Man vs. Machine

Bletchley Park, outside London We’ve always wanted to see where great minds and genius puzzlers unlocked the secrets of the German Enigma Code during WWII. Based in an empty mansion outside London very conveniently located near the train station, a small crew dedicated to code‐breaking as an important war strategy took over the mansion in 1939.

The first group soon outgrew the billiard room, the ballroom, the library, and every other usable space. Eventually,  several thousand people, whom no one knew about, were doing work that no one knew about.

Large ‘huts’ sprouted up and became dedicated locations for various code-breaking specialties.

The re-creations of the tidy cramped work spaces are quite well-done and moving as you consider the stakes of the enterprise. At the latter part of our visit, it turned quite raw and began to rain heavily. Similar weather and worse must have made running between the buildings with important messages even more stressful. 

(There are many movies which dramatize the discoveries that led to breaking Enigma, and focus on heroes such as Alan Turing, considered the father of computer science. Many are worth a watch.)

Bletchley Park played a huge role in misdirecting German forces to Calais so that D Day could take place in Normandy. The information gained by Enigma saved thousands of lives by thwarting German attacks and focusing the Allied efforts where they could have the most impact.

I could, of course, explain how Enigma worked in two or three short sentences, but what fun would that be for you?

Suffice it to say that this place is an amazing memorial to the men and women who pitted their talents against a huge war machine, bent on destroying them.

What if they hadn’t succeeded?

Don’s Food Corner

Today “classic” British dishes — namely, fish and chips and beef and ale pie — got a decent treatment compared to the sampling we had a week ago when we first arrived.

The cafeteria at Bletchley Park featured both of these time-honored favorites and, as promised last week, we had to see if there was room for improvement by tasting them wherever we find them.

The steak-and-ale presentation was not actually in a pastry crust but was instead presented as steak-and-ale stew with mashed potatoes. Just as well. The mashed potatoes were a creamy dream version of mashed potatoes. None of that rustic stuff with skins appearing under the guise of “smashed potatoes.” Oh, no. Lots of butter and cream, thank you. The stew was served in a metal bowl, reminiscent of what you might have expected in the mess hall of the government-run facility of WWII Bletchley Park.

I think they also must have used a WWII rationing recipe because I only found about two tiny pieces of meat in this beef stew. But at least they weren’t fatty or grisly. The gravy that the small number of beef pieces was certainly rich and complex. Is it the ale that does it? Ale apparently would have been less rationed than meat.

The fish and chips were exactly as you would hope. Freshly deep-fried and with crispy crust. Perfectly tender and juicy fish. The chips were very fine as well. Now that’s the kind of fish and chips you travel to England for. (The peas, however, were not mushy peas but were served as intact peas. A minor disappointment.)

Very fine also was a cream of broccoli soup.

It was a raw and rainy day. And all these comfort foods were, well, comforting.

6 thoughts on “Man vs. Machine

  1. are you planning to try Welsh rarebit if you can find it? It’s a family classic for some reason and I went through a long phase of cooking it when I moved to Canada. I only saw it on the menu a few times in the UK and once in a restaurant here in Vancouver, that unfortunately shut down too soon. Try it and report back, please.

    1. Rarebit doesn’t show up too often on menus. I remember having it once in Wales and was disappointed. I just did a search through the blog and see that we had a good version in Glasgow in 2015. There’s a photo. Search under “rarebit” and see what you find. I always had the impression that it was a very loose cheese sauce, made with beer, that covers bread. But the versions we’ve had here are cheese on top of toasted bread that is broiled until browned. Big deal. Don.

      1. Did you watch The Betchley Circle TV series set in 1952 with a fictionalize account of the groups continued work? My mum used to make the latter version of “rarebit” which we loved. Is the gooey version related to fondue? I used to be a party favorite back in the 70’s.

  2. When I was a kid my mother made Welsh rarebit. I thought it was Welsh “rabbit”. She assured me there was no rabbit in it.

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