On Isolation, being prepared and the NHS

As I write this we are in self isolation, in response to the Coronavirus. The situation is exposing the risks of much of the ‘Just in Time‘ world wide flow of goods and people which we normally take for granted to view. As the situation is unusual, many people have panicked and stockpiled things they think they might need. Unfortunately their system for deciding what to stockpile seems to be based on buying as much as they can of whatever seems to be in short supply, particularly toilet roll – thus creating a supply shortage.

Oil Rigs

The situation reminds me of some lessons from my past. From 1987 to some time in the early 1990’s I worked on an oil rig on the Hutton oil field in the middle of the North Sea.

I worked there in stints of a fortnight at a time, doing, as most of the crew do, a 12 hour shift, 7 days a week, although as the work was extremely interesting, and I did not have much else to do, I tended to work longer. I learnt a lot about many things, but of particular relevance to our situation was the way the rig was always prepared to be self sufficient in dealing with problems.

Travel to the rig involved a helicopter flight of several hours, and weather conditions could be extreme. I remember one landing where the wind was so strong that the pilot had to use the rotor for downforce, rather than lift, to keep the helicopter on the helipad, and the passengers, and their luggage, were passed along a chain of crew to the stairs down into the accommodation. If the wind had been any stronger there would have been no way on or off by helicopter.

Supplies arrived by ship, which stood to, near the rig, and pallets were removed from the hold by skilled crane operators on the rig, whose cranes could pull a load off a ship very quickly, as once the load was being carried by the crane it had to be moved out of the way before the ship came up and smashed it. Again, in a heavy sea there was no way on or off the rig by ship.

The systems on the rig were designed with an expectation that it could, if necessary, be self contained (i.e. in isolation) for up to a month. This meant holding spare parts for everything which might need it. My own work was the ultrasonic inspection of the legs of the oil rig, which was done by a winch lowering a complicated and expensive probe down a 75mm diameter hole in the centre of each leg. There were two probes on the rig, the one in use, and a spare, plus a full set of spare parts to replace any component which failed. There was also a well fitted out workshop, so when a component – luckily a common one, failed on a CAMAC module, I was able to replace it rather than have to wait for a new module to be flown in.

The rig was powered by two large generators, either of which was capable of powering the rig in production on its own (or a small town), plus a less powerful stand by generator. The need for this level of redundancy, and the way that, as a colleague of mine used to say ‘Murphy is always vigilant‘ was demonstrated one time I was out there, when one of the main generators was ‘on the beach’ – i.e. it had been taken off the rig and was onshore for a major overhaul. The main generator failed, and there were problems starting the backup generator, so the rig was running on is large bank of backup batteries. I shut my systems down, as they were in the control room, but not vital to the running of the rig but using its batteries, and waited in the emergency lit accommodation for the generators to be repaired. During this time a very wet worker entered the accommodation, as he had been in a compartment where the batteries had not been powerful enough to keep the deluge fire suppression system from operating. The problem was fixed – by engineers already on the rig, and life in the little closed world returned to normal.

There was not only redundancy in equipment. The regular crew were all trained in more than one job, so could cover if someone was sick, and workloads were designed to ensure that normal operations were calm and well organised – so that there was slack in the system available for an emergency.

The NHS

Unfortunately budget constraints have squeezed the slack out of the NHS, even when they were operating under normal conditions. This is partly due to confusion over whether it should be treated as a set of isolated parts or as a single entity, even a single ‘superentity’ combined with the social care system. For budgetary purposes elements of the NHS, for example NHS Trusts or GP practices, are regarded as targets for budget cuts if their resources do not match their normal load, but if there is a sudden peak in demand they are supposed to be able to deal with it by diverting demand elsewhere – but the financial systems actively discourage this.

If we want our NHS to be able to deliver excellent service then we must build slack into the system.

Service excellence, spare capacity and virtuous cycles

At one time I was involved with managing an expensive supercomputer system. The support staff spent quite a lot of time apparently doing nothing, but training and learning. This meant that when there was a problem they could react quickly and knowledgeably. These large systems generally ran Unix (from which the the Linux system I prefer was derived). This is used in places where reliability is very important, and tended to run for many months at at a time. Because they were so reliable they could be monitored very carefully, and any problems investigated in depth. This created a virtuous cycle where minor potential faults could be fixed to make the systems even more reliable.

At another time in my career our over-stretched team were sent on a ‘Service Excellence’ course. One of the examples the instructor gave of excellent service was a company being unable to deliver a washing machine at the agreed time, and excellent service would be to not only reschedule at a time convenient to the customer, but then to plumb it in for free. They conveniently ignored the fact that if the team is already working at capacity, then other customers will not receive their washing machines as the delivery team will need to cancel other deliveries to meet this expectation. A vicious circle.

Regulation

One of the themes which drives the world as it is today is regulation — in the meaning of the management of complex systems according to a set of rules and trends. With my science/engineering background I tend to think of it in terms of control theory, or like a regulator on a steam engine.

There are some key parts to the feedback loop as they relate to the Coronavirus, and the issues it has shown up.

Measurement/Detection

This is vital to any kind of control loop – we need to know something has happened before we can do anything about it.

Lag

How long does it take between measuring something and being able to do something about it

Action

On the basis of what we know from the measurements, what do we need to do.

Regulating Coronavirus



In the context of coronavirus, the experience of South Korea has shown how important testing is. Coronavirus, like most infectious diseases has its own feedback loop, in which each infected person infects more people, and in the absence of a good information about the disease, the only way we can control it is through the blunt instrument of isolation. This has a significant economic impact on the country – or world in general.

Regulating the NHS

The inherently long delay between detecting a problem and being able to act on it is very significant in the context of the NHS. Our modern, connected society has led us, and our politicians, to operate as if, once a problem has been detected, it can be solved quickly – our electricity goes out, we contact our supplier, or an electrician and soon we have electricity again. The expectation of a quick response means that we do not need to prepare for this. My family had a cottage in Argyll, where we knew that we had to be able to manage for some time without electricity, so we had firewood, hurricane lamps and a camping stove to mitigate the problem.

The NHS fairly quickly identified that it did not have as much of some kinds of equipment as it would need, and if we had either been a fully self sufficient nation, or the worldwide market had been normal then this could have been rectified more quickly; although still not instantly – it would have taken time to switch our respirator factories to three-shift working, or for container ship loads of respirators to arrive from China. As it is there is a longer delay while factories change the type of item they produce and there is international competition for purchasing all forms of medical equipment.

The time lag between knowing that we do not have sufficient doctors or nurses and them becoming available is several years, which is, unfortunately, further than the attention span of some politicians. A possible short term fix is to recruit already trained medical personnel from abroad, although some sections of our society seem to be determined to sabotage this approach by being as unwelcoming as they can to anyone coming here from abroad.

Shortages of doctors or nurses put extra pressure on those who remain, who are more likely to become unwell from stress,

Diversity

Another theme running through my mind at the moment is the importance of diversity, and how we retain cohesiveness and diversity simultaneously.

The crew of the oil rig was remarkably diverse, and yet, as a small community, everybody worked well together. Keeping an oil rig clean (in the accommodation and working areas) requires constant hard work from the cleaners. Being there for a fortnight, with only a flight bag, meant that everyone was grateful for the unobtrusive overnight (or I assume overday for the night shift) way you could leave your laundry outside your cabin and it would be returned clean by morning. I got to know the people running the ‘ship’ side of the rig quite well. Many had been working on oil tankers, so seeing their family for a fortnight every other fortnight was a boon to them. They tended to be quite, steady and unflappable family men, from all over the country. The scaffolders were a slightly rougher crowd, younger, largely from Glasgow, and using the f-word as every other word, but very friendly and good natured. Like everybody they took their work very seriously, being the only people allowed to work outside the main body of the rig without being on a certified scaffold. The range of professions was fascinating ; Drillers – huge strong men who helped manoeuvre the sections of drill into place, I saw one carry two plates heaped high with food to the table and work his way through them ; Reservoir modellers ; Explosives experts ; Underwater submersible pilots – all fascinating to meet.

Working in such a close community, there was no room for social differences – I saw the OIM – the Offshore Installation Manger, playing table tennis with one of the cleaners.

If any good is to come out of this pandemic, I hope it will be to realise that, in our diverse world, we can, and must come together (figuratively, while still maintaining social distance), that we all have a role, are valued, and value and respect our neighbours in return.


December 1918 – Margaret Box home soon, or not

By late December 1918, Margaret Box had been Nursing in Salonica and Serbia for around three months, and her Father, John Robert Box must have written to Scottish Women’s Hospitals, with the aim of sending her a tie as a Christmas present. On the morning of 20th December they sent him a letter, telling him that they would not obtain the tie, as his daughter would be returning home soon.

On the afternoon of the same day they wrote again, to tell him that she would probably be there for another three months, and that it was very cold there !

Margaret did indeed return to Britain in April 1919, but it must have been a little worrying for her parents to have Margaret in such a distant and cold foreign country over Christmas.

New Year 1978 and Box Family history from Margaret Box

Every time I dig into the treasure trove of family letters I find that both sides of the family seem to have been in the habit of cramming as much into a letter as possible. This letter, send from my Great Aunt Margaret – of Nursing in Salonica and Serbia fame – to my mother in January 1978 is no exception. It starts with some remarks about Christmas presents, but then moves on to cover a lot of ground in Box Family history. I suspect Margaret is answering questions my mother asked in a previous letter, as she jumps straight into the topic of a shawl.

6 Furness Close, Furness Road

Eastbourne

East Sussex BN21 4EZ

6 Jan 1978

My Dear Jane

I expect you are home again now after your Christmas with the Lines, I expect as usual it was a full & busy time with all the members crowding in.

Thank you ever so much for the nice Scots calendar. I recognize some of the places – & also the hippeastrum, which is now in the cellar beside the boiler, the warmest place I have to bring it to life as I have not got a radiator with a shelf on it. Do you remember you sent me one in 1970 white and pink feathers, I sitll have in in the kitchen window facing south & in 1977 it excelled itself, two stems 30 ins. high, four flowers on each, it was the biggest & best effort it has made all these years, people going by the house stop to look at it. I repotted it last August, Norah had one of the young off bulbs, but I don’t think it will flower this year, now it will have competition with the red one ! I also loved the dear little Tunnicliffe and the blue tits, I have read his life & he is one of my favourite bird artists.

The Paisley Shawl belonged to & was worn by my Grandmother Box, as an outdoor coat, as was the fashion then. Aunt Edie had it & on her 90th birthday in March 1958 in the nursing home in Eastbourne she had Rose, Mary & me to tea & draped the shawl around her. She died a year later & I inherited it, it was in very good condition & I expect it still is.

A friend of mine had one made into a “housecoat” but I think it a pity to cut it up, a bed spread seems about the best use for it nowadays. I expect it must be quite valuable – being all wool and well over 100 years old.

What went on at Launceston ?? My Grandfather Box was born in 1814! was baptized and married there in St Mary’s Church, went to Clerkenwell in London & set up his clockmaker’s business. My father (& the others I suppose), was born there, so they were Cockneys being born within the sound of Bow Bells, the church in Cheapside.

Sometime ago I saw on the Tele. craftsmen working in quaint old rooms & corners in silver, clock making & repairing & other old crafts still in Clerkenwell – well worth a visit if you can find the area somewhere behind St Bartholemews in the City.

When Evelyn Green died last year she left me a miniature of John Box of Launceston., born in 1788, he was my grandfathers father, my great grandfather, he was a clockmaker well known all over Cornwall specially for grandfather clocks. His father was William Box of Marhamchurch, the iron foundry, there was also one in Launceston, which for a time Uncle Arthur ran, he was Leonards Godfather & Leonard used to go & stay with them in Launceston.

Evelyn was the only child of my youngest Uncle (Charles). She married but has no children. I want you to have the miniature when I pass on.

The Los Angeles Box’s are descended from the Marhamchurch lot. This Christmas they have sent me a snap of Bill, his 2nd wife (Bill’s first wife died when their youngest was 2 years old) & their combined family. They are all grown up now & Tom, the eldest got married last summer, the first & only one of Bill’s family to be married. There were six of them, 4 boys & 2 girls, but the 2nd boy, John Robert, was killed in Vietnam.

I have a business card of myMy Grandfather, WIlliam, W.B.Box, chronometer and watch manufacturer, 21, Upper Charles Street, Northampton Square, London”. I expect it was all bombed in the war & gone now.

My maternal Grandfather was a master baker & confectioner in Gresham Street, also near Cheapside & within the sound of Bow bells, he also had a “Coffee house” in Moorgate Street where of course he also dealt in wine.
He catered for banquets in Guildhall & also the Yacht Club on the Thames & was a city alderman.

Now it is bedtime ! so I will say Goodnight & wish you all a happy & adventurous 1978 full of interest & love, bye the way if you plant a clove of garlic beside your rose bush it will banish the green fly !

Much love

Margaret

p.s. My grandfather W.. B. Box when he was young made a small engine or machine in brass probably in Launceston. Later this was kept in our house on a small inlaid table, it had a glass case, it was about the size of a mantlepiece clock. Leonard inherited it (& the table which I think you have) & kept it at the office no. 28.

You must get it from Mr Smith, who will soon be retiring, it is a family heirloom. Your father-in-law would be interested in it. M

Notes

Paisley Shawl

The Paisley Shawl does not appear to be in the collection of cloth heirloom items, such as Blackout Curtains from Little Cucknells, and the waistcoat which William Braund Box wore at his wedding to Rosina Williams. It does however remain in the family, and is a thing of beauty, made of Cashmere wool, as well as remarkable size ! (3.42m x 2.66m)

Aunt Edie would be Edith Alice Bryson Box (1868-1959), daughter of William Braund Box and Rosina Williams, and Margaret’s Aunt.

Launceston and Clerkenwell

I think Margarets grandfather, William Braund Box was baptised on 5th June 1815, in Lawhitton, which is a little village 3km from Launceston, with is own church (St Michaels), but I only have a date and place for this. Family records show he was married on 10th February 1845, He had already been living, in the 1841 Census, in Finsbury, I assume as a lodger, with his profession shown as Watchmaker. He must have returned to Cornwall to marry, and by 1851 he is living at 21, Upper Charles Street in Clerkenwell. where my Great Grandfather, John Robert Box was born in 1849.

By a curious coincidence my Great Great Grandfather on my father’s side, Abel Lines (1807-1877) was born in Clerkenwell, although he had moved to Saffron Hill by the time Joseph Lines was born in 1848.


Miniature of John Box

I think the miniature referred to is probably this

John Box (1788-1849)

Evelyn Alice Box (1894-1977), daughter of Charles Joseph Box, married John Lawrence Green.

I know from several sources that John Box’s father was William Box, but although the inherited family trees show his wife at Sarah Pope, other evidence suggests Thomasin Heard.

Los Angles Box family

My parents went and stayed with them and were in touch. I may revisit this to update how exactly they fit in. I think they saw the announcement of my Grandmothers death, and got in touch then.

William Webster (1823-1889)

The maternal grandfather, and master baker was William Webster, who married Elizabeth Reitze, daughter of Justus Reitze. He will probably get an article of his own.

The small brass engine

This does not sound like the Model Beam Engine now in the museum in Launceston, I do not think I have seen it, so it may have never been retrieved from Mr Smith (who was my Grandfather’s Clerk).


John and Charles Wesley Treasure Hunt in Oxford City Centre

If you have an interest in Methodist History, and wish to visit 15 locations around Oxford City Centre related to John and Charles Wesley, or Methodism today, there a free mobile phone app, called Huntzz, which can take you round them on a free Treasure Hunt.

Instructions

Download the app onto your phone, and run it – you can do this from home (or your hotel in Oxford if you are visiting) before you start. You will see a list of available Hunts, sorted by distance from where you are.

Select the Wesley Walk in Oxford entry (you should only see one – mine has two as I developed it), and you should see a screen which looks like this:

As the screenshot above shows the start point is Wesley Memorial Church, in the centre of Oxford. If you are travelling by car you should use the Park and Ride, as the roads into Oxford are slow and confusing and parking is expensive. The church is a short walk from the train and bus stations.

To find out more about the Methodist Heritage in Oxford, have a look at the Wesleys Oxford website.

How the hunt came to be written

I am a member of Oxford Phab Club, a social club for people of all abilities, which is based at Wesley Memorial Methodist Church in Central Oxford. We are always looking for new ideas for things to do and over the years have done several Treasure Hunts around Oxford City Centre, for example the paper based treasure hunt we did in June 2015. We were looking for another hunt go to on the programme for the summer of 2017, and I found an App for Android and iPhone devices called Huntzz, which had an inexpensive (£1.79 at the time of writing this post, I think it was about that in 2017 too) paid Treasure Hunt around Oxford City Centre available. I downloaded the app, bought the Oxford Hunt and tried it, and on July 7th 2017 several Phab members did the same, with reasonable success. I had a family event that night, so was unable to participate, so the event is not recorded on the Phab website.

Through much of 2016 members of the congregation of Wesley Memorial, joined by other people with connection to the church, rehearsed a musical called Amazing Love, written by Jack Godfrey. This was performed in February 2017, and some Oxford Phab members performed in it, while others went to see it. Through this I became interested in the lives of the Wesleys, and their time at Oxford, tying it into my interest in family history when I wrote a post about Amazing Love, Demographics and Mass migrations.

I had noticed that the Huntzz app allowed a user to create their own Hunt, and felt it would be good to try, taking inspiration from the Wesleys in Oxford walking tour leaflet already available in the church. The Huntzz app authors encourage charities to create their own Hunts, and were very helpful and supportive. I also like a business model I can understand, where they sell Hunts at a good value price, as opposed to, for example offering something for ‘free’ where they make their money through intrusive advertising in the app, or selling your personal information. I produced the ‘Wesley Walk in Oxford’ hunt for fun, but if you feel inclined to support either Wesley Memorial’s Open Doors project, or Oxford Phab donations would be very welcome.

Although John Wesley may not have actually said

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as you ever can.

it expresses the values which drive many of the activities of the church, so I have tried, in the “scroll” or guide entries, to link the historical sites on the Hunt to current activities.

On being born

Birth is one of the experiences we all share, although the circumstances can vary widely. I, and – I believe – my brother were born in The Simpson Memorial Ward of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (although, surprisingly neither of us are mentioned in the Wikipedia article section on Notable Births !). Sir James Young Simpson, after whom the ward (or pavilion) was named, attended the birth of Christina Box, my Great Great Aunt, who was born in Edinburgh, a month early, when my Great Great Grandparents, William Braund Box and Rosina Box were visiting Robert Bryson.

Not very many years after I was born in hospital, the elder of my sisters was born at home, in my parents house in Balerno, and my youngest sister was born at home in their next house in Juniper Green. The change of birth location from maternity hospital to home birth could have been due to improvements in the information available to mothers, as Obstetric ultrasonography, now routine, was becoming available. These improvements in diagnostics, and medical practice in general, were part of the trend of improvements in survival rates of both infant and mother.

Historic high infant mortality rates are brought home when researching the family tree, as there are many instances of children dying in their very early years. Sometimes this makes it difficult to work out what is going on, as a subsequent child was sometimes given the same name.

The need to balance mortality rates led to large families, and as more of the children survived they generally had to go somewhere else, as I wrote about in Amazing Love, Demographics and Mass Migration.

One of the starkest cases of the impact of maternal mortality was Alexander Bryson, eldest son of Robert Bryson. Alexander’s first wife, Elizabeth Waterstone Gillespie died 10th April 1855, shortly after giving birth to William Alexander Bryson on 2nd March 1855. His second wife, Catherine McDonald Cuthbertson died around September 1859, within 7 months of giving birth to Donald Cuthbertson Bryson on 21st February 1859. Alexander married again, and his third wife, Jane Thompson, not only survived giving birth to Leonard Horner Bryson, but outlived Alexander and remarried.

I do not know the details of the circumstances of any of the other births, but I know something of my own, as my mother wrote to my fathers parents shortly afterwards, and I have a copy of the letter (she presumably wrote to her own parents too, but I do not have that letter).

2, Lovedale Grove

Balerno

(not really there !)

Dearest M&D (or G &GF ?),

Of course Roger has phoned and told you that Willie has arrived at last and has turned out to be Jonathan. He really is sweet, despite being a little red and new looking. He has dark fluff on his head and his ears don’t stick out – Aunt Jennifer, at least not yet. They don’t allow the Mums to play with the new baby for the first day, but I’ve been allowed to hold him 3 times. This is apparently a treat and not usually done ! Tomorrow he comes out with all the others. I don’t know when I’m allowed up but I’m already tired of bed. I did get out to ring the bell for another bedded Mum when all the Mums who were allowed up were out on the balcony in the glorious sun – lucky things. I had not been allowed to get out while they made the bed, but performed the far more difficult feat of crawling down and sitting on the end.

I have had instructions from various people to “get plenty of rest”. It’s hopeless though! We are continually pilled, or cocaoed or babies appear or bedpans and today we had afternoon visitors – ward specially tidied & all propped up – evening visitors the same. (you should see the titivating before father arrives – alas not so for me – I left my glass behind, so can’t even produce a straight parting! Roger brought it in tonight though, so he won’t know me tomorrow !)

In between all this I try to knit – so far about 1 row, read – page 10, I think and I have looked through Good Housekeeping for June.

I good deal of time this morning was spent on preparing for the weekly visit of Professor Kellar, the big white chief of the Friday clinic & therefor of ward 51. I actually had a “consultation” with him (I was really ‘specimen A’) and several of his staff doctors on Wednesday, when they decided to bring me on and ‘start’ the baby. As I was late for that appointment I hoped he wouldn’t recognise me as he rushed round. We were all smartened up. Just like a Doctor in the House scene, really, quite mad. Made beds remade, pillow cases that were spotless changed, all patients propped and dared to breathe. Thus we waited – and waited. Then we were told he was having coffee – and we still waited. The little nurse was getting quite worried because she had various things to do – including giving me a blanket bath (this ended by me washing myself, all but my back ! not my idea of having it done & no rolling the patient about as I learnt in Guides). Anyway, there was a bed vacated by an escaping Mum & this bed had to be remade. The nurse put screens round – in case the Prof. “saw such an untidy scene” – and she’s a ‘proper card’ and had us all quite weak with a comic turn behind the screen. I don’t know what would have happened if the great man had arrived but he never did! Nor did a visitor from the regional board, for which we were smartened up.

I’m afraid this is a very bitty letter. It isn’t easy to write when something happens mid sentence (in the middle of this one sister arrives and asks me how I feel !) The writing is not up to standard either as I’m lying back – the elbows get rather worn otherwise..

I’m looking forward to showing you your grandson. I think he’s a darling, but I’m biased – so will you be !!

I’m leaving a space* for Roger to add a word. He is being a proud father, I can see him grinning in a p.f. way at the office when he tells everyone how wonderful his baby is !!!! And he’s right

* Jane didn’t and I’m about to start a wash-up for at least 1 1/2 days at 11.PM so will write tomorrow

Very much love to everyone

from

Jane, Jonathan and Roger.

p.s. Added on Sunday. I have been up officially today and also managed to get out onto the balcony in the sun, which has been lovely. Alas – sitting is uncomfortable, so I was quite glad to lic in bed again. I now have Jonathan to play with at every feed and he is becoming less fragile! He make gorgeous faces when he has hiccups (how do you spell it ?) and I have discovered that the short fluff on top is hair which is quite long over the ears & down the neck. A haircut is going to be necessary !!!



I was born in the time depicted by the TV series Call the Midwife, although, rather than Edinburgh, that is located in Poplar, in the East End of London. There used to be a connection between Wesley Memorial Church and Poplar and my wife, along with others from the church ran a summer playscheme there. I have only seen snippets of Call the Midwife, but the descriptions of the preparations around the visit of professor Kellar remind me of the depiction of Sir Lancelot Spratt in Doctor in the House.

Professor Robert Kellar (1909-1980) held the chair of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Edinburgh from 1946 to 1974, and supervised a number of prominent people in the field, including Nancy Loudon. He worked under Francis James Browne earlier in his career.

My father was out, working on the moors the day I was born. All the other mothers had large vases of commercial roses, but my mother had a little jam jar of hand picked wild flowers from the Lammermuir hills – which were much admired !




Christmas at Rest Harrow and Little Cucknells

When we were young, Christmas was a very special time for my siblings and me. We lived in Edinburgh, but our Grandparents, and most of our relations, lived in the south of England, or even further afield. Although I have written about going to Pickwick for Christmas, my father’s parents must have moved when I was quite young, as I remember being at Rest Harrow during the Winter of 1962-63, when the elder of my sisters was a baby, and the younger not born. (Although, when she was a small child and was told she did not participate in such great adventures she would protest ‘I was there, in Mummy’s tummy!’). Rest Harrow was snowbound, as was the whole village of Medstead, and my father had to walk to Four Marks for bread and milk. It is possible that we did not then go on to my mother’s parents at Little Cucknells,

Our normal pattern was that we would travel from Edinburgh to Rest Harrow – usually by car, with the journey becoming swifter as the years passed – in the early days I believe the trip incorporated a Bed and Breakfast somewhere around Nottingham. I do also remember flying (in a Comet) and being put to bed, and then woken to be taken by taxi to the station to go down on the train – though that may be have been to Pickwick.

Pre-Christmas at Rest Harrow

On arrival at Rest Harrow there were several common events before Christmas. Grandpa would have bought a Christmas tree, which would be in a pot in the sun room, awaiting our artistic, or enthusiastic labours to decorate it. We eschewed the minimalist approach, and it was impressive how many of the glass baubles would still be there every year, despite having been put up by small children.

Sunroom, Restharrow

As my brother and I grew usefully tall we also had the honour of helping to decorate the large Christmas tree at St Andrews Church in Medstead.

St Andrews Church

The while family would also be involved, to varying degrees according to skills, in the preparation of Christmas dinner. My Grandparents approached gardening on a serious scale, so harvesting and preparation of winter vegetables was a communal activity, preparing sprouts, peeling carrots, parsnips and potatoes, as well has mixing (and tasting) cake ingredients. Aunty Jennifer always made her famous cheese straws, in a variety of shapes.

Christmas Day at Rest Harrow

We would wake on Christmas morning to find that, no matter how resolved we might have been to catch him in the act, Father Christmas had been in the night and managed to fill out stockings (we used Heriots school socks) with presents. It is possible that Mother Christmas might have taken some tips from her relative, George Braund, and switched the stockings for ones which had been filled earlier.

The stockings managed to achieve an impressive balance, considering our range of ages, between fairness and personalised interest. Several of our toys only really made sense as communal toys, even though we knew which specific parts were ours – examples of this were the Floral Garden, the Zoo (with Britain’s Zoo animals) and the Farm (again Britains Farm animals, though with out of scale farm machinery. The stockings were filled in roughly the same order, and so opening them together we might have clues about what type of thing might be inside the individually wrapped parcels (in venerable wrapping paper). Recurring themes were

  • Some kind of small torch
  • A cub/scout/brownie/guide diary
  • A pencil
  • Notebooks
  • little sets of colour pencils
  • Chocolate coins (I suspect one bag was divided into four, and the balance became a delivery fee)
  • The aforementioned animals, parts of gardens and so on
  • A paperback book
  • Always a satsuma in the toe of the sock.

Opening the stockings often occurred on my parents bed, where they would be suitably impressed by the wisdom and good taste of Father Christmas.


Stockings on Christmas morning, Jane with Jennifer and Elizabeth

We would also show our new presents to Aunty Jennifer, who lived at Rest Harrow, and to Uncle Tim, who came from Geneva for the Christmas period. As a bachelor uncle – who had the opportunity to give us slightly less suitable toys (I remember a battery powered walking, noisy robot) Tim was relegated to the sofa bed on the lounge, where he may not have been having as restful a night. Despite this we felt it was our duty to bounce on him in the morning to wake him up. Some years later Tim married and had two daughters, and my brother and I relinquished the bedroom we had used, to sleep in the lounge. I remember being awoken on Christmas morning by the enthusiastic bouncing of two small girls, egged on from the doorway by their father, Uncle Tim.

During the morning my Uncle Michael and Aunt Fanny would arrive from London, and my Uncle Jeremy, with Aunt Claire, and her mother, Oma (Flemish name for Grandmother), and cousins Peter, Ian and Robert from Southampton or later Gosport. If the weather was fine we would go out into the garden.

Christmas Morning 1966, on the new seat in the sun
Jennifer with JF and CD on the swing.

My Grandmother would make a quiche for Michael and Fanny, who were vegetarians, but the rest of us would be keen to try it, as well as the traditional turkey. Fitting about twenty people round the table was a challenge, but we managed (sometimes by having a children’s table). The Christmas pudding had silver threepences cooked into it which were then exchanged for real money. Afterwards everybody helped clear up and wash up. We listened to the Queen’s Speech on the radio, and there would be the traditional family photo, in the sunroom if the weather was bad, of outside if we could. In the early years this was my grandfathers prerogative, using a self timer on his camera, with varied results. There are a number of pictures of a Grandpa shaped space in the family group, and I am sure there should be some of the sky or the grass due to tripping over the tripod trying to reach that space. We then chatted, or played games until the prolonged departures of the day visitors, normally after even more food.

Entertainment at Rest Harrow

There was no television at Rest Harrow for several years, when they were common elsewhere, but there were plenty of books, including a full set of the Swallows and Amazons series, and The Far Distant Oxus. We also played games, my grandparents had a Deluxe Edtion Scrabble board, on a turntable. Aunty Jennifer was a whiz at Pounce, and we also played Pickwick Rummy. She also always had some kind of craft activity available, from candle making to painting. She was also headteacher of Herriard school, and would bring musical instruments back from school. She also had a guitar, which we would attempt to play – she would teach us some chords, but we would generally forget them by next Christmas and have to start again. My cousin Peter, an accomplished musician, sometimes played his violin.

The Christmas present from Aunty Jennifer to my brother and me was a trip to London, on the train, visiting famous sites, such as Madame Tussauds and the Post Office Tower – back in the days when you could eat at the top. We traveled on the Underground, very exciting for boys from Edinburgh, and ended the trip with a visit to Hamleys, where Great Aunt Peggy was managing director (though we were more impressed by the railway running round the big central staircase, the teddy bears the size of a grown up and other amazing toys)

Christmas at Little Cucknells

When we were young we did not really celebrate New Year, but had a second, quieter, Christmas with my mother’s parents at Little Cucknels, in Shamley Green. Our interactions with Grandfather Box were limited – I only really remember him lying in bed in a downstairs room with the curtains closed, and greeting him awkwardly on arrival, and saying farewell when we left. Grannie Bee (My mother said it was because she was busy as a bee – though I assume the name really came from her being Box) cooked a second Christmas Dinner for us. She too cooked a Christmas pudding, but every piece came with a sixpence, courtesy of sleight of hand in the serving process.

Meals were cooked on the Aga, which also kept the kitchen and adjoining small dining/sitting room warm. I remember both at Little Cucknells and Rest Harrow (and at home in Edinburgh) that hot water bottles were part of the bedtime routine.

If the weather was good we could play in the huge, overgrown garden, or Little Cucknells wood, and if the weather was bad we had our new toys or books to read. Although the house was full of interesting antiques, such as the Bell of the Kishon, the longcase clock made by my Great, Great Grandfather – William Braund Box, and a chess table made by some ancestor – a model of this table made by the same person is in the Queen’s Dolls house in Windsor Castle – they were not very interesting to children, though the copies of National Geographic, with their maps and pictures of exotic places gave plenty to read and look at.

We would also go and visit my mother’s sister Aunt Sue, with her four boys, and her husband (until they were divorced) who I mainly remember for the smell of brandy and cigars, at their home in South Stoke, with Wolfie, the Wolfhound.

Somewheres and Anywheres

Receiving scans of Christmas past from my father’s slides sent by my sister coincided with me reading ‘The Road to Somewhere’ by David Goodhart. (I am still in the early stages). The book relates the differences in attitudes to society, and life opportunities between the majority (about three in five), of Britons who still live within 25 miles of where they were born – the Somewheres, and the possibly less grounded, but more influential Anywheres, who lack the deep connection to a single community, although they may well be members of several less tangible communities. My father, for example, spent most of his life far from his London roots, but was a member of a small international community of Research Foresters.

A description of the book can be found at ‘Anywheres and Somewheres‘ and another viewpoint at ‘The Road to Somewhere by David Goodhart – a liberal’s rightwing turn on immigration‘ Despite the reference to immigration in the title of Guardian review most of the Anywheres referred to in the book leave a home in Britain to go to university, and then move to wherever their life takes them. My Grandparents, on both sides, uncles, aunts, brother, sisters, cousins, nephews and nieces fit the profile of Anywheres, as do many of the people mentioned in this blog, from the tragically orphaned Williams sisters to the Famous Freemans and Renowned Rebbecks.


Burns Night

On or around the night of January 25th, many Scots celebrate the life of Robert Burns with a Burns supper, eating haggis and neeps, drinking whisky and listening to the works of Robert Burns. My Great Great Grandfather, John Robert Box, although not born in Scotland, may well have celebrated the night. He had a copy of ‘The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Burns’, dated 1875, when he would have been around 26.


He had also lived with his uncle, Robert Bryson, in Edinburgh for several years around 1871, so would have been exposed to the National Bard during that time.

Although born and growing up in Edinburgh, haggis did not feature prominently in our diet at home. My brother and I worked summer jobs in a cafe called County Fayre on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. As it was, at the time, the first place, if you set off down the hill from the Castle, where you could sit down for a hot meal, it was very popular during the Festival, and many of the customers were American tourists. Haggis was one of the traditional Scottish dishes on the menu, so it fell to the person serving at the counter to explain Haggis to the customer, without putting them off. We did discover that Americans do not use the term ‘mince‘, which we had been using, and that ‘it is a bit like ground beef, but made from sheep’ worked better. The job was an eye opening experience, and gave me a lasting insight into what goes on behind the scenes when eating out, and an understanding of what it is like to be working in the industry.

My first home

When my mother brought me home from the Simpson Memorial Ward at Edinburgh’s Royal Infimary, the house she brought me to was 2, Lovedale Grove, Balerno. In those days Balerno was a village outside Edinburgh, although it is now a suburb.


My aunt Fanny outside the house

Although quite small, the house had enough garden to keep my parents occupied, and I probably ‘helped’ with my toy wheelbarrow.

Roger and Jane, my parents

The elder of my sisters was born here, apparently a quick home delivery.


Pictures of Pickwick

When my Grandparents left Grove Farm at Box, where they had been farming, they moved in to 141, Lordship Road, Stoke Newington with my Great Grandfather, Joseph Lines. This was around 1925, and may have been prompted by the death of my Great Grandmother, Jane Lines (nee Fitzhenry) on 7th June 1925. They lived with Joseph and helped run G&J Lines, until he died in 1931. They rented The Cottage, 55, Anne Boleyn’s Walk, Cheam, Surrey for about 3 years, while they had a house built on Warren Drive, Kingswood, so moved in probably about 1934.

The house was named Pickwick, after the village near Box.

The family were still living there when I was young, though I do not have clear memories of the house. My parents lived in Edinburgh and we used to spend Christmas with my Grandparents, traveling by various means. One of my early memories is of a taxi ride through central London, and the lights of Piccadilly Circus – there was nothing similar in Edinburgh.

I have some 2″ Slides from my Aunt Fanny’s collection, which show Pickwick, which I have photographed to reproduce here.

My setup, lightbox and Lumix DMC TZ-80 camera
At Pickwick September 1955

Roger, Michael,Jenifer,Jeremy

Mouse, Chief, Tim
At Pickwick September 1955

My Grandpa (George E Lines), known in the family as Chief, and my Granny (Doris Joan Lines – nee Stevens), known in the family as Mouse.

Croquet at Pickwick June 1956

When my grandparents moved to Rest Harrow the croquet set moved with them, and we all played croquet as children.

Pickwick Spring 1959
Pickwick Spring 1959
My Granny in the garden
My Granny in the garden
Grandpa in the garden

I do not wear a tweed jacket and a tie for gardening, I feel I am letting the family down !

Sam – the family dog
Michael and Jennifer

Roger Lines and Jane Box Wedding

My parents got married on 2nd April 1956 at Shamley Green Parish Church. I have some 2″ slides from their wedding, which came from my Aunt Fanny – who may have taken some of them.

Jeremy (best man, my uncle), Roger (groom, my father) and George (groom’s father)
George (my Grandpa), friend, Joan (my Grannie), Fanny, Michael
Jennifer (bridesmaid, my aunt)
Jane (bride, my mother) and Jennifer
Roger and Jane (groom and bride)
Family Group

The bride ready to go away

I probably need to re-take this one,