culture, Fashion, Lifestyle, museums, Style

Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore

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Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore at Somerset House is fantastic. If you love avant-garde high fashion then you will not be disappointed. Isabella’s collection of Philip Treacy, Alexander McQueen and John Galliano is stunning.

The exhibition, which runs until March 2, also includes McQueen’s graduate collection from 1992, which Isabella bought in its entirety. However, she was a bit skint and could only afford to pay him £100 a week for the pieces, which were released one at a time.

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 The show is full of personal touches including family photos, school pictures,videos, notepads, her favourite Chanel lipstick (“If you don’t wear lipstick I can’t talk to you”) and a fax from her boss querying a string of dodgy expenses claims. The exhibition also tells you that she usually wrote in pink ink, often wore odd shoes and had the same shoe in various sizes.

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It’s a great exhibition that underscores the huge impact she had on British fashion. I already liked Isabella and knew she was great but I didn’t realise just how influential she was. Go and see it before it ends!

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culture, drinks, entertainment, Lifestyle, Theatre, travel

Wilton’s

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Yesterday my friends and I capped off a perfect Saturday in London with a trip to Wilton’s Music Hall near Cable Street. We’d already been to the Isabella Blow exhibition at Somerset House, which I’ll blog about in a few days, and had a late lunch at The Breakfast Club in Spitalfields when we popped in for a few chilled out drinks in the Mahogany Bar.

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Wilton’s – the world’s oldest surviving music hall – is one of my absolute favourite places in London. I commuted to London for five years before going freelance and when our office moved to Wapping, which felt about 10 miles from anywhere, Wilton’s became our haven – it was just around the corner from work, tucked away off the main road, and it was our cosy little living room for the best leaving dos, after work pints and Christmas drinks. They also do fantastic and very cheap food during shows.

Auriol had never been and I knew she’d love it…

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Pretending this is our front room. How much cool stuff can we fit in our bags?

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Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley (off Ensign St), London, E1 8JB

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engineering, Instagram, museums, Retro, technology, Vintage

70 years of Colossus

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Yesterday the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park celebrated something very special – the 70th anniversary of the first time the world’s first computer was used to attack a message sent by the German high command.

Lorenz isn’t as famous as the weaker Enigma cipher but Bletchley Park’s break into it in 1941 gave the Allies a much bigger and more detailed picture of the Nazis’ overall strategy. Enigma was used to encipher secret messages regarding day-to-day operations whereas Lorenz, which is what Hitler used to encipher his personal messages, was used to communicate orders from the very top.

Enigma had a vast number of different possible machine set-ups on any given day – about 158 million million million. But Lorenz was a million times stronger than THAT. So to read these messages faster Bletchley Park had to come up with the world’s very first semi-programmable computer – Colossus, designed by General Post Office engineer Tommy Flowers.

For years, Bletchley Park deciphered Lorenz either by hand or with the help of Heath Robinson – the forerunner to Colossus.

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I was invited by the National Museum of Computing at H Block, where I volunteer as a guide, to take part in a reenactment of the work carried out to decipher a Lorenz message. First, the Auxiliary Territorial Service girls at Knockholt in Kent intercepted the Lorenz messages, which had been translated by the Germans into international teleprinter code. The ATS punched up the messages onto long bits of perforated tape.

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The tape, which could be thousands of characters long, was sent to Bletchley Park where it was wound around the big wheels on Colossus and read by a light box on the machine. Colossus, operated by girls from the Women’s Royal Naval Service, performed a statistical analysis of the tape by counting the patterns in the characters of the text and looking out for anomalies. The results – Colossus’s educated guess as to what the wheel settings were on the Lorenz that enciphered the message – were printed out and taken to the Tunny room to be tested.

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The guesses of the wheel settings – Lorenz has 12 wheels compared with Enigma’s three to four – were tried out on Bletchley Park’s own interpretation of Lorenz, which looked nothing like the real thing because nobody at Bletchley had ever laid eyes one. A brilliant young mathematician called Bill Tutte guessed the inner workings of Lorenz purely by analysing a message Bletchley intercepted in 1941. Since BP didn’t even know what it was called, it named its version Tunny and all of its traffic Fish.

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The Wrens (played by Vicky and I) plugged up the board at the front of Tunny according to the guessed wheel settings. Tunny was connected to a teleprinter machine and the original enciphered text was typed in. If plain, sensible German came out of the printer then the messaged had been cracked.

The first Colossus had 1,500 valves and came on stream at Bletchley Park in January 1944. It was first used to attack a Lorenz message on February 5 1944 and the more powerful mark two version, which had 2,500 valves, arrived days before D-Day in June that year.

Happy birthday Colossus!

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