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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Thirty-Seven Years

‘Building 41’ took the back burner again tonight while I headed over to St Albans to see The Stranglers with my elder brother Mick.


Mick and I last saw The Stranglers, together, in 1977 at the Roundhouse in London’s Camden Town. Punk was at its height and I was just fourteen years old. It was my first ever gig and, while I loved the band (and have done ever since), it seems only fair to admit that my outstanding memory of that day isn’t of the band at all, but of the young lady who was standing outside Camden Tube Station as we came up the escalator. She was wearing nothing (and I do mean nothing) but a see-through polythene dress and a bag of vomit on a chain around her neck. To a fourteen year old lad, it was quite a moment, I can tell you.

Thankfully, while I saw The Stranglers many more times after that, I also discovered The Jam and abandoned all thought of safety pins and spiky haircuts, in favour of a parka and a pair of cherry red loafers. The parka is still hanging in my wardrobe.

Anyhow, I digress. Back to The Stranglers. Standing outside the venue tonight, Mick and I managed to work out that it was thirty-seven years ago that we last saw them together (his maths are evidently no better than mine).

Thirty-seven years. How can that even be possible? Where did all those years go? I don’t think either of us could quite believe it.

The realisation that we are both a little older than we like to admit, could have cast a shadow over the evening. However, I am happy to report that it didn’t – not in the slightest. The lads were on such great form, that we were soon bouncing about all over the place and singing “walking on the beaches, looking at the peaches” at the tops of our lungs.

Alright, perhaps ‘bouncing’ is a slight exaggeration. But I am sure I saw Mick tapping his foot a bit. I guess our bouncing days might be over…


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So, anyway: – amateur radio. What’s it all about then?

This morning (Sunday), I dragged myself out of bed at 6am. That’s 5am UTC.

Things that make radio amateurs, special odd (1): They don’t get British Summer Time.

Then I leapt into the shower (which is not entirely true – it was more of a stagger), got dressed, kissed the wife, stroked the dog (or perhaps it was the other way around), clambered into the car and headed for a farmer’s field in IO91PU (just outside Leighton Buzzard).

Things that make radio amateurs, special odd (2): They don’t use addresses, or postcodes – they have their own system of “QTH locators“.

On arrival I was greeted by M0PJD, who had already set up most of our radio gear.


Things that make radio amateurs, special odd: (3):  They don’t use names, they use call signs. In fact, many radio amateurs have been friends for  years and still don’t know each other’s real names. (Additional note: – if you ever meet a radio amateur, you could always try calling him “Dave”. A disproportionate number of radio amateurs are called “Dave”, for some strange reason that I have never understood).

Then I spent the best part of eight hours sitting in a little green tent, trying to speak to as many other radio amateurs as possible, who I have never met and probably never will, by pointing an antenna at them and shouting “Roger, Golf-Six-Alpha-Bravo-Charlie-portable, you are five-nine, zero-three-zero, in italy-oscar-nine-one-papa-uniform, from Golf-Eight-Mike-Kilo-Charlie portable. Seventy-three.”


Things that make radio amateurs, special odd: (4):  Radio amateurs don’t speak to each other in English. They use code. (Additional note: – roughly translated, the code in the paragraph above means “Hello Dave. You’re the thirtieth person in a tent I have spoken to today. You sound pretty good. Have a nice day.”)

At the end of the eight hours, I’d managed to tell about one hundred other radio amateurs that they sounded pretty good (80% of them, probably called “Dave”, although at least one was called “Roger”, which can get very confusing. Contrary to what Ellen told Harry, sitting in his field-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, in Chapter 8 of the ‘The Shelter’, “Roger” is still used in radio speak to mean “Yes”. If you’ve ever seen the 1980 film ‘Airplane’, you’ll know what I mean.)

Then we took all the antennas down, packed away all the radio gear, took down the little green tent and went home. Funnily enough, I kissed the wife and stroked the dog on the way in too.

So now you know. Amateur radio. It’s a dead cool hobby.

73 de 2E0VPX

(Pictures, courtesy of Peter Davies, M0PJD. Not a Dave, but almost).

P.S. M0PJD is threatening to write a book. I’ve warned him against it.

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The Battle of Wood Green

Well, that’s a relief. ‘The Battle of Wood Green’ (part 2 of the trilogy) is finished at last, pending the final proofing.


Believe it or not, it has taken me the best part of a year to get it to this stage, but I am delighted with the end result.

It’s not the writing that takes the time (although it does take time, of course, but that’s the fun part). It is the endless revision and, if you’re self publishing, the type setting and cover design.

This time around, the cover picture was taken in Christina Street,EC2 a turning off Phipp Street in London’s Shoreditch.


The area’s narrow streets (and, in particular, the building at 73 Great Eastern Street, which was called ‘Excalibur House’ in the late 70’s and early 80’s), feature heavily in the book. Excalibur House was once the central office of Britain’s ultra right-wing political party, The National Front.


The building is now known as ‘Citfin House’ and houses the College of Central London.

Before I start writing, I like to walk around some of the streets and buildings that will feature in the book, taking as many photographs as I can. It helps me to build up a feel for the place, which I can then use as I start to think about the events that are going to take place in them. Below is Blackall Street – a narrow, very atmospheric little street behind Citfin House.


More pictures coming of the places in ‘The Battle of Wood Green’, as we near release.

Now onto the final book (I can’t wait to get cracking). Trouble is, I need to find a German U-boat…

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The Milliner’s Spy, by Kerry Howard

It’s amazing the links you make via social media, like Facebook, Twitter and the like. Yesterday, between walking the dog and answering the zillions of tweets and Facebook messages I seem to be getting now that the book has launched, I came across the writer, researcher and independent publisher, Kerry Howard. Kerry will shortly publish her novel, ‘The Milliner’s Spy’ Kerry kindly purchased a copy of ‘The Shelter’ from the Kindle store and subsequently emailed me about her involvement at Bletchley Park Research and her thoughts on writing. Her forthcoming book sounds as though it is going to be an exciting read and I can’t wait to get hold of it. To think that we might not have stumbled across each other were it not for the wonders of the internet…

The Milliner's Spy, By Kerry Howard

The Milliner’s Spy, By Kerry Howard, Coming Soon

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Sunday, Sunday

A restful day today, walking Yaesu, our Cockapoo who seems to be taking my book in her stride…

My Dad, an author?....

My Dad, an author?….

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Building 41 – Researching The Third & Final Instalment

I’ve been so busy, this week, with the launch of ‘The Shelter’ and, of course, the preparation of ‘The Battle of Wood Green’ (coming in the Autumn), to say nothing of the day job, that my research for the trilogy’s final instalment has had to take a bit of a back burner. If you’ve read ‘The Shelter’ and looked around the website, you will have noticed my interest in Britain’s lost (or, obscure) history and places, particularly those associated with our secret services (a term I use broadly, to include such services as the Diplomatic Wireless Service and certain functions of the Foreign Office, as well, of course, as MI5, MI6 and so on).

The picture shows RAF Stoke Hammond, a location which I am considering using in the final book. RAF Stoke Hammond was located at Dorcas Farm, just a few miles from my home in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, which makes it all the more fascinating. Well to me, anyway. The station closed in the mid-1970’s and reverted, mainly, to farmland. Prior to closure, it housed a number of short wave receivers and a truly vast antenna farm. It was, along with RAF Edlesborough (where the group’s transmitters were located), attached to RAF Stanbridge, also now de-commissioned.

RAF Stoke Hammond

Incidentally, the buildings that formed RAF Edlesborough (formerly known, briefly, as RAF Dagnall) are still standing, but are reasonably well secured behind a fence that runs around the site’s perimeter. Like Harry Stammers, I can’t really afford to visit… informally. So, if you know who owns the land, and can pull a few strings for me, I’d quite like to take a look around and, perhaps, some photographs. There’s a beer in it for anyone who manages to gain me entry!

Similarly, if you know about RAF Stoke Hammond, I hope to get back to researching the place soon. So please do get in touch.

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The Shelter – Now Available On Kindle

‘The Shelter’ is now released in Kindle format:


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