Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Station X

Jean-Luc and I have been away for a much needed break - we suddenly realised we hadn't had any extended time off together since February; and boy did we need some!  We were both getting snappish, tired and ground down.

We decided on Stratford upon Avon and Cotswolds.

So hold on folks 'cos we're gonna do this one backwards...... mainly because I can't contain my enthusiasm for this place.

Dear Reader we visited ......... Bletchley Park!

I have to admit to a fascination with this place ever since I found put about it. 
For those of you that don't know about it; Bletchley Park was Britain's primary code breaking base in the Second World War.  It was here that they broke the German Enigma encryption codes (and there were separate encryption codes  for each service - army, airforce, navy, secret service - as well as within each service ie U boats operated on a separate cypher from the rest of the navy.
On top of this the codes changed every day at midnight using a predetermined cypher book.  
Imagine the amount of work that took! Just as you thought you'd made a breakthrough the whole code would change and you'd have to start from scratch again.
Bletchley Park was also the birthplace of computers in the UK; it was here that Alan Turing developed the Bombes that deciphered Enigma and later worked with Tommy Flowers to develop the worlds (yes the WORLD's!) first programmable computer - the Colossus.

By the end of the war over 10,000 people worked there deciphering enemy transmissions and yet outside of the place only those with the right security clearance knew what was going on at the site.  It was Britain's best kept wartime secret and was instrumental in enabling the Allies to win the war and at least 3 years earlier than it might have otherwise done.

So let's go on a little wander.

A view of the blocks across the lake and Hut 6.

 Inside the huts.

The Bletchley Park Trust have done an amazing job in reconstructing the interiors of the blocks and huts.

These lovely young gentleman are volunteers who keep an eye on the huts and add a surprising touch of humour to the place.

The Trust also makes great use of video and audio clips of reconstructed conversation to add atmosphere to the rooms.

The place is full of little domestic touches like jumpers and shawls over the back of chairs, handbags and coats hanging on coat racks, tea cups and enamel mugs, crosswords, knitting patterns and magazines scattered around the desks.  It brings the place to life and gives a real insight to the lives of the people that worked there

This is the big office in the manor - the decor is a little more luxurious!

Ok now we're going to see some of the techy stuff....

 A lovingly reconstructed Bombe, the first proto computer used at Bletchley Park to decipher the Enigma codes.

The back of the machine, a fascinating mechanical and electronic maze of intricate technology. 
This was cutting edge stuff at the time and it's development was a massive step forwards in developing computing.

This is also a working machine and this lovely man gave a fascinating demonstration of how it worked.
By the end of the war there were about 200 of these machines being run by Wrens at various sites (they split them up as it would have been a horrendous set back if they'd all been destroyed in a bomb raid).
This bombe was reconstructed by a team of volunteers and took 13 years to build.
It was obviously a labour of love as is reflected in the enthusiasm of the staff who demonstrate it.
Jean-Luc (who works in high level techy stuff) was mesmerised.

 The evil Enigma machine.  This highly complicated encryption device was what all the above machinery was designed to decode.
I can't explain how it worked but this helpful Wiki page can.

I have to say, I'm not a techno geek but I found the information about both Enigma and the Bombes both understandable and engaging.  The whole site is an engaging mixture of the the art of cryptoanalysis and everyday life and the use of modern technology to bring it to life is very well used.  I particularly liked the touch screen table tops that let you play at being a code breaker and the whole place felt accessible and well thought out.

Now for some purely personal pleasures....
 Knitting at Bletchley Park!

This is a reconstruction of one of the more comfortable billets that the staff were housed in.  As numbers at Bletchley Park grew many of the staff stayed in rooms in the houses of local people - not easy when you're working the midnight to 8am shift.

Well chaps that's all for now.

Ta ta and don't forget careless talk costs lives!

Thursday, 7 August 2014


 It's back
The Great British Bake Off once more graces our screens.

Oh frabjous joy, oh finger licking fun.
I have waited oh so patiently and shall now spend one hour on Wednesday evenings in a self imposed circle of isolation.
No talking allowed, crochet at the ready as I indulge in this most British of programmes.
Elegant nibbles, delicate pastries, mouthwatering savouries and stonkingly large cakes will adorn the television and provide inspiration for bakers across the country.

I love everything about this programme.  The stern but encouraging judges, the impish and greedy presenters (fighting over who gets to lick the spoon like two kids), the charismatic, chaotic and brave bakers, the pastel country chic set, the delicate drawings of each contestants bakes.
Amidst worries of climate change, peak oil, redundancy, the creeping privatisation of the public sector, austerity and Russia's seeming determination to start World War 3; this is a beacon of calm and joy;
and by the gods I'm going to enjoy it - now pass that cake plate.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Maiming of the Shrew

This post is not for the faint hearted. 
For the last couple of weeks the Nu has been exploring her inner hunter and has been enacting performances every other night of that famous feline Elizabethan play 'The Maiming of the Shrew' (huge apologies to William Shakespeare for that appalling pun).

With the surrounding fields full of ripe grass seeds the rodent population has reached its annual peak.  For a cat that has never hunted before this has provided a whole new experience for her.
Domestic cats kill a huge number of native wildlife and hunting should not be encouraged unless your cat is a professional hunter such as on a farm or in a warehouse.  We will be looking at a bell to discourage her if this habit continues.

 I think there's something in here!

Yes there's definitely something under here!

 See I told you.  There was something under the shed.

 Ok What do I do with this now?

I know; I'll leave it here for my humans to clean up.  The floor needs a sweep anyway.

Along with the presents of random rodents; she's also been enacting fairy stories in the bedroom.
A nightly telling of 'The Princess and the Pea'.
Her forays into the back field have meant she comes back covered in cleavers seeds which then drop off on the duvet cover as she grooms, leaving small, hard pea like seeds that work their way into the bed or onto the floor awaiting the innocent foot to step on it.
I know, I know we could shut the bedroom door but I don't think I could stand the pitiful meiowing that would result; and frankly, it's preferable to the soggy, rain soaked moggy that snuggled its way into a warm bed to dry off last night.
We suffer for her art.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Curious Cattle

The grass in the hay field at the back of our house is thick and luscious again and that means only one thing....yes the cows have returned again.  Well they haven't actually returned as it's a different bunch from last year but cows are definitely back in the field.
They spend the day wandering the field munching away with occasional forays into the pond for a refreshing drink.

 Cattle at the watering hole.

 As you can see they're all young steers (or male cattle).  
How can you tell? Well it's not the horns, as in some breeds both males and females have them.
You can tell by the lack of udders and the slightly tasseled penis sheath on its stomach.

They are fine looking animals with a fearsome set of horns adorning their heads.

They evidently like grazing on the hawthorn and young blackberries.  This charmer is reaching over our neighbours back fence to reach the unripe blackberries growing in her hedge.
Look at the size of that tongue!

 These are peering over our back fence; curious and yes, just a little bit intimidating this close up.
We'll be keeping the cat gate closed while they're in the field as the barbed wire probably wouldn't stand up to concentrated pressure.
They're very friendly, just young and curious.
Soft hides, wet noses and very licky tongues.  This one obviously likes his picture taken and wandered away once I put the camera away :-)

So here comes the tricky part.  What are these healthy and well looked after cows doing in the field.  They obviously aren't dairy cattle, they're boys after all.  I think they're probably being fattened up for beef.
Yep these charming, inquisitive animals may well end up on someones plate. 
This is the reality of farming and of our food chain. It's not all bucolic sunshine and clucking chickens.

Well, I'm not going to get caught up in the whole ethical debate about eating meat.  I'm a carnivorous omnivore. I eat meat and I'm not going to apologise for it. 
 I do though, think it's important that people who do eat meat acknowledge where it comes from.  It's all too easy to eat nondescript meat products that bear no resemblance to the animal they come from.  I accept I eat animals, I know I can kill an animal for food, I know I can skin and dress an animal once it's been killed.  I also believe it's vital to respect the animal who has died to feed me and to honour that sacrifice.  I believe we should treat animals gently, we should care for them with all possible compassion and diligence and to kill them quickly with as little pain and fear as possible.  
We owe them that at the very least.  
It's our responsibility and our duty.