Christmas News 2016

Scenes of Scotland

Phil and Miriam with the Royal Mile in the background

Festival time in Edinburgh

Martin and Miriam on a path in front of a hillside

On a walk near St Mary's Loch

Thanks to a last-minute booking we were able to spend a week in the Scottish Borders, finding a lot of variety and places of interest in the area. The abbey at Jedburgh was well worth exploring, just one of several huge monuments we could have visited.

From the small town of St Boswells, where we were staying, a walk along the River Tweed brought us to a suspension footbridge and, on the other side, the classical-style Temple of the Muses. A little further away, we looked out from Sir Walter Scott's favourite viewpoint towards the three hills near Melrose that once gave the Roman fort of Trimontium its name.

In Peebles we came across a small modern art gallery and found another excellent collection of artwork in the parish church. A very pleasant discovery was the café attached to the town's chocolate factory.

"We were able to spend a day at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a long-held ambition of mine. Highlights included a 2 person cast (and 6 puppets) for a performance of Northanger Abbey and a street performance by 'Semitones', a male a capella group which recently won Gareth Malone's amateur choir competition shown on BBC2." - Miriam

Also in Edinburgh Martin and I packed in a demonstration of virtual reality, a minimalist drama production, a brief exploration of some historic buildings and an art exhibition. It was enjoyable just walking around this fine city which none of us had visited for many years.

Miriam makes music

Miriam in front of Eastbourne Bandstand

Miriam's choir performed in Eastbourne... but in a church, not here. Phoenix Singers give several concerts a year in Birmingham, but also go on a tour each year

"Phil and I spent a weekend in Eastbourne as part of the Phoenix Singers trip, meeting up with Steve and Linda who enjoyed the choir's concert on Saturday. On Sunday we took a cliff walk near Beachy Head. The weather was beautiful and we had time to explore the delights of Eastbourne."

"I play the piano for a retired professional violinist, Elizabeth. We call ourselves the Classic Duo and have given 3 informal concerts with more planned. We've tackled Mozart sonatas, two of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, some romantic light music and most ambitiously a Brahms violin sonata. I'm enjoying playing the piano to amuse myself more, and I have been asked to make some solo contributions."

"I teach a friend Angela music theory and make some contributions to her piano playing. She achieved very good passes in theory and playing recently and is now working towards higher grades in both. It's been very rewarding to see her playing improve during the last couple of years."

In at the Deep End

A group of volunteers with the Lord Mayor of Birmingham at Stirchley Baths

The Lord Mayor came to help us celebrate winning another award

Phil at the Deep End

At the Deep End: despite the name, you can't swim at Stirchley Baths any more. The former pool, now bone dry, is still there under the floor

When I signed up as a volunteer for Stirchley Baths in mid 2015 the transformation of this derelict former swimming baths into a modern community centre was still in progress, and I had never even been inside the building. I had no idea that my involvement would lead to me giving guided tours through the tunnels under the baths, making a brief TV appearance in a hard hat and attending two awards ceremonies, one of them at the London Hilton Hotel.

A great team spirit has developed among the staff and volunteers which has made it possible to put on many special events - some of them, such as the Splash Back In Time history day and the Fun Palace, attracting several hundred visitors. The numerous regular events include the monthly Stirchley Community Market at which, like so many other events, I find myself taking photos in large numbers to help with publicity (and for practice, and for fun...)

One of the most compelling features of the Baths is the way that the original elements of the design have been retained in a modern setting. The building is extraordinarily versatile and has inspired a production by a group of university students as well as some short films made during children's workshops. I've enjoyed showing many visitors around it during the year.

The heritage aspect of the Baths redevelopment led to the establishment of Stirchley History Group to promote awareness of the area's past and connections with the present. My involvement includes browsing census records, helping to design a pull-up banner and creating social media posts. The somewhat piecemeal development of the area makes it a really interesting one to learn about and many clues to the past are still visible in the buildings and streets. In fact we've just designed a walking trail to point some of them out.

Church calling

Miriam and Phil on the CAP stand at New Wine

On the Christians Against Poverty stand at New Wine

I have always been involved in music at Christ Church, and still am, but gradually my main focus has shifted towards communication: looking after its website and social media and producing the weekly notice sheet, something which Miriam used to do. She also has taken on new rôles...

"In 2015 Christ Church joined with 5 other local churches to establish a Christians Against Poverty (CAP) centre to help free people from the burden of unrepayable debt. I am working with the debt centre manager Judy, helping arrange and support events locally, going on visits with her and with the ongoing administration of the monthly prayer meetings."

It's made a big difference to both of us not to be tied by working hours. There is still a pattern to the week but it's much more flexible. I usually go into the church office on three mornings during the week, but a lot of work can be done from home or, indeed, anywhere where there's an Internet connection. Sometimes, though, you just have to be there - especially when photos are required, such as at Messy Church.

New Wine

Martin, Miriam and Phil among the tents at New Wine

Within the Christ Church encampment at New Wine 2016

"Phil, Martin and I spent 5 days camping at a New Wine conference in Somerset, with a small group of people from Christ Church in neighbouring tents. Martin enjoyed 'My place', a special facility with learning and being in smaller groups. I enjoyed 5 days of church-like activities in the sunny (generally) countryside, lots of books to look at and a holiday feel to it." - Miriam

One of the highlights of this event was a virtual reality mock-up of a Middle East refugee camp, made all the more powerful by the presence of refugees in our group. The whole event has a strong focus on faith bringing about change in communities and nations.

Walking tour

Bolivian visitors at Kings Heath Spanish Club

Bolivian visitors at Kings Heath Spanish Club

It's both pleasant and healthy that so many regular events and activities are within walking distance. In one direction, Christ Church is ten minutes away; in the other, Stirchley Baths is just round the corner.

A little further into Stirchley is P Café, home of the fortnightly Crunch creative writing group. If you want to sample some of the work this has inspired, have a look at I gave a false name in Starbucks, Light mail and Moral high ground.

My most distant regular destination is the elegant tearoom in Kings Heath Park, the meeting place of Kings Heath Spanish Club. Our original reason for learning Spanish was to visit Bolivia and Argentina in 2013 and a lot of dots were connected when a group of Bolivians making a reciprocal visit to Birmingham called in at the Spanish Club in October.

Boys in Brum

Martin on a derelict site

Martin and I took part in a photo walk which ended up amongst this splendid dereliction

Throughout the year Martin has undertaken various part-time roles, paid and unpaid, to acquire more job skills and work out the best way forward for him. He took part in an Advance to Work programme which gave access to new job-hunting resources, and has worked hard to improve his conversational skills as well as taking a speech therapy course. Many people have commented on the difference this has made.

Martin is living with us, while Adrian is close by in Birmingham where the household has expanded to include a cat. Adrian is doing some part-time lecturing while also working on his PhD.

The year in photos

My photos have found their way into at least two magazines, as well as numerous websites, Facebook profiles and other publicity materials. Here's a personal selection of photos from 2016.