A first look at Building 41

Building 41

This is Building 41 at Bletchley Park, from which the third book in my Harry Stammers series (coming in 2015) will take its name. Building 41 is located on the northern edge of the Park (outside the BPT museum and, presently, behind the fence that isolates derelict G-Block from the rest of the site). More… much more, about this building soon.

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Harry’s office at Bletchley Park

(Photo by Janice Issitt)

(Photo by Janice Issitt)

The archive was located on the first floor of a large concrete building at the centre of the Park. It was accessed via a flight of metal steps which, so far as Harry was concerned, made no sense at all.  Whenever equipment or documents were donated, they would be brought to the archive for investigation. Lugging boxes of paperwork and heavy equipment up the metal stairs was a distinctly perilous enterprise that Harry could have lived without.

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Taking it easy at Bletchley…

(Photo by Janice Issitt)

(Photo by Janice Issitt)

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The Battle of Wood Green Promo

Hi everyone,

Just a quick update: – I’ve been working on ‘Building 41’, the third and final instalment of The Harry Stammers Trilogy, so not much time for anything else. Thanks for all the comments and suggestions and to everyone who has bought ‘The Shelter’. I can’t believe how well it has been doing! The Battle of Wood Green is almost there – so watch this space and, in the meantime, here’s a trailer to whet your appetite:

More news of ‘The Battle of Wood Green’ soon…

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For those of you who were wondering…

Here, for my amateur radio friends, is the full CW (Morse Code) message that is embedded in the promo video.

For my non-amateur radio friends, I cannot claim to have keyed this by hand. My CW skills are rudimentary at best. The clip is machine generated, I’m afraid. If you’d like to try decoding it and you are using a Mac (like me) try ‘Morse Decoder’ from the App Store. There will be similar apps for iPad, iPhones and other devices. Just play the clip while you have one running.

(if I’ve piqued your curiosity in Morse Code or amateur radio or both, check out www.mkars.org.uk)

The relevance of this to ‘The Shelter’ (if you are wondering) is that Martha Watts and Elsie Sidthorpe were both log readers, initially at Beaumanor in Leicestershire and then at Bletchley Park. The job of the log readers was to analyse radio communications received by the intercept operators, in an attempt to identify the patterns and networks used by the German forces in the field. German communications consisted of both ‘chat’ (in plain German) and the more important ciphered messages (for which the German’s used their Enigma machines). These messages were sent in Morse Code and would have sounded much like the message in the clip – albeit that on the air, there would have been a lot more background noise (static and interference), sometimes making accurate reception and logging very difficult work. The intercept operators recorded (in text) the received messages on log sheets which were passed to the log readers for analysis. There will be a much more detailed description of the work of the log readers in the post script to ‘Building 41’ (Book 3 in the series).

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The Shelter – Promo Trailer

Another productive day doing everything but writing…

I’d been reading about promotional book trailers on the Goodreads authors’ forum, so I thought I’d better give it a go. Since I already have iMovie on my iMac, it was the obvious choice. Although I have used iMovie once or twice before, I’m something of a beginner when it comes to video editing, so I was fairly dubious about the likely usefulness of the exercise. However, as with most things, once I got stuck into it, I couldn’t give up and I’m reasonably pleased with the end result. Mind you, it took me best part of NINE HOURS to produce two minutes of trailer. It is just as well that I wasn’t attempting a feature film.

On the writing front, ‘Building 41’ (Part 3 of the Harry Stammers Trilogy) is progressing, albeit slowly (mainly because I’m still putting so much effort into promoting ‘The Shelter’).    and then, of course, I’ll be doing it all over again with ‘The Battle of Wood Green’. I think I need a social media secretary… or an agent (!). Offers on a post code please…

For those of you who have read ‘The Shelter’, some of the early chapters of Book 3 take us back to The Galleon, the little pub beside the Grand Union canal at Wolverton. It is there that Elsie Sidthorpe does something that she lives to regret and, indeed, which drives the underpinning story across all three of the books (but I’m not telling you what). I’m presently in the middle of writing this and am having great fun with Elsie, Martha and a rather drunk Royal Navy petty officer.  Once that it is done, I’ll be catching up with Mikkel Eglund, Jane Mears, Ellen Carmichael and, of course, Harry Stammers who seems, already, to be developing quite a following.

I’ve been talking about Harry with some of you and others have mentioned him in their messages. I wanted Harry to be a likeable and engaging character. I tend to tire of books in which the main character is morose (with the exception of  Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander, and Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole, of which I am a big fan – although that particular Harry will never be a Hoh-leh to me, he will always be a HOLE). 

It is weird to hear people talking about Harry Stammers, as though they know him like I do. And weirder still to hear their thoughts on his character. A couple of you have had me wondering whether you might know him better than I do – which is a very strange idea when you think about it. But, more than anything else, it gives me tremendous pleasure that, having read the book, he was real enough for some of you to be thinking about the kind of man he is and to want to know more. I’ll be using some of your thoughts and, hopefully, answering some of your questions in Book Three (incidentally, almost without exception, readers want to know more about Harry’s relationship with Ellen and, particularly, what attracted her to him. So expect more on that front).

If you have any thoughts or questions about Harry, or any of the other characters in The Shelter, please feel free to contact me. I spend half my life thinking about them all, but they can be illusive so-and-so’s at times. So if you can help to throw any light on them, you’d certainly be doing me a favour!


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Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to…

I have been particularly busy at work this week (the day job) with a long-haul trip to Exeter on Wednesday to deliver a training session to a group of staff, and then one thing after another today, leaving me too tired to write terribly coherently this evening. Exeter on Wednesday meant getting out of bed at 4.45am (I can’t remember the last time THAT happened) and onto the 5.45am from Leighton Buzzard into London Euston, a transfer to Paddington by Tube and then onto the fast train to Exeter which wasn’t that fast, to be perfectly honest. It arrived, in Exeter, just after ten.

I tried – I really did – to use my journey time constructively, but I find working on a packed train, with a Blackberry (which is the extent of the mobile technology provided by my employer to lowly individuals such as me) next to impossible. So I soon gave that up and attempted to finish Stephen Smith’s book, ‘Underground London – Travels Beneath The City Streets‘.


It is a fascinating book, though at times a little heavy going. Mr Smith is a journalist and the book reads, in places, a little like a very long newspaper article or a script for a television documentary. But, if you persist, it is full lots of fascinating details on the hidden wonders beneath London’s streets. Including, of course, the deep level air raid shelters, which was the reason I picked up the book in the first place. If you’re interested in such things then I recommend it.

I do have to report, however, a failure to finish it, even though I devoted both the outgoing and return legs of my journey to the task. This was in no way due to Mr Smith’s journalistic style, nor indeed to the content of Underground London. Rather, it was due to the fact that, like Harry Stammers, I can rarely survive longer than twenty minutes on a train, without falling asleep.

The trouble, I find, with sleeping on the train is that I always feel completely wrecked afterwards. Not at all refreshed. And I must therefore express thanks to my Exeter audience who endured my session with admirable (and quite miraculous) stoicism, given the subject matter and the fact that I was probably still half asleep for at least the first hour. Quite why they gave me a round of applause at the end was a mystery to me, but I was and am nonetheless grateful.

Incidentally, the venue for this miracle of endurance was the boardroom of Exeter’s cattle market (no connection with my work). It was a most unusual venue. Certainly the only place at which I have ever been asked to speak, with a sign on the wall stating “PIG PENNAGE, THIS WAY”.

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Chalk paint Enigma

I have resumed my regular Saturday slot in the shop so this Saturday I thought I’d use my time constructively in between serving customers and all my other shop duties. What you see below is the and result…


Chalk paint/decoupage Enigma machine

It’s a plain pine box painted with graphite Chalk Paint (Annie Sloan). I used découpage glue to give it a ‘hammered metal’ effect by stippling the glue on quite thickly and then clear waxed over the top. I used a little dark (brown) wax too and lightly distressed the box to mimic age. Not a great fan of  découpage but I was quite pleased with the end result. Just a bit of fun – will make a nice prop, in the shop, for my books. I wonder what else I can find to stick bits of paper to?

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Thank you…

A big thank you to everyone who has posted a review of ‘The Shelter’ at Amazon. Most recently to Mark who gave the book five stars and said:

For a first novel this was mightily impressive. The more I read, the more it became a real page-turner, the kind that makes you grumpy if you get interrupted or have to go to work/sleep, or cook or go shopping.

The character development was essentially believable, with Harry especially endearing (probably because of his crankiness). The interplay between 1944 and 2004 worked persuasively; and although you could sense quite early where the plot line was heading, there were enough twists and turns to make sure you could never be sure..

It left me with a duality of feeling: impatience for the next two in the trilogy, yet anxiety as to whether they can reach the same standard. I am willing to have a punt that they will, and will be ordering both as soon as they are available.

Mark’s comments really did make my day.

He isn’t the only reader to have given the book five stars and posted a review. Thanks also go to David, Mike, Victoria, Janice and to ‘Mighty Mouse’ who all gave the book five stars and posted a review. Positive reviews really help to attract new readers, so thank you all so much.

A big ‘hello’ to Jacky from The Netherlands, who contacted me during the week about her interest in the book and all things Bletchley Park. Jacky is my first Dutch reader, or will be when she gets the complimentary copy that I have just mailed her. I hope you enjoy the book, Jacky.

Complimentary copies of ‘The Shelter’ also went this week to the Landlord of The Galleon (the little pub beside the Grand Union Canal at Wolverton, featured in Chapter One) and to Lara, at the Bletchley Circle Watchers group, who lives in Canada – so another international reader.

The Galleon (incidentally) will also be featuring in book three and the events that take place there in 1944 are central to the trilogy’s over-arching plot. But you’ll have to wait to find out why…

Continuing  interest in ‘The Shelter’ has helped to keep me buzzing through what was otherwise, frankly, a pretty rotten week. It is amazing how lifting a couple of good reviews can be – so please keep them coming! All I need to do now, is get my head down and crack on with book three…

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Just two words…

This afternoon (Sunday) I took my in-laws, Jim and Bridget Mellett, for a look around the new Bletchley Park. I say ‘new’ because so much has changed in the last two years. It was my first look at the new visitors’ centre in C-block and at some of the newly restored huts.


Lorenz Machine in B-Block

I ought to declare, now, that it is difficult for me to be objective about the Park because I so loved the way it was when I first discovered it. And I guess I’m still smarting from the way that the radio society, of which I am President, was evicted from the Park (as were most, if not all, of the other voluntary groups that together, worked so hard to save the Park in the first place).


Enigma Machine in B-Block

Block C, which was derelict only two years ago, is now fully ‘restored’ (did it ever really look like that?), as are some of the huts  and it seems only fair to say that a great job has been done on the buildings themselves. But what struck me, most of all, walking around them today, is how relatively empty they are – and lifeless. Many of the collections and people who made the Park so fascinating have gone. Block C itself – a vast space with a beautiful new concrete floor – is almost devoid of exhibits entirely, albeit that most of this building is given over to the reception, gift shop and cafe. Visitors are greeted with display boards and video footage, which was an ominous sign.

The approach to the restored huts has been to make them look as they did seventy years ago and to use video display to portray the people that worked in them. Which is fine. The trouble is that once you’ve walked into one room with a desk, a typewriter and an old coat hanging in the corner, you don’t really need to walk into another… and another… and another. I kept thinking, ‘Yes, but where are the exhibits?’


Two years ago, visitors could walk into Hut 1, for example,  and see a teleprinter in action. Or try a morse key. Or have a volunteer demonstrate picollo (the mode of transmission used by the Diplomatic Wireless Service to send signals to our embassies overseas).  Or try one of the radios on display. They could talk to someone who understood and used this equipment professionally and had personal experience of the kind of the work that was done at the Park. Sadly, all that seems to have gone.  Hut 1 is now empty (the exhibitor was forced to leave) and most of the displays around the Park are static.

Trying to be positive, I must say that I liked, very much, the use of sound around the Park. As you walk past the restored tennis court, for example, you hear the sound of people playing tennis and similar has been done elsewhere. It is very well implemented and really adds atmosphere.

Staying positive, the Enigma and Bombe displays in the basement of B-Block are, of course, wonderful and a real highlight. BP is worth visiting for that alone.

But then, having enjoyed the fantastic display in the basement of B-block, upstairs comes as such a disappointment. The bay where we spent so many weekends running GB2BP (then the Park’s resident amateur radio station), demonstrating morse/teletype/vintage and modern radio to the public, now houses a very weakly implemented wartime school classroom. It is nothing more than a few rows of old school desks and chairs. Embarrassing, to be honest.

And that’s the trouble, really. Other than the Enigma and Bombe machines (etc) in the basement of B-block, there’s just not very much to see in the new museum at Bletchley Park.

Worst of all, is the dreadful fence, erected by the Bletchley Park Trust to segregate the new museum from the rest of the site and, especially, from The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC). There can be no justification for this eyesore and it really is disgraceful that BPT persist with it.


The Bletchley Fence

Having finished our tour of the new museum, we were forced by the fence to exit the main museum site and then to walk the whole of the length of the Park, uphill, to get to the National Museum of Computing to see Colosssus and the other wonderful exhibits there. For elderly visitors, this is quite a trek – Jim and Bridget both found it hard going. Were it not for the fence, this would not be an issue.

Entering TNMOC, the contrasting styles of the two museums is immediately apparent. Whereas the main museum was mostly devoid of exhibits, TNMOC was packed to the rafters with exhibits and people only too willing to demonstrate and to chat about them. And many of these are working exhibits – so you can actually see the thing in use.


The Colossus rebuild at The National Museum of Computing

TNMOC is now the jewell in the Bletchley Park crown, in my opinion, and is actually a far more interesting museum. Of course it has, since it was segregated from the main museum, struggled to attract visitors in the same volume it did before the fence. That BPT have deliberately made it so difficult for visitors to get to TNMOC is shameful.

If you visit Bletchley Park, I do  strongly recommend TNMOC. It is a wonderful museum with some quite stunning displays. Its use of volunteers, with personal knowledge and experience of the exhibits and the work of BP, gives it a much more authentic feel than the shiny new visitors centre in C-Block.

Bletchley Park couldn’t stay as it was – I do appreciate that. The buildings were in desperate need of restoration. Thankfully, much of that work has now been done and the long term future of these buildings has been secured. So well done BPT for that.

But much of the Park’s past charm came from the authenticity of the place and, to a point, the fact that it hadn’t all been ‘restored’ in the modern museum style. More importantly, it came from the people – the volunteers – and the private collections based at the Park, each with their own fascinating story. And of course, the strength of the exhibits – like those in Hut 1, which housed the most fantastic collection (of diplomatic and spy radio equipment and a great deal more besides). It is such a shame that so much of that has been lost. For me, the new museum at BP feels a bit too much like all the other ‘dead’ museums one visits. Static exhibits and endless display boards with nobody there to explain them.

Still, for me, Bletchley Park, as a whole, will always be a magical place and it was looking at the Colossus rebuild, in TNMOC, that I was suddenly reminded why. Sticking out from the teleprinter attached to Colossus was a sheet of paper with those two little words (or is it three?)….


Most Secret


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