Sunday was my first day on the bombe with visitors. I’ve previously blogged on the first day of training , but this was to be different. Still learning, but this time in public 🙂
The day kicked off with a necessarily early (for Sunday!) alarm, and then off in the car. The first major event of the day was the sudden appearance of a 2’6” horizontal crack in my windscreen. One moment it wasn’t there, the next it was. Great!
The next thing to strike me was the realisation that although the SatNav said BP was 60 miles away, and my car said it had 72 miles in the tank, the actual route is 73 miles. Not wishing to tempt fate, I did a quick splash and dash on the way.
Despite the fuel thing, I arrived on time, and collected my shiny new Bletchley Park Volunteer pass at the security gate, along with parking permit, and drove up to the old tennis court car park. I was car number 2 – a good sign. John H was already there, and we delighted in the warmth of the Mansion for the team brief instead of the freezing room that would have been in Hut 4.
Bryan took the meeting, although there was not too much to talk about, and then John introduced what the Bombe project is now up to with the other site volunteers and explained that today we would be trying a few demonstrations to visitors. It was decided we’d piggy back Frank Carter’s Enigma presentation at 11:30 with a Bombe run.
So we headed off to Block B and with Jean and John G, started to load up the Bombe. If you’ve been to BP or researched the Bombe you’ll know that there are three banks of 36 drums along the front of the machine. The highest bank is a little too high for the vertically challenged, so we decided to make life easier for ourselves by moving the dummies on the middle bank up to the top, and then load the real drums onto the middle bank. We followed procedure properly and inspected every drum for any loose or bent wires that might cause a short and invalidate the testing. However we\’ve not been issued with regulation eyebrow tweezers yet 🙂
The last check is to make sure the drums are all properly set to the right values from the ‘Menu’. In this instance ZZ on the top and middle row, and then various letters on the lower. We then switch the machine on. Clickety-clack it went (as one person tweeted on Sunday). We ran the machine through to make sure we had no slippage on the drums, and then ran a full test of the menu, and got the 4 stops we were expecting, along with 2 we weren’t, hmmm. Maybe try that again later, for by now, Frank had turned up along with a crowd of expectant visitors and he opened up the Enigma machine for his demo.
Frank covered the demo well, and I think the young lad who got to help was rather chuffed, and then, after a few questions it was over to the Bombe. Everyone turned around 180° and John H gave an overview of things, and then finally we switched on. I kept very much to the background as there was far more knowledge around me, but I did speak to a few people and helped answer a few questions. After this was over and the visitors had meandered off I was challenged by a colleague
“have you spoken to many people”
“a bit, but I don’t really like talking to strangers!”
“that’s no excuse – you should always talk to them”
You see, the thing is, I do find it a bit odd talking to strangers in a contrived manner. I’ll happily talk to people I don’t know at a gig or IT trade show; but in the context of the Bombe demonstrations I found it a bit intimidating offering myself up for interrogation. It\’s sort of because I know how much I don\’t know – when I should really be thinking of how much more I know that the average visitor. Silly I know, but…
So now it was time for lunch, we staggered lunch breaks so that we could keep an eye on the fully loaded Bombe, and reconvened about 1:30. By this time a few people had come by and asked if we could do another demonstration, so we decided to kick off and get the machine going.
This time I got more involved and approached visitors and asked them if there was anything they wanted to know. They did, and I was able to help them. The key interest seemed to be in the complexity of the problem being solved. At one point someone asked me about something they’d read elsewhere in the display, and I realised I didn’t know what they were talking about, so (having admitted I was new to things!) I asked to be pointed to the article, realised what they meant and then learned something for myself (but also got the answer and told them). So it wasn\’t tooooo difficult.
The crowds disappeared again, and we decided that the trainees should try to plug up a menu from first principles. I decided for myself it would be interesting to try to take the “standard” menu layout without the ancillary information and see if I could plug it up correctly. What I wanted to achieve (but failed!) was to see if it was possible to do it without ‘prior knowledge’ of the correct menu plugging. The issue is that I have been told that the WRENS who operated the machine did so independently at the front (drum settings) and back (menu plugging). So I wanted to approach the problem from a position of ignorance (easy enough!) and then go through it. I managed to get most of the way round the menu, but then things fell apart. More for the next time I think.
For the rest of the afternoon visitors came by every now and then, and where I could I would answer questions that came up, or point them at BP’s reports (numbers 4 and 9 are very good!)
Finally the day over, I went home. Tired, but pleased with the way things went, and looking forward to the next time.
Updated: Changed the blog title to avoid confusion with an earlier blog