That History Girl Travels ~ Oslo Day 4

Day 4 in Oslo was our final day with our Oslo Passes, and we each decided to go to museums of personal interest.

2017-01-23-17.16.11.jpg.jpegI started my day visiting the Jewish Museum. Jewish history throughout Europe is an area I find fascinating! Each city I go to I visit the Jewish museum, and discover such a varied history and experience each native Jewish people have lived through. Norway is not widely known for its involvement in WWII, however it suffered a huge loss of Jewish citizens during the war; of over 2,000 Jews living in Norway before the war, only 25 survived.

During the war, countless children and families were saved by the Carl Fredriksen Transport Project. A group of rebels saved families by transporting them to Sweden, hidden in trucks, under covers, the children often sedated to keep them calm. Named after the Norwegian King Haakon VII (who’s birth name was Christian Frederik Carl Georg Valdemar Axel) the operation transported over 1,000 refugees to Sweden.

Although a small museum, there is plenty to do; the bathroom is certainly worth a visit, all around the walls are stories or jokes, in Norwegian, English and Hebrew, left as momentos. The building is quite hard to find, hidden away behind gates, you have to be buzzed in, but it houses a fascinating history. The museum was originally a synagogue, however after the war it became a Muslim school, and eventually a Gay Bar!

2017-01-23-17.18.58.jpg.jpegThe Museum of Architecture and the Museum of Contemporary Art lie next to one another geographically and are part of the National Galley collections which will soon be housed together in a single building.

The Museum of Contemporary art is one of the larger museums in Oslo, and spread over 2 floors. Downstairs was a temporary exhibition by Sidsel Paaske; “On the Verge”. Upstairs houses the permanent exhibitions of Louise Bourgeois and an environmental exhibition spanning most of the upper floor with interactive rooms where you can make model jelly fish, watch films and learn about conservation projects around the world.

img_20161222_105438.jpgThe museum’s interior is beautiful, with golden gilt additions to ceilings and gorgeous arches its architecture itself is worth seeing.

Just across the road from the Museum of Contemporary Art lies The National Museum – Architecture. Housed in the old National Bank Building, and redecorated by architect Sverre Fehn the Architecture Museum contains 1 permanent exhibition and 2 temporary exhibitions at any given time. The permanent exhibition focuses on architecture in Norway and major projects managed by Norwegian architects, such as their Opera House, designed by Snohetta2017-01-23-17.17.26.jpg.jpeg.

The smaller exhibition, housed in the vault of the old bank focussed on the bank robberies carried out by Ole Hoiland in 1835, which led to his imprisonment in Akershus Fortress (and his subsequent 11 successful escape attempts).
The final exhibition, “Baking Bad” exhibited works from an annual gingerbread baking competition for school children. They were utterly fabulous!! The photo (left) shows one of the winning entries, a gingerbread model of the house from “Up”. All the entries were inspired by TV or films and ranged from recreations of King Kong hanging from the Empire State Building, to Hagrid’s cabins to Walter White’s infamous meth lab. In the corner was a small station where you could build your own mini sculpture.

2017-01-23-17.23.09.jpg.jpegThe National Gallery lies about a 15 minute walk from the Architecture and Contemporary Art museums. Admittedly our main purpose of visiting the museum was to see Munch’s Scream, following the disappointing lack of Scream at the Munch Museum. Thankfully it was no Mona Lisa moment and the painting was large, and uncrowded. Our favorite paintings however were by Norwegian painters Christian Krohg and Harald Sohlberg.

2017-01-27-16.24.35.jpg.jpegOur final stop for the day was the Reptile Park; definitely one of our favorites. I’ve always loved snakes, as a child most of my birthday parties were animal parties, concluding with a boa constrictor using all the guests stomachs as a transport medium. It was even the highlight of my 18th birthday party, and the snake deciding my little brother looked like a yummy dinner, and beginning to entwine itself around him only made it more entertaining. 2017-01-23-17.27.13.jpg.jpegAdmittedly the Planet Earth 2 Iguana vs Snake scene made me more wary, but getting to hold a snake was a definite highlight!

2017-01-23-17.26.33.jpg.jpegThe range of animals at the reptile park was huge! From Marmoset to 10 species of snake, black widow spiders, turtles, alligators and frogs there’
s something for everyone!

If you come at the right time you can see the animals be20161220_150905.jpging fed, and sometimes hold some of them. Even if you arrive too late for this the animals really wake up afterwards! One of the snakes was on a mission to escape, which he kept doing for about half an hour, trying to fit through the small gap in the glass (it was about 1cm wide, no way he could get out).

The marmosets are very friendly, and will come up to the glass and interact with you, even start talking to you too! They live in an enclosure with a beautiful golden dragon. I may have spent a lot of time befriending the monkeys!

Our evening ended up in Hard Rock Cafe, again. Seriously Oslo, vegetarian food needs to be a thing!

That History Girl Travels ~ Oslo Day 3

Our third day in Oslo marked our excursion out of the city center and to Bygdoy on the other side of the quay. This area houses all the museums related to Norway’s seafaring past. The Oslo pass includes free travel within zones 1 and 2, which includes Bygdoy. A door to door bus ran from just outside Anker Hostel, taking around 30 minutes to get us from A to B.

2016-12-19-20.43.37.jpg.jpegThe Viking Ship Museum houses 3 restored Viking Ships, as well as the items found within various Viking Burial sites unearthed by archaeologist Gabriel Gustafson. The ships are beautiful and striking, and housed within what appears to be an old church, any noise echoes throughout the whole building; it creates a peaceful atmosphere.

The three ships (Gokstad, Oseburg and Tune) each represent an important aspect of Viking archaeology; Tune was the first viking ship ever to be excavated whole in just two weeks, the dig headed by Oluf Rygh. Oseburg was used as a burial ship for 2 noble women in the 9th Century, and its excavation provided crucial information into Viking Death. Filled with weapons, clothes, shoes, carved animal heads, and several animals. Gokstad was also used as a burial ship for a young man killed in battle. His grave contained 12 horses,  8 dogs, 3 small boats, ornate game boards and 2 peacocks.

Although a small museum it is definitely worth a visit, particularly if you’re interested in history or archaeology!

2016-12-19-20.40.38.jpg.jpegThe Folk Museum lies about a 10 minute walk down the road from the Viking Ship Museum. It was by far the largest museum we had visited! The interior museum was split over 2 floors and 2 building, taking visitors on a long journey through a history of crafts, furniture, weapons and Christmas.

The majority of the museum is outside, so make sure to bring lots of layers, it can be quite biting! The outside portion of the museum houses an imitation of a traditional Norwegian village, with thatched outhouses, some open to the public to show an example of guest houses, kitchens, stables and living rooms. Also within the grounds are a beautiful wooden church (pictured right), and a large house showing the living standards of Norwegians from the 60-90s in the form of model flats.

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A short way down the road 3 museums exist on the same lot; The Kon-Tiki Museum, Maritime Museum and the Fram Polar Expedition museum. Unfortunately when we went to visit the Maritime Museum was closed.

2016-12-19-20.35.49.jpg.jpegThe Kon-Tiki Museum was Emily’s favorite! It followed the 2 expeditions of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) and his voyage across the sea on the Kon-Tiki balsalwood raft (pictured right), and his subsequent trips on Ra and Tigris, boats formed from reeds, based on an Egyptian design. For a man with a phobia of open water, he spent an awful lot of time sailing the oceans on vessels scientists promised would not be seaworthy. The museum houses both Kon-Tiki and Tigris, and also has model Easter Island caves, and shows the Oscar winning Kon-Tiki documentary. For a relatively small museum there is plenty to do!

20161219_152813.jpgOur final stop for the day was the Fram Polar Expedition Museum. Billed as the ‘Best Museum in Norway’ we left it till last so we could spend as long as we wanted there. Like Moulin Rouge, we discovered it was grossly oversold. I’m sure if you’re doing a PhD in Polar Expeditions it would be highly engrossing, but given neither of has a particularly deep interest the pages and pages of 20pt type wasn’t particularly gripping. Positives now though! The museum is gigantic, and housed across two buildings, the main attraction in each is a huge polar expedition ship. The larger ship, Fram can be boarded, and a small number of the rooms / cabins / galleys explored. Every 20 minutes, from the deck of Fram a Northern Lights show can be watched, projected onto the white roof of the museum, and a sail, fashioned into a screen.

Visitors can also try out the arctic simulator room, which exposes you to sub zero temperatures. I’m sure in summer this is more enjoyable than winter, when outside temperatures were around -3 degrees to begin with, tho it’s novel none-the-less. Our favorite part of the museum was the kids section, where you could try and navigate using only the stars, and a fake duck shooting range to try your arm at shooting.

The gift shop here is vast, and fairly reasonably priced, a perfect place to pick up your last minute souvenirs, postcards and trinkets.

That History Girl Travels ~ Oslo Day 2

After a pretty decent nights sleep (we were out like lights at 10pm) and despite a rather noisy dorm mate, woke up refreshed and ready for our 8am start.

Having bought an Oslo 72 hour pass (£50 for students) we were keen to visit as many museums as possible.

We arrived at the Munch Museum bright and early for its 10am opening time, hoping to see Munch’s famous painting The Scream. Unfortunately, having been stolen in 2004 and sadly damaged before its 2006 return it wasn’t on show, rather disappointing given every poster bore it’s unmistakable features. Nevertheless, an exhibition on Munch and his contemporary, Jorn, provided an interesting hour.

The highlight for myself and Emily was the colour by numbers section of the exhibit; we had a competition on FB to decide the best one. Emily won. I’m not bitter. 

After the Munch Museum, Emily and I parted ways, she went to the Natural History Museum, whilst I headed to the Astrup Fearnley Modern Art Gallery, which focused on both art and Architecture.

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The building itself is a beautiful work of architecture, divided into two halves, one containing the permanent collection, the other housing temporary exhibits. The temporary exhibition “Los Angeles – A Fiction” was by far my favorite,  featuring many American artists including Alexis Smith, David Hockney and Charles Ray.

The permanent collection was much larger, with a wider range of mediums, however I found it rather bland. Bisected baby cows in preservative, and crucified sheep are not art. They are simply cruel, hideous and unnecessary. The highlight of this half was a 10ft high bookshelf sporting large grey lead books, by artist Anselm Kiefer.

After my brief trip to the modern era it was time to go back to ancient times and visit the castle or Akershus Fortress.

Within the fortress walls also lies the Resistance Museum which catalogs the struggles of the Norwegian Resistance throughout the 2nd world war, through continued fighting, underground publications and refusal to fight. Whilst not the largest museum, and mostly in Norwegian (although there is a good guide English guide book) it tells the stories through the medium of models.

A20161218_143301.jpgs with all or Norway, it seems, the castle itself was closed for the winter. Ordinarily the interior of the castle, as well as the Mausoleum and Chapel are open to the public, however when we went only the visitors center was available.  The visitors center itself was essentially a museum, with 2 rooms focusing on the history of the castle and relations between Norway-Denmark and its battles with surrounding countries, and another room on the castle’s previous function as a prison.

Still an active government / military base, visitors can watch the changing of the guard, raising and lowering of the flag at sunrise and sunset (about 3pm in December), as well as enjoy a beautiful walk around the castle grounds.

Our final stop was an evening visit to the Film Museum, housed on the ground floor of a large cinema complex. With late opening hours, and free entry, we tacked it on to our itinerary. The museum is small, and whilst an English information sheet is provided, it rarely matched up to the pieces on show.  It’s a quaint museum fairly close to the castle, so a good one to visit if you find yourself nearby with half an hour to kill.

After another dinner at Hard Rock Cafe (yes it’s the only place that serves vegetarian food) we were back at the hostel to read and relax (and enjoy the US netflix options Norway gets) it was sleep time again!

That History Girl Travels ~ Oslo Day 1

Day 1 of our Christmas holiday, and we’d just landed in Norway! After an hour delay at Stansted it was more early afternoon than late morning! 1st things first, getting into central Oslo from the Airport. There are 2 routes, either by tube or an express route. The express route, run by flytoget, takes you straight to Oslo Central, but costs about £20 return. The metro also runs, it takes longer, but I believe it’s cheaper.

20161217_143133.jpgWe were told to buy flytoget tickets, not knowing any better, and proceeded to take the metro. Don’t do it, your tickets aren’t valid, and the conductor may give you a talking to when he inspects them. It’s fine, I think the Norwegians don’t think the British are the brightest, it’s fairly easy to play the dumb tourist card.

As soon as we stepped out of the heated airport and onto the train platform the cold biting air was upon us. Sub-zero temperatures needled at us until we donned our scarves, hats and gloves, much to the amusement of the surrounding locals as they stood remarking as to the ‘mild temperature’ of the day.

20161217_171741.jpgNorwegian winter days are rather short; The sun rises at about 11am, and sets by 4pm, although I’m not sure if you can call it sunrise or sunset, we didn’t see the sun once over the trip, just slightly different shades and brightness of grey sky. By the time we wandered to the hostel and left our bags, it was firmly night time, at about 5pm.
Too late to visit any museums, we decided to walk through the city center and up to the palace, via some dinner. Norway truly do get into the Holiday Spirit! Every street was lit up with beautiful lights, Christmas trees were abundant, and trams chundered past with fairy lights draped elegantly from the roof. The Christmas market with Ferris Wheel and Ice Rink was packed with tourists and locals, searching for a last minute Christmas gift. Unfortunately, by our final day in the city the market had been dismantled, following the horrific terrorist attack at a similar market in Berlin.

After a long day of travelling we were looking forward to our first meal in the capital. Neither myself nor Emily eat meat, which has never been an issue travelling before. Unfortunately, this was going to prove to be rather an issue. After pottering round for some time, searching for options we found the Norwegian answer to Pizza Hut. £26 for a medium pizza was not to be. Vegetarianism does not seem to be a thing in Norway. Precious few restaurants have a veggie equivalent, and virtually none affordably. McDonald’s, our last resort, had even removed their Veggie Deluxe from the menu, and Subway had a 200% price increase.

Hard Rock Cafe, usually an expensive option, proved to be our saving grace! With affordable food, a whole page of vegetarian options and bottomless drinks, it was a jewel in Oslo’s crown!

A 20 minute walk later, and we were tucked up in bed, exhausted from our 3am start and excited for our 1st full day of exploring.

You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 at the V&A

Who doesn’t love the Swinging Sixties? Great music, outrageous fashion, social reform and the constant threat of nuclear warfare! If I could have lived at any time, I’d probably have chosen the 60s; That or the 80s.

Records and Rebels is a new exhibition running from September 2016 – February 2017 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. Housed in the temporary exhibition space, its an amazing set up, with plenty of content to keep you entertained for hours!

Upon entering you’re handed an audio guide and some very good quality headphones. There’s no need to search for headphone signs around the exhibition, or fumble with badly-calibrated touch screens, this audio guide knows your location, and adjusts its track accordingly. It is a truly genius system.

Walking through a succession of 8 rooms you find yourselves immersed in the art, fashion, literature, media and of course music of the age. The 60s were a huge time for political and social change, and this was reflected throughout the exhibition, with each room focusing on one or two topics. From feminism, mini-skirts, LSD, police violence, the Vietnam war and the Beatles you gain a comprehensive understanding of what it was to be alive in the late 60s.

My favourite room was a celebration of the 1969 Woodstock Festival. 3 sides of the room are covered in 10 foot high, 30 foot wide screens showing intimate footage of Jim Hendrix famous set, closing Woodstock. Guests are invited to lie on bean bags on the floor and utterly immerse themselves in the sublime music.

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The exhibition would have taken us about 2 hours, had we been allowed to finish it. We were in the 1600 time slot, and we weren’t warned that the exhibition would take more than the 1hr45 we would have there. What we saw of the exhibition was fantastic, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to do the final 2 rooms, and when the announcement went up to tell us 30mins left, it knocked out the audioguides for about 15 minutes. At nearly £20 a ticket, it’s not exactly something we can pop back to finish, and by no means did we linger in each room. It’s such a shame, as it meant we left on a sour note. It would be worth the museum pointing out you may not finish the exhibition, if you go in past 1530.

Despite the timing issue, this was a fantastic exhibition, which I would wholeheartedly recommend, although make sure you’re early enough!

You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 is on at the V&A until 26 February 2o17. Ticket prices are £17.60 or £13.50 for students.

York Cold War Bunker; Observers Underground

On a cold drizzly Sunday afternoon in York, when we’d exhausted all the coffee shops, and seen all the ‘must see’ tourist attractions we decided to check out an English Heritage site, just outside York. It definitely should have been higher on our priority list!!

Hidden away, surrounded by blocks of flats lies the entrance to the York Cold War Bunker,  only visitable by guided tour. As luck had it the next tour was in 5 minutes. Our tour guide, Anna, was clearly incredibly passionate about the Cold War, and her enthusiasm was infectious! We were the only two people on the tour, and she gave us plenty of scope and opportunity to ask questions as we went round.

This Cold War Bunker was the operational HQ for the Yorkshire division of the Royal  Observer Corps (ROC), a civilian branch of the RAF. Originally formed during WWII to identify enemy planes, the group was stood down at the end of the war, before being reformed during the Cold War to take readings of any nuclear bombs that fell. From the base they could take readings of radiation levels, try and identify where the bomb fell, and what size it was.

1st step on the tour was to watch a short video highlighting some of the history of the Cold War, and the provisions the British Government had in the eventuality the war went nuclear. Having visited a couple of Cold War bunkers in Berlin earlier this year, the difference was stark. The German Government made civilian bunkers, and promised the people they all had a place to go. In fact their bunkers could only hold about 1% of the population, and some took a week to be prepared and made operational. The British Government had a different idea. They showed people how to make their own bunkers at home, to stock with them with food, paint windows white and reinforce them with sandbags. With the ever increasing strength of nuclear bombs being developed these ‘bunkers’ or safe rooms would have been just as futile.

The York Cold War bunker could keep 60 people alive for up to 30 days. Over the course of the 30 days all the inhabitants would work in 3 groups of 20 on an 8 hour rota. 20 people would be working in the operations rooms, 20 people would be in the canteen relaxing, and 20 people would be sleeping in the dorms on a delightful ‘hot bed’ system. When 30 days was over they would all have to leave the bunker and go into what was left of the world above them.

20161113_151811.jpgThankfully the bunker was never needed during the war, although the ROS often ran 48 hour training weekends. So many volunteers couldn’t stand the sleeping conditions even for this fraction of time, and went without sleep, instead of braving the bunk-beds. The photo left shows some of the personal effects of an ROS member on one of the thin beds. No reminders of home, family or friends were permitted in the bunker, as the government feared it would cause psychological damage, not knowing whether friends or family were alive.

20161113_150942.jpgThose posted in the operations room would have a busy 8 hours ahead. They had to collate all the data gathered from other ROC groups around Yorkshire, and combine it with their own data. The equipment pictured right was used by all branches of the ROC. The long cylindrical piece of equipment hanging from the ceiling was a form of gieger counter which would measure radiation levels below ground.

The white cylindrical box was installed on the roof of the bunker, and was used to identify the location of the bomb. Holes had been drilled into the metal container, which housed photosensitive paper.

When a bomb dropped, the initial brilliant flash of light 20161113_150851.jpgwould be registered by a dark dot forming on the gridded paper. The data from all the boxes across Yorkshire would be collated, and using a technique similar to triangulation, the location could be estimated using a map (pictured below). In order to collect the paper from the box , a member of the corps would have to venture outside the safety of the bunker. To ‘protect’ him from the deadly radiation the Government issued a cotton boiler suit, more as a psychological protection than a physical one.

20161113_151736.jpgAs the war progressed more sophisticated technology was developed in computing. A.W.D.R.E.Y. (right) essentially did the same job as the volunteers in terms of locating a bomb’s epicentre. She did have a couple of flaws, including thinking every episode of lightening, or firework was a nuclear bomb. For this reason volunteers continued to perform manual analysis of the data.

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Volunteers would collect information from other branches. Sitting in rows like this they would write all incoming data onto the screens, which could be flipped around, so those working below could analyse the information.

20161113_151058.jpgThose working in the room below would work to collate information and locations of bombs over a wider area. Working on huge maps of the North of the UK they would also communicate their findings to other branches and the government.

Cold War bunkers can be either bomb proof, or blast proof. Bomb proof shelters can withstand bombs falling directly onto them, or in the area closely surrounding them. Blast proof shelters can only withstand ‘near-misses’. Having been designed in 1955, before the mass up-scaling of nuclear bomb strength, the York bunker could only survive a ‘near-miss’ 8 miles away, from a small bomb. If anything fell closer the shelter would have been flattened, or incinerated.

20161113_155238.jpgIn the wake of recent political events (damn you Trump) the likelihood of a hot war seems to be ever increasing. Unfortunately this bunker would provide very little protection in the event of a nuclear bomb falling on Britain. The increasing payload of modern nuclear bombs makes survival chance much smaller, and if the bunker wasn’t flattened the vital equipment needed to sustain life has probably been decommissioned now. The air-conditioning unit contains materials now banned by the EU, batteries no longer work, and air filtration systems have never been tested. If the government does find itself in a situation where nuclear bunkers become necessary, chances are they’ll just make new ones. That seems to be the 21st century way!

When English Heritage decided to save York Cold War Bunker, they found it in a state of disrepair. The sewage outflow pump had been turned off, and so was no longer pushing water out. Without the positive pressure, water started flowing back in, leaving the bunker flooded, and the task of restoring it that much harder.

Just over a decade ago the bunker opened its doors to the public. Over the past ten years many members of the ROC stationed there have returned and shared their memories of the bunker. Many found love there, some found new extra-marital love there, and one volunteer even went into labour!

The bunker is open by guided tour to the public every weekend, and can be visited during the week for schools or groups. Entry is free for English Heritage members and costs £7.00/£6.30 for adults or £4.20 for children. The price includes an hour long tour, and there are 6 tours a day.

This was one of the best English Heritage sites I’ve visited so far, and I’d highly recommend it! Our tour guide, Anna, brought the whole place to life and was clearly incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about both the bunker and the Cold War, she really made the trip! Thank you Anna!!

 

 

 

 

 

Decoding the Bombe ~ Bletchley Park

At 9am on a crisp Saturday morning, QMUL History Society met outside Mile End Station to begin our 1st trip of the year to the home of modern computing security.

Bletchley Park, most well-known for its involvement in the Second World War, was developed to its present state by Sir Herbert Samuel Leon who bought the site in 1883. Later bought by Admiral Henry Sinclair, the head of MI6 in 1938, it became the designated home for code-breakers, in the case of war being declared.

Following the release of 2014 film The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightly, the work of mathematician Alan Turing has been thrust into the spotlight. Turing is most revered for his work in inventing the Bombe, a decoding machine, designed to break the Enigma code in WWII. The Enigma machine, designed by German Arthur Scheribus, provided German officials with triple level encryption for their messages, and they never doubted its security.

The Enigma machine worked by initially swapping two letters, before feeding the letter through to 3 spinning wheels, which would change the letter 3 times. The letter then traveled backwards through the 3 drums, before revealing the letter on a lit keyboard. The catch? Each machine used 3 drums at a time (of a possible 5) set to 1 of 26 positions each. When a letter was fed through, the 1st drum would rotate 1/26 of a rotation; when this drum had completed 1 revolution the next drum would turn 1/26 of a turn and so on. In this way, the set up of the machine changed with every letter typed.

The flaw in the Enigma machine, which the code-breakers at BP exploited, was that Enigma could never code a letter as itself. That is to say A could be coded as B-Z, but never A. This allowed codebreakers, before the Bombe was invented, to estimate codes, whilst looking for frequently used phrases such as ‘wettervorhersage’ meaning weather forecast.

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Using this knowledge Alan Turing designed his Bombe, which was later modified by Gordon Welchman to vastly improve its efficiency.

Today, Bletchley Park is no longer a hub of military intelligence, having moved to GCHQ and NSA once the war was over. The work at Bletchley remained classified long after the war had ended. The Germans never found out their enigma code had been broken; Only the British and Americans were privy to this information, so when Russia looted their way through Eastern Europe and found a large quantity of Enigma Machines, they didn’t think twice about using them during the Cold War.

When Gordon Welchman was brought in by the NSA during the Cold War to crack Russian codes, he found the work surprisingly similar to his work at Bletchley. Luckily, even after Bletchley had been stripped of any clues to its existence in 1945, several Bombes had been kept, by GCHQ and the NSA, giving the USA a key advantage.

Bletchley Park today highlights and celebrates the works of the code-breakers who worked tirelessly throughout the war, with little to no recognition, to thwart the Germans in a battle of wits.

Initially you’re given a brief introduction to the history of Bletchley and code-breaking before you’re given an audio guide and allowed to explore the grounds at your own pace.

The beautiful, famous manor house (above) shows visitors the scale of the operations at Bletchley before they were upscaled. The initiator of the increase in workforce, Gordon Welchman, is celebrated here too, his work so frequently overshadowed by Turing.

Various huts are open to the public. Hut 9 contains information about the redevelopment of Bletchley, having been left in a state of disrepair when it closed in 1945. This hut explores the archaeological techniques used to understand it’s original appearance, and allow developers to recreate this as accurately as possible.

The other huts take visitors through the various stages of code-breaking,  with interactive activities in various rooms giving people of all ages the chance to try their hand at cracking the Enigma code. All the huts have been restored to their original condition, and some contain audio-visual effects to recreate conditions just over 70 years ago.

Visitors are also able to see the cottages inhabited by the code-breakers, although the interiors aren’t open to the public.

 

In 1995 a group of scientists and enthusiasts headed up by John Harper decided to try and rebuild the Bombe. When Bletchley was decommissioned all traces of the work that had dominated the lives of up to 3000 people for the past 6 years was burned or destroyed, so finding plans for the Bombe seemed impossible. 10 years later, after a decade of hard work, trial and error and sourcing now discontinued materials such as Bakelite they had a working Bombe. Today you can see this in action with demonstrations every half an hour.

 

Beside the rebuilt Bombe sits a beautiful graphite statue of Alan Turing, and the letter of apology from Gordon Brown for his conviction of “debauchery” when it was discovered he was a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Having chosen chemical castration over imprisonment, Turing tragically took his own life in 1954. Given that Turing’s work is said to have shortened the war by up to 2 years, saving potentially hundreds of thousands of lives, the fact it took nearly 50 years to pardon him is downright disgusting. Furthermore Parliament’s decision to overturn a bill which would pardon all those convicted of “debauchery” a few weeks ago shows just how static societies views on the LGBTQ+ community are, despite politicians constantly self-congratulating themselves on how progressive they think they are.

Today a memorial to all those who worked at Bletchley stands outside hut 2 bearing the inscription “We Also Served”. When Bletchley closed all those who worked there were sent away with strict instructions never to speak of their work, and for this reason so many achievements went uncelebrated. Since the Enigma code was declassified many of the men and women who worked there have released memoirs of their time at Bletchley. Most speak of fond memories, and many found love there.

Without the work of the Code breakers, WWII could have had a very different conclusion, with millions more innocent lives lost. It is thanks to their work that we live in the world we do today, and for that we salute them.

Admission to Bletchley Park costs between £14.00 and £17.25 for adults which includes unlimited access to the site for 1 calendar year. English Heritage members also enjoy a further discount.

 

Meeting My Idol; Mary Beard on The Public Intellectual 

It’s been an interesting week for British politics. Apparently democracy is falling apart, but has democracy ever truly been defined? In short, no.

“UKIP are not populist, they’re just wrong” states Mary Beard,  standing at the lecturn at St. Peter’s College, Oxford, no doubt preaching to the choir. Brexit provides an interesting commentary on the public intellect, from the people that brought us the “so called experts” and the phrase “you can’t trust experts”. 

Drawing from personal experiences, Mary Beard discussed the role of democracy and what it means to have a voice, from ancient times to the present day. Interestingly, she said she only found her public voice, after she was challenged publically for her appearance after hosting her first television documentary. Several horrendous death, and sexually agressive threats later Beard found she had accidentally stumbled across a public voice. 

These threats highlighted to society the huge difference in attitude to female academics in the public spotlight. Having been persuaded into television to provide a breath of fresh air from the “grey haired, middle aged, frumpy old man” that overpower the documentary world, Mary Beard found her appearance critiqued, instead of her ability to do the job at hand. Sound familiar? It’s a scenario that faces so many women, albeit on a smaller scale, nearly every day. At last, not only did Mary Beard have a voice, but the 21st century woman also did. 

The problem facing broadcasting, and broadcast politics today, is the inferred need to dumb things down. Any Questions, News Night, and other such programs feel the need to simplify everything; this was evident in the Brexit debates. Producers seem to think that the general population are idiots. This is simply not true, most are simply ignorant (as we all are),  but not unintelligent. This thesis is central to Mary Beard’s 3 rules of documentary making; no CGI, no actors running around in togas, and certainly no dumbing it down.

This problem was particularly rife during the Brexit campaign. Broadcasters decided both sides needed to be simplified, attainable by the general population as such. Unfortunately this may have (has) backfired. We voted to leave the EU, but was this a democratic vote? No, because to be honestly nobody had any idea what they were voting for. Brexit is an unbelievably complicated situation, and we were made to believe it was cut and dry. 

75 minutes later, the talk finished, and everybody started emptying out of the chapel. Mary Beard stayed behind,  taking questions from curious fans, and I finally had an opportunity to meet my idol. Anyone who has been to see a Lisa Dillon play with me, knows just how badly I fangirl. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only person queueing up to speak to her, slightly trembling, voice gradually increasing in pitch! (Thankyou Ben for putting up with me 😅)

Finally, I got to ask Mary Beard a question; “What advice do you have for young, females who would love to do what you do?”

“Read, read, read, read! And Never let a man put you down.”

I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole way back to London!! 

Footnote

Today Donald Trump has been voted President of the United States of America. I’m aware I should probably talk about this, but it’s just too painful right now. Expect an article on 1933 Germany soon. (If you don’t understand the link, get your head outta the sand.)

Pennys,  Trains and Butts – The Turner Prize 2016

The Turner Prize for modern art, first awarded in 1984 is a celebration of modern, innovative, British art. Awarded annually to an artist born, living or working in the UK, aged 40 or under, the prize has caused much controversy over its 32 year history.

In 2016 Helen Marten,  Anthea Hamilton, Josephine Pryde and Michael Dean all vie for the £25,000 prize, and the critical acclaim that accompanies it.

The Turner Prize Installations, housed at the Tate Britain, comprise of 4 rooms, one per artist. The £9.50 Student concession price does seem rather steep,  particularly if the prize is designed, at least partially, to inspire a new generation of British artists!

The first room, belonging to Helen Marten was probably my least favourite, and left me feeling distinctly underwhelmed. Whilst the ornate, multisegmented insects hanging from the walls were visually appealing, striking they were not! I may be vaguely biased on this matter; the incessant screeching of the alarm signalled that, yet again, a small child in clumsy Lelly Kellys, playing hopscotch over the “Do Not Cross” line had narrowly avoided damaging the artwork, as her mother gazed on, disinterested.

Anthea Hamilton’s exhibition was the space I knew the most about before arriving. Based on her New York exhibition Anthea Hamilton: Lichen! Libido! Chastity! for which she was nominated, her Tate installation has attracted huge public attention, particularly for the ginormous butt pictured above. Countless selfies and photos flood the instagram hashtag with Project for a Door (the official name for the derriere in question) which was inspired by designer Gaetano Pesce’s plan for a New York doorway. Reactions from my fellow museum goers ranged from the very British embarrassment,  to mildly amused through to 3 gleeful children, excited about this rather large ‘taboo’ presented before them. I found it oddly entrancing, and almost hard to look away.

The other half of Hamilton’s room is dominated by a floor to ceiling photo of the June London sky. In front of it hangs several silver chastity belts, decorated with rosemary, or with ornate carvings.

Room number 3; Designed by Josephine Pryde, this room is probably the simplest design, but in no way does this detract from the effectiveness. A Class 65 diesel train, decorated with graffiti, sits on tracks that span the length of the room, almost inviting the viewer to clamber aboard.

Around the room photographs adorn the wall, part of Josephine Pryde’s Hands “Für Mich”, mainly focused on, as the name would suggest, hands, sporting immaculate nail varnish. After the more explicit nature of Anthea Hamilton’s room Pryde’s room felt all together more soporific. The photos on the wall all contain a message about society and/or feminism, however they aren’t thrust into the face of the viewer, she simply allows you to seek the message if you wish.

The final room was arranged by Michael Dean. Probably my favourite room, the majority of floor space was taken up by a huge mound of pennies, £20,435.99 worth to be exact. Out of the pennies sprung a corregated steel family of 4, they gaze over the money that represents their poverty line. On completing the room Dean removed a single penny, effectively putting the family below the poverty line. Coming together with concrete sculptures, ink-died books, and seemingly random models of fists, this piece of art is a beautifully jumbled commentary on modern society, strongly influenced by Dean’s Newcastle upbringing.

Michael Dean’s art was definately the most disordered, and least ‘readable’ beyond the poignant carpet of coins; Ironic, as the starting point for his work is usually writing. The room was increadibly busy, with artwork popping up in unexpected locations on the floor, and narrow spaces for visitors to pass through, it certainly kept you on your toes!

Overall this was a great afternoon out, albeit fairly busy with limited space for people to move around between the pieces of artwork in some rooms.

Having spent £10 on the exhibition, being the cheap student I am, I obviously wanted to get the most out of my money, so I watched every film at the end, flicked through every book, and read every comment on the comment board. Whilst doing this I discovered that the artists had envisioned, or produced far more tactile pieces of work than we were allowed to engage in.

Anthea Hamilton had designed her suit and boots to be handled and felt, and yet we couldn’t enjoy this aspect of this exhibition. Josephine Pryde had intended visitors to her exhibition to ride on the train and from here enjoy the photos on the wall, and yet we just admired. Finally, Michael Dean initially allowed visitors to walk over his mound of coins, to feel the sea-like movement, and hear the metallic clatter.We could only observe, transfixed by the gleaming mass before us.

For modern art, tactility can often form a large dimension of the experience, and yet this was taken away from us; how then can we truly judge the art work? Isn’t it unfair, too, for the artists who worked and laboured, only to have their greatest works admired only in 3D, instead of its full 4D glory?

I really hope in future the Tate will allow artists, and visitors to produce,  and engage in more immersive pieces, and truly allow us to connect.  Especially if they’re gonna charge us a tenner for it.

The Turner Prize Installations are running at the Tate Britain until 2 January 2017 . Price range from £9.50 to £12