The Enigma and the Bombe Machine

Saturday 3 November 2012

We got in to bed at 1:00 this morning since we kept on chattering about the wonderful musical. Not a wise thing to do when we needed to be up really early today to head with the train to Bletchley. We had to get to Euston train station first though and buy tickets. For some reason, we managed to do both that and get on an earlier train than planned. Only to find out when we got to Bletcheley that the train station there is small, cold and as it said in the book I have been reading, the entrance to the codebreakers’ park, is right outside the train station. Well, not literally but as close as. We walked up to Bletchley in 5 minutes and froze so we walked back to the ladies’ lavatory in the train station and stood there by the radiator for 30 minutes. Too cold to be in the train station that was just like a walk through shelter with doors opposite each other, constantly opening and letting in the cold air. We were happy when it was finally 10:30 and we could enter the park itself.

“Cookie” brought 30 pounds on this trip and I have never seen anyone anguish so much over purchases as her. She just can’t decide on anything. When it comes to what to eat. And what to do. And what to buy. We spent the first hour in the museum shop and she was in tears because she had too many choices so I told her that we could finish there instead. That made her mad at me for an hour or so. Mad or not, we started out in the main building getting the Enigma machine explained to us via a film. I watched it twice because it was really fascinating. I must say that this trip to Bletchley was mostly my choice since I have read the book but not understood when it explained the technical aspects. Not just that. This was a place I have wanted to visit for years but did not understand that it was so easy to get there and not at all far away from London. When I read in the book that people traveled to London all the time on the train, I dug out my old pamphlet on the place. I really wanted to get a feel for the place, see the buildings, the machines and try to understand!

It is incredible how Alan Turing and all his thousands of colleagues could figure out how to copy what the Germans were doing, every day with their machines, and thereby read all their messages! As always, I looked at everything and imagined myself working in this place. What could I have done? Definitely working on the Enigma. Once I saw the film, I completely understood the principle of the thing. And translating German messages/codes, no problem. But the Bombe machine? No way! I heard it explained by three guides and still don’t understand how the machine works! Yes, I understand that you put in the coded message that you have overheard via transmitter and that all the wheels turn trying to find out different translations for the code. That, on the other side of the machine, a message will come out and that the message was brought to the linguists that had to tell the operators if it indeed was German or gobble-di-guck? But I still do not understand how the machine could do this! In the book it says that the position of the cylinders had to be changed and that this really short WREN could hardly reach the top row. How did the machine work on the inside? How could it do what it did? That is what I don’t understand. And it is annoying. But I guess the operators did not have to think, they just had to feed the machine with the codes during a long shift. At least we got to hear how one sounded and since they had several in one room and called it the “hell hole”, since it was so noisy and hot from the machines, we got a good feel for what it must have been like to work as a WREN on the machines.

There was lots more to see though. Alan Turing’s teddy bear, Porgy, a special exhibition on the red devils and Pegasus bridge, toys from WWII. And then it was on to the next building that housed a private collection of Churchill paraphernalia. Too much in all the counters though. “”Cookie” thought it was fun though. I don’t quite like that sort of display though but the owner of all the things were on hand and he was soooooo PROUD of it and wanted us to have lots of questions, which we did not have!

It was very windy outside so we relished every time we could go in to a building. Now it was on to all the huts where all the geniuses worked and cracked their ideas. We went to Alan Turing’s hut and saw his very uninspiring office. And we saw how close the huts lay and yet, you learn from the book that there was no socializing between huts, one did not even know what happened in the hut next doors. That is how secret it all was. One guide, guiding some youths, said that in the bombe room, this lady had always wondered who took her messages when she phoned her contact person. She found out just a couple of years ago. The man that answered sat in a hut, just across the road! She probably thought she was talking to someone in London!!!! People worked so closely that the book talked of all the romances. I guess it was not strange since they were forced to live such an odd life there. They were bound by the secrecy act till the 1970s. Their families thought they just worked in an office doing nothing important for the war at all. And they could not correct them! So the only ones they could talk to where people from the same hut. It would have driven me mad. I would not have liked to have worked there for that reason. The work itself would have been fun and challenging but the isolation of it all would have felt frustrating. But here, in this place, they saved lives and did perhaps the most important war effort.

From the book I learned that the forces could not use the information right out. Some did not even believe in the reports since they did not know where they came from. But when they did believe,  for instance that a German ship was situated there and there, they could not go and sink it outright because then the Germans would have understood that they had cracked their codes. So what they did was send out a plane and let the German ship spot the plane and then the attack from British ships did not come as a surprise! Because the Germans already knew that a British airplane had accidentally noticed them! They fell for it over and over again. The sad part is that all the generals wanted it to sound like they won all battles because they themselves were so smart. They never mentioned that they had reports from Intelligence where the enemy was, what weapons they had and so forth.

We had sandwiches for lunch which was not a pleasant experience at all since “Cookie” was sitting gagging the entire time. She has got it in to her head that she can not eat cheese nor butter. But she can’t eat anything! Johannes and Daniel were so easy to travel with in that respect because they ate EVERYTHING! They ate sandwiches out of Boots just like T. and I always do when in England. She really is a finicky eater. And I thought that I was bad!

The last building was all about Ian Fleming but it was so cold, we decided to just get the book about that entire exhibition and read it at home. It was too cold to stand and read each sign on the spot. So we headed for the cinema to look at a newsreel from the war and then head back to the souvenir shop. Now I found the perfect thing for her to buy. “Dollie” reads her diary which annoys “Cookie”, of course. In the shop they had this little funny simple pocket enigma. When I told her how she could decide on a new code every day and how to use it, she got all excited. This man got annoyed at us though since we took the two last ones that they had. I wanted one as well since it is great to prevent people from reading your diary!!!!

“Cookie” was upset that we had to leave though and go back to London since they were going to have Blitz fireworks that night and all sorts of fun rides and entertainment. But to get in to that, one had to leave the park at 16:00 when they close and come back in at 17:00, paying new entrance and who knows if there would have been a train back late at night??? I had to tell her that we sometimes have to choose between two funny things and that she after all wanted to go back to the Tintin shop that closes at 17:30 every day, go to Hamley’s toy shop and so on. We had spent enough time today, away from London, in my view.

As soon as we got back to London, we headed for Covent Garden again and the Tintin shop. And there “Cookie” once again became whiny and half crying since everything was expensive and she wanted something really bad,, but did not know what to get. I had to drag her out of the shop and ball her out, outside and then we went back in and I showed her what I would have got if I was her. She bought that since she realized that what I pointed at was actually fun and cute, and something she would appreciate playing with together with all her other things like that. I would have loved to have bought little figures like these for “Kitty” and “Boo” as well but I did not know what to buy for them.  How fun is it to buy two of everything and fewer things, than one of each so they can play out the film for example or the books. But I wasn’t sure that they can share so I did not get anything for them and will discuss the matter with them when I get home. They said they ship to Sweden. It could be a funny Christmas present really.

From the shop we went down to look a little at Covent Garden since there really wasn’t too much time last night. They had decorated it all up for Christmas already with big, gigantic acutally, balls in the ceiling. Tons of people of course.  We walked in to the old Beatrix Potter shop that has now become a Moomin shop. “Cookie” became sad that everything was too expensive for her. But it was fun to look. I had no idea there were so many Moomin things available!!! We also ran in to Pudsey bear. They were begging for money, for sick children, and charged for you to be photographed with him. We bought a cheap new camera to go on this trip. (I did not want to carry around the big Nikon camera nor did I want to look like a tourist.) Unfortunately I never had the time to read the manual and no way was I going to pay to take a photo that would look awful because the lighting was so poor inside Covent Garden. At least she got to see how cute he is. I find him adorable!

We soon headed for Hamley’s. “Cookie” could hardly believe her eyes. We had to start at the top floor since we needed the lavatory desperately, which also meant that she got to see their gigantic candy section. But 6 pounds for 100 grams of candy is too much in my view. In the corner they had a cupcake café and we stood and drooled over the beautiful cupcakes for a long time. Finally we decided to have something to eat. She settled, after LONG deliberation, on a turquoise cupcake with a Harry Potter picture on it. I did not fancy a cupcake when I saw their delicious looking carrot cake, so that is what I bought for myself. It was divine! After eating we headed downwards, looking at all floors at the funny things. I still needed gifts for some family members and at Hamley’s we bought a Chuggington for “Sparky”. Since I found the videos on YouTube and showed them to him, he has become a 100% Chuggington fan. I bought a DVD for him a couple of weeks ago that he watches over and over and over again. So now he will have “Wilson” to drive around on the Brio tracks. I wanted to get him “Brewster” as well but that was of course the only one that was sold out. There is an old steam engine as well that I know that he would have loved to pieces, but it cost 20 pounds and I thought that was very hefty for a little wood train. Maybe one can find them cheap on ebay? Who knows???? Being in a toy Mecca is difficult for a child and so it was for “Cookie”. But when she came to the “Build a Bear” part of the shop, she knew what she wanted. She wanted to make herself one of them. Of course, then came the difficult choice as to which one to choose. She was looking at a rather boring bunny when I noticed a Pudsey. They only had one, boy one, left. I think the girl one is probably a new invention. He is cuter though. So she grabbed that one since after all, that is more unique of a London souvenir than a bunny. It took forever to get through the queue to get it filled, get a heart for him and register his name. She wanted Alan Turing’s teddybear’s name for him but when we finally got the chance at the computer to register the name, neither of us could remember the name of Porgy so we settled on Alan Charlie Pudsey. She paid for him herself but was very sad because that meant an end to her 30 pounds. But she really has bought some funny things with her money. Things that she really loves.

After looking on all floors and realizing that one could have spent hours in there, we headed to the west side of the city, since she would not stop nagging me about something that I had promised her. For her 12th Birthday, she received a Thomas Sabo bracelet just like “Dollie” did on her 12th Birthday. But “Dollie” received a charm as well that day. “Cookie” did not, since I knew we were going to London. “Cookie” is already an anglophile, like myself, so I knew that the perfect first charm, would be a London one that is only sold in Britain. So we headed out to Westfield’s shopping mall. It was gigantic. I have never been there before and we could have spent all day there, but we only had an hour before closing at 22:00, so we had to try to find the Thomas Sabo shop quickly. Well, that was easier said than done. We ran around for I don’t know how long without knowing where we were. Then “Cookie” found pamphlets, which she has been collecting since we arrived Thursday, and it happened to have a map inside it. Soon we were able to see where we were and where to go. It took a while to shop since I had seen on the website that there was supposed to be both a phone box to choose from and a Big Ben. But the people that hardly spoke English, insisted that there has never been a phone box. I know what I have seen thank you! I had to give up and just buy her the Big Ben, but will check again on the web site… Makes me so mad really to have to stand and argue with people  from Eastern Europe that don’t know English well enough. Has Eastern Europe all emigrated to London??? You run in to them in every shop and museum where it would have been nicer to meet someone British. It’s like they are just cheap labour because they don’t know ANYTHING one asks them. Same at the hotel! This woman was from Estonia. Too soon, they closed the mall and we were forced to go back to the hotel. I know this sounds so insane, but we did not eat dinner tonight because both of us were so full from the cupcake/carrot cake, that we just did not feel like eating anything more today.

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