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Archive for July 2003

UK Trip Day 10: July 6, 2003

July 07, 2003 @ 10:19 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

Today was our first excursion out of London. A couple of days ago, Rob said “Hey, would you
like to go to Bletchley House?” to which I responded “Of course!”. He ordered tickets on the
Internet and we took the train from Wandsworth Common to Clapham Junction (the busiest train
station in Britain) to Watford Junction to Bletchley. It took about 1:45 to get to Bletchley.

For those of you not up on your cryto-history, Bletchley House is where the German Enigma code
was broken during World War II. Breaking the code required at its peak about ten thousand
people working at Bletchley House. Bletchley is located at the junction of two rail lines,
one running out of London and the other between Oxford and Cambridge.

For much more information about the history of Bletchley House, visit the website.

While we were there, we saw some of the actual buildings used by the code-breakers during
the war. Some of the buildings have been destroyed, but a number still exist to this day,
rescued from the wreckers ball by the hastily-formed Bletchley Trust.

There are museums in most of the buildings, with exhibits about the code-breaking activities
themselves or about life at Bletchley House back then. Included among the exhibits were
mock ups of the Bombes used to recover the daily Enigma rotor settings and even a working
Enigma machine. There are only a handful of Engima machines in existence today and most fetch
a price of GBP 30000 or more at auction. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve seen and played
with two of the very small handful in collections available to the general public: the one
at Bletchley House and the one at the NSA museum in the US.

Also on display was a Bombe that’s being built from scratch based on the original plans and
another machine called Colossus. When Bletchley Park was decommissioned after the war, all
of the machinery was dismantled or destroyed (except, of course, for one or two examples
“just in case” — but these were destroyed years later) so no examples remain. Building these
machines from scratch is a tremendous undertaking. The amount of wire in them is incredible!

Anyways, there are always activities going on at Bletchley House. When we were there, there was a gathering of
old and/or fancy cars and more impressively a fly over by a Spitfire. The Spitfire did two
low-level fly-bys at a few hundred feet. On board was a small packet of special-issue covers
from the Bletchley House Post Office. (Yes, there’s a real post office there.) They arranged
to have forty covers specially flown in the Spitfire. I ordered one and it should arrive in
two or three weeks.

I mentioned that it took us 1:45 to get to Bletchley from Wandsworth Common. Well, our return
trip took a little longer. Somewhere between Sudbury Junction and Clapham Junction, the train
came to a stop. This would not have been unusual, except for the fact that the train never
moved again! We learned from the announcements and from the conductor when he walked through
our car, that the pantograph (the bit that touches the overhead lines for power) had damaged
the overhead line equipment (OLE) from around Sudbury Junction to where we stopped. And, because
of engineering works on the tracks behind us, it wasn’t possible to deploy an engine to rescue

After spending about three hours on-board in an increasingly stuffy car, they finally decided
to detrain everybody. So, we exited the train with the aid of the local fire brigade and walked
back along the tracks to the nearest bridge where there was yet more confusion.

Eventually, a bus showed up and took us to Clapham Junction after stopping at one or two
other stations in between. The fact that it took a circuitous route was bad enough, but a
few people had to stand because there weren’t enough seats. To top it off, the bus driver
didn’t actually know where the stations he was driving to were located.

Needless to say, we were not amused.

We finally arrived home between 22:30 and 23:00 after catching a cab from Clapham Junction.

Rob’s going to submit our tickets and food and taxi receipts to the train company for

Still, people were remarkably calm, though nerves were starting to get stretched a bit thin near
the end of the ordeal. There were quiet rumblings about using the emergency door opening lever
to get some fresh air into the cars.

Click here to view pictures from Day 10.

UK Trip Day 9: July 5, 2003

July 07, 2003 @ 10:15 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

Saturday, Yuki and I headed off to the London Zoo, leaving Rob at home. (He was tired from all the walking we’d done earlier in the week.)

The London Zoo is on one corner of Regent’s Park. It’s been around for quite some time and they have been modernizing most of the cages and facilities, apparently because they were found to be less than ideal for the animals, according to some study.

Anyways, we saw all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures during our visit. We saw lions, tigers, lynx, penguins, big monkeys, tiny little monkeys, meerkats, giraffe, pigs (exotic ones, not the kind that you see on farms), otters and other animals whose names I forget.

And we saw reptiles: snakes so venemous that they practically only have to look at you and you’ll be looking for some anti-venom; lizards; frogs; crocodiles and alligators. In fact, we saw where one of the scenes in a Harry Potter movie was filmed. It was a scene in which our hero Harry is talked to by an enormous phython.

From the zoo, we made our way to Chinatown to go shopping and then we headed home here Yuki made an amazing dinner. If she cooks meals like that all the time, Rob’s going to
have to watch his weight! (Sorry, Rob!)

Click here to view pictures from Day 9.

UK Trip Day 8: July 4, 2003

July 06, 2003 @ 18:19 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

Rob and I packed outselves off to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and spent about 4 hours walking around the 300 acres of the Gardens.

The gardens include everything from meadows to a temperate climate greenhouse to a tropical climate greenhouse to a walkway in the treetops. It takes in Japanese stone gardens and bamboo growing outdoors. In short, there’s almost everything, even various aquaria.

Upon arrival at the train station near the Gardens, we found a single sign pointing in the approximate direction of the entrance. It was only sheer luck that we happened to see the ornate wrought iron gates in the distance and decided that they most likely belonged to the Gardens.

The tropical greenhouses were very impressive. Huge palms and tiny little plants. There was a spiral staircase leading up to the roof of the greenhouse which afforded an amazing overview of the place.

In the basement were all sorts of aquaria from fresh water to brackish to salt water. Tropical fish and corals were everywhere.

Being a tropical greenhouse, the humidity was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 110%. How it managed to not be raining inside is an excellent question.

From this greenhouse, we headed off across the 300 acres of land. We admired the rose gardens and other flowers. The trees were equally impressive. Some of the oak trees were absolutely huge, measuing over a metre across at the base.

The Gardens run along the River Thames, so we had a chance to watch a couple of rowing shells on the river. The tide was out, so the water level was very low.

Next we came across a walkway through the treetops. Made of industrial scafholding, the walkway wound its way between the sequoia pines and other tall trees. Bird houses and feeds were up here and from here we saw the most amazingly brightly coloured bird that I think was a pheasant.

After the treetops, we came across some peacocks roaming the grounds. Big birds with horrible calls. At least they make up for the calls with their plummage, even if we didn’t see any of them spread their tail feathers.

By now we’d been on the go for several hours, so a short stop for food and then we were off to see the Japanese rock gardens and then the temperate greenhouse.

The temperate greenhouse was not as hot or humid as the tropical greenhouse, but the plants were just as impressive. We also saw koi in a couple of ponds in the greenhouse.

Our last stop was the gift shop, of course, we were bought souvenirs.

From the gardens, we headed home and called it a day.

Click here to view pictures from Day 8.

UK Trip Day 7: July 3, 2003

July 04, 2003 @ 14:27 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

When the British captured Nazi Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess during World War II, Winston Churchill responded “Take him to the Tower” when asked where he should be imprisoned.

We headed off to visit the Tower of London and spent a couple of hours touring the grounds. Our tour guide was one of the Yeoman Warders, affectionately known as Beefeaters because they had beef rations while most other people didn’t. His name was Simon and he was quite a character!

Anyways, we toured the Tower of London, which is actually made up of thirteen towers, two walls, a number of buildings, including a church and bits of an old Roman wall.

There are also six ravens that, which the legends say if they fly away, the Tower and the monarchy will fall. Needless to say, the Yeomen Warders clip their wings and also have a “backup” raven. These are Big Black Birds. I sat on a bench that a couple of them were perched on and got a close-up look.

We also saw the royal jewels. The maces belonging to all the past monarchs along with other things, including crowns, were on display.

Besides people being executed, only a handful of which actually occured within the walls, the Tower of London is known for torture. Prisoners were occasionally tortured using any of a number of devices, including the rack.

From the Tower of London, we walked to the base of Tower Bridge where we found an alcove called Dead Man’s Hole. According to the sign, it was used to retrieve the “many corpses that were thrown in the river from the Tower and surrounding districts”. This happened so often that there was a mortuary built in the base of the bridge.

We then wandered a bit further and went to a Starbucks in St. Catherine’s Dock. From there, we headed home via the tube.

Click here to view pictures from Day 7.

UK Trip Day 6: July 2, 2003

July 03, 2003 @ 19:23 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

The three of us caught the train at Wandsworth Common and headed to London Bridge station where we changed to another train heading into Cannon Street. Across the street from the Cannon Street station in the facade of the HSBC is a small glass case with a brass plaque. Ignored by almost everyone passing by, the London Stone a piece of a much larger stone that is possibly more than 3000 years old or may have been laid by the Romans or druids.

At one time, it may have marked the centre of London and it has been mentioned in the history of London on a number of occasions.

We next headed off to see what else was in the neighbourhood and came across St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The current St. Paul’s Cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the last 1600’s and is actually the third design he proposed. There were earlier chuches on the same location but they had this nasty habbit of getting hit by lightning, burning to the ground and so on.

The ceilings of the cathedral are amazing tile mosaics. Many surfaces are coated in gold. On the main floor, there are numerous memorials to many people and military units.

In the basement lies the crypt. It contains the remains of many people from British history and memorials to even more. Some people have simple stone markers while others, such as that of Admiral Lord Nelson, are grand carved stone monuments.

Wren is buried in the crypt and his marker is quite plain. The last sentence of the inscription reads Si monumentum requiris, circumspice which means If you seek his monument, look around.

One of the famous parts of St. Paul’s is the Whispering Gallery. It runs around the interior of the Dome 259 steps up from ground-level. It is so named because someone whispering on one side can be clearly head on the other. Unfortunately, the lineup to get up to its level was huge so we didn’t get up there.

From St. Paul’s we took a bus to Victoria station and returned home to get ready for Les Miserables. Yuki was able to arrange for tickets through her school. We met up with Christine, a friend of her’s, and headed downtown for dinner in Chinatown before the show.

This was the second time I’d seen it and it’s just as moving a story now as the first time I saw it. The sets were quite impressive and the actors were very good.

The four of us headed back to Wandsworth Common and Christine drove us home.

Click here to view pictures from Day 6.

UK Trip Day 5: July 1, 2003

July 02, 2003 @ 18:15 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

We got a late start to the day, but c’est la vie.

We headed to Trafalgar Square and first visited St. Martin-in-the-Field church. It’s a small church and it’s very old.

Then, we headed across to the other side of Trafalgar Square to Canada House to partake in the Canada Day festivities at the High Commission. We arrived to find the place busy with people with oddly un-Canadian accents as well as with people with very Canadian accents. (Free beer and cake… go figure!)

After having a drink, some cake and listening to some music, we headed off to a mobile phone dealer to get the firmware in my new mobile phone upgraded. This took a couple of hours, so we headed off to see the London Eye. The ticket line at the London Eye was rather long, so we just looked up at it, snapped some photos and then headed back across Westminster Bridge.

By this time, the phone was ready so we swung by the phone dealer and then headed back towards Rob and Yuki’s. We stopped off at a local pub for dinner and a beer and then headed back home.

Click here to view the pictures from Day 5.

UK Trip Day 4: June 30, 2003

July 01, 2003 @ 19:33 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

Monday morning started with Yuki going to school and Rob and I heading off to Greenwich to visit the Royal Observatory.

We travelled by tube, train and Docklands Light Rail to Greenwich. After walking a ways, we flagged down a cab and had it drive us up the rather large hill that the Observatory sits on.

In 1674, King Charles II appointed John Flamsteed as the first Astronomer Royal. His task was to find a way to determine longitude using the stars. Calculating latitude using the sun and stars was relatively straightforward, but at the time, no one had figured out how to measure longitude.

The foundation stone was laid at 3:14pm on the 10th of August, 1675 and construction was completed by Christmas that year. Flamsteed and two servants moved into Flamsteed House on the 10th of July 1676.

Over the years, successive Astronomers Royal established their own “prime meridians” which ran through their telescopes. The line established by Airy was recognized as the Prime Meridian of the World in 1884. (Trivia fact: The British Ordnance Survey maps still use Bradley’s Meridian as Longitude 0, not the Prime Meridian.)

Anyways, we took the standard tourist photos of each of us straddling the Prime Meridian and then watched the other tourists doing the same thing. There was a machine with a highly accurate clock in it which would give you a certificate saying when you visited the Prime Meridian for a pound. Mine says I paid it a pound coin at 11:01:3805 on 30 June 2003.

We toured the various buildings, looked at an awful lot of highly accurate clocks and then headed outside just before 13:00. Every day since 1833, a ball on top of Flamsteed House has been raised halfway up the mast at 12:55, to the top at 12:58 and then it drops at exactly 13:00. This was started so that the ships in the harbour could set their chronometers.

We watched with bated breath as the ball rose first to half mast and then all the way to the top. Two minutes later it dropped and it was 1:00pm. After a few more pictures, we headed down the hill and had something to eat at the National Maritime Museum before heading down to the dock to catch a tourboat back downtown.

The tour was quite interesting, but the drizzle, which had been occuring on and off most of the day so far, was back. The Thames is quite a polluted river. On our trip upstream saw us pass all sorts of flotsam heading out to sea.

Upon arrival at the dock next to Embankment station, we headed via the Underground to Tooting Broadway to do some grovery shopping and then returned home.

Click here to view the pictures from Day 4.