Monday, May 25, 2009

Bletchley Park

We had a pretty full day of it yesterday at Bletchley Park.  We did get to see the Enigma machine and the bombe and assorted (and I do mean assorted) other wartime paraphernalia.  Bletchley desperately needs an infusion of cash, and perhaps a human with talent and perspective to weave their stuff into coherent exhibits and organize it into some multimedia story.  They have literally thousands of fascinating objects, but the place is just getting its feet under it as a popular museum, so the same information is presented multiple times in multiple locations, as though every exhibit is a standalone (they may have been before they found their home at BP).  There are giant cases of apparently random objects, and you find yourself thinking, "Am I looking at an example of a ration book, or is this a specific ration book belonging to a specific person who was important to Bletchley Park somehow?"  Occasionally you find evidence of the latter--you'll be looking at an evidently unremarkable object, and then there'll be a card with a witty anecdote linking it to one of the girls who worked at BP during the war.  There was an audio tour which we didn't purchase, but I have to say I'm not sure whether that would have been better or worse. 
The ultimate expression of the theme of disorganization was a loaned collection of Churchill memorabilia.  Everything from buttons to tea towels to jigsaw puzzles nestled cheek by jowl with original letters from Churchill and his family, often to the collector himself or his wife.  It could have filled a room five or six times as large as they were able to provide, and it was clearly difficult to organize it all.  The owner of the collection was present on Sunday and spoke to us personally--he took quite a shine to my mother which delighted and embarrassed her in equal measure. 
The place isn't short on fascinating objects and information.  The replica bombe alone would be worth a viewing, and there is also a hugely impressive collection of information and technology related to codes and ciphers.  A bonus exhibit on spies of WWII that was just fantastic (maybe all you imaginary readers knew that Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, was a real spy, but I was wholly ignorant of his exploits until Sunday).  Overall, it was a gorgeous day and the trip was well worth it.
Today we went back to the Victoria and Albert museum, my personal favorite.  I normally spend a huge chunk of time looking at the Japanese, Chinese, and Indian art, but since that's not my folks' cup of tea, we spent most of the morning looking at jewelry and architecture.  There was also a theater exhibit that was skillfully organized in a small space, with costumes and other memorabilia from the last 100 years or so, artfully broken up with multimedia reels of archival footage.  We walked back to our hotel through the park on the third improbably sunny English day in a row.  It's been just lovely.
Tonight we're headed to a play.  It should be a beautiful evening.

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