Today I concluded that as I’m in the departure lounge I will be the likely recipient of an ‘S-Goat’ trophy for trying to do something creative last year that didn’t quite evolve as expected. An email exchange also frustrated me with the short-sightedness of some parties in a certain brand that can’t see past the end of the ‘i’ in their name. I would moan about ‘cost-saving’ that has inspired the cancellation of employer paid home broadband that seems to have got everyone else’s goat. Seeing as I’ve already terminated that agreement (mostly in response to being on the receiving end of BT customer care neglect) it would be a bit churlish.
Consumate professional that I am I decided to do something inspirational rather than merely tedious, I bunked off (well for about 90 minutes, still made and took calls – consider it a ‘health and safety’ break on a longish drive home).
On my return journey from IBM Warwick, I took a right turn at Milton Keynes, got lost down a few suburban streets and eventually found myself in Bletchley Park, with just enough time available to get a cup of tea in the canteen.
I’ve been promising myself I’ll go for years. Bletchley is a place I’ve ‘missed’ before in my life. I would have trained their as an Air-Traffic Control Engineer had I been born just a year or two sooner than 1973. When I was a ‘sponsored undergraduate’ for National Air-Traffic Services I was the first intake NOT to go to Bletchley Park but to go to Highfield Park. Which in itself is a fab place that used to be owned by Mohammed Ali, Neville Chamberlain and Dumbledoor. It’s still a great ice-breaker question answer; ‘I used to live in Mohammed Ali’s house’ or ‘I learned all about Radar in Dumbledoor’s house’.
I paid my £10 which now gives me access for the rest of the year, I’m sure the family will be thrilled on our next visit to Birmingham when I take a detour en-route, after all there is a good canteen and a new play area for the kids.
I immediately went downstairs in Block B to see the Bombe reconstruction, Alan Turing Statue and several Enigma and Lorenz encryption machines. Wondered around the site, contemplating where my NATS pre-deccesor Alistair Barclay was reputed to have repaired motorbikes in his room.
I wondered up to the main house, strolled around various rooms including the Ballroom and noted that I didn’t see much reference to the contribution of Shaun Wylie (my other link with Bletchley is that in IBM I’ve worked, albeit briefly with Shaun’s daughter Helen Wylie).
I then went to the ‘National Museum of Computing’ in Block 8 (Lucky to be open on a Tuesday) firstly to see the operating re-build of Colossus MKII, where I was amazed to find Tony Sale doing some maintenance work. I was awestruck – I just stood there with my mouth slightly agape for about 10 minutes, here is the worlds first ever electronic programmable computer, running, reading punched tape and being dilligently maintained by a former director of the BCS, nothing short of incredible.
I did a quick explore and found some recently donated Radar workstations from West Drayton (which were rather like seeing old friends) plus a stack of associated DEC PDP11 machines used for Radar processing (before the ‘Node’ system replaced it, which itself is now superceeded by the systems in Swanwick). I also found two visitor who used an air-traffic systems acronym I recognised from 15 years ago and in striking up conversation found that they were recently retired former NATS engineering instructors who pre-dated my time but who knew all of the people and places I hastily discussed with them.
My visit culminated with taking a couple of photographs of the two machines responsible for firing my interest in IT – a ZX81 (possibly the most important thing my parents ever brought for me, it arrived in a carrier bag, second hand from someone my father worked with) and a ZX Spectrum. The display also has Mac’s, Orics, Amigas and an Apple Newton (last saw one of those in the hands of my friend Alex Starr @Twixi on Twitter and now at AMD).
I also saw a Research Machines 380z’s which was the first machine I ever experienced at Blakenhale Junior School – big thank you Mr Harwood.
My soul has been restored, my faith in the brilliance of smart people striving together to solve seemingly intractable problems in very trying circumstances has served as inspiration. Inspiration I will cary forward into my new venture with Demand 247 but also to resolve my current responsibilities and engagements at IBM to the best of my ability (mostly by not ‘bunking off’ on a whim).
There’s a superb ‘Forties Family Festival‘ event coming up at Bletchley on 25th May, do try and get along, it’s good for the soul you know.
Finally, here’s just how far the internet and communications has taken us in the past 25 years, £499 for a modem, but you do get a FREE copy of Lotus Symphony.
Oh and here’s the ZX Sepctrum on display too >>