start of the war before their numbers grew so large they needed dozens of huts to be built. You can also visit the actual hut where Alan Turing worked, which now houses a display on War Pigeons awarded the Dickin Medal.

We also did a tour of the park, which was interesting, being guided into the various huts – some of which have been restored, some of which have been destroyed, but a few of which are in a pristine state of dilapidation, which is kind of what you want to see, the original buildings, no matter how tatty they may be now. The Bombe was housed in a cramped, dark, hot, stuffy room, and visiting it you get a sense how nightmarish it must have been to have been stuck in there for 8 hour-shifts. When asked about Turing’s suicide, our tour guide described him as being ‘naive’ for assenting to mood-altering hormone treatments for his sexuality; probably not the best word to have chosen.

I’d recommend a visit, though with a couple of provisos. As it stands, Bletchley Park is already more or less at capacity, visitor-wise – the huts are small and cramped, and our tour party was too large for comfort – so goodness knows what the place will be like if they increase the number of visitors. It’s kind of at that tipping point between being the actual place, in its original condition, and being a tourist attraction with all the slickness and artificiality that entails.

And secondly, although much of the museum is lovely, I’m rather at a loss as to why it includes things like model boat and railway collections – they give the impression that the place is being run without a clear sense of purpose and is being used as a repository for the random contents of some well-meaning donors’ attics.

The National Museum of Computing was shut.

BTW I have switched off comments for this blog, because I have a rule about not arguing with people using pseudonyms on the internet, and because if anyone who actually knows me wants to comment they can do so when these blogs appear on my Facebook.