My Brain Hurts!

An early morning trip to the gym for a run and I had the whole place to myself. Bonus. An hour of plodding with a podcast and then back to see if Steve had departed the Land of Nod.

With all members of the Tassie Tourers now awake and ready for action, we set off back to Bletchley Park. We arrived just before the doors opened and walked in with two other people, so we almost had that all to ourselves for a while too.

Back to Bletchley Park
Back to Bletchley Park

We wandered up to the huts again and had a look at an exhibition that explained the restoration work done, to create the museum and restore the huts and Park back to its 1940’s appearance. I was quite staggered to learn that the amazing place that Bletchley Park is, almost didn’t happen. It had become almost derelict and the huts where the code breakers worked and where the amazing discoveries were made, were falling down, crumbling and without roofs. Everything was in a state of damage and disrepair. A member of Bletchley Park Trust attended a local Council meeting, where it was decided that the whole place would be demolished to make way for houses, a petrol station and a supermarket. I was gobsmacked. I mean, obviously what we all need is more petrol stations and supermarkets! What we mustn’t need are prized pieces of history and heritage that have amazing stories and are irreplaceable! Groceries and petrol must trump that! The clever thinking member of Bletchley Park Trust asked the owners of the Park (British Telecom) if they could hold a farewell reunion for the wartime code breaking staff as a “Thank You”. The media were invited and the former staff of Bletchley told their stories, which were broadcast to the nation and…it worked! Bletchley Park was saved from the bulldozer and it then became full steam ahead with the work of restoration and the development of the museum and restoring the Park back to its former life. It’s only been open for two years. So many things were discovered when the huts were being restored, such as notes from the code breakers, jottings of their work and personal effects. How wonderful that the member of the Trust didn’t accept defeat and pulled a great idea out of his hat and won in the end.

Notes with letters that probably relate to Enigma message settings and numbers relate to the ring settings
Notes with letters that probably relate to Enigma message settings and numbers relate to the ring settings. Items like this were found during restoration of the huts

We spent another few hours at Bletchley and most of it was spent in the area dedicated to the Bombe machine and Enigma machines. They have a replica Bombe, which was built from notes that were found, by speaking to people who worked at Bletchley and some archives found in America. It took twelve years to build, but it works. We watched a demonstration, where it was set to decrypt a German message and the guide explained how the settings worked and what was happening. Now, I’m not ashamed to admit this…I had absolutely no idea, NO IDEA what he was saying! I smiled and nodded, as he explained in detail, how the different wheels operated and what they were doing, but I was bluffing. I tried to understand, but my feeble brain just couldn’t process it. I mean, my feeble brain couldn’t even process how someone could come up with a machine like that. To look in the back of it and see all the cables and cogs and inner workings, it’s so complex, I just couldn’t fathom how Alan Turing had a flowchart in his head of how it would all work and then it was built to his idea. Just staggering. I felt a little twinge of discomfort in my grey cells!

The inner working of the Bombe machine. That was inside someone's head!
The inner working of the Bombe machine. That was inside Alan Turing’s head!
The wheels that whir and click and check possible combinations
The wheels that whir and click and check possible combinations

What I think is most interesting though, is all this code breaking and the Bombe machine couldn’t have worked without the people (mostly women) who were the Crypters and they were basically using nothing more than an educated guess to decipher a German message. For example, if a message was intercepted and it was known to have been broadcast from the North Sea and a message was transmitted at regular intervals, they surmised that it was a weather report. So, they figured the words “Weather Report” would appear at the beginning of the message, so they guessed some words and then tested their guess, by feeding the possible letters into the Bombe and it would whir and check to see if their guess was correct. If it was, it could then check other letters and then the Enigma settings for that day, would be known and they could use those settings to decipher other messages. It all started with the “crib” though, that first guess. They would look for patterns, such as if a certain phrase was always used to end some messages, and use those letters to decipher other parts of the message. They discovered a German lookout post in Africa, where not much seemed to happen because the German messages were always the same “Nothing to report”.  The consistency of that, meant each time that report came in, they could use that known phrase to help them discover the settings for that day’s Enigma machine. That’s the thing, the settings for the Enigma machine were changed every day, and they were different for the Navy, Airforce and Infantry, so the whole process of discovering those settings, in order to decipher messages, had to start from scratch every day.

Interestingly, since they rebuilt the Bombe, GCHQ (the UK Government Communications Headquarters) sends Bletchley Park a few encrypted messages a year, to try and decipher with the Bombe. The results so far are Bletchley Park – 17 and GCHQ – zero! The Bombe works and is beating the Government!

After learning about the Bombe, we listened to an explanation of the Enigma machine. It was designed to create 158 million, million, million (that’s not a typo, that’s three lots of million there!) possible combinations for a letter. A letter was not represented the same way twice in a message, nor was it represented by itself. If the letter A was typed in, it might be represented by a Q the first time it appeared in a message, then a G, the next time, a B the next time and so on with that process for every letter in that message. It had wheels with settings and plugs with settings and those settings had to be discovered by the people at Bletchley Park, in order to decipher the German intercepts. As it was being explained, I couldn’t figure out how it all worked. My brain hurts! I actually thought that at the time, my brain is struggling big time here, it’s in pain! We even worked a virtual Enigma machine ourselves, where we could type in letters and then watch the inside of the machine and how the circuits worked to change letters and create the cypher. All we did was keep pressing the letter B and watching what happened inside the machine. It was so complex and so ever changing, each time we entered the same letter, that it was impossible for me to understand it. No clue! Steve said he couldn’t understand how it worked either, so it wasn’t just me, but my brain was hurting trying to work it out. Fail! I couldn’t do it. It was quite an ingenious machine and just made me realise even more, how brilliant the people at Bletchley were, to figure out how it worked and then be able to crack it.

Another super interesting visit, but after that workout, we were in need of some cerebral recovery! We decided to do a self-tour around the countryside of Buckinghamshire. One of my favourite British crime dramas to watch if Midsomer Murders. It’s so light and fluffy, but I love Inspector Barnaby. It’s the sort of program, that despite all the grisly murders, you never see any blood! It’s just fun to watch, but the Midsomer villages are not the places you would want to live because there’s murder and mayhem all over the place! A lot of the episodes were filmed in Buckinghamshire, so we set off to visit some of the villages that were the locations for various episodes.



Brill's windmill (this was someone's house in one of the episodes)
Brill’s windmill (this was someone’s house in one of the episodes)


Just driving through the countryside was lovely and the villages were charming and pretty. Brill was gorgeous, a tiny little village, with a central green and lovely old cottages. We passed through a few different villages and the grey cells in the head calmed down, recovered from their strenuous exertion with code breaking and it was a lovely, gentle, thoroughly enjoyable trip through some “Midsomer” villages.



The Haddenham church door...
The Haddenham church door…
...with some medieval graffiti from 1616! (The church itself dates from the 13th century)
…with some medieval graffiti from 1616! (The church itself dates from the 13th century)


Just when you think it's safe to go strolling through a "Midsomer" village...
Just when you think it’s safe to go strolling through a “Midsomer” village…
...someone puts digitalis in your cup of Early Grey!
…someone puts digitalis in your cup of Early Grey!

That was it. That was the day. A bit of a workout for the legs first thing, then a workout for the brain (that one can be chalked up with a DNF or just a plain FAIL!), then some relaxed recovery, with a trip through some more delightful little villages. After the locations we visited today though, I think I’ll taste my supper with some trepidation, or maybe look for swinging axes when I go into the bathroom, or maybe just look behind me when I walk down the stairs tomorrow! Inspector Barnaby! Can I have Inspector Barnaby on standby please!

3 thoughts on “My Brain Hurts!

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  1. Nooooooo not the digitalis!!!! You are a card Heidi 🙂
    I think you will be planning your next “adventure” before you unpack from this trip 🙂


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