Alan Turing: The Enigmaby Andrew Hodges
Alan Turing (1912-54) was a British mathematician who made history. His breaking of the German U-boat Enigma cipher in World War II ensured Allied-American control of the Atlantic. But Turing's vision went far beyond the desperate wartime struggle. Already in the 1930s he had defined the concept of the universal machine, which underpins the computer revolution. In… See more details below
Alan Turing (1912-54) was a British mathematician who made history. His breaking of the German U-boat Enigma cipher in World War II ensured Allied-American control of the Atlantic. But Turing's vision went far beyond the desperate wartime struggle. Already in the 1930s he had defined the concept of the universal machine, which underpins the computer revolution. In 1945 he was a pioneer of electronic computer design. But Turing's true goal was the scientific understanding of the mind, brought out in the drama and wit of the famous "Turing test" for machine intelligence and in his prophecy for the twenty-first century.
Drawn in to the cockpit of world events and the forefront of technological innovation, Alan Turing was also an innocent and unpretentious gay man trying to live in a society that criminalized him. In 1952 he revealed his homosexuality and was forced to participate in a humiliating treatment program, and was ever after regarded as a security risk. His suicide in 1954 remains one of the many enigmas in an astonishing life story.
• "On the face of it, a richly detailed 500-page biography of a mathematical genius and analysis of his ideas, might seem a daunting proposition. But fellow mathematician and author Hodges has acutely clear and often extremely moving insight into the humanity behind the leaping genius that helped to crack the Germans' Enigma codes during World War II and bring about the dawn of the computer age..." Wall Street Journal
- Publication date:
Read an Excerpt
Esprit de Corps
Beginning my studies the first step pleas'd me so much,
The mere fact consciousness, these forms, the power of motion,
The least insect or animal, the senses, eyesight, love,
The first step I say awed me and pleas'd me so much,
I have hardly gone and hardly wish'd to go any farther,
But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs.
A son of the British Empire, Alan Turing's social origins lay just on the borderline between the landed gentry and the commercial classes. As merchants, soldiers and clergymen, his ancestors had been gentlemen, but not of the settled kind. Many of them had made their way through the expansion of British interests throughout the world.
The Turings could be traced back to Turins of Foveran, Aberdeenshire, in the fourteenth century. There was a baronetcy in the family, created in about 1638 for a John Turing, who left Scotland for England. Audentes Fortuna Juvat (Fortune Helps the Daring) was the motto of the Turings, but however brave, they were never very lucky. Sir John Turing backed the losing side in the English civil war, while Foveran was sacked by the Covenanters. Denied compensation after the Restoration, the Turings languished in obscurity during the eighteenth century, as the family history, the Lay of the Turings, was to describe:
Walter, and James and John have known,
Not the vain honours of a crown,
But calm and peaceful life
Life, brightened by the hallowing store
Derived from pure religion's lore!
And thus their quiet days passed by;
And Foveran's honours dormant lie,
Till good Sir Robert pleads his claim
To give once more the line to fame:
Banff's castled towers ring loud and high
To kindly hospitality
And thronging friends around his board
Rejoice in TURING's line restored!
Sir Robert Turing brought back a fortune from India in 1792 and revived the title. But he, and all the senior branches of the family, died off without male heirs, and by 1911 there were but three small clusters of Turings in the world. The baronetcy was held by the 84-year-old eighth baronet, who had been British Consul in Rotterdam. Then there was his brother, and his descendants, who formed a Dutch branch of Turings. The junior branch consisted of the descendants of their cousin, John Robert Turing, who was Alan's grandfather.
John Robert Turing took a degree in mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1848, and was placed eleventh in rank, but abandoned mathematics for ordination and a Cambridge curacy. In 1861 he married nineteen year old Fanny Boyd and left Cambridge for a living in Nottinghamshire, where he fathered ten children. Two died in infancy and the surviving four girls and four boys were brought up in a regime of respectable poverty on a clerical stipend. Soon after the birth of his youngest son, John Robert suffered a stroke and resigned his living. He died in 1883.
As his widow was an invalid, the care of the family fell upon the eldest sister Jean, who ruled with a rod of iron. The family had moved to Bedford to take advantage of its grammar school, where the two elder boys were educated. Jean started her own school, and two of the other sisters went out as schoolteachers, and generally sacrificed themselves for the sake of advancing the boys. The eldest son, Arthur, was another Turing whom fortune did not help: he was commissioned in the Indian Army, but was ambushed and killed on the North-West Frontier in 1899. The third son Harvey emigrated to Canada, and took up engineering, though he was to return for the First World War and then turn to genteel journalism, becoming editor of the Salmon and Trout Magazine and fishing editor of The Field. The fourth son Alick became a solicitor. Of the daughters only Jean was to marry: her husband was Sir Herbert Trustram Eve, a Bedford estate agent who became the foremost rating surveyor of his day. The formidable Lady Eve, Alan's Aunt Jean, became a moving spirit of the London County Council Parks Committee. Of the three unmarried aunts, kindly Sybil became a Deaconess and took the Gospel to the obstinate subjects of the Raj. And true to this Victorian story, Alan's grandmother Fanny Turing succumbed to consumption in 1902.
Julius Mathison Turing, Alan's father, was the second son, born on 9 November 1873. Devoid of his father's mathematical ability, he was an able student of literature and history, and won a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, from where he graduated with a BA in 1894. He never forgot his early life of enforced economy, and typically never paid the `farcical' three guineas to convert the BA into an MA. But he never spoke of the miseries of his childhood, too proud to moan of what he had left behind and risen above, for his life as a young man was a model of success. He entered for the Indian Civil Service, which had been thrown open to entry by competitive examination in the great liberal reform of 1853, and which enjoyed a reputation surpassing even that of the Foreign Office. He was placed seventh out of 154 in the open examination of August 1895. His studies of the various branches of Indian law, the Tamil language and the history of British India then won him seventh place again in the Final ICS examination of 1896.
He was posted to the administration of the Presidency of Madras, which included most of southern India, reporting for duty on 7 December 1896, the senior in rank of seven new recruits to that province. British India had changed since Sir Robert left it in 1792. Fortune no longer helped the daring; fortune awaited the civil servant who could endure the climate for forty years. And while (as a contemporary writer put it) the district officer was `glad of every opportunity to cultivate intercourse with the natives,' the Victorian reforms had ensured that `the doubtful alliances which in old days assisted our countrymen to learn the languages' were `no longer tolerated by morality and society.' The Empire had become respectable.
With the help of a £100 loan from a family friend he bought his pony and saddlery, and was sent off into the interior. For ten years he served in the districts of Bellary, Kurnool and Vizigapatam as Assistant Collector and Magistrate. There he rode from village to village, reporting upon agriculture, sanitation, irrigation, vaccination, auditing accounts, and overseeing the native magistracy. He added the Telugu language to his repertoire, and became Head Assistant Collector in 1906. In April 1907 he made a first return to England. It was the traditional point for the rising man, after a decade of lonely labour, to seek a wife. It was on the voyage home that he met Ethel Stoney.
Alan's mother was also the product of generations of empire-builders, being descended from a Yorkshireman, Thomas Stoney (1675-1726) who as a young man acquired lands in England's oldest colony after the 1688 revolution, and who became one of the Protestant landowners of Catholic Ireland. His estates in Tipperary passed down to his great-great-grandson Thomas George Stoney (1808-1886), who had five sons, the eldest inheriting the lands and the rest dispersing to various parts of the expanding empire. The third son was a hydraulic engineer, who designed sluices for the Thames, the Manchester Ship Canal and the Nile; the fifth emigrated to New Zealand, and the fourth, Edward Waller Stoney (1844-1931), Alan's maternal grandfather, went to India as an engineer. There he amassed a considerable fortune, becoming chief engineer of the Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway, responsible for the construction of the Tangabudra bridge, and the invention of Stoney's Patent Silent Punkah-Wheel.
A hard-headed, grumpy man, Edward Stoney married Sarah Crawford from another Anglo-Irish family, and they had two sons and two daughters. Of these, Richard followed his father as an engineer in India, Edward Crawford was a Major in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and Evelyn married an Anglo-Irish Major Kirwan of the Indian Army. Alan's mother, Ethel Sara Stoney, was born at Podanur, Madras, on 18 November 1881.
Although the Stoney family did not lack for funds, her early life was as grim as that of Julius Turing. All four Stoney children were sent back to Ireland to be educated. It was a pattern familiar to British India, whose children's loveless lives were part of the price of the Empire. They were landed upon their uncle William Crawford, a bank manager of County Clare, with two children of his own by a first marriage and four by a second. It was not a place for affection or attention. The Crawfords moved to Dublin in 1891, where Ethel dutifully went to school each day on the horse-bus, crushed by a regimen that permitted her a mean threepence for lunch. At seventeen, she was transferred to Cheltenham Ladies College, `to get rid of her brogue,' and there she endured the legendary Miss Beale and Miss Buss, and the indignity of being the Irish product of the railway and the bank among the offspring of the English gentry. There remained a flickering dream of culture and freedom in Ethel Stoney's heart and for six months she was sent, at her own request, to study music and art at the Sorbonne. The brief experiment was vitiated by the discovery that French snobbery and Grundyism could equal that of the British Isles. So when in 1900 she returned with her elder sister Evie to her parents' grand bungalow in Coonoor, it was to an India which represented an end to petty privation, but left her knowing that there was a world of knowledge from which she had been forever excluded.
For seven years, Ethel and Evie led the life of young ladies of Coonoor driving out in carriages to leave visiting cards, painting in water-colours, appearing in amateur theatricals and attending formal dinners and balls in the lavish and stifling manner of the day. Once her father took the family on holiday to Kashmir, where Ethel fell in love with a missionary doctor, and he with her. But the match was forbidden, for the missionary had no money. Duty triumphed over love, and she remained in the marriage market. And thus the scene was set, in the spring of 1907, for the meeting of Julius Turing and Ethel Stoney on board the homebound ship.
They had taken the Pacific route, and the romance was under way before they reached Japan. Here Julius took her out to dinner and wickedly instructed the Japanese waiter to `bring beer and keep on bringing beer until I tell you to stop.' Though an abstemious man, he knew when to live it up. He made a formal proposal to Edward Stoney for Ethel's hand, and this time, he being a proud, impressive young man in the `heaven-born' ICS, it was successful. The beer story, however, did not impress his future father-in-law, who lectured Ethel upon the prospect of life with a reckless drunkard. Together they crossed the Pacific and the United States, where they spent some time in the Yellowstone National Park, shocked by the familiarity of the young American guide. The wedding took place on 1 October 1907 in Dublin. (There remained a certain edge to the relationship between Mr Turing and the commercial Mr Stoney, with an argument over who was to pay for the wedding carpet rankling for years.) In January 1908 they returned to India, and their first child John was born on 1 September at the Stoney bungalow at Coonoor. Mr Turing's postings then took them on long travels around Madras: to Parvatipuram, Vizigapatam, Anantapur, Bezwada, Chicacole, Kurnool and Chatrapur, where they arrived in March 1911.
It was at Chatrapur, in the autumn of 1911, that their second son, the future Alan Turing, was conceived. At this obscure imperial station, a port on the eastern coast, the first cells divided, broke their symmetry, and separated head from heart. But he was not to be born in British India. His father arranged his second period of leave in 1912, and the Turings sailed en famille for England.
This passage from India was a journey into a world of crisis. Strikes, suffragettes, and near civil war in Ireland had changed political Britain. The National Insurance Act, the Official Secrets Act, and what Churchill called `the gigantic fleets and armies which impress and oppress the civilisation of our time,' all marked the death of Victorian certainties and the extended role of the state. The substance of Christian doctrine had long evaporated, and the authority of science held greater sway. Yet even science was feeling a new uncertainty. And new technology, enormously expanding the means of expression and communication, had opened up what Whitman had eulogised as the Years of the Modern, in which no one knew what might happen next whether a `divine general war' or a `tremendous issuing forth against the idea of caste'.
But this conception of the modern world was not shared by the Turings, who were no dreamers of the World-City. Well insulated from the twentieth century, and unfamiliar even with modern Britain, they were content to make the best of what the nineteenth had offered them. Their second son, launched into an age of conflicts with which he would become helplessly entangled, was likewise to be sheltered for twenty years from the consequences of the world crisis.
He was born on 23 June 1912 in a nursing home in Paddington, and was baptised Alan Mathison Turing on 7 July. His father extended his leave until March 1913, the family spending the winter in Italy. He then returned to take up a new posting, but Mrs Turing stayed on with the two boys, Alan a babe in arms and John now four, until September 1913. Then she too departed. Mr Turing had decided that his sons were to stay in England, so as not to risk their delicate health in the heat of Madras. So Alan never saw the kind Indian servants, nor the bright colours of the East. It was in the bracing sea winds of the English Channel that his childhood was to be spent, in an exile from exile.
Mr Turing had farmed out his sons with a retired Army couple, Colonel and Mrs Ward. They lived at St Leonards-on-Sea, the seaside town adjoining Hastings, in a large house called Baston Lodge just above the sea front. Across the road was the house of Sir Rider Haggard, the author of King Solomon's Mines, and once, when Alan was older and dawdling along the gutter in his usual way, he found a diamond and sapphire ring belonging to Lady Haggard, who rewarded him with two shillings.
The Wards were not the sort of people who dropped diamond rings in the street. Colonel Ward, ultimately kindly, was remote and gruff as God the Father. Mrs Ward believed in bringing up boys to be real men. Yet there was a twinkle in her eye and both boys became fond of `Grannie'. In between lay Nanny Thompson, who ruled the nursery which was the boys' proper place, and the governess of the schoolroom. There were other children in the house, for the Wards had no fewer than four daughters of their own, as well as another boy boarder. Later they also took in the Turing boys' cousins, the three children of Major Kirwan. Alan was very fond of the Wards' second daughter Hazel, but hated the youngest Joan, who was intermediate in age between him and John.
Both Turing boys disappointed Mrs Ward, for they scorned fighting and toy weapons, even model Dreadnoughts. Indeed, Mrs Ward wrote to Mrs Turing complaining that John was a bookworm, and Mrs Turing loyally wrote to John chiding him. Walks on the windswept promenade, picnics on the stony beach, games at children's parties, and tea before a roaring fire in the nursery were the most that the Ward environment had to offer in the way of stimulation.
This was not home, but it had to do. The parents came to England as often as they could, but even when they did, that was not home either. When Mrs Turing returned in spring 1915, she took the boys into furnished and serviced rooms in St Leonards gloomy places decorated by samplers embroidered with the more sacrificial kind of hymn. By this time Alan could talk, and proved himself the kind of little boy who could attract the attention of strangers with precocious, rather penetratingly high-pitched comments, but also a naughty and wilful one, in whom winning ways could rapidly give way to tantrums when he was thwarted. Experiment, as with planting his broken toy sailors in the ground, hoping they would grow afresh, was easily confused with naughtiness. Alan was slow to learn that indistinct line that separated initiative from disobedience and resisted the duties of his childhood. Late, untidy and cheeky, he had constant battles with his mother, Nanny and Mrs Ward.
Mrs Turing returned to India in the autumn of 1915, saying to Alan, `You'll be a good boy, won't you?', to which Alan replied `Yes, but sometimes I shall forget!' But this separation was only for six months, for in March 1916 Sahib and Memsahib together braved the U-boats, wearing lifebelts all the way from Suez to Southampton. Mr Turing took his family for a holiday in the Western Highlands, where they stayed in an hotel at Kimelfort, and John was introduced to trout fishing. At the end of his leave, in August 1916, they decided not to risk travelling together again, but instead to separate for the next three-year period. Alan's father returned to India, and his mother resumed a double exile at St Leonards.
The Great War had remarkably little direct impact on the Turing family. The year 1917, with the mechanised slaughter, the U-boat siege, the air raids, the appearance of America and the Russian revolution, set up the pattern which was to be the newborn generation's inheritance. But it had no private meaning except in keeping Mrs Turing in England. John was packed off to a preparatory school called Hazelhurst near Tunbridge Wells in Kent in May of that year, and thereafter Mrs Turing had only Alan about her. Church-going was one of her favourite pastimes, and in St Leonards she adopted a certain very high Anglican church, where Alan was dragged every Sunday for the communion service. He did not like the incense, and called it `the church with the bad smells'. Mrs Turing also pressed on with her water-colours, for which she enjoyed a definite talent. She took Alan out on her sketching parties where, with big eyes and sailor hat, and with quaint expressions of his own like `quockling' for the screech of seagulls, he delighted the lady art students.
Alan taught himself to read in about three weeks from a book called Reading without Tears. He was quicker, however, to recognise figures, and had an infuriating habit of stopping at every lamp post to identify its serial number. He was one of those many people without a natural sense of left and right, and he made a little red spot on his left thumb, which he called `the knowing spot'.
He would say that he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up an ambition that would have been agreeable to the Turings, for his father would approve of the fees, and his mother of the distinguished clients and the practice of good works. But he could not learn to be a doctor on his own. It was time for some education. And so in the summer of 1918 Mrs Turing sent him to a private day school called St Michael's, to learn Latin.
George Orwell, who was born nine years earlier but likewise to an ICS father, described himself as from `what you might describe as the lower-upper-middle-class.' Before the war, he wrote:
you were either a gentleman or not a gentleman, and if you were a gentleman you struggled to behave as such, whatever your income might be.... Probably the distinguishing mark of the upper-middle class was that its traditions were not to any extent commercial, but mainly military, official, and professional. People in this class owned no land, but they felt that they were landowners in the sight of God and kept up a semi-aristocratic outlook by going into the professions and the fighting services rather than into trade. Small boys used to count the plum stones on their plates and foretell their destiny by chanting `Army, Navy, Church, Medicine, Law'.
The Turings were in this position. There was nothing grand about the life of their sons, except perhaps on the few Scottish holidays. Their luxuries were the cinema, the ice rink, and watching the stunt-man dive off the pier on a bicycle. But in the Ward establishment there was an incessant washing away of sins, washing away of smells, to distinguish them from the other children of the town. `I was very young, not much more than six,' recalled Orwell, `when I first became aware of class-distinctions. Before that age my chief heroes had generally been working-class people, because they always seemed to do such interesting things, such as being fishermen and blacksmiths and bricklayers.... But it was not long before I was forbidden to play with the plumber's children; they were "common" and I was told to keep away from them. This was snobbish, if you like, but it was also necessary, for middle-class people cannot afford to let their children grow up with vulgar accents.'
The Turings could afford very little, since even in the well paid ICS it was always necessary to save for the future. What they had to afford could be summed up in two words: public school. In this respect the war, the inflation, the talk of revolution changed nothing. The Turing boys had to go to public schools, and everything had to be subordinated to this demand. Never, indeed, would Mr Turing allow his sons to forget the debt they owed him for a public school education. Alan's duty was to go through with the system without causing trouble, and in particular to learn Latin, which was required for entrance to a public school.
So as Germany collapsed, and the bitter armistice began, Alan was set to work on copy-books and Latin primers. He later told a joke against his own first exercise, in which he translated `the table' as omit mensa because of the cryptic footnote `omit' attached to the word `the'. He was not interested in Latin, and for that matter he had great difficulty in writing. His brain seemed barely coordinated with his hand. A whole decade of fighting with scratchy nibs and leaking fountain-pens was to begin, in which nothing he wrote was free from crossings-out, blots, and irregular script which veered from stilted to depraved.
But at this stage he was still the bright, jolly little boy. On Christmas visits to the Trustram Eves in Earls Court, his uncle Bertie liked making Alan the butt of his practical jokes because of his innocent giggly humour. These occasions were more of a trial for John, who was now considered to be responsible for his younger brother's appearance and behaviour a responsibility that no human being would ever lightly shoulder. To make matters worse, as John saw it,
he was dressed in sailor suits, according to the convention of the day (they suited him well); I know nothing in the whole range of the cussedness of inanimate objects to compete with a sailor suit. Out of the boxes there erupted collars and ties and neckerchiefs and cummerbunds and oblong pieces of flannel with lengthy tapes attached; but how one put these pieces together, and in what order, was beyond the wit of man. Not that my brother cared a button an apt phrase, many seemed to be off for it was all the same thing to him which shoe was on which foot or that it was only three minutes to the fatal breakfast gong. Somehow or another I managed by skimping such trumpery details as Alan's teeth, ears, etc., but I was exhausted by these nursery attentions and it was only when we were taken off to the pantomime that I was able to forget my fraternal cares. Even then Alan was quite a nuisance, complaining loudly of the scene of green dragons and other monsters in `Where the Rainbow Ends'....
The Christmas pantomime was the high spot of the year, although Alan himself later recalled of Christmas `that as a small child I was quite unable to predict when it would fall, I didn't even realise that it came at regular intervals.' Back at dreary Baston Lodge, his head was buried in maps. He asked for an atlas as a birthday present and pored over it by the hour. He also liked recipes and formulae, and wrote down the ingredients for a dock-leaf concoction for the cure of nettle-stings. The only books he had were little nature-study notebooks, supplemented by his mother reading The Pilgrim's Progress aloud. Once she cheated by leaving out a long theological dissertation, but that made him very cross. `You spoil the whole thing,' he shouted, and ran up to his bedroom. Perhaps he was responding to the uncompromising note of Bunyan's plain-speaking Englishman. But once the rules were agreed then they must be followed to the bitter end, without bending or cheating. His Nanny found the same when playing with him:
The thing that stands out most in my mind was his integrity and his intelligence for a child so young as he then was, also you couldn't camouflage anything from him. I remember one day Alan and I playing together. I played so that he should win, but he spotted it. There was commotion for a few minutes....
In February 1919, Mr Turing returned after three years' separation. It was not easy for him to re-establish his authority with Alan, who had a good line in answering back. He told Alan once to untwist his boot-tongues. `They should be flat as a pancake,' he said. `Pancakes are generally rolled up,' piped back Alan. If Alan had an opinion, he said that he knew, or that he always knew; he always knew that the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden was not an apple but a plum. In the summer, Mr Turing took them for a holiday at Ullapool, in the far north-west of Scotland, this time a distinctly posh holiday, complete with gillie. While Mr Turing and John lured the trout, and Mrs Turing sketched the loch, Alan gambolled in the heather. He had the bright idea of gathering the wild bees' honey for their picnic tea. As the bees buzzed past, he observed their flight-paths and by plotting the intersection point located the nest. The Turings were vividly impressed by this direction-finding, more than by the murky honey he retrieved.
But that December his parents steamed away and Alan was left again with the Wards, while John returned to Hazelhurst. Their father was transferred at last to the metropolis of Madras to serve in the Revenue Department, but Alan stagnated in the deathly ennui of St Leonards-on-Sea, concocting recipes. His development was so held back that he had not even learnt how to do long division by the time of his mother's return in 1921, when he was nearly nine.
His mother perceived him as changed from `extremely vivacious even mercurial making friends with everyone' to being `unsociable and dreamy'. There was a wistful, withdrawn expression in photographs of his ten-year-old face. She took him away from St Leonards and, after a summer holiday in Brittany, somewhat spoilt by the constant counting of francs, she taught him herself in London, where he alarmed her by looking for iron filings in the gutter with a magnet. Mr Turing, who in May 1921 had again been promoted to be Secretary to the Madras Government Development Department, responsible for agriculture and commerce throughout the Presidency, returned once more in December and they all went to St Moritz, where Alan learnt to ski.
Miss Taylor, the headmistress of St Michael's, had said that Alan `had genius', but this diagnosis was not allowed to modify the programme. In the new year of 1922, Alan was launched on the next stage of the process and was sent off to Hazelhurst like his brother.
Hazelhurst was a small establishment of thirty-six boys of ages from nine to thirteen, run by the headmaster Mr Darlington, a Mr Blenkins who taught mathematics, Miss Gillett who taught drawing and music of a Moodey and Sankey variety, and the Matron. John had loved his time there, and now in his last term was head boy. His younger brother proved to be a thorn in the flesh, for Alan found the Hazelhurst regime a distraction. It `deprived him of his usual occupations,' as his mother saw it. Now that the whole day was organised into classes, games and meal-times, he had but odd minutes in which to indulge his interests. He arrived with a craze for paper-folding, and when he had shown the other boys what to do, John found himself confronted everywhere with paper frogs and paper boats. Another humiliation followed when Alan's passion for maps was discovered by Mr Darlington. This inspired him to set a geography test to the whole school, in which Alan came sixth, beating his brother, who found geography very boring. On another occasion Alan sat in the back row at a school concert, choking himself with laughter while John sang Land of Hope and Glory as a solo.
John left Hazelhurst at Easter for Marlborough, his public school. In the summer, Mr Turing again took the family to Scotland, this time to Lochinver. Alan exercised his knowledge of maps on the mountain paths, and they fished in the loch, Alan now competing with John. The brothers had a good line in non-violent rivalry, as for instance when they played a game to alleviate the awfulness of their grandfather Stoney's visits. This depended upon winning points by leading him on, or heading him away from one of his well-rehearsed club bore stories. And at Lochinver Alan defeated his family in what Mrs Turing considered the rather vulgar after-dinner sport of throwing discarded gooseberry skins as far as possible. Cleverly inflating them, he made them soar over the hedge.
Life when off duty, in this early afternoon of the Empire, could be very agreeable. But in September his parents saw Alan back to Hazelhurst, and as they drove away in their taxi, Alan rushed back along the school drive with arms flung wide in pursuit. They had to bite their lips and sail away to Madras. Alan continued to maintain his detached view of the Hazelhurst regime. He gained average marks in class, and in turn held an unflattering view of the instruction. Mr Blenkins initiated his class into elementary algebra, and Alan reported to John, `He gave a quite false impression of what is meant by x.'
Although he enjoyed the feeble little plays and debates, he hated and feared the gym class and the afternoon games. The boys played hockey in winter, and Alan later claimed that it was the necessity of avoiding the ball that had taught him to run fast. He did enjoy being linesman, judging precisely where the ball had crossed the line. In an end-of-term sing-song, the following couplet described him:
Turing's fond of the football field
For geometric problems the touch-lines yield
Meet the Author
ANDREW HODGES was born in suburban London in 1949. Since 1972 he has been working on the theory of twistors the new approach to the problems of fundamental physics pioneered by the mathematician Roger Penrose. His interest in the mysterious figure of Alan Turing developed partly from his mathematical background, but also from his participation in the gay liberation movement of the 1970s. In 1977 he decided only a full-length biography of Turing could do justice to the issues involved, and this, his first full-length book, appeared in 1983. He has since returned to mathematics and is a Research Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford University.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >