In the August Edition of the Newsletter:
If I hadn't learned how to do dry stone walling, I would probably not have met the chap who saved my Mum's and Dad's lives back in 1988.
Dry stone walling is a fairly necessary skill on the Westmorland fells, and lots of other northern fells. Either that or a lot of patience and money. If you can't fettle up (technical term) the walls yourself, you have to join a long waiting list for a professional waller to do the job for you, and then pay him or her lots of money. No, I'm not being boringly politically correct. Lots of girls do dry stone walling. I was taught by two girls called Jo and Tracey. And I'm a girl.
When I was given custody of the ancestral home on the Westmorland fells, I became custodian of about half a mile of dry stone wall. Maintaining dry stone walls is a bit like spinning plates. As soon as you get one bit back up, another bit falls down. I fairly quickly worked out that, in the absence of lots of patience and money, I would have to learn to fettle up the walls myself.
So, I went on a weekend course on Otley Chevin, and Jo and Tracey taught me the basic skills. If you should happen to make a study of dry stone walls, you will notice that there are regional variations in style. Fortunately, I had noticed this, otherwise I would have been in the embarrassing position of building Yorkshire Dales walls in Westmorland and showing myself up as some sort of dodgy immigrant.
So, from time to time, my weekend is spent rebuilding the latest chunk of collapsed wall. The last two sections I have rebuilt (well, the only two, actually) have been along the wall that borders the lane. I've always considered this a very quiet little lane, with very few people passing along it, but when everybody who goes along the lane stops and talks to you, a surprising amount of time gets taken up with congenial chat.
When we've meandered our way through the usual pleasantries, everybody wants to give me the benefit of their wall building advice. I guess they (not unreasonably) assume I have no idea what I'm doing. Then, eventually, they tell me they've got work to do, (apparently, I haven't), and off they go. And before long somebody else stops by.
So, one day, this chap stops by and asks me how long I've been associated with the property. Nearly sixty years, I told him. He told me he is an ambulance man, (no, he didn't say paramedic, he said ambulance man), and asked me if I knew who the couple were that he rescued many years ago. That was probably my Mum and Dad, I told him, with carbon monoxide poisoning. (The stove and chimney that they'd had for several decades, suddenly decided to turn toxic). He said it had been quite a job trying to work out what was wrong with them.
He asked me if they'd recovered OK, and I assured him that they had, and that Mum is still alive and 92 years old. That impressed him. I didn't tell him that Dad died two years later, probably hastened on his way by the effects of the carbon monoxide poisoning. Well, that would have seemed a bit ungrateful when he was kind enough to stop by and ask after them, all these years later. And if I hadn't been rebuilding the wall along the lane, he probably would never have stopped by at all. So at least I got to thank him.
Look forward to seeing you.
I'm Chenda Appleyard
Spy Interview - Final Part
This was to be the first time we all met as a group and realised that we had all previously met on the selection day, had all worn the same coloured bands and had all secretly suspected the others of being "plants" within the group. Such was the closeness of the bond we shared, and a testament to the intelligence services rigorous and effective selection process and understanding of the psychology of our group that we all felt we had known each other for some time, so alike were we.
One of the exercises that was cleared by Control at Whitehall (The Intelligence services insisted on executive editing permissions and in some cases, due to the rapidly changing face of UK security following several terror attacks, some material was edited out 3 hours before broadcast, due to operational sensitivity) involved following a target around Brixton market in London. We were transported to a car-park in the area, fitted and tested for our covert radios, before being given a photograph of our target and an approximate location. We were to work in teams of four, using the surveillance skills we had previously been taught. This also involved elements of some obscure but highly relevant and very interesting insights into human psychology.
People do indeed have an innate sense that they are being watched, something to beware of when carrying out foot surveillance. One good way to check if you are being followed is to suddenly stop and turn as though something in a shop window has grabbed your attention. Look behind you to see if anyone has mimicked this movement. It is a common problem for following teams of operators that we can give away our presence by "following" a person's body language as well as their journey.
We managed to successfully locate and follow our target without detection, working closely together as a team, regularly updating each other over the closed network as we trailed our target for over half an hour frequently rotating position to allow the team to maintain visual contact with the target but without having the same person visible to them, something that may arouse their suspicions, particularly when following a foreign agent who may carrying out counter surveillance on their way to an agent meet.
We were aware of the covert cameras and ever-present camera drones recording our every move yet remained focussed on our task, not wanting to let down our trainers. One successfully completed operation later and a positive debrief, with the usual constructive criticism from our MI5 and MI6 trainers and we prepared for our next task, to carry out Brush contacts with an agent, in a busy railway station, in the middle of London. Intelligence Officers (IO's) in the UK and abroad UK are responsible, amongst other things, for running teams of "agents" or informers who are usually recruited due to their position in key roles to provide information. These people may be motivated by political or ideological reasons to offer to work for UK intelligence or may be approached by Intelligence officers with a view to recruiting them. Because of the sensitive nature of the agents work it is not always possible to have a normal, safe meeting with them.
For example, the IO may be collecting intelligence or "Product" as it is also known as, in a foreign country who may be hostile to the UK so a technique known as a brush contact could be considered when setting up a "meet" with an agent to allow the physical exchange of a small item, that may be a USB stick containing photographs of documents or other data for example. Surveillance and counter surveillance methods are key parts of Tradecraft, the impressive toolbox of persons operating to gather intelligence. Counter surveillance methods involve use of techniques to detect if you are being followed, Anti-surveillance involves techniques to use when you are being followed but still wish to carry out your activity without detection.
Sadly, most of the training we received didn't gain permission for broadcast. We did however show a brief segment involving a brush contact inside King Cross station, where an IO approaches their agent, exchange signs to indicate they do not believe they were followed, for example a pre- arranged signal may involve carrying a newspaper under the left arm if the meet is safe to go ahead, the agent would respond with their own safe signal, prearranged and unique to every individual meeting. If either IO or agent gave the "abort" signal, the meet was immediately abandoned, and a prearranged point would be utilised, such as a dead letter box, in order to exchange the information without direct contact, and at a later date.
Our trainers emphasised the importance the Intelligence services placed on safety and wellbeing of their IO's and agents. Several brush contacts were carried out right in full view of the public, at rush hour times, while being filmed covertly. Nobody spotted it, a testament to the high quality of training we received.
Throughout the filmed element of our course we had the obligatory "elimination" element of the show to build a little bit of tension and engage the viewer, who seems to expect this kind of nonsense. It was annoying for us as it disrupted the final part of our training and continually interrupted the efforts of our trainers as teams needed restructuring as members left due to personal reasons or were "eliminated". For us, it gave the impressions of the exercise being reduced to a low brow game show, with an outright winner or a prize, of which there was neither.
We were all selected as candidates due to our "Exceptional Potential" as our MI6 trainer Julian very kindly noted at the start of every episode.
It was an experience that has had lasting benefits for me. I am now much more aware of my surroundings when on foot or driving, I pay greater attention to the quality of signals I receive when in conversation with people, acutely observe nonverbal communication when I am talking to people and still feel uncomfortable giving personal details to people, a habit I will always try to avoid, happy to give a few false details in shops or to other intrusive enquiries.
As part of our selection we were strongly advised to remove all personal details from the internet and were assisted by Control (Our collective term for our Intelligence service training team) to achieve this.
We were also encouraged reduce our social media presence to an absolute minimum. My online presence is reduced to one pseudonymous account, my personal information only known to those I absolutely trust. Breaking that trust has consequences. That individual no longer has connection with me online and often in the physical world too.
I am acutely aware of the amount of data we share without thinking, through social media and many other open source media.
I would like to acknowledge the very high standards of professionalism, passion and knowledge of our trainers who worked tirelessly with us to support us through our IONEC (Intelligence officers new entry course). Although it was a very much reduced experience for us, it provided insights into the ceaseless work and sacrifice of our Intelligence services in the UK, whose hard work and persistence is constant, always unacknowledged and often on the receiving end of bad press from poorly informed journalists, looking to scapegoat those they know can never publicly defend themselves.
Throughout the entire course nobody knew what I was involved in, apart from my amazingly patient wife. She had to be told, she was getting suspicious about all the unexplained buttons on the dashboard in the car...
Memories and all that jazz.
The group of Mensans from the North West and North East who visited the BBC studios at Media City, Salford, certainly did. Our ages ranged from 11 up to, well let's just say that the programme celebrates its diamond birthday in 2018 and some of us remembered the first presenters.
On a slightly overcast but warm day in June 17 Mensans from the North East and North West met at Salford Quays for a visit to Media City UK, the home of the BBC, ITV and many private companies.
After a very pleasant lunch we made our way across the canal to the BBC. Our first studio was the home of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. This room is acoustically perfect for the orchestra it has 'duvets' on the wall (the beige panels) which can be moved to improve the sounds. Some of the baffles can be seen to the left of the picture.
Moving on we walked past an industrial size metal detector / scanner used mainly for two shows, Jeremy Kyle and Judge Rinder.
Ascending to the second floor we came to the Blue Peter Studio. This was much smaller than you would anticipate, and whilst it was cool when we visited as the air conditioning had been one when the 150 lights were turned on for filming the heat must be voracious.
We lingered quite a while here, reminiscing about Blue Peter, they have 10 people who are employed to open and respond to the post they receive from young people. A reply can take about 3 months because of the sheer volume of post they receive. But every letter receives an individualised reply, details are retained of previous letters from children and a different answer sent each time.
We waved goodbye to Blue Peter and moved on to another building where we visited the live music studio. Another small room and the home of Radio 6 music. The studio is one where bands and musicians appearing on programmes such as Radcliffe and Maconie can play live. This is also where sounds can be added to drama programmes. Lambing in the Archers will never be the same again!
Our next and final port of call was the mock-up of the Breakfast Television studio, complete with red couch, autocue and weather map. Three of our party were invited to present the news and the weather, which was great fun.
This room also housed other very recognisable props including 'real' Daleks, these apparently disappear every so often to Cardiff and return later (they didn't elaborate on whether this was under their own steam).
After a look at some Strictly Come Dancing costumes and Matt Baker's rickshaw, we thanked our guides and left the studio. A quick walk around the Blue Peter Garden and it was time for home after a really
enjoyable Mensa day out.