#geek

DRIVING A BUS AROUND BLETCHLEY PARK #BUCKETLIST @SAVINGBLETCHLEY

There are so many interesting people on Twitter, and once you have your own network up and growing usually people will let you know if there is anything or anyone around that you might be interested in. For example one evening in January 2010 I was looking through tweets and chatting to friends on Twitter when a Twitter friend @HD41117 put me in touch with @beckie_williams. It turned out that Beckie’s great-grandfather recruited Kim Philby. How amazing is that?

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It is also a great place for things like book recommendations

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@SteveHills who I didn’t really know at the time of tweeting, but is now a great friend, recommended Agent Zigzag by Ben McIntyre to me. I ready it when I was away on holiday and it became my favourite book ever. It is the amazing story of Eddie Chapman, an English double agent who is an absolute character. Another great connection on Twitter was connecting to @herokate a year or so later. Kate’s boyfriend is a great guy called Michael who runs a famous Soho bar, a bar that Eddie Chapman use to frequent. I had a great chat with Michael one evening at my friend @Daren140’s birthday drinks. Daren introduced me to Kate who introduced me to Michael, and Michael told me stories from when he sued to hang out with Eddie Chapman. I love my Twitter friends 🙂

Something else very cool that happened because of Twitter at around the same time was that I got to achieve an ambition that I had had since I was five years old. I had really wanted to drive a big red London bus. I had tweeted this in to @davegorman in response to a request from him to everyone listening to his Absolute Radio show on a Saturday in January 2010. Dave had asked everyone to tweet in their childhood ambitions, so I duly tweeted saying that when I was five I wanted to drive a London bus. Dave was choosing some of the ambitions and trying to connect people up to help make them happen. Luckily for me I didn’t need Dave to help my ambition come true as Kelsey at Bletchley Park had seen my tweet, contacted the local gay nightclub Pink Punters in Fenny Stratford and asked them if I could drive their bus around Bletchley Park. How exciting 🙂

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Kelsey arranged for the bus driving to coincide with the next Station X social media cafe.

To make sure that I was a fit driver we needed to have a practice, so we all turned up for Station X and then got on the bus together to be driven to the Milton Keynes stadium car park. It reminded me a bit of the film “Summer Holiday” with Cliff  Richard. I was really excited and the bus was buzzing with everyone chatting about what they had been up to since the last Station X and whatever the latest was in our Twittersphere. It didn’t take long to drive to the stadium. Once there I was given a quick overview of what I needed to do, and then we were away. It wasn’t actually as different to driving a car as I had expected. The steering wheel on the bus was massive though and that took a bit of getting used to. I drove around the car park a few times, then had a go at a few different manoeuvres like driving backwards between two traffic cones. After 20 minutes or so the lovely guys from Pink Punters were satisfied that I was able to drive. I got back into the back of the bus and they drove us all back to Bletchley Park.

Once back, the driver parked the bus in front of the mansion house and got out of the driver’s cab. I went around the front and got in to drive. I was slightly nervous. What if I crashed into one of the huts? Just imagine how dreadful that would be.

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Photos by @9600 Andrew Back

I got in the cab, started the engine and off we went to cheers from the Station X crew on the bus. The roads at Bletchley Park are pretty narrow so it wasn’t as easy as driving around a massive car park. I did a couple of circuits around without any major problems, and then started around for the third time. I was getting a bit cocky, so I drove a bit faster the third time. Half way around I managed to hit a traffic cone when taking a corner, but that was fine, what’s a traffic cone between friends? We were almost around and it was all going well, I slowed down gradually to park in front of the mansion, and as we slowed pulled over to the kerb slightly so that the bus wouldn’t block any other vehicles that wanted to go past. I slowed right down almost to a stop, and then managed somehow to take the bus up the kerb and stop on the kerb. Awww. I had driven really well until the very last few seconds and then mucked it up. Ah well. I’d not injured anyone or anything, I’d managed not to crash into a hut, we had all had a bit of a laugh and I had achieved an ambition I’d had since I was five years old.

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Here’s a video of my efforts shot by @mikistrange on the day.

I got in touch with @davegorman afterwards to let him know that because of him I had remembered and now succeeded in fulfilling a childhood ambition. I got to meet Dave in person some time after that when he did his “Powerpoint Presentation” gig at the Royal Festival Hall, and then again when we both appeared on the Infinite Monkey Cage with Robin Ince, Brian Cox and Simon Singh in 2012. He’s a lovely guy. He helped calm me down just before we were about to go on stage when Brian Cox had jokingly said something like

“Is it alright if I ask you complicated technical questions during the show?” to me.

I almost had heart failure, though of course I tried not to show it. Dave did a great job after that backstage of making me laugh and keeping me calm. What a great guy 🙂

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This is an excerpt from the pre edit version of Saving Bletchley Park by Dr Sue Black which is now available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

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From 2003 to 2017 – Saving Bletchley Park, the Women of Station X, Stephen Fry, the Imitation Game and the Duchess of Cambridge #Bpark

I often get asked about Bletchley Park and my connection with it. Here are a few links that give an overview of my 14 year fascination and involvement.

 

Finding out about the women who worked there is how I first got interested in Bletchley Park in 2003, I got funding for an oral history project “The Women of Station X” to record the memories of the women who worked there:

 

 

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then I found out that Bletchley Park might have to close so I started a campaign to save it. The whole story is captured in my book:

 

US Amazon – Saving Bletchley Park

 

UK Amazon – Saving Bletchley Park

 

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and some of the highlights on my blog from 2008, read from the bottom up to get an overview of how my campaign started and what we did including getting Stephen Fry involved:
 
Here’s my old school 2008 blog: http://savingbletchleypark.org/

 

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I spoke about my life and the campaign last December at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA

 

 

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It’s been so wonderful to see the recognition of Bletchley Park growing over the years since the campaign started with books like Andrew Hodges – Alan Turing: The Enigma getting recognition and films being made like The Imitation Game starring great Hollywood actors like Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

 

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Also who could forget the visit of the Duchess of Cambridge to Bletchley Park whose grandmother and great aunt worked at Bletchley Park.

 

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Have a look at these links and then comment below if you have any questions, or @ me on Twitter @Dr_Black, I’d love to hear from you 🙂

 

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Creating a bright future for us all – why women in tech issues matter

I was honoured to speak on a panel this afternoon at Portcullis House. Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah chaired an interesting discussion on women in tech which ranged from getting girls coding, to Ada Lovelace, to the digital revolution and a quick reference to Gamergate.
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My main points were around the fact that we are now living in a global marketplace. Trade is no longer hampered by geographical boundaries as it has been previously. Most people in the UK are not digitally literate in a 2014 way, we are behind the times. There are so many people unemployed, that with just a small amount of training could get jobs using basic 2014 digital literacy. The government needs to put more resource into this area.

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There is a big focus on getting girls coding which is great and needs to happen, but we need more urgently to consider how to plug the leaky pipeline of women leaving the tech industry mid career. We also need to create a corporate culture that welcomes tech savvy women back into the workforce. Too many talented tech women I know have left tech never to return, its such a waste.

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Corporates need to make their workplaces more female friendly and be proactive in bringing in more women. There are many ways this can be done, and as has been shown previously this can make companies more profitable. Diversity means strength in so many ways.

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I didn’t mention quotas of women on boards, but I think the time is right now to make this happen, change is not happening quickly enough for any real impact to be felt. Equal pay is something else that needs to be sorted out. We will never get anywhere until these issues are resolved.

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The main thing we need to do is to take ACTION as a country. The UK if we get our act together has an opportunity to lead in the digital revolution as we did in the industrial revolution. But we need to move quickly and decisively. Our workforce needs to be upskilled, made tech smart, this is a mammoth but not impossible task. Let’s get started now otherwise we will be looking back in a few years time saying, if only we had acted more quickly….

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As it is half term I took my 10 year old daughter along with me. We left a bit early so we could go and buy a pumpkin for her to carve for Halloween. Having children makes you think about the future in a different way. I don’t want my daughters to have lower pay than their male peers, I don’t want them to see their friends taking a break from work to have children, then finding it impossible to get back into work. I don’t want to see them struggling to make sense of a narrow minded and chauvinistic workplace.
We need to change our country now to make equality of opportunity a reality, if we do that and prepare our workforce for the digital age, we will have a fighting chance of being a world leading country into the future. If we don’t I hate to think what will happen. Standards of living will drop, a brain drain will occur, big contracts will go to other countries, individuals will become disenfranchised, it won’t be fun.

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Millions of people have fought in wars and worked hard to make this country succesful, let’s not throw all that sacrifice away now because we are too slow to respond to change that’s obviously going to happen, and is in fact happening right now. Britain is a great country, I’m proud to be a part of it, let’s keep it that way. Making sure our people, our families and our companies keep up with the digital revolution means that all that sacrifice was worthwhile, we owe it to our ancestors and to our children. We’ve a short window of opportunity, let’s take ACTION and build a great future for us all.