Open Cambridge “Cambridge Spies Tour”

Kings College

Kings College Cambridge

 

Not always just what it says on the Tin

When I was in business the government organisation; Business Link offered, after the Financial Crisis free advice sessions on how to improve a small business. It is fair to say, in my case certainly, they helped the business to survive. Not only were the lectures and seminars useful but so were the conversations and points raised by fellow attendees, I often learned nearly as much about other things from these snippets as from the talks themselves.

So it was with the Cambridge Spies Tour. The incidental information from our tour guide was an extra bonus to the core topic.

Setting the Hare Running

After the tour, I started rechecking the information scribbled down whilst walking around as I did more names were thrown up. Whilst checking spellings of the names of those mentioned even more names connected with spying and espionage came to light with Cambridge University connections. No doubt there are many, many more names and achievements connected with espionage hidden from view but none the less important. Whenever researching anything,  I go off in other directions. Where names have cropped up that are relevant I have included them in addition to the ones mentioned by our guide.

A walk around some of Britain’s most important History

Cambridge was Saturday busy for the Open Cambridge Spies Tour even though it was before the start of term with the influx of students swelling the population of the city by 25%.

Parties of Japanese tourists were it seemed everywhere in the crowded streets, their groups led by flag-carrying guides. Cyclists wove around and through the crowds avoiding the selfie-takers gathered outside every building of note.

We set off from outside the Guildhall at about eleven fifteen, our tour guide was a very nice lady, a microbiologist; Deborah I think. I meant to write her name down but had such an interesting conversation with her on the walk back after the tour it slipped my mind until later if you read the blog and have got your name wrong please let me know, I will correct it.

We set off turning left at the Guildhall to stop a little way down Peas Hill away from the noise of the market buskers allowing Deborah to brief us on the tour. Moving on we entered Benet Street stopping briefly outside the Eagle Pub, reputed to be Cambridge’s oldest. It is famous for the announcement of the DNA discovery and also for the names of RAF squadrons marked in the ceiling of the RAF Bar. I said it is not just about what it says on the tin.

Next was Free School lane stopping off by the old Cavendish Laboratories and a quick peek at the crocodile carving on the wall of the Mond Laboratory.

Crocodile Cavendish Laboratory

Crocodile carving on the wall of the Cavendish Laboratory

The connection with spying; Theodore Hall was mentioned, an American physicist who had passed nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union, he worked at the Cavendish Laboratory post-war until his retirement.

Pembroke College

Making our way by Botolph Lane to Trumpington Street our next stop was at Pembroke College. Founded by the Countess of Pembroke in 1347, it had an original statute that required students to report fellow students if they indulged in excessive drinking or visited disreputable houses.

Maurice Dobb studied here and went on to teach at King’s where he met Kim Philby

A former master was Sir Richard Dearlove former chief of the SIS (MI6).

Corpus Christi College

Moving further along Trumpington Street we arrived outside Corpus Christi College. Christopher Marlowe the playwright was perhaps the college’s most famous graduate also possibly one of the earliest to be involved in espionage, in his case during the reign of Elizabeth the first.

Cedric Belfrage who stayed in the same room as Marlowe went onto become a British/Soviet double agent.

Harry Shergold the British handler of Penkovsky at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis is also a graduate.

King’s College

The next stop was at King’s College famous for its former student Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth the first’s spy-master noted or notorious for unearthing the Babington Plot that led to the execution of Mary Queen of Scot’s.

Kings College

Kings College Cambridge

Another of its alumni was Dilly Knox responsible for decoding the Zimmerman telegram that helped bring the USA into World War 1 he also helped set up Bletchley Park and broke several Axis codes.

Alan Turing is probably though its best-known connection with the world of espionage, his work on computers helped, by Churchill’s estimation, shorten the war by two years and saved millions of lives in doing so.

Maurice Dobb mentioned earlier lectured at King’s and was suspected of being a talent spotter for  Comintern during the thirties.

Gonville and Caius College

Moving on we passed by the gate of Gonville and Caius College with its statues of the three founders, this had been Stephen Hawking’s College. Our guide had no comment to make on spying connections however a professor of the college has fairly recently been identified as a recruiter for MI6. Our guide said that statues of college founders always depicted them holding a building, I didn’t know that.

Gonville

Gonville and Caius College Great Gate with statues of its three founders.

 

Trinity College

We continued to the Great Gate of Trinity College with the statue of Henry the Eight.  The college is famous for its connection with Sir Isaac Newton and more recently for those of us computer users, Alan Turing.

Cambridge_Trinity_College_Great_Gate_2011_detail

Trinity College Great Gate Henry the eighth’s sword replaced with a chair leg

An early cryptographer educated at Trinity and working for Francis Walsingham was Thomas Phelippes, responsible for deciphering the code used in the Babington plot

The Cambridge five were all students of Trinity and Trinity Hall, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, John Cairncross and Anthony Blunt. All were Soviet spies.

The Cambridge five

The Cambridge five

Also associated with the Cambridge five and working for MI5 was the biologist Victor Rothschild, he claimed to be only a bit left-wing.

The Cambridge five were members of an undergraduate group called the Apostles, given the link with espionage of five members, Rothschild and the other members were investigated too.

Gordon Welchman was also a graduate, responsible for establishing the concept of Traffic Analysis and famed for his work at Bletchley Park, he was a research fellow at Sydney Sussex. College when he was recruited to work there.

St John’s College

Our last stop was outside St John’s College John Dee had been involved in espionage for Queen Elizabeth the first.

Others

During my research, other names came to light Malcolm Muggeridge graduate of Selwyn College worked for MI6 during the war.

More recently Christopher Steele graduate of Girton College was a member of MI6. He went onto set up Orbis Business Intelligence Services, noted for its report on compromising material held by the Russian government on Donald Trump.

 

The Big Sleep

the-big-sleep-1978-kat-720p-cover

The Big Sleep 1978 poster

Recently I watched the 1978 film remake of the Big Sleep. There has probably been a bigger waste of acting talent than that squandered by Michael Winner but nothing comes to mind.

220px-Bogart_and_Bacall_The_Big_Sleep

Bogart as Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as Vivian Sternwood Rutledge in Howard Hawkes 1946 film of the Big Sleep.

The original 1946 version starring Humphrey Bogart and  Lauren Bacall was obviously made at a time nearer that of the novel, (published 1939). Raymond Chandler’s novels like the Sherlock Holmes stories of Conan Doyle occupy a particular time and place, in my opinion, this is, even more, the case with Chandler.

Setting the action of the Big Sleep in 1970s England didn’t work for me. In the Big Sleep, Chandler’s writes of Los Angeles, Hollywood, California and America at a time before it was touched by war, in the aftermath of Prohibition during the dying embers of the Depression. His novels are steeped in that sense of time and place. The characters who populate his stories are products of this period and like some fine wines, they do not travel well.

Get Carter

Michael Caine as Carter

A similar situation but travelling geographically in the opposite direction was the remake of Get Carter. Set originally in 1970’s Newcastle with Michael Caine playing Carter the 2000 remake with Sylvester Stallone in the title role was a poor shadow of the original. Get Carter was as was the Big Sleep comfortable in its own time and place the lack of Geordie accents didn’t diminish its quality. Stallone’s outing couldn’t and didn’t match Caine’s London hard man. Caine was totally credible, it is, in my opinion, the best ever British crime film.

Chandler’s only novel not to be made into a film. Playback is set in the early fifties and a different part of California. I hope it will find its way onto the silver screen, set in its correct time and place.

No copyright claimed for images used.

The Antikythera Mechanism

Antikythera mechanism as found in the sea (picture from Wilipedia)

The Antikythera mechanism as found in the sea (picture from Wikipedia)

A friend of mine is a member of the Cambridge Astronomical Association, from time to time he invites me to accompany him to their lectures. The latest outing was to watch a very interesting presentation about an ancient (180-70BC) machine discovered on a shipwreck in the Aegean Sea. This mechanism has been described as the worlds oldest analogue computer.

The excellent and interesting presentation was given by John Lancashire. Mr Lancashire has built his own working reconstruction of the machine using the original design to produce 3d printed plastic reproductions of those components to use in his machine. He did, however, change the tooth profiles of the gears to involute from the straight cut original form.

Antikythera 1

John Lancashires reproduction of the Antikythera mechanism

The machine was recovered from the sea in 1901 and identified as containing gears by the Greek archaeologist Valerois Stais in 1902. Only recently with the aid of modern X-ray and scanning techniques was its purpose discerned.  This enabled the true extent of its complexity and sophistication to be established.

John outlined the timeline of key steps in the development of astronomical theories in the Hellenistic period from 500BC through to the time when it was thought the mechanism was lost. At that time the earth was still considered to be at the centre of the universe with the sun and planets orbiting it.

Antikythera 2

This side of the machine shows the pointers representing the position of the sun and the known planets. The ball in the centre in black rotates to show the phases of the moon.

He completed his presentation by demonstrating his model of the mechanism and how he had calibrated it for the present day, the lecture was so interesting that it continued well past its scheduled slot and we departed much later than usual.

Antikythera 5

A view of the gearing and on the right the pointers for each planet and the sun. The complexity of such an ancient machine is astounding.

On the trip home my friend and I discussed the machine and concluded that there could have been earlier less complex versions of this mechanism, that someone must have sat down and designed it possibly recording their design. It is possible that these designs and the underpinning theories were lost in the burning of the library at Alexandria. For me, the interest was not only in the machine itself but how it was constructed with such accuracy and the history of the machines that well may have preceded it. We can only speculate about those people who had the intellect to have designed this and possibly other similar machines unless we can design a time machine to travel back in time we will never know their identity.

A Summer’s Place

The way through the trees

The way through the trees

I have written before of my love of the Lattersey Nature reserve in Whittlesey, I usually visit several times a week. Watching the changes in the vegetation and wildlife during the year is something I particularly enjoy.

A fantastic pathway

A path in another part of the reserve

A path through Purple Loosestrife

A path through Purple Loosestrife

We are now in high summer with autumn lurking just around the corner. Amongst the flowers in the meadow grounds and wooded areas butterflies accompanied by a few dragonflies go about their business but I am aware of the ripening of blackberries a few turning red and black among their still green fellows. The days are beginning to shorten not significantly yet but the change is coming.

Blackberries 2

An abundant crop of blackberries

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly

Time to make the most of the summer we have, to cherish the beauty of butterflies, dragonflies, wonder at the bees and flowers growing wild that nourish them, many considered weeds in other settings. My old gardening teacher defined a weed as merely a plant being  in the wrong place. As far as the bees and butterflies are concerned these erstwhile weeds are certainly in the right place for them.

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly visiting a thistle a plant in the right place for him or her

Stamford Shakespeare Company’s performance of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit

I was given a ticket to Noel Coward’s play Blithe Spirit, a birthday present from my son. I hadn’t been to Tolethorpe Hall or watched a performance of this play before. My wife and I joined my brother in law together with his wife, her sister and friend. Enjoying a picnic in the grounds before making our way into the theatre.

The theatre is in the beautiful grounds of Tolethorpe Hall with permanent tiered seating and covered auditorium, the stage itself is detached from the auditorium and doesn’t appear to be fully covered.

The set was impressively well made showing a high degree of professionalism in its appearance and construction. Quality often lacking in sets used in many other supposedly more prestigious venues.

It augured well.

A photo of the fantastically well-constructed set for Blithe Spirit.

A photo of the fantastically well-constructed set for Blithe Spirit.

I thoroughly enjoyed the play and laughed far more than I have done in a long time. The entire cast played their parts to perfection and brought for me a degree of magic I have rarely experienced at the theatre. I particularly enjoyed the total eccentricity of Madame Arcarti brilliantly played by Angela Harris but competition from the rest of the very outstanding professional cast was tremendous.

Madame Arcardi, Blithe Spirit Stamford Shakespeare Company 2019 production. (Scan from the programme)

Madame Arcardi, Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, Stamford Shakespeare Company 2019 production. (Scan from the programme)

 

The final scenes showed just how well the set had been designed a work of exceptional quality.

The thought crossed my mind after watching the play, whether the character of Charles Condomine had been inspired in any way by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a novelist with an interest in spiritualism. I did a quick bit of research but could find nothing to support the theory.

This was my first visit to Tolethorpe Hall it will certainly not be my last “The Importance of Being Earnest” is on my to do list for next season.

Thank you, everyone, at the Stamford Shakespeare Company cast, production team and management for a truly wonderful evening.

Review of Halfords Chain Cleaning machine.

Chain Cleaner from Halfords

Chain Cleaner from Halfords

Like many men and boys, I have a fascination with machines; particularly ones with gears, cams, cranks and sprockets. My daughter knows me well, she has grown up watching me watching things whirr and rotate. She has seen me standing awestruck in front of traction engines and beam engines.

As a cyclist, it was with absolute delight that I opened my birthday present to find this wonderful looking machine, its gears and cogs clearly visible through its plastic casing. Then I read the label a Chain Cleaning Kit, as the late Professor Stanley Unwin would have said, “Deep joy”.

I had it out of its packaging there and then opening it up to inspect its works, being the man I am, reading the instructions came afterwards.

The cycle chain cleaning machine itself

The cycle chain cleaning machine itself

 

A few days later I put the machine to work, it is supplied with a small bottle of cleaning fluid to start you on your chain cleaning experience. The cycle was parked on the patio, a piece of wood placed under the stand to raise the rear wheel clear of the ground.

The machine is built in two halves to allow it to be fitted around the chain. The picture shows the two halves prior to assembly, the cleaning brushes and plastic cogs clearly visible.

The two halves of the cycle chain cleaning machine

The two halves of the cycle chain cleaning machine

The next picture is of the chain cleaner in place ready for action and waiting for the cleaning fluid. After pouring some fluid into the top reservoir I turned the crank backwards as instructed, the machine fell off hitting the ground. The second attempt produced the same result and the chain came off the back sprocket too.

Cycle Chain cleaning machine

Ready to go just need the cleaner adding

I refitted the chain and machine then tried turning the crank forward, we were in business the accumulated grime started to lift from the chain making its way into the bottom reservoir.

Cleaning in progress

Chain cleaning in progress

The difference in chain cleanliness was very apparent, the removal draining of the cleaning fluid and washing the machine was easy and straight forward. I put my new toy away oiled my chain and was ready for cycling action.

A really thoughtful present.

Cambridge Strawberry Fair

Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous Plants, any Triffids?

I grew up in Huntingdon, which is roughly equidistant from Peterborough and Cambridge. Of the two cities, Cambridge was and still is my favourite. Setting my novel in Cambridge has given me the perfect reason (not an excuse) to revisit more frequently for research purposes.

The Park and Ride at St Ives and the Guided Bus are very handy, free parking and a bus pass really useful.

For those who don’t know Cambridge the sheer volume and variety of bicycles is I am sure something of a surprise.

Dutch bike

Dutch Bike

Today’s visit was to the Strawberry Fair, giving me valuable first-hand information I  wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I had a wander around the fair astounded by the inflated price of food available at the venue, Greggs got my custom after leaving the fair. Whilst ambling around the stands and stalls I noticed one selling carnivorous plants, I was tempted to ask if they had any Triffids? I am not sure whether they would share my sense of humour and probably have already had similar requests so decided against it.

Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous Plants, any Triffids?

There were a lot of live music performances taking place, nothing that really appealed to me but I am now of an age.

I toured some of the “lefty” stands, Momentum, Cambridge People’s Assembly, Cambridgeshire Keep our NHS, (nice profiteroles ladies reasonably priced too), Sea Shepherd and Hunt Saboteurs. I had a nice chat with the Hunt Sabs lady sharing my opinion of those who kill for sport and an account of an encounter I had with a hunt over fifty years ago. We agreed that those who kill for pleasure have at the very least a personality disorder.

Dinosaur skeleton at the Sedgewick Museum

Dinosaur skeleton at the Sedgewick Museum

I visited the Museum of Zoology and then the Sedgewick Museum of Geology looking for information to help my daughter with a topic she is teaching her class, about dinosaurs. Both museums are well worth a visit.

Old habits die hard and whilst walking around Cambridge I was evaluating the quality of the ironwork used in gates and railings, it no longer serves any practical purpose it just stimulates the brain.

I think I am now up to date with my research but an unexpected plot twist might require another visit, I won’t know until it happens, hang on, something is coming through now.

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