Underfoot

If you have cause to go north one day, head in the direction of Milton Keynes. As you come up from the south, but long before you reach the town itself, you will turn on to a long quiet road. Sherwood Drive is a road that seems to go nowhere in particular, and has much of the background of many an industrial estate or modern technology park.

From here you will turn on to Jemima Way and will be greeted by the friendly security guards who will politely raise the barrier for you. Park your car and walk into the main entrance of the low building. Here you will buy your ticket, and the staff will let you know you can back anytime in the next year.

You are in Bletchley Park. This is a place where invisible people did invisible things. And where even now their history rings out; a message left that they, these thinkers, these loners, hidden in their cold huts, were soldiers too. You are in a place that shortened a war, you are where we evolved.

You will walk through the low building; café on the right, general exhibition ahead, gift shop on the left. A place filled with goods trying with all their might to be relevant, while never quite achieving the standards that Bletchley set. You will shuffle amongst families and ex-servicemen, Americans, noticeable by their baseball caps. And you will have your fill of this modern encampment in this old echoing building, its history only just visible in the bare concrete floor. Then you will walk past it all and head for the exit.

Many people don’t know that Bletchley Park was a house, with grounds. And as you turn out of the exit and walk up the hill you will see the grand house high above you, the small lake just below, always glinting with an unseen sun, even under the greyest of skies. To your right you will see the oddly angular late-century buildings left behind by various agencies and companies in the years after the war. They will remind you of a further education college, built in the seventies. A smaller building, the National Radio Centre, is cuddled up at their foot, holding on to its relevance.

Here you can choose to turn right, away from the sun that shines down the hill towards you, and bury yourself in the buildings. They are filled with modern exhibitions, but are cold of life and the history it teaches. Instead, you can carry on up the hill, one foot in front of the other, hitting an old concrete road. You will keep an ear out for cars that are not coming.

As you walk up the hill you will turn your attention from the old buildings to your right and look up to the even older Bletchley house. You will think that it is not age which makes buildings ugly or unwanted, it is their design and it is their purpose; however that has changed over time.

When you reach the top of the hill the buildings on your right will be replaced by huts. The huts. If you go in you will find dark rooms, crammed with wandering tourists. Alan Turing’s office is ghostly and sparse. You will lean in the doorway and look to where he might have sat. You will wonder what he would have thought of this. Would he have thought as you do? That people are missing so much, when they speak about him, and when they speak about Bletchley? The site trust have chained an enamel mug to the radiator in Alan’s office, just as he would have done.

But while history points this way, you won’t find what you’re looking for. Walk beyond the huts, past the tennis court, and up the path to the side of the great house. Walk to the old stables and staff houses. Enter a courtyard empty of tourists, or at least ones that don’t come far. Then turn left, towards the garages. Walk beyond the display of WWII vehicles, past the last few tourists and to the modern green fence at the end of the lane.

Here, at the back of the house, you will turn left into a small woodland. It is so small and private you will imagine that you are somewhere else. Look through the fence and beyond the sandy lane to the church beyond. The sun will shine from somewhere and light up the gravestones under the trees. They are just across the lane, outside of the church walls, dangerously open to the elements. They seem to have escaped the confines of the graveyard. You will think that they are the graves of the people who worked in Bletchley. They asked to be buried there, so close to home.

Standing over a grave is a man in his eighties, he is unusually tall and he stoops slightly. He is motionless, he is unreal, you watch him. You wonder what he is feeling. You imagine that it is the grave of his beloved wife, you think to yourself that they met here, in Bletchley. That they would walk up to this quiet spot, together, alone. They would follow the path down, past the buildings below and to the lake beyond. This would be their sanctuary, their moment, in all the madness that surrounded them.

You have stayed too long, watching. You decide your story is unlikely. The man is too young, and so you leave him, losing the moment as quickly as it began. You walk into the woodland, your feet crunching at the branches and pinecones underfoot. You stop to sit on a bench; you pick up a pinecone and cradle it in your hands. You think of the stories that lay under your feet, and beyond the green fence, in the graves below.

You will feel as much as you can of all the things that came before you; all the people here and beyond, with all their successes and failures, all their love and loss, and all the deaths that marked time. Many things passed to make the space you and your life occupy today. You begin to understand why other people don’t think about these things, it can be too much. You will take this with you, as you take all things. You will place the pinecone in your bag, because it means something, you’re just not sure what that is yet.

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