As the finale to their year, members of the Year 11 Colloquium have just returned from a four-day trip to the Midlands (can we include Cambridge there geographically?!) Built around the motto of the Scholarship Programme “Only Connect” the trip built on the themes covered in the regular meetings over the year and sought out themes beyond the obvious as well as links between them.
The trip began with a visit to the Oxford University Open Day with visits to various department and colleges followed by a walking tour of the city. Oxford is a city famous for manufacturing as well as learning (arguably a slightly artificial division) and the late afternoon was spent at the BMW plant in Cowley where the mini is produced. Watching the automated process in full swing it was easy to believe, whilst knowing it was a programme to believe in the consciousness of machines; indeed, the nature of consciousness is a theme that will be explored in the Sixth Form Symposium next term.
Friday saw an exploration of technology old and new as we visited the National Space Centre at Leicester and the Victorian Abbey Pumping station next door. As well as marvelling at the technological advances, facilitating space exploration and then flowing from it the museum was also a history of the Cold War moving from conflict to cooperation over the International Space Station with the future more uncertain than it might have seemed a few years ago. The Pumping Station took us back to the genius of James Watt and the architecture of the building, as for so much of Victorian architecture housed cutting edge technology in Cathedral like structures.
A day was hardly enough to do justice to Bletchley Park where the group explored the many facets of this Secret Facility dubbed “The Intelligence Factory and its role in breaking not only the German Enigma Code but also its successor the Lorenz Cipher. So many themes intertwine here; the creation of a small town of 9,000 people with all the attendant logistical demands, the cloak of secrecy, the importance of teamwork, the use of machines to defeat machines and the individual genius of those who worked there, most notably Alan Turing, but many others also. It is fitting to see Turing as the face on the £50 note and to read in the display Gordon Brown’s posthumous letter of apology from 2008 for the way the state had treated him in the post war years.
At the end of both these days there was an opportunity later in the afternoon for some free time in Stratford upon Avon where our accommodation was.
Finally, to Cambridge, (not on an Open Day) but where the Year 11 Colloquium students enjoyed a walking tour of the city and visits to both the Fitzwilliam and Zoological museums before returning to London early in the evening. The visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum perhaps exhibited more than anything else the links spoken of earlier, standing in front of a work by the French artist Nicholas Poussin, Mr Cavendish moved from thinking about the painting itself to one of the world’s leading experts on that artist Anthony Blunt. Blunt was one of the Cambridge spies, pardoned following a confession and in the heart of the establishment for many years as Director of the Courtauld Institute and Surveyor of the King’s later Queen’s pictures, exposed by Mrs Thatcher in 1979 and stripped of his knighthood. Much of this captured in Alan Bennett; s play “A question of Attribution.” Art, politics, drama, espionage and the uncovering of secrets, many links indeed.