Wednesday was my birthday.
It wasn’t just my birthday though, it was also Mr Chicks birthday, as we have to share. This is both fun, as it means “our” birthday is a bit of an event, and rubbish because I can’t spend all day making him wait on me hand and foot because it’s my birthday.
Anyway, this year we took the day off, and seeing as we were already in Oxfordshire decided to go and visit Bletchley Park. I assume everyone knows what the place is, but just in case you don’t, Bletchley Park was where the WWII code breakers who cracked the Engima code, among others, were located. The work that was done there was covered by the Official Secrets Act until relatively recently, but it’s now the subject of numerous books and films, including the recent The Imitation Game featuring “sort of cute but probably mostly because he’s clever and posh” Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing.
Unfortunately I planned my birthday outfit before I’d left home and I didn’t realise we were going to go to Bletchley, or otherwise I’d have taken some of my 1940s vintage for a trip back to its past. As it was, I was a little funkier!
Here I’m standing by the lake, in front of the Mansion, which was the central part of Bletchley Park, before the temporary huts and permanent brick structures needed to accommodate the 9000 people who worked on site during the war started to go up.
I’ve been wanting to visit Bletchley Park for some time, so I was pretty excited and I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed. The grounds themselves were beautiful and peaceful. Next time I go I’m taking a picnic and spending hours by that lake with a book.
We were there for about 3 hours, and still only had chance to see a fraction of the exhibits.
Hut 12 is interesting as it’s about the renovations of the huts themselves and talks about things found on site, how they analyzed paint colours to make them historically accurate and what parts of some of the main blocks had to be changed completely. What astonished me was how close we as a Nation came to losing Bletchley Park completely. I don’t like to be all soppy and nostalgic, but this quote on one of the exhibits nearly made me cry!
Forced to prioritise the day, or see if Bletchley Park would let us move in, we chose to see huts 3 & 6 where the code breakers were based who broke the messages on a daily basis, hut 8 where Turings team were based, and hut 11, which was the home of the Bombe machines that feature so heavily in The Imitation Game that helped to crack each days code.
Let me just say right now, code breaking would not have been my wartime skill. I like to flatter myself that I’m at least reasonably intelligent, I went to University and I can understand quite complicated concepts, like the rules of Roller Derby. When people start to explain how the Enigma code was broken, however, I understand up to a point, and then my brain switches channels and starts listening to Absolute 90s instead.
People narrowed down the number of settings it could possibly be on the Engima machine by looking for commonly used phrases in messages, or operators who always used the same few letters at the beginning. There is something to do with punch cards at this point too. Then they used the Bombe machines to go through the still several thousand remaining options till something made sense. Those settings were then used to manually decrypt thousands of messages a day, which were then translated into English and decisions made about how the intelligence was used. Sounds simple, but if you get into it any more deeply than that people start using maths and then my brain starts to melt.
The huts were decorated to look as they would have during WWII and used recorded sounds and projected images to create an amazing atmosphere. They also used tables with projected interactive “touch screen” (touch table?) activities that did a splendid job of making me think I understood code breaking, at least briefly before I started trying to think about it too hard.
I kind of couldn’t resist taking a selfie in Alan Turings office. That has to be done right? Excuse my hair, the hotel hairdryer had the power of an asthmatic gnat.
I wanted to see the recreated working Bombe, but we couldn’t figure out where it was, and we were just about to leave when I found out it was in an exhibition in Block B, so we ran back, and just saw the machine, the rest of the exhibition will have to wait for another time.
Honestly, having seen it, I am still none the wiser. Where the hell would you start trying to build something like this? I’m guessing with a university degree in Mathematics rather than Media Studies.
Tickets to Bletchley Park weren’t cheap, but I was gratified to find out they are basically a season ticket, so for £16.75 you can go as many times as you like in a year, which is pretty awesome. I will almost certainly be back as there is a lot I still want to see, like the inside of the Mansion, and the rest of that exhibition. Also an elderly man in his late 70s told me I was beautiful so I will definitely keep going back in case that happens again.
My biggest disappointment was that the gift shop wasn’t stocked with earrings that looked like Enigma rotors, or even notebooks and pens for me to waste my money on. It was mostly books, a few bits of twee faux vintage merchandise and postcards.
As you can probably guess, I am heartily endorsing Bletchley Park as a place to visit! It’s interesting, informative, fun, and also a nice place to spend time. Just get me some better gift shop tat and you could happily part me from even more of my money.
Find out more about Bletchley Park and go there, it’s really very amazing.
Outfit details, for those interested!
◊ Crop Top – ASOS ◊ Skirt – Warehouse* ◊ Shoes – Mel by Melissa* ◊