Association of Open University Graduates

AOUG's Pearl Anniversary

The Observatory at the OU

The George Abell Observatory stands just after the security block at the entrance to the OU campus and has been passed by me many times. I have always wondered what it was like inside and at last I got the opportunity over the Pearl Anniversary Weekend Activities to see for myself. A group of members were taken around by Professor Andrew Norton and shown the inside of the building. This small Observatory houses the ‘Alan Cooper Telescope’ which looks very impressive however this same style model can be bought for home use, should you have the interest and of course, plenty of money. 

Andrew explained to us that the Observatory is not used very much, mainly due to the fact that Milton Keynes has too many cloudy days. It is jointly operated by the Department of Physical Sciences and the OU Astronomy Club who have night viewings shared between them each month. The availability of the Observatory allows the opportunity to help students to learn observing techniques. Students studying at a higher level can however also gain access to the telescope that is situated on Tenerife where the weather is much more favourable.

We were also shown a telescope that can be used to observe the sun. Andrew explained that one of the sheds opposite to the Observatory houses a lunar surface simulation and students can control lunar moon buggies by computer and observe rocks on the moon. Students can be encouraged in various observation techniques by staff changing some of the rocks placed on the surface.

Margaret Stobirski – Region 08

An Evening with the Executive Committee

The Pearl Anniversary Weekend incorporated the traditional Research Awards Ceremony and the Foundation Lecture which happen every year on the first Friday in October, but it also incorporated the Executive Committee meetings which normally take place late Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning. Thus there was an overlap of activities for non-committee members with the formal meetings necessary for the Executive Committee.

Therefore whilst the visitors toured the Observatory or explored the campus on the specially designed campus trail, the Executive Committee conducted their normal business. Then on Friday evening when the Executive Committee would normally have a meal together for a chance of a catch up, both groups came together to socialise. A very large table had been pre-booked in a local pub and so all were able to enjoy the general conversation in a relaxing manner.  

Farewell to Sandra

Once the Executive Committee meeting was over on the Saturday morning and the ‘drowned rats’ from the campus trail had had time to dry out, all joined together for a buffet lunch. Sandra Higgins, our Office Administrator, who had worked both on the Friday, supervising the tickets and the catering for the Awards Ceremony, and on the Saturday morning taking the Minutes at the Executive Committee meeting, joined us for lunch as usual. However this was to be the last time that the Executive Committee would officially see her, as Sandra was retiring the following week. Sandra has worked for AOUG since February 2016, originally with the aid of an Assistant, covering all membership work, as well as the project work. At that time we had a Bookkeeper just one day a week but then after both the Bookkeeper the Administrative Assistant left, the work load was re-addressed and membership moved over to Janet Presant-Collins, our new Financial Administrator and both worked four days making for equality and more balanced responsibilities and workload within the Office. Sandra has held the administration side of the work together through what have been quite challenging times and we wish her a much deserved, happy and healthy retirement.   

After the majority had finished their lunch, the Chairman called everyone together to say a few words of thanks to Sandra and to present her with flowers and a card signed by all the Executive Committee. Sandra then said a few words in response before the socialising continued. Then after a quick tidy away of the uneaten food, we said our personal goodbyes to Sandra and the group went down to the porch to wait for the coach which had mistakenly gone to the normal campus bus stop instead of collecting us from the Meacham Building entrance. Some hasty phone calls via the coach firm’s headquarters and the coach arrived saving the group from more of the torrential rain. 

Exploring the OU campus on a Campus Trail.

This was my fourth, or maybe fifth, opportunity over a number of years to walk around the OU campus. My first was as a curious, if somewhat startled, second year student, on an Open Day. Whilst this tour was probably the best informed, and therefore the most interesting, it was definitely the wettest. As rain dripped down our necks we set forth from the AOUG Office, admiring sustainably built buildings on our way to the seventeen permanent pieces of art set amongst the grasses and the herbaceous borders also grown for sustainability.

I cannot refer to all the art pieces as space does not permit, but they are all fascinating, some out in the open like two the contrasting pieces by Dominic Benhura. The first is Modern Misses, about nature and children, and then the less friendly Viper Sniper, both outside the Betty Boothroyd Library. Others are much larger as illustrated by Richard Harris’s ‘We walk our own path’. Curving path - like levels contrast with tall straight concrete posts, which I think would cast strong shadows had there been sunshine. We managed our first rescue of the day too, as a prospective Psychology Day Conference student struggled to find her way.

We couldn’t resist a brief exploration of the Betty Boothroyd Library. How nice to see copies of OMEGA on the low tables. Tearing ourselves away from the exhibition of the OU in the 1980’s, admiring ‘home experiment kits’, we set off again. Other art works are situated in small open areas between various academic buildings. I particularly liked the piece of Jurassic limestone 150 - 200.000.000 years old, set in flowers, yet carved with E= MC2, this on the way to the Alan Turing building. As the artist Scott Forrest suggests, it was intended to, “encapsulate an intellectual energy releasing from the unrefined mass”. I thought maybe it had a gentle sort of parallel with how you might feel when you start on OU degree - or maybe that’s just my imagination?

Similarly mathematical we saw John Jaworski’s C4 in S4, created for a 1989 television programme, tucked away, in a small courtyard. As we made our way towards the Venables Building there was a communal smile as more Jurassic rock had been  fashioned by Scott Forrest, more casually this time, re - thought as ‘Squishy  and Squashy. Better known for, ‘a contrast between extra hard material costs and soft concepts’!  Others made me laugh, like Graham Mills’ ‘This Land is Our Land’, about settlers who inhabit unlikely spaces. When I think of all the places I’ve studied in I wondered about another reference to OU study perhaps?

At one point we retired to the Berrill Building to ‘dry out’ rescuing another lost soul, not yet quite OU campus savvy, from being late for the lecture theatre session. We had been stood puzzling over Simon Patterson’s Gort, Klaatu Barada Niko from, ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’, a1951 sci fi. There were some intriguing buttons to press, but I remained disappointed. Perhaps the lights only work after it goes dark? There is however a splendid view of the Millennium Knot Garden from the upper staircase of the Berrill Building, thought of by Lady Daniel, wife of Vice-Chancellor Sir John Daniel. The OU logo is clear to see in the tightly clipped planted area.

 On our return we admired the now - carved cedar tree outside Walton Hall. The tree itself has been transformed into ‘Contemplation’. If you do wish to contemplate ‘learning in its simplest form’, try the accompanying bench called simply ‘The Bench’. In closing, if my account tempts you sufficiently, all pieces are fully accessible. Just let the Security Lodge know, when you arrive and leave.

 Then, as we did, you can visit the Mulberry Lawn with our AOUG tree, and the walled Legacy Garden with the Autumn leaves, and plaques of people who have made donations. It’s a lovely way to finish.

Carol-Ann Churm - Region 07.

Stoke Bruerne – a journey into the Blisworth Tunnel.

The Association’s last visit to Stoke Bruerne was at the time of the OU’s fortieth Anniversary and AOUG’s 21st Anniversary when we combined our AGM weekend with the OU’s Open Unlimited campus event. On that occasion we visited the canal in glorious sunshine for a short trip just to the entrance of the tunnel and back but this time we were to explore further by undertaking a full one hour and three quarters trip through the Blisworth Tunnel itself.

Our visit to Stoke Bruerne this time had an inauspicious start. It was pouring down and our coach initially waited at the wrong place on campus and was then unable to get in to the car park at Stoke Bruerne thanks to an inconsiderate motorist who parked on yellow hatch marks. Some members headed for the café prior to the boat trip but in spite of the rain, our group took a pleasant stroll down the towpath to the forge where we watched Owen, the blacksmith, create an elegant scroll. I think we were all amazed at what could be achieved with an unprepossessing lump of steel, a hammer and, of course, a very hot fire. We also admired other works in steel that Owen had created.   

Then we called at the Glass Works shop on the way back to catch the boat, where we saw some beautiful jewellery created with colourful stones. Re-joining with the members from the cafeteria, we boarded Charlie – the boat – and settled for the journey.

We chugged gently down the Grand Union Canal, through the Blisworth Tunnel. The young man, who was our guide, soon realised that we love to hear details when we are on a visit and gave us lots of information. The tunnel is one and three quarters of a mile long and was built to link the two halves of the Grand Union Canal. It was completed in time to allow the transport of war requirements manufactured in Birmingham to London. The tunnel was opened in 1805 at a time when hostilities were on-going with various European countries. It required eight million, two hundred and nine thousand, eight hundred and fifty two bricks in its construction, all produced locally. In the middle section, the bricks had later been replaced by pre-formed concrete sections which interlinked with each other and this construction had been used as a prototype for the building of the Channel tunnel. Small gaps had been deliberately left to allow small amounts of water from the surrounding ground above to seep through to prevent a build-up of external pressure on the structure. In some areas limestone deposits had found their way through the gaps and presented glistening white flows similar to those found in stalactites and occasionally streaks of brown iron ore were to be seen.

Although it appeared worryingly narrow, it is possible for two boats to pass each other, albeit very slowly and in the darkness of the tunnel an approaching boat gave an eerie light as it came slowly towards us. Several boats of differing sizes passed us, some privately owned and some holiday hire boats. We turned round in a canal basin, outside the far end of the tunnel beside an old warehouse that had, predictably, been turned into apartments.

We were the last excursion boat of the day and on the return journey, the tow path had become empty, the blacksmith had closed his forge and we passed nothing, as canals seem to go to bed overnight.

Lesley Sleigh – Region 07

The Pearls Shone at the Gala Dinner

All those attending the Gala Dinner for our Pearl Anniversary gathered in the well refurbished Ramada Hotel reception lounge and, in true AOUG tradition, started with a sparkling Buck Fizz. There is nothing that beats the fact that put two, three or more Open University graduates together, and there is something of interest to talk about. It does not matter what we studied or where we come from, we are already into a friendly conversation. There was ample time to catch up with friends from far and wide before moving into the dining room and seeing the beautifully decorated long table which had strings of pearls for decoration. We then got down to the serious business of inspecting the menu, selecting our wine and looking up and down the table, checking on the pearls.

I think that we ladies present had been out to charity shops, antique centres or even rummaging in old jewellery boxes at home, to find a pearl necklace to wear, one of the requirements to attend and didn’t we do well! Single, double or even triple strands of pearls were on display. Not to be out done, the gentlemen came up trumps with, pearl buttons, pearl cuff links and jackets decorated with a scattering of pearl beads.

It was then down to the serious business of food. The starter was crispy duck with orange salad followed by pork tenderloin with roasted apples and onions and all the trimmings and to round it off, the desert was Italian meringue with Summer fruits, piled high with double cream, all very well received. No celebration is complete without a special cake which was washed down with another Bucks Fizz and then party poppers, (will we ever grow up?) and a raffle. Appropriately, two of the prizes were porcelain figures of graduates holding their diploma and for some of us, that brought back memories of our special Open University day. The proceeds from the raffle will be donated to the AOUG Foundation for Education.

Speeches were not on the menu, this was very much a relaxed celebration of AOUG’s thirty years of support to The Open University, but, as was absolutely correct, a few words of congratulations were given to the Chairman for all the works she had put in to make this occasion a great success. Roll on the next celebration.

Patricia Cowling - Europe


Pearls symbolise ‘wisdom through experience’ (Bellatory 2014)

I thought the ingenuity demonstrated by AOUG members in following up our Chairman’s exhortation to wear something connected with pearls at the anniversary dinner was exemplary, although myself I chickened out from wearing my great grandmother’s three - strand necklace; and enjoyed a visit to the local ‘objet d’art shop’. Had we offered a prize for such ingenuity, my vote would have supported Robert’s contribution, who had taken great pains to create artistic patterns front and back with thirty pearl - headed pins inserted in his Highland dress jacket. How cool is that?

Whilst we are ‘talking pearls’, I have since discovered thirty meanings attached to pearls, so I thought I’d share them with all of you, given it is still our special year.

Pearls might have been-

  • Formed in a dragon’s head (Chinese)
  • Tears of a mythical creature (Japan)
  • A rainbow after a storm (Persia)
  • For burials (Egypt)
  • Drinking them (Cleopatra)
  • Tears of the gods (Greek)
  • Fell from the night into the sea (Hindi)
  • Eve cried a lake of pearls
  • Sacred Christian objects (Middle Ages)
  • A great reward (Quran)

Or you could -

  • connect with your ‘inner goddess’,
  • find your ‘matrix of life’,
  • strengthen your nerves,
  • find good will,
  • treat your digestion,
  • eye disorder,
  • skin problems,
  • uplift your feelings,
  • keep your children safe,
  • balance your karma,
  • experience generosity,
  • improve birth pains,
  • fertility,
  • chastity,
  • and modesty.

Or you could find -

  • calm,
  • or self - acceptance,
  • good luck,
  • integrity,
  • or finally ‘find your Chakra’!

I particularly like, ‘All Art is autobiographical’. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.

 Carol-Ann Churm. - Region 07.

Bletchley Park – a personal exploration.

As someone who loves puzzles of any kind, Bletchley Park has been on my ‘to do’ list for quite some time. So, a visit the day after the glorious gala dinner was something that I was looking forward to. A short coach ride from the hotel and we had arrived. A brief queue for tickets and we were told to keep our portion, it entitles you to return free of charge for a year.  I’d met this before. It means either that the site is enormous and it’s impossible to cover it all in a day, or the amount of information available is overwhelming and you can’t take it all in.  In this instance, the latter proved to be the reason.

The site is well laid out and accessible to all. They have lifts for wheelchairs in buildings of more than one storey and, of special delight to me, you do not have to be part of a guided tour, I much prefer to research first and go at my own pace to see those exhibits which interest me most. They can provide you with free audio guides, if you would like one. I started with the buildings relating to Alan Turing and was amazed that the people had worked in bungalows with low ceilings, no windows and machinery that gave off vast amounts of heat and noise. Everything is so well labelled that it is very easy to find all of the information pertaining to every exhibit without the need to refer to any sort of guide.

From there I went to the Mansion, via Hut 4 for a spot of lunch, it was where operations were directed and, apart from being a beautiful old house with a library that was used for relaxation, there is also a wealth of information on display about the many people who worked there. My next stop was to one of the two story buildings that house examples of the actual enigma machines. There I found out about the Japanese as well as the German machines, together with information about some of the double agents and our MI6 ones. I suddenly realised the time! I needed to rejoin the others in the visitor’s centre to catch the coach and I hadn’t seen even half of the exhibits! I’ll definitely need to return for another visit.

Liz Ashcroft – Region 03


The Tour and History of Bletchley Park

For me the most exciting part of the AOUG Pearl Anniversary Weekend was our coach trip to Bletchley Park. As usual through the attentiveness of the Weekend Organiser, Jean Hertzog, the trip proved to be comfortable and well planned. Reception and introductions facilitated those who required step-free access as well as the more able. Choices such as a guided tour and self-exploration through multimedia means were available at no extra cost.

For the guided tour we met in the Chauffeurs Hut where an introductory talk was given by a Forces Veteran who then took us on a one hour tour around the perimeter of the Park. Although at this stage we didn’t actually visit the different buildings the talk gave us a very good introduction to the history of the Park from its beginning in 1938 to the present day. The site was chosen for its accessibility to London, Cambridge and Oxford although situated in a quiet rural location. Early in the war its work centred on that of a small group of experts. During the ensuing years its work progressed to processing, collecting, codebreaking, evaluation and dissemination of the German forces Enigma setting which changed daily. This led to a massive increase in the volume and capacity required in the context of personnel and buildings.

Work began in the Mansion, which dates back to the late 1870s. It was bought in 1883 along with the surrounding estate by Sir Herbert Leon a wealthy stockbroker. It served as headquarters and a recreational base until expansion took place to the surrounding huts which were hastily built but still stand today. By early 1945 Bletchley Park had developed from a small community of specialist analysts to a vast and complex global signals intelligence unit with around ten thousand people working within its environment and its associated outstations. Our guide told us the story of Enigma and the ground-breaking work of Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman through the Bombe machine in breaking down the Enigma Code. By the end of 1940 the Germans began using the Lorenz machine which carried Hitler’s messages and those of the High Command and Field Marshalls. The Lorenz machine worked through radio transmission which took until mid-1942 to break down through mathematical analysis. By 1943 the Germans had introduced complications which made it virtually impossible to break Lorenz by existing means. This led to the development of an electrical digital information processing machine named Colossus which was the forerunner of the modern computer. In June 1944 it was used to ensure Hitler swallowed the deception plan prior to D-Day.

The guided tour took us to the end of the hut areas so following lunch in the Visitor’s Centre Café, we set out to explore the areas discussed from a visual and auditory perspective. In Block C we were taken through the different machines which were used for punching cards, sorting and collating information, varying in size from a typewriter to a piano. In Block B Museum we experienced the different cyphering machines including the world’s largest collection of Enigma machines and an exhibition on the breaking of the Lorenz cypher. It also housed various exhibitions relating to wartime including ‘The Life and Works of Alan Turing’. We returned to the huts for a more in-depth understanding of the wartime experience of life in Bletchley Park. In Hut 6 we learned about wartime conditions and the role of the men and women who worked there. The machine room was set up to work out the daily Enigma keys by hand where women tested possible key settings on the Bombe machine from information passed to them by Bombe operators. Hut 8 featured Alan Turing’s WW2 office recreated. Hut 11 and 9 tell the story of the Bombe breakthrough and the experience through the eyes of the people who worked there.

After the war with the departure of Government Communications in 1946 Bletchley Park became a training centre for various bodies including British Telecom until 1992, when a group of local historians founded the Bletchley Park Trust to preserve the site for the Nation. Development is still going on with view to opening buildings which have never been open to the Public before.

Mary Niblett – Nation 12.