Monthly Archives: November 2018

Spy Story – pluck, luck and skulduggery

We hear a lot about spying in the media – often (allegedly) involving the Russians or the Iranians. There’s currently an issue in the news involving a British citizen sentenced to life imprisonment in Iran, apparently for spying.

Another Great talk at Probus this week by member Keith told us the story of a piece of nifty WW1 decoding of secret messages that prevented the Germans from getting back into a stronger position in the War.
Apart from being a cracking tale of spycraft, technology and world politics it brought out the role of luck and the stereotype of the plucky British amateur succeeding against all odds.

The start of WW1 saw the British cut communication links available to the Germans, forcing them to use a British transatlantic undersea cable to transmit an encrypted message to Mexico. The German intention was to get Mexico to declare war on USA in order for them to regain the southern US states – hoping that this would divert/ prevent US joining with The Allies against Germany.

  • The luck came from the British obtaining old coding books from a German warship stuck on a sandbank.
  • The stereotype came from an enthusiastic couple of decoders occupying a spare room (room 40) in the Admiralty in London.

A precursor of Bletchley Park in WW2, Room 40 deduced what the telegram meant, and their political masters found a way to tell the Americans without giving away the source of their information -and the US joined in on our side!

The rest, as they say, is history!

I guess that these days spying, eavesdropping and general political skulduggery involves much more advanced technology – though I suspect that chance and individual sparks of initiative still have their place.

I wonder if there’s been any skulduggery during the whole Brexit saga? Surely not!

WOW in Two Hemispheres

Back from my visit to my sister in Western Australia and straight into another one of our Probus walks yesterday.

This was a beautiful 5 mile walk, starting from Grassington and walking anticlockwise to Hebden and then around the old mine workings – and back to Grassington!
I find that the name of this village is one that gives away the fact that I was originally a southerner – when I say its name without thinking it through it sounds rather rude! In fact it’s a rather beautiful place!

Our group is very keen on doing clockwise and anticlockwise walks – it may be Yorkshiremen’s economical approach to planning walks. You get two walks for the price of one, and interestingly a walk in the reverse direction feels completely different to the previous walk – often to the extent of getting lost! We’re thinking of repeating this lovely walk – reverse-wise!

We were lucky with the weather – the predicted light rain did not materialise, and we got wonderful views over the upper wharfe valley, with the low sunlight picking out the historic terracing on the valley sides.


At Hebden, a hamlet that I’ve often driven through on the way to the Dales but have never really ‘seen’, we walked up alongside the beck running through it – up to the fascinating old lead mines’ workings on the hillside, and then turned back through some very vigorous winds for a nice lunch at Grassington House Hotel.

This Yorkshire walk is in stark contrast to one I did very recently while in W.A. in the Southern Hemisphere. Staying at a place called Denmark (named after one of the naval officers on a British ship that explored the area in 1829), and feeling the need for some exercise after indulging myself in the many attractive wineries in the Region, my friend and I did the local WOW walk (Wilderness Ocean Walk).

This superb 5 mile walk included fantastic ocean views, bush views (with a multitude of spring flowers) and good wildlife, with many black cockatoos feeding from the bushes.

The route consisted of a winding nicely-surfaced path with very clear directions. What could go wrong?

Only the sight of two tiger snakes, apparently very poisonous – one sneaking off into the undergrowth next to the path, and another curled up on the path in front of us. Luckily the combination of the snakes’ timidity and my fear meant that we weren’t disturbed any more, but I confess to talking quite loudly for the remainder of the walk, and treading rather noisily on the footpath!

Both memorable experiences, and both of great beauty. It’s lovely to be back walking in Yorkshire though!

Change and Rest

It’s said that a change is as good as a rest, and my holidays these days seem to concentrate on the rest!

Well, this musing comes from Bali, Indonesia – and it’s certainly a change!

The journey itself (17 hours flying, in two legs) is certainly a different way to spend a (long) day.Legs are very important when you’re in Economy, and though it wasn’t too cramped, they were certainly suffering by the end of the flight. Flying, loads of food and drink, watching multiple films on a small screen and very little sleep just doesn’t prepare one for downtown Denpasar.

The humidity hits immediately and the taxi to the hotel passes along roads full of light motorcycles, scooters and SUVs all travelling far too fast and much too close. (Probably it’s the comparison with flying where you see nothing but clouds far below, and they look all the same so there is no feeling of movement even though you’re moving at more than 500 mph).

There’s also an exposure to local rampant capitalism, with the roads lined with a variety of small businesses competing for your attention. As a first time visitor here it all seemed a bit ‘Blade Runner-ish’. (reference to a cult scifi1980s film, one of my favourites)

The contrast with the hotel couldn’t be starker – beautiful tended grounds full of palm trees and flowering bushes, on the edge of a sea that is full of energetic young- ish folk enjoying the activities. Heaven by the sea!

My major activities, however, have changed over the years. Once snorkelling and scuba diving – now eating ( lots of fresh fish and fruit) and drinking (somewhat more than usual) and looking at the lovely views.

I did miss our monthly Probus walks, to Beamish Beacon and back, and round Thruscross reservoir, but you’ll appreciate that I have found that a change can be good too!