Old lives. Young love. A short story.

21 Mar

The essence of what appears below is true.

Gilbert Pickering was not an unhappy man, nor was he a happy one. Life since 1945 had been OK for him. But only OK. After the war he’d finished his PhD at Cambridge, a few years of dull research in the fifties and then chair of Applied Mathematics at Birmingham for so many bloody years until he retired in the mid 80s. A classic don’s life, conferences, papers, teaching and a couple of liaisons with post grad students he was supposed to be supervising. So now at 83 all he had was the lust of a 21 year old but the body of, well, an 83 year old.

The marriage too had been neither happy nor unhappy. Just OK. Celia was also an academic – Reader in Germanic Studies – and she too was in her early 80s now  Funny thing was, lust was the thing that occupied their first ten or so years together, but it had slowly petered out. No kids may have been a mistake so when it turned out they had nothing in common bar the sex, they were rather snookered. But as their generation was taught to do, they carried on regardless. “Christ”, thought Gilbert, too late to change now.

His halcyon days had been his early twenties – the only time he had really used his brain. Quite glamorous really being a Bletchley Park code breaker. He had so many memories of those days – the early Bombe code-busting machines, the Colossus machines – computers they were – bloody great computers. He had worked with Alan Turing in the famous hut three – worked next to the great Turing– what a fucking waste when he killed himself. Those days were something – comradeship, a bunch of huge brains all crammed together – the real pity is that he still couldn’t tell anyone else. He didn’t even know who was in the other huts just over the other side of the estate. Not even Celia knew about it – even though he had first met her in a pub in Bletchley.  She’d never guessed what he did.  Code breaking and sex. What more could a 21 year old intellectual want?


Celia wanted to talk – so as usual he smoked his pipe and listened. She wanted to tell him something.

Something, it turned out, about the war. About the 1940s.

“You were what?”

“I was a code breaker”, she replied, “I translated the German intercepts into English – I was 19 – an undergrad – they raided the universities to get the best brains. So they said. I was at Bletchley Park. But I’m not sure if I should have told you.”

His jaw dropped. “Which hut?” he asked.

“ Seven” she answered. “But wait a minute.”

“Yes I was there too. With Turing.”  Tears came to Gilbert’s eyes.

“God – secret for all these years.”  Tears too.

Gilbert got up and hugged her and kissed her. Really kissed her like he used to. Now he knew she was right for him – knew what they had in common. His mind told him to take her upstairs but he knew that hugs and kisses suited their years rather better.

But the real passion they shared was for the all the young lives they had helped to save. Young lives saved from the U Boats in the North Atlantic. Young lives saved from the Panzers in North Africa. Young lives as they once had. Young lives that were now old lives.

Old lives like Gilbert and Celia.

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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Uncategorized


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