I have written before about how I find it astonishing the extent to which my previous careers as a research scientist and science (chemistry) teacher interdigitate with my post-retirement role as an Engagement Volunteer here at the museum.
Such an occasion occurred again a fortnight ago as I was attending the Salisbury Playhouse production of ‘Breaking The Code’, concerning the life and work of the codebreaker, Alan Turing. I attended this out of interest following a recent visit to Bletchley Park with Sarum U3A. Also, last year, whilst on a P&O cruise to the Baltic, I attended a series of five ship-board lectures on Bletchley Park (or ‘Station X’ ) by a guest speaker who is a Guide there.
Partway through the second half of the play it was mentioned that Turing’s colleague at Bletchley Park, Dillwyn Knox (‘Dilly’) had had a homosexual relationship with the author and biographer, Lytton Strachey. As a scientist, I’d never heard of Lytton Strachey until his portrait was exhibited in the ‘Henry Lamb – Out of the Shadows’ exhibition at Salisbury Museum last year. This left me wondering how Dilly Knox had come to meet Lytton Strachey.
‘Google’ helped me out by informing me that he was the brother of the crypotographer, Oliver Strachey. Oliver Strachey had been in the Government Code and Cypher School between the Wars and in 1934, together with Hugh Foss, he broke the Japanese naval attaché machine cipher. In World War II, he was at Bletchley Park, heading the ISOS section deciphering various messages on the Abwehr network involved with turned German agents (part of the Double Cross system).
Another such occasion occurred last week when I was fortunate enough to be ‘on shift’ when one gallery of the current ‘Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize’ exhibition opened a day early. Immediately facing one as one walks in is a vivid blue drawing entitled ‘Ghost Nets’ (Frances Gynn, 2019). Although I’d never heard the phrase ‘ghost nets’ before, I immediately perceived these as fishing nets which could entrap marine species. Later that week I was watching the BBC1 TV ‘Countryfile’ programme, which contained a lengthy section on marine plastic pollution – including ghost nets. These are indeed fishing nets which have been discarded or lost in the ocean by fishermen. They are often nearly invisible in the dim light and can be left tangled on a rocky reef or drifting in the open sea. These can trap fish which die, thus attracting scavengers which will also get entangled, thus creating an escalating problem. Lost fishing gear, or so called ‘ghost gear’, is now among the greatest killers in our oceans.
Fig 1. Ghost Nets ((Frances Gynn, 2019))
In this same exhibition I was particularly attracted to ‘Love Hurts’ by Fiona G. Roberts. This depicts 147 women who had been killed (murdered) by their partners during the 12 months of 2018. Their faces appear as pictograms in a horizontal bar graph for each of the 12 months. Thus one can see that 13 women were killed in January. The joint most number of women (16) were killed in the months of May and August. One can see that these women are of different ethnicities, colour, religion (i.e. one is wearing a muslim head-dress), one is wearing spectacles… So, the scientist in me wants to sub-categorise these to find out if one particular type of women falls victim in any particular month or season… . For me, this made a link with a current major BBC Radio 4 series called ‘The Art of Innovation’ which explores the overlaps between the sciences and the arts. As was said during one such episode, “Both science and art need imagination to move forward. As the sciences become more theoretical and conceptual, art explores scientific thinking in areas that exceeds the limits of what we can perceive”
Fig 2. Love Hurts (Fiona G. Roberts, 2019)