Two weeks ago we shook ourselves out of our cozy Copenhagen routine and took a trip to another cozy little city. As an Oxonian it pains me to say it, but we had a lovely weekend in Cambridge.
7am flights always seem like such a good idea when you are booking a trip, but the impetus to ‘make the most of the day at your destination’ becomes a bit weaker when you wake up at 5am. The cure ended up being a giant full english on arrival in some bleak part of Luton – it really set the tone for the rest of the trip, which was one hearty pub meal after the next. Brace yourself for what could well be my finest piece of food photography yet:
No food styling required. I consistently forget how much I love brown sauce until I am back in a dodgy cafe. I also remain somewhat perplexed by the untoasted bread offering, while Ant continues to puzzle over his coffee, which started as a mug of instant but was then made with freshly frothed milk from what seemed to be a fully functional espresso machine… the love of instant coffee clearly runs deep in these parts.
Courtesy of some logistical quirks in our travel arrangements, it make sense to get a car for the weekend. We used our unexpected mobility not only to seek out greasy breakfasts, but also to live out my Enigma obsession at Bletchley Park. We eventually found the place after a series of wrong turns resulting in us getting sucked in to the vortex of roundabouts at Milton Keynes. I like to think our inability to find the place reflects more on its secretive nature than our potential abilities as intelligence agents…
I won’t ramble on about its history except to say it’s amazingly interesting, and astonishing that what went on there was able to be kept secret for so long by all the amazing people who worked there. It was the home of British codebreaking in the Second World War, with the most famous aspect being the work of Alan Turing et al. in early computing, including the Bombe and Colossus machines.
What I wasn’t so aware of before our visit was the range of different backgrounds of the codebreakers, and why they were needed. For instance, they had loads of writers working for them to make up believable cover stories to explain where all the information was coming from and deflect attention from Bletchley Park’s existence.
It’s also a dream museum for anyone with a feminist bent, because the contribution of the women who worked there was enormous in very trying and stressful circumstances. I will never get enough of stories of women armed with pistols riding motorcycles across the country through the rain and snow to deliver the day’s morse code transcripts.
The big draw of the museum is a working Bombe that has been reconstructed by volunteers, who run regular demonstrations of how it all worked. It’s very complicated, but I feel like I almost understood it by the end of the talk… plus it’s just a mesmerising machine to watch in action. It’s also inspiring to think that these machines were maintained and operated by a bunch of basically teen-aged girls throughout the war.
While the machines played a vital role in reducing the number of potential options to investigate, it amazed me how critical the human problem solving element was at all times – both in creating the mistakes that let the code breakers in, and in coming up with the lateral thinking and imaginative leaps required to identify potential solutions. In case you still can’t tell, I super loved this museum and found the whole thing very inspiring.
Ok, I’ll spare you any more cribster fan-girling. After Bletchley it was onwards to Cambridge for some pub meals and college ramblings with various friends and family members. I need to say thanks to all the Tabs who took us in and showed us around, and offer my apologies for not taking any proper people-pictures. I was clearly not on my A-game, and Oxford 2.0 is so very pretty that I was distracted taking the kind of touristic scenery shots that I usually pad out this blog with.
On that note, I’m just going to post a million said photos so I don’t suffer the indignity of having to write any more nice things about the other place…
So none of our food choices were in any way new nordic, or even vaguely defendable, but no regrets… except that I’ve probably cursed our child with lifelong cravings for brown sauce, bangers and mash, and battered foods of all kinds. Oh well… ’til next time, Storbritanien!