Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Curse of Milton Keynes

Roger told me it was a bad idea to go to Milton Keynes. He had a horrid experience dealing with a bureaucratic office there a few years back, and the mere mention of the place makes him twitch and break out in a cold sweat. But I'd been wanting to go to nearby Bletchley Park for years, and it was free entry on my Art Pass (£15 value), so several weeks ago I booked my cheap advance return train ticket. 

The plan was to meet Judy at at Euston Station, then meet up with David and his wife Janey at Bletchley Park. All was going according to plan until, when we were half way through our journey, Judy realized that she had a ticket to the Bletchley station, while mine was to Milton Keynes Central. I was pretty sure I was right, having seen the map on the website and written down the directions to Bletchley Park from the station. So, we reckoned that Judy could get off at Bletchley, buy a ticket to Milton Keynes Central, and join me at the station there. I arrived at MKC and waited on the platform for the next train to arrive. Twenty minutes or so passed, when my phone rang and I saw it was David. He told me that he'd spoken to Judy, that I was the one who was confused, and that I just needed to buy a ticket back to Bletchley. So, up to the ticket counter I went, showed my return ticket to the agent, and explained the mess. He said I needed to buy a return ticket for Bletchley, which meant I'd have to come back to Milton Keynes to catch the train back to London. This little mistake cost me an additional £3.80, but the stations are only four minutes apart, so it wasn't a complete disaster. Judy was having tea at the Bletchley station cafe when I arrived about 10 minutes after David's call. Whew!

Bletchley Park is where thousands of people worked in secret during WWII, breaking the German Enigma machine codes. Modern computing was pretty much invented here -- a brilliant man named Alan Turing designed a huge machine that ran through millions of patterns to determine what the Enigma settings for each day would be, enabling the code breakers to decipher German messages. I'd seen things about Bletchley Park and the Enigma machines in various television shows, but this is the first I grasped just what the process was of intercepting and transcribing the coded messages, bringing them to Bletchley Park by motorcycle, cracking the machine setting for the day, and then decoding the messages by putting them back through Enigma machines so that they came out in German, then translating them into English and getting the information to the military personnel who needed them. 

We took a tour with a very informative guide, but because there was filming going on in the mansion, our tour was primarily on the grounds. When I saw all the media trucks, I thought maybe they were filming another episode of The Bletchley Circle, a great mystery series about women who had worked at Bletchley Park during the war, who get together to solve patterns in serial crimes in the post-war years. Turns out it was actually a movie, The Imitation Game. We say lots of extras milling around, men in uniform and women in 40s dresses, going back and forth from the craft service vans to the mansion. (When I got back to the flat, I looked up the movie on IMDB -- it stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly. Judy and I had been joking about not being able to recognize any celebs if we had seen them, but I'm pretty sure we would have known those two if they'd crossed out path.)

After the tour, we looked around the museum for a bit, had tea, and headed back to the station -- Judy, David and Janey on one platform for the London train, and me on another for Milton Keynes. 

When I got back to Euston, I dashed across the street to look at the exhibition in the Crypt Gallery at St Pancras Parish Church. I always like stopping in there to see what's on. This time it was paintings and some three-dimensional, site-specific pieces by Julie Caves, an American who has been working in London for about 10 years. 

Big thanks to my friends for a lovely day out, and especially to David for treating us to lunch and tea, and for sorting out my transport snafu. Our Bletchley Park tickets are good for a year, and I just may need go back next year, when tons of renovations will be complete and new areas opened up. But if I do return, I'll definitely not go to Milton Keynes!

£10 for original train tickets
£3.80 for additional train ticket
£2.50 for book from the Wellcome Collection bookshop
£1.50 cookie (breakfast) at the Wellcome Collection
14,150 steps (5.35 miles)

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