In this posting...
*Alan Turing
*the Birthday Clock
*the Bard of Avon
Now read on, Macduff...

Eagle-eared truckshunters may have noticed the public apology made earlier this month by Gordon Brown to a man called Alan Turing - a man whose story teaches us salutary lessons about our collective attitude to minorities of all kinds and whose name is shamefully little-known in modern Britain, for all sorts of unsavoury reasons.

Under different circumstances, Alan Turing would have been hailed as a hero in his own time, let alone ours. His name would (quite rightly) be as well-known as his contemporaries John Logie Baird, Alexander Fleming, Barnes Wallis. After all, his achievements equalled and - depending on your cultural and scientific viewpoint - exceeded theirs.

If for nothing else, he ought to be on a national roll of honour, and included in any list of England’s greatest sons, for the work he did during World War II, when he worked at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley. There, he devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including the ‘bombe’, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Germans’ infamous ‘Enigma’ machine. It is no exaggeration to suggest that he’s one of the handful of men who made a seriously gigantic contribution to the Allied victory; he’s up there with Churchill and Montgomery.

So why doesn’t his name spring to everyone’s mind at the mere mention of the Second World War? And why Gordon Brown’s apology?

Alan Turing was gay. There really is no other reason for not only the lack of public appreciation of his achievements but also for the virtually complete absence of any acknowledgement that he even existed at all.

He was prosecuted for his sexuality in 1952, when being gay was regarded at the very least as being an illness, at worst a mortal sin. (There are, of course, plenty of people who still regard it in exactly the same way now.) As punishment, he was offered either imprisonment or ‘chemical castration’ - the systematic injection of female hormones. He accepted the latter but its barbarity and its catastrophic mental and physical effects led him to commit suicide in 1954. He injected an apple with cyanide and took a bite out of it.

In 2002, Alan Turing was ranked twenty-first on the BBC’s nationwide poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. Earlier (in 1999) Time Magazine named him as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century for his role in the creation of the modern computer. Their citation stated: '...everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine.'

This blog - and all the digital paraphernalia that surrounds it - would not have been possible without him. The Apple computer logo I’m looking at right now as I type (an apple with a bite taken out of it) is said to be a reference to him. And yet, and yet...

There are no statues or sculptures dedicated to his memory; he features on no stamps; his name doesn’t leap out of the pages of our history books. Perhaps Gordon Brown’s belated apology might change all that. In the meantime, in your charity spare a thought for one of the most modestly brilliant men England has ever produced - dying alone in torment and misery because he was gay.

For Heaven’s sake don’t forget that the next AGM will be held on Wednesday 30 September at 1100 at the cafe in Saltwell Towers - in Gateshead’s Saltwell Park. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Truckshunter Dave Shannon has emailed me a link to a ‘Birthday Clock’. All you have to do is tell it your birthdate and it comes up with all sorts of fascinating things about you that you didn’t know you didn’t know. F’rinstance I am 729 months old; or 3,174 weeks or 22,212 days or 533,104 hours or 31,986,248 minutes or 1,919,174,938 seconds. My lucky day is Thursday, my lucky number is 3 and my birth tree is the hornbeam. (Since when have people had birth trees?)

There’s more. Amongst the hits of 1948 were Buttons and Bows, sung by Dinah Shore, Nature Boy (Nat King Cole) and Twelfth Street Rag (Pee Wee Hunt). In the European zodiac I’m a Sagittarius, to the Chinese I’m a rat and to Native American Indians, I’m an owl.

Finally - and I find this very difficult to believe - the candles on my next birthday cake will generate enough heat to boil almost 7 fluid ounces of water.

Er....thanks Dave.

As I’ve rather tediously said many times before...I don’t get the Shakespeare thing. I know how uncultured and heretical that makes me sound but I’m past caring, to be honest. At my age I’m prepared to throw caution to the wind and let it all hang out shamelessly - and metaphorically.

And I don’t dismiss The Bard Of Avon lightly, either. O my word no. One of my 60/60 projects this year was to acquire - and watch - the BBC Television Shakespeare on dvd. All 37 of the plays were produced and broadcast about 30 or so years ago and when I saw the collection going cheap online, I ordered it.

I decided I would watch the plays in alphabetical order. For what it’s worth, here’s my opinion of the plays I’ve seen so far...

All’s Well That Ends Well: unalloyed drivel
Antony and Cleopatra: unmitigated relentless turgid claptrap
As You Like It: you must be joking
The Comedy of Errors: calling this a comedy is the biggest error of all
Coriolanus: the last four letters say it all.

The next play in the sequence is Cymbeline. I’m told that even benighted organ-playing intellectual Shakespeare-worshippers don’t like it - or even understand it, for that matter. So you can imagine how much I’m looking forward to watching it.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com


Maureen said...

I only recently heard about Alan Turing. I couldn't believe it, not in this 'enlightened' age. Thanks for spreading the word Ian. How many more 'unsung heroes' will we uncover?
I know what you mean about Shakespeare Ian, seriously, life's too short. I just decided that he wasn't for me. Just think of the good dvds you could be watching!

Sid said...

I couldn't agree more with your comments regarding Alan Turing. Shamed to say I was another one who lacked any knowledge of this truly great man.
The 'Birthday Clock is interesting, I can heat more water than you though Ian. If we put all the Truckshunters candles together we could probably roast an Ox.

Maureen said...

Nice one Sid! Maybe a barbecue is in order for the next 'big' birthday?
Is everyone ready for their trip out tomorrow? I hope that the weather's kind to us. After the mix up last time do you think that we should all be wearing pink carnations? I'll be the one wearing the multi striped bobble hat and red wellies. See you at the towers!

Sid said...

I did a recce yesterday and got a surprise...I think you'll enjoy it.

Ian Robinson said...

Maureen...glad you agree with me about Shakespeare. Sheer drudgery.
Sid...GREAT line about the candles :-)) I wonder what the collective AGM age will be tomorrow?