Ah ha!

There’s been a lot of good stuff on the telly over the years.

Of course, there’s also been a hell of a lot of dross.

And sometimes, the good stuff can get lost in the dross.

And sometimes, even when I’ve heard good reviews of programmes, I find that I just don’t get round to watching them.

It was like that with The Office: heard so much about it, but somehow just never bothered.

Until I was working up in Glasgow for several months and found myself desperately searching for box sets to watch in my free time. A friend lent me a DVD of Gervais’ mockumentary series and I was hooked.

Likewise, I was searching through Netflix the other day, trying to find some half-hour comedy programmes to watch, when I found the section entitled “Critically Acclaimed Witty British and European Comedies”.  Or something like that. And there, nestled in amongst the likes of Black Adder and Fawlty Towers was “I’m Alan Partridge”.

Made eleven years ago, how had I missed this particular gem? It’s just brilliant! And Steve Coogan is a bloody genius.

I know there’s plenty of other stuff out there that I’ve missed, so if either of you have any suggestions…

Nerd Heaven

Yesterday, Harry and I visited the National Museum of Computing, in Bletchley Park.

I was in nerd heaven, I tell you!

Firstly, we saw the Bombe: developed by Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman during WW2.  I did my best to explain to Harry, the principle behind its workings. I don’t think my explanation (with my limited knowledge) was much good, but he seemed to get the idea.

Then we saw Colossus: the world’s first programmable computer.  Built to decode messages from the Lorenz machine that was used to encode German High Command messages (named Tunny by the British codebreakers).

 

In the Mainframe room we were astonished at the size of the machines. Hard drives the size of refridgerators filled the room, each with a capacity smaller than today’s memory sticks! That big circular disk bottom right… I think that was 8K or something stupid like that.

A lot of it was made by ICL – International Computers Limited – a British computer company from way back, that I’d completely forgotten about.

 

This is a piece of memory – core memory, as it was known. Look at the size of it! And this wasn’t a prototype or anything, this was actually in use back in the day, plugged into mainframe computers.

Consisting of just 20K of memory: about 400,000 times less than the memory in a modern, cheap mobile phone. And each tiny little core was threaded onto the wires by hand. Jeez.

But then, as we wandered around, I started to see stuff that I recognised, like the Sinclair ZX81 – my very first computer; programmable calculators from the likes of Olivetti and Sharp and Texas Instruments; and the once ubiquitous BBC Micro, where I showed Harry what used to be everybody’s first attempt at programming in BASIC:

10 PRINT “Hello World”

20 GOTO 10

RUN

We then played the original version of Mario Kart on an old Atari. With it’s blocky 8-bit graphics and unusual controller, I thought I might be able to beat him. But, he thrashed me. As usual.

It was a great way to spend a few hours though and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

Well, I know Harry enjoyed it, but for me, well, I was in nostalgic nirvana.

Nostalgia ain’t what it was

Yesterday, I made another visit to Bletchley Park.

This time, Amelia came along too. “I doubt you’ll be interested”, I said, but she assured me that she would.

The very first thing she was interested in was the cafeteria. “I’m hungry”, she said, the moment we arrived and she clapped eyes on the scones and Danish pastries. So we stopped – before we’d even started – and had something to eat and drink.

The first place we visited was the National Radio Centre. Although I’d been there just a couple of weeks ago, I felt it worth another visit.  Excitedly, I showed her some radio sets of old and explained the transition from valves to transistors.
Enthusiastically, I demonstrated how amateur radio satellites are used.

“Meh.”

Outside, as we walked to Hut 11a to see the Bombe exhibition, she said “You loved it in that radio room, didn’t you? You’re such a nerd!”

I took it as a compliment.

After 11a and 11, we went to Hut 8, which was where Alan Turing did much of his work. The photo above is of his ‘office’. I was struck by the starkness of it.  At work, we are given ergonomically designed, comfy chairs to sit on and are advised to get up and take a break for ten minutes every hour.  Turing’s office chair is a far cry from what we have today and I’m sure he spent hour upon hour sitting at his desk, without a break. I’m also willing to bet that he didn’t complain about it once! Different breed, back then.

Amelia was getting really bored by now and as I dragged her over to Hut 6, she started complaining of being hungry again. “Tough” I said, as I pushed her through the old wooden door.  Again, many of the offices had been recreated, to look as they would have done in the 1940’s and suddenly something caught Amelia’s interest. It was a telephone; an old fashioned telephone, in black bakelite, with a rotary dial. “Do you know what that is?” I asked. She nodded, “Of course I do”, she said, “It’s a telephone.”

“Do you know how to use it?” This time she shook her head and so I showed her how to put your finger into the correct hole and then pull the dial round until it hit the finger-stop.  She said that she’d seen people doing this on the telly, but hadn’t actually understood how doing that was dialing a number, until now.

I suddenly felt very old.

Time caught up with us and so we left the hut, picked Harry up from his maths class and headed home.

She tells me that she doesn’t want to come back with me next week.

I’m glad.

 

Date Night

Instead of going straight home from work, last night, I took a detour into the Leisure Park  (formally known as Wally World, but it’s been revamped and is a great improvement) at Hemel Hempstead, where I met up with the current Mrs Masher.

 

We went to the pictures.

On our own.

Sans kids.

It was great!

We saw the Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Wow! I loved every minute of it. Great film.  And it was quite possibly the cinema audience with the highest average age, that we have ever sat in.

After that, we nipped over to Nando’s… which was a peri-peri good idea, as the place was half empty and we got fed very quickly indeed.

A speedy drive home up the M1  was made even quicker, by the fact that I had Bohemian Rhapsody turned up to 11. “BISMILLAH NO!” I shouted at the wife as I shot past her, breaking the speed limit ever so slightly.

Back home, the kids had already gone to bed, and so we settled in front of the telly for half an hour, to watch one of the funniest episodes yet of our current favourite comedy: Cuckoo, before hitting the sack.

As Thursday’s go, it was most excellent.

A perfect weekend

Yesterday morning found me back at Bletchley Park.

This time – having looked around the Cyber Security exhibit first and finding myself feeling pretty non-plussed about it all – I wandered over to Hut 12, which housed a James Bond exhibition.

Being a big Bond fan, I had high hopes for this, but they were ultimately dashed once I stepped inside. The exhibition was  – in the main – a load of paintings hung on the walls, each with a Bond connection. For some, that connection was vague, to say the least.

Far more interesting (to me, at least) was a couple of glass cases, that housed original letters typed and signed by Ian Fleming to the high-ups at Bletchley Park.

As Personal Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, Fleming had a high security clearance, giving him access to many high level reports in his role to find ways of intercepting enemy coding materials.

He even contrived a scheme to get hold of Enigma paperwork, by disguising a British aircrew as Germans and then crashing them into the Atlantic in a captured German bomber, to lure a German rescue ship. The crew would then overpower and kill their rescuers and capture the papers and/or an Enigma machine.

Operation Ruthless – as it came to be called – never happened, due to a lack of suitable targets, but with that sort of cunning and imagination, it’s easy to see where the James Bond stories came from.

After all that, I headed to Oxford, where I met up with some friends from work and we saw the sights did a pub crawl.

I got back to my hotel in the early hours and slept like a log – well, I probably would have, if I didn’t have the bladder of a small child and the need to get up several times in the night!   My head was thumping this morning, but a hearty breakfast and several mugs of tea later and I am as right as rain.

Which is exactly what it’s been doing all day, so that means I can’t cut the grass, as planned.

Shame. 🙂

Dah-di-dah

This morning, I visited the National Radio Centre in Bletchley Park.

It was this: most excellent!

By chance, I’d happened to pick a day when an event to celebrate the breaking of the Enigma code was taking place.

An Amateur Radio station in Italy, was broadcasting messages in Morse code, that had been encrypted with the Enigma cipher and various stations around the world were trying to pick up these signals and decrypt them.   I – along with many others – watched with interest as the amateur radio operators received and decoded the Morse code, writing the 5-character blocks onto a replica form to that which was used in Bletchley Park during WW2.

This was then handed to another chap, who was giving a superb presentation on the workings of a genuine Enigma machine that sat on a table before him. His audience was enthralled as he decoded the message letter by letter.

Afterwards, I took a quick walk around the mansion house. It had changed a lot since I last visited it back in the eighties, when I worked for BT. Back then, we used it mainly for recreation, as I remember, but it has now been restored to it’s former glory.  The picture above shows one of the downstairs rooms which – when we used to go there and if memory serves me correctly – housed a pool table. It now – as you can see – gives an accurate depiction of what it would have looked like in the 1940s.

All too soon, my time ran out and I had to leave.

But I’ll go back again soon.

 

PS – still got that damned tune in my head!

Dvorak

Occasionally, as I have mentioned here before, I will get a tune stuck in my head.  An earworm, as some people call it.

This has happened again.

For a whole week – and even as I type – I have had Antonin Dvorak’s 9th Symphony stuck between my ears.

Not ALL of it, of course, because it’s a bit lengthy, but bits of it.

Bits out of ALL 4 movements.

Now, I’m not averse to a bit of Dvorak and I’m sure that many would agree that his ninth symphony is well worth listening to.

But, it’s been a week now, so it is starting to grate a little.

And it doesn’t help that when my brain decides that it wants to listen to the 2nd movement, it also puts on a strong Yorkshire accent and adds the words “Eee, he were a great baker, our Grandad”.

Monkeying about

Last week, I went ape.

We did a sort of team-build event at work, where about sixty of us descended on the Go Ape tree-top adventure park in Slough (other sites are available).

Wearing our safety harnesses, we spent an enjoyable couple of hours clambering about a 30ft-high obstacle course, up in the trees.

Many parts of the course had multiple routes that you could take: Easy, Difficult or Extreme, each ending with a long zip-wire finish.

Of course, I always opted for the Extreme routes.  However, I do sometimes forget that I’m not as fit and strong as once I was and several of the routes were quite… challenging.  Still, not to be outdone by my younger colleagues, I tackled each one with gusto.

One route in particular was really hard. Marked as “Extreme”, I suggested to staff afterwards that it should be re-classified as “Ridiculous”.
Metal rings – only just big enough for me to get my size 12 plates into – hung from ropes, and the idea was to “walk” across, using the rings as stepping stones. Of course, they swung about wildly as you tried to do so.

With a captive audience up in the trees with me – I played it for laughs: allowing the rings to swing apart causing me to do the splits; getting my feet stuck in the rings; spinning uncontrollably; whilst all the time shouting about it -“Ooohh; Help! Yikes!” etc.

I kept it restrained just enough from going into the full Norman Wisdom, but that extra monkeying around really takes it out of you!

The day was enormous fun and if you get a chance to have a go, I highly recommend that you do.

And if you are anything like me, you’ll sleep like a log afterwards.

Cloth Ears

I arrived home from work yesterday evening and Harry said “You had a phone call earlier, from the local mental centre.

“The where?”

The local mental centre

Having very recently done a course on mental health, my mind immediately turned to that. But, I didn’t remember giving them my home phone number. “You sure it was for me”? I asked.

Yeah. They asked for you by name.”

This had me a bit flummoxed. Also, I didn’t know the town even had a ‘local mental centre’… although I’m sure it must have, somewhere.

Intrigued, I pulled up the Recent Callers list on the phone and googled the number.

And I now have an appointment booked.

At the Luton Dental Centre.

Je suis revenu

Not that you’d know I’d been away.

But I have.

I’ve been down to the South of France to spend a week with the family. They are all still down there and won’t be home till the weekend.

But I am now back at home… scratching my mosquito bites.

How was your holiday, I hear you ask?

Well, it was OK. A bit too hot, maybe, but I kept out of the sun as much as I could.

To be honest, I was getting a bit bored after a while.

I always do.

Fortunately, we had a hire car, so we went out a few times. The picture above was taken on my phone, as we walked back to the car, after a hard day’s Geocaching.

My flights on SleazyJet were uneventful, save for the delays. But I was pleased to see that we had a pilot with a sense of humour on the flight home last night:

“For those of you on the left-hand side of the plane: if you look out of your windows you will see a lovely cloudless view of London. You won’t get a better view than that. And for those of you on the right-hand side of the plane… if you look to your left, you’ll see the heads of the people on the left-hand side of the plane, enjoying a wonderful view of London. I’m afraid you won’t get a better view than that.”

I had a window seat on the left-hand side and it was indeed a fantastic view. Being nighttime though, I didn’t recognise any of it.

Upon landing, I was disappointed to find that the free shuttle-bus to the train station, now costs £2.30.

I was annoyed even further when, having purchased my train ticket, I found that the gates were open at either end and I could have ridden for free.

And the final twenty-minute walk home from the station stretched to nearly double that, because my carry-on bag weighed more than twice as much as it had when I originally packed it – carrying most of Mrs M’s clothes as well, due to her needing to make space in her suitcase for all the extra stuff she’d bought out there.

But anyway, I’m back now and the dog is pleased to see me and the temperature is more comfortable and the bed… well, there’s nothing like your own bed, is there?

Now, where did I put that bite cream…?

« Older posts

© 2018

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑