Christmas News 2001

Return to Romania

Three families sit by a fountain in a city square in Cluj, Romania

A cooling break in the city of Cluj

Cows on an unmetalled road in a village in Romania

Rush hour in rural Romania

Two years ago, when we went to Romania to see the solar eclipse, we were able to visit friends who live in a small village in Transylvania. This summer we drove across Europe to spend a few more days staying with our friends István and Melinda and their two young children.

We had thought that the boys might find the rural lifestyle less than exciting, but to our surprise Adrian in particular enjoyed it. Undaunted by the language barrier, he made friends with a family on a neighbouring farm, and took to getting up early so that he could visit them. This gave him the opportunity to see a newborn water buffalo, which isn't the sort of thing one gets to do in Birmingham.

Romania's economy and infrastructure remain way behind the West, but there are signs of progress. Our car's suspension was grateful that the main road by which we entered the country has been rebuilt by Italian engineers. The nearby city of Cluj now possesses that icon of Western capitalism, a McDonald's, where Martin was unfortunate enough to have his chips stolen by a girl who had gone in to beg.

The road to István and Melinda's village remains an unmetalled, bumpy track. They are working with a German partner church to get funding to upgrade the road and improve facilities in the village.

On the outward journey we travelled in convoy with our friends Bob and Christina, who had made the trip three times in the early 1990's and now have three young children. We had managed to cram some medical supplies into the cars to give to our hosts but, as on our previous visit, we were treated with such hospitality that we came away feeling we had received much more than we had given.

Streetwise in Germany

Phil, Martin, Miriam and Adrian standing below a sign for Else-Rosenfeld-Strasse The second leg of our European tour took us to southern Germany. A highlight of our stay was a visit to a new development in a suburb of Munich, and specifically a street named after Miriam's grandmother. Else Rosenfeld had a Jewish husband and the rest of the family managed to leave Nazi Germany before the outbreak of the Second World War, but she had to remain in the country and did much work for the Jewish community during the war years. There is a memorial to her outside a nearby convent.

We had long wanted to visit the village of Icking, where Miriam's grandmother had lived briefly before the war and where she settled again after the war ended. The place holds many happy childhood memories for Miriam, and we were able to stay with a friend who has known her since she was a girl.

We made some trips further afield, though some were a little rushed; we managed to "do" Salzburg in an hour and a half, and on the way home we stopped off in Cologne for about 20 minutes to marvel at the mighty Cathedral. Almost as marvellous was the arrangement of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor performed on three accordions in the square outside.

Martin's memories

Martin standing in front of a rustic cart I went to Hanley Swan with most of the children who go to school who are in my year. A good part about that trip is that me, a girl called Stephanie and a boy called Lee went on a roller coaster shaped like a rhinoceros several times. I shared my room with four boys. At Hanley Swan a boy called Omar fell down the stairs and hurt himself. My bed at Hanley Swan was the top bunk. At Weston Super-Mare the wind blew very hard.

When I was in year eight, I went on a trip to GOKIDSGO which was like the Wacky Warehouse. We also went to the Land Rover Factory. I share the taxi that I take to school with a boy from the sixth form.

At the Church Centre I started to go to Club 114. On Sundays we worship and talk about God. On Wednesdays we do things such as playing sports, making things and changing things.

We went on holiday to Romania to see István, Melinda, Boglárka and Dávid. Adrian went for a walk. Adrian took a photo with me and Annie in it. In Germany we went to a big science museum.

We got a new toaster and a new torch.

Martin's memory

Martin continues to display an ability to memorise completely useless facts. One of his current projects is to discover everyone's middle name without actually asking them what it is. A church membership list started him off, and he has now found out the middle names of most of the children in his school class. His teachers present a bit more of a challenge, and he has had to be content with just their first names, which he found out once he discovered the school's website.

In case you're wondering, Martin's middle name is Richard. Don't forget, because he might test you on it sometime.

Asylum adventures

Our friendship with some refugees from Africa who come to our church has helped us appreciate the difficulties faced by anyone seeking asylum in this country. We have been impressed by the courage and resourcefulness our friends have shown, which makes it all the more depressing to discover how determined the authorities are to keep them out.

A lowlight of the year was a visit to the Oakington "reception" centre where many asylum seekers are detained on arrival in the UK. The level of security was so oppressive that it took several phone calls and a long wait to be able to get inside even though we had arranged our visit in advance. Even so, two teenagers who were detained there with their family told us that it was not as bad as the boarding school they had attended in their home country.

Miriam's message

Life in my full-time post as a research associate in Birmingham University's Department of Primary Care continues to be interesting and stimulating with many chances to visit and work with general practice staff in the West Midlands and Oxfordshire. I have just commenced a taught M.Sc. in Primary Care, a 2 year course for which I obtained a bursary. Next year I shall be doing a dissertation, related to the research study that I have been assigned to. Plenty to keep me busy!

Survival skills

With the aerospace industry deep in recession, Phil's biggest work-related achievement was to not be made redundant.

Look behind you!

A cat's failure to follow this simple instruction allowed Martin, dressed as a rat, to steal a giant biscuit without being caught. The occasion was the Church Centre pantomime, "The Pied Piper of Hamburger", which played to packed audiences in January. The cat scene was one of many failed attempts to rid the land of Hamburger of a plague of rats. Did we enjoy it? Oh yes we did!

Adrian's turn to tread the boards came in June, when he played the part of a lawyer in a play called Soap Suds produced by the Helen O'Grady Drama Academy. (Martin was away on a school trip and so could not take part.)

Snack attack

As Adrian has grown older, so have his cooking skills developed. At one time he used to come home from school and work his way through a selection of cakes, crisps and biscuits to stave off the pangs of hunger. He quickly mastered the microwave and extended his personal menu to chips and pizzas. Now that he is using the cooker, a late-night snack might include noodles, fried eggs and frankfurters as well.

This growing culinary confidence has been boosted by the Food Technology lessons at his new secondary school, Dame Elizabeth Cadbury (popularly known as "Damo"). He has brought some excellent tomato soup home so we are all enjoying the benefits.

Poet's corner

Adrian has displayed a growing talent for writing poetry. His entry in an online competition run by Poetry.Com was selected for publication in an anthology.

2001: A pace odyssey

Our journey to Romania started with an overnight ferry crossing to Holland. It then took another two days to cross Germany, Austria and Hungary. This was only possible thanks to the higher speed limits on continental motorways (130 kph = roughly 80 mph). Another time-saver was the technique of "in-flight refuelling" pioneered by Bob and Christina. Feeding the driver bread rolls and sandwiches on the move avoids the inconvenience of stopping to eat.

European travel trivia

We suffered mild confusion at some road junctions in Hungary - the nation that created the Rubik cube - and on one occasion nearly ended up in Slovakia. Nonetheless, Hungary's road planners have achieved a logical triumph by numbering the Budapest motorway ring road the M0.