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Sunday, October 30, 2005

We went to Bletchley Park on Saturday. This is a mansion north of London, where, during WW11, the code-breakers (among whom was Alan Turing) were stationed. It seems a very incongruous setting for such life-and-death work - far too elegant and peaceful. If you've read Robert Harris's Enigma, or seen the movie, this is the real-life setting for the events that he fictionalised.

It was interesting seeing Colossus, the first digital electronic computer. It's - as the name implies - a giant of thing. Takes up practically an entire room, is festooned with multi-coloured wires and valves and ticker-tape ... Amazing how far technology's come in the last fifty years. We did the whole audio-tour thing, and, when the kids' patience had run out, we found a sunny-ish spot in the gardens by the lake for our picnic lunch. So there we all were, lined up on a bench overlooking a rather murky looking greenish lake, crunching our crackers and cheese, when a beautiful white swan emerged from the water. Emerged, clumped its way across the wooden deck, and headed for us in a very purposeful sort of way. As it came closer and closer, we moved from admiration to slight anxiety to - when it lunged for Emily's cracker with its enormous beak and scary snaky neck - sheer terror. It got the cracker, inflicting some slight damage to Em's hand in the process, and we fled in disarray. Stephen was very scornful of the girls' shrieks of terror and inclined to say that everyone else was over-reacting until the swan advanced on him, opened its wings and made scary hissing noises. Tell you what, those things are damn big up close.

The picture shows another swan, camped out by a display of WW2 tents outside the mansion, eating grass in a bad-tempered way. We had wondered why it was there; having encountered a swan up close and personal it became clear to us that it was there because it wanted to be, and all that all those army people were just too scared to move it.

The playground at Bletchley Park is very nice, by the way. Very new and shiny, and therefore not quite in keeping with the rest of the environment, which tends to the gently dilapidated. But fun for the kids - there's a cool merry-go-round thing, nice things to climb on, and they have a giant chess-set and giant connect-four set out on the lawn too. Only, the person in charge of setting that stuff up must be in some denial about the nature of British weather in October. Trust me, sunshades aren't necessary, and sitting still in biting wind isn't terribly pleasant.

A few more pictures :

Cool merry-go-round type thing
Kids climbing
Upside-down girl
View of Bletchley Park from the rear

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