Recover and Return to our Travels

Wednesday 1 to Sunday 5 November

Phil with Kate and Thea at Alex and Sarah’s wedding. 9 Dec 2016

It was hard to leave Australia. We had been home for a month. In that time we had farewelled Phil and cried and laughed. Krysti with Kate and Mark had done an amazing job of packing up his flat and disposing of his personal items. Most was done before we arrived home, five days after he died, with just a little for us to assist with.

We had also spent time at Sorrento. Our tenant had defaulted, and we were forced to evict him. Steph’s parents, Jenny & Neil, had done a fantastic job of clearing the house for us – so it was nice to go down there and play home for a few days.

And Bruce got his lens fixed. The man at Michael’s delighted in messaging Bruce that the ‘loose screw’ had been removed.

We caught up with a few friends as well – their support was truly amazing.

So now we were back in England, with a very cut down itinerary.

Kate and Mark had mentioned a nice place close to Heathrow – a good place to recover from the flight, so we checked into Phyllis Court Club at Henley-on-Thames. They had warned us that you are required to dress up for dinner – so we avoided the dining room and chose local pubs for our meals.

Phyllis Court Club is at the centre of the famous Henley on Thames regatta. In researching for this story, in June 2018 I found that the regatta is due to start in 8 days. It is claimed to be the best-known regatta in the world and a highlight of the summer sporting calendar and the social season. Well, we were there at the wrong time of the year, however the little town is delightful and the ground in front of our hotel beautifully maintained.

The main viewing areas are right opposite Phyllis Court Club.

In 1829 a boat race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities was held between Hambleden and Henley, a distance of about 3 miles. The races continued each year and the residents realised there was a commercial opportunity. So, the first Henley Regatta was held in 1839, and has been held every year since then, except during the wars. The regatta course is 1 mile and 550 yards (2,112 metres) long, which was the longest stretch of open water in 1839. It has been used as an Olympic Regatta course in 1908 and in 1948.

In 1851 Prince Albert became its patron. After his death the reigning monarch has always consented to be patron allowing it to be called the Henley Royal Regatta.

We did a little touring in the beautiful Thames Valley area, stopping for lunch in Pangbourne, where friends Rob and Lorraine had lived in the early 1990s.

Our next stop was Milton Keynes, and we drove via the old market town of Aylesbury, avoiding the motorways.

Milton Keynes was a designated New Town, planned as an alternative growth area to London in an area that was equidistant from London, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge. Bruce has learned about the development of Milton Keynes during his Graphic Design studies at Swinburne University in the late 1960s.

The Milton Keynes Development Corporation’s strong modernist designs attracted a lot of attention for its architecture, intensive planting, lakes and parkland. The radical grid plan was inspired by the work of Californian urban theorist Melvin M Webber (1921-2006), who believed that people should be able to travel around readily, without a concentric cluster of a city.

MK, as it is known, has an American feel about it, with shopping malls and settlements of houses, separated from each other by wide roads and open spaces. It is the kind of place where a car is necessary to move out of your own area.

We walked around part of Willen Lake, one of the major green spaces. It is a balancing lake on the River Ouzel, which is designed to mitigate flooding downstream. The lake is shaped like a figure 8 with one part a nature reserve and the other used for water sports.

The original Willen Village has been retained within the designated area of the New City, retaining a more English atmosphere.

We stayed in a modern style pub, in one of the settlement areas. There really was nowhere else to go to find a meal other than the family restaurant at the pub, where young children had the run of the place.

Apart from seeing the architecture in Milton Keynes, we were in the area to visit Bletchley Park, which was opened to the public in 1993.

Bletchley Park housed the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) during World War II. The school was famous for penetrating secret communications of the Axis Powers, in particular the German Enigma and Lorenz ciphers. The story has been made more famous by the 2014 British film about Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, and by the British Government finally pardoning Alan Turing in 2014.

Bletchley Park was selected as a suitable site because it was on a railway line between London, Cambridge and Oxford. The site was purchased in 1938 by Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, who was head of the Secret Intelligence Service, using his own money, after the Government said it did not have the budget for it.

The whole story of what happened at Bletchley Park was a national secret, that was not revealed until the 1970s. It is now one of Britain’s proudest achievement of the war and is said to have shorted the war by two to four years and saved more than a million potential war deaths.

As well as university graduates, young women of social standing were chosen to work there as they were considered to be trustworthy. By the end of the war 10,000 people were working at Bletchley Park, 75% were women, who were mostly employed to do the more monotonous work such as coding and operating the machines.

We were able to see reconstructed working machines that were used to decrypt messages, including the Turing Bombe – which confounded me with its many clacking wheels. The Germans were changing the encryption every 24 hours, and each Enigma machine was capable of using its own special coding. The Bombe was a mechanical instrument that was used to decrypt the German messages.

The Colossus machines were on display at the National Museum of Computing, which is a part of Bletchley Park. Colossus I and Colossus II are now recognised as the first programmable machines however their existence was kept secret until the mid 1970s. Ten of the Colossus machines and all the blue prints were destroyed after the war to maintain security. Colossus 11 and 12 were retained and mostly used for training. Between 1993 and 2008 a dedicated group of ‘mature’ engineers rebuilt the Colossus Mark II using parts that were recovered from forgotten storage and engineers notes.

It was an amazing exhibition, one that Bruce and I thoroughly enjoyed.

Our next stop was to Hitchin, where we stayed in an old pub called the Lord Lister Hotel. Hitchin is a market town in Hertfordshire, about 35 miles north of London.

At one stage the town prospered from the wool trade, and later a corn exchange was built in the market place.  Its legacy is one of the largest, for the size of the town, churches. Most of St Mary’s dates back to the 15th century, with a tower dating back to 1190. Some ancient foundations have ben discovered which may date back to the 7th century. Since Remembrance Day on 11th November was close, small memorial crosses had been placed in the church grounds.

St Mary’s is set in pretty grounds with the River Hiz running in front of it. A great place for the ducks.

We climbed Windmill Hill, to get a view of the town, particularly the older part, dominated by St Mary’s towers.

Our main purpose for visiting Hitchin was to see Alex’s cousin Mandy and her family. We had visited earlier, in 2012. Bradley, then 7, was frightened by Bruce’s moustache, and spent most of the evening hiding.

It was good to laugh about that experience, and to find Bradley and Charlotte so much more grown up.

We ‘popped into’ London, arriving Sunday morning, in time for a long lunch with Cameron Graham at the WB Yeats Pub in Finsbury Park. Cam, an engineer, moved to London five years ago, and now seems pretty settled there.

Apart from catching up with news and Bruce and Cam comparing the benefits of a good ale, I loved the pub atmosphere and a very decent Sunday roast.