Friday, February 8, 2019

The UK sees sense (at last)

While some votes go terribly wrong,   there are others that make the sensible majority applaud,   or send the twittersphere into meltdown as per your want.
We had two big votes in the UK last week. One was for Britain’s favourite dog. The Labrador was knocked off the top spot for the first time in many years.  The world ( well dog owners who watch channel 5) were glued to the TV as we got to the top 2, and all the favourites had already been mentioned.  One dog had not been mentioned at all in the top 98, one breed; the devil dog, the bad boy, the killer, drug dealer’s friend was no were.  But we still had two dogs to go.
Dare we hope?
The top two were the cocka poo- £2000 worth of mongrel,  designer bred, often puppy farmed and all the cruelty that entails. And ( drum roll)  the Staffordshire Bull Terrier – A  few quid at any rescue home, bulletproof and a coat you can polish.   The Hug A Staffie campaign went nuts.  As their slogan says
Staffies are huggers not biters, lovers not fighters.

The other vote was for the “the greatest person of the 20th century”.
Initial voting was by category, then  finalists in  each category went to a public vote.  I know what you are thinking; how can that come to any kind of result? How can you place the greatness of Ghandi against Mohammed Ali, or Marie Curie against Nelson Mandela?
Well, the result came in and EVERYBODY nodded and said ‘well deserved’. For a man whose legacy is so much more than the work he did.
His name speaks for itself.
I blogged about him before  in 2013,  so here is that blog again.

The Death Of A Genius

Alan Turing OBE, FRS was granted a Royal Pardon this week. His crime? Being homosexual.

When he was convicted of Gross Indecency in 1952, he was given the choice of imprisonment or probation. A condition of probation was to  undergo a course of chemical castration by injections of synthetic oestrogen to render him impotent and remove his libido.
He chose the latter.
He died of an overdose of cyanide two years later.
Two weeks before his 42nd birthday. 

The pardon process was started with an internet campaign, and in  September 2009,  British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized on behalf of the British government for "the appalling way he was treated." In May 2012, a bill was put before the House of Lords to grant Turing a statutory pardon.  But in July 2013,the government opted for a pardon under the royal prerogative of mercy on 23 December 2013.

The man was a genius in his the field of mathematics and he seems to have been a charismatic and intriguing one. He is best known for being a key part in the team that broke the enigma code. This work is reputed to have shortened the second world war by two years. The fact that his work has been kept restricted for over 70 years shows its importance. The team based at Bletchley Park made five major advances including decoding the indicator procedure the German navy used at the time, and (too late to be used in the war) a portable voice scrambler, codenamed Delilah.

Turing's papers from this period have titles like, “ Report on the applications of probability to cryptography” and “Paper on statistics of repetitions”. Or, as he once said, 'from a contradiction, you can deduce everything'. Food for thought for us crime scribblers.
Turing’s genius ranged from mathematics to cryptanalysis to computer science. None of us would be tapping a keyboard to make the magic on the screen it if were not for Turing. He was educated at Cambridge University, the National Physical Laboratory, the University of Manchester and Princeton University. His Thesis was on Systems of Logic based on Ordinals (1938) which sounds pretty impressive to me. But recall that I am the blogger that took a month to find the on switch on my new tablet/hybrid/thingy which I don’t even know the name of.

Turing’s dad Julius, worked with the Indian Civil Service but he and his wife Ethel agreed that their children should be brought up in England. Young Alan soon showed signs of being a brain box with that steely determination (or madness) usually associated with those who are 'very good at things'.  When he was 13, his first day of term coincided with the 1926 General Strike in Britain so he just cycled the 60 miles to school, spending the night at an inn. He did this on his own (at 13!).

Being very good at mathematics gave his teachers at a school (which was founded on a more classical education) some concern. I found a quote that his headmaster wrote to his parents: "I hope he will not fall between two stools. If he is to stay at public school, he must aim at becoming educated. If he is to be solely a Scientific Specialist, he is wasting his time at a public school".

But he was truly gifted and by age 16 he was solving advanced problems  In 1928 Turing encountered Albert Einstein's work, had a think and extrapolated  from it. By this time Turing  had only been taught elementary calculus!

Turing was pleasingly eccentric. In his time at Bletchley Park he would wear a standard issue gas mask to ward off hay fever, he would chain his mug to the radiator pipes to prevent it being nicked. Most interestingly, he was a talented distance runner. He used to run the  40 miles to London when he was needed for high-level meetings. He was also capable of world-class marathon standards. I wonder if he used that quiet contemplation of the distance runner to think.
In 1941, Turing  had a short lived engagement to a Bletchley park  co-worker Joan Clarke. She knew of his homosexuality but was  not bothered by it. It bothered him though and he did not go through with the marriage.

In January 1952, Turing started a relationship with a 19-year-old man but when  Turing's house was burgled and he reported the crime to the police, Turing  acknowledged his sexual relationship and was charged with gross indecency. He pleaded  "guilty", but never felt any remorse or guilt. He believed he was what he was.

At that time the public were paranoid about the security issues of  homosexual entrapment, the first two of the Cambridge five had just been exposed. Turing had his security clearance removed and he was barred from working at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), (the  new Bletchley park)

On 8 June 1954, Turing's cleaner found him dead. He had died the previous day and the post mortem showed he had died from cyanide poisoning.  An inquest determined death by suicide although, despite all his medical and legal problems, he was in a good frame of mind. He had spoken to nobody about being despondent, and had even made a 'to do' list for his return  from the holiday weekend,
Beside his body lay half-eaten apple. It was not tested for cyanide but there has been much speculation that this was how he consumed the fatal dose. It is fascinating that this mega intelligent human being was captivated by the story of Snow White…. especially the bit where the queen is 'changed' to the evil witch…. by the act of eating a poisoned apple.
Maybe it is more likely that  he died as a result of the accidental inhalation of cyanide fumes from some experimental apparatus that Turing had set in his very small, badly ventilated room.  Especially as the some suggest the coroners findings pointed to death by inhalation of the fumes rather than  ingestion.
There is a film coming out next year, called the The Imitation Game, which stars  Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing. Not often I get excited about a film release, but that is one I am looking forward to.
At the back of my mind, there is the question.. 42 is life have lived – what else might he have gone on to achieve.

Caro Ramsay  GB 27/12/2013


  1. So, did the Staffordshire or CockaPoo win? My dog portrait artist (and former proud owner of two SBTs) wants to know. I said I believed yes, but she wanted verification. Good news too on the Turing vote. Hmm, could at least one English-speaking country be coming to its senses?

  2. It is criminal and anti-human what the government in Britain did to harass and persecute Alan Turing in their zeal to stamp out gay relationships. He was a brilliant man who could have gone on to do even more for society. Yet, like the anti-gay forces in the U.S., Britain and elsewhere, their policies take precedence over respect for human beings and their identities.
    I believe the British government finally apologized for what they did to ruin Alan Turing's life.
    The Imitation Game is very good.

  3. Lovely to see the Staffie finally getting the recognition the breed deserves. Not sure Alan Turing will ever really get the accolades he deserved, but this is a good start. Looking forward to seeing you at Crime & Publishment next month, Caro!