A walk in a Manchester Park on a Sunday morning …
Tucked away between Manchester Piccadilly and Oxford Road train stations is a quiet – but very touching – memorial to Alan Turing. In Sackville Park (or Sackville Gardens, depending on which map you consult), a figure sits, holding an apple, on a bench. Both are cast in bronze. The relief reads, ‘Alan Mathison Turing 1912-1954′ along with an ENIGMA-style coding of, ‘Founder of Computer Science’. At the figure’s feet, a further inscription reads, ‘Father of computer science, mathematician, logician, wartime codebreaker, victim of prejudice … Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture’, the second part being a quotation from Bertrand Russell.
The information board nearby describes Turing’s life an works under the headings of
- The Memorial
- Father of Computer Science
- Cracking the Enigma Code
- After the War
- Final Years
- The Apology
It’s a good overview but there’s so much more that can and should be said!
The apple, of course, is both symbolic of the tree of knowledge and the means by which Turing apparently committed suicide. The park was chosen as the best place because, “It’s got the university science buildings … on one side and … all the gay bars on the other side, where apparently he spent most of his evenings”
Turing’s memorial is close to the centre of the park. At the end, nearer to ‘The Village’ on Canal Street, stands the ‘Beacon of Hope’, the UK’s only fixed memorial to those living with, or already lost to, HIV/AIDS. Both are frequently adorned with flowers, photographs and candles.
If you’re ever in the area, go along. It’s a heart-breaking reminder – on many levels – of how we often only value things of beauty when they’re gone.
But finishing on a lighter note, it’s just a small shame that the Turing memorial sculptor couldn’t get the ENIGMA coding example quite right! Both the original text, ‘Founder of Computer Science’, and the supposed coding, ‘IEKYF RQMSI ADXUO KVKZC GUBJ’, have a letter ‘U’ in the 14th position and a proper ENIGMA machine wouldn’t have allowed that. Turing would have enjoyed pointing this out!