Christmas News 2004

Northern delights

Martin and Phil in front of Hadrian's Wall

"Friends, Romans, countrymen...
Ich bin ein Berliner"
Hadrian's Wall near Steel Rigg

This summer we spent two wonderful, if slightly damp, weeks in Northumberland. We thought it would be an interesting place to explore, and it didn't let us down. Hint to travellers between Newcastle and Scotland: you have to get off the A1 to see anything!

The main road gives the impression that the county is fairly flat, but once we headed inland we found that it is anything but. Cross-country trips provide some spectacular views but mean hard work for walkers and car engines alike. It must have been tough for the Roman soldiers who built and manned Hadrian's Wall, as we discovered on a strenuous walk where it snakes along some particularly hilly terrain.

Another long hard walk (and a final scramble) took us to the top of Simonside Crag, which gave magnificent views over the area, stretching as far as the sea and into Scotland. We didn't find the advertised ancient burial chambers on the forest walk, so had to make do with the site of a TV repeater station instead.

Back at sea level, we took a boat trip around the Farne Islands, which are home to seabirds and seals, and are protected as a wildlife sanctuary. We spent an hour on Inner Farne, and on a separate trip, Martin and Phil visited Longstone Island and went round its lighthouse.

Further north, we checked the tide tables carefully before crossing to Holy Island (Lindisfarne), where we explored the ruins of the Priory and found a play being performed in an open-air theatre.

Inland again, there was more water at the newly-built Alnwick Garden, including a spectacular "staircase" waterfall where water jets fire at apparently irregular intervals (at least, we didn't manage to crack the sequence).

Water power was put to practical use at nearby Cragside, the first house in the world to be lit by electricity, which was generated by water-powered turbines.

Jolly voting weather

In June Birmingham held its biggest set of local elections in years, with all three City Council seats in each ward up for grabs on new boundaries. Polling day saw the poor campaign workers out in sweltering heat trying to coax the voters down to the polling station.

The count was held the following day, and proved to be a marathon effort, dragging on for hour after hour as the votes were tallied. When it was finally over, it turned out our party had made four net gains. It was rather satisfying that they were all in our constituency.

One gain we weren't expecting was a UKIP beer mat which was left in our house at the end of polling day. If anyone has lost it, please let us know.

Miriam once again contested Harborne Ward, increasing her vote share and also getting the highest vote of the party's three candidates. Phil emulated this feat in Bournville, making full use of our family's key political advantage: alphabetical order, which put him first on the ballot paper.

The troops were marched back into action almost immediately to contest the Birmingham Hodge Hill parliamentary by-election. The most visible feature of the campaign was a poster war which required the use of ever-taller ladders to reach the lamp-posts on main roads. While Phil's double-section aluminium ladder was doing sterling service, at ground level the letter-boxes of the constituency were deluged with leaflets, newspapers and other literature as the parties tried to cram a full campaign into just three weeks.

On polling day the awe-inspiring might of the party machine swung into full action (well, half of it, actually, as there was another by-election in Leicester on the same day). Soon after midnight it was all over - apart from cutting down the posters, that is. We didn't quite win the seat, but once the swingometer had been put back on its hinges the statisticians told us that we had achieved the eighth highest swing in election history.

Miriam doubles up

Full view of the Angel of the North

The Angel of the North (above) towers over Martin and Miriam

Martin and Miriam at the base of the Angel of the North
My work at Birmingham University continues full-time, though I have 2 part-time posts. 

The large on-going study that I have been working on since I began at the University has successfully recruited all the patients that are needed. There are nearly 1000 of them, all aged over 75 and living everywhere from Penzance to Teesside. The follow up stage continues for a couple of years and the work becomes much more routine and desk-bound though with continued contact with several GP surgeries.

The new post is in the Department of Public health, situated across the way and also under the umbrella of the Medical school. So, back to the travelling around the West Midlands and looking at lots of medical records, for a research study with a simpler design but a large recruitment target.

The holiday in Rothbury was very enjoyable, a little wet and windy, several sights of Hadrian's wall, the Kielder reservoir, the Angel of the North (the most visited statue in the UK) and not forgetting indulging Phil with a trip to Durham, a sight of this lovely city, his old college and the church he used to attend in the market square. Alnwick had the secondhand bookshop that could meet everybody's needs so we visited twice whiling away the odd wet spell with our purchases here.

The rest of my life seems to consist of ferrying the lads to and from friends, drumming practices, the city centre and school, with continued contact with political activities and friends at church. No wonder the housework and gardening get squeezed out!

Martin marches on

Martin standing in front of Longstone lighthouse

Martin in front of Longstone lighthouse

I am planning to go to Bournville College where it seems likely that I might see someone who used to go to Uffculme school (the school I attended from 1994 to 2000) and likely to see someone who goes to my church. But I find it unlikely that I might see someone who used to go to Queensbury school.

Outside Bournville College I saw the name of one of my relatives Stan Banting. [Martin's great-uncle was a governor of the College for many years.] When I was looking around Bournville College I saw a picture of William Shakespeare, who was the guy who wrote a play in which I am studying at school called Romeo and Juliet. I have studied novels Lord Of The Flies and Of Mice And Men.

I am planning to do Work Experience as a sign writer.

I stopped going to Club 114 and started going at Cross Section which changed its name to Reloaded.

I went on holiday to Rothbury which had a library that had videos from the '80s and '90s. [Actually a second-hand bookshop which also sells videos.] At Rothbury I went to Hadrian's wall and went to Durham in which my dad went to University which happened back in the '70s.

Some of the time I have one of my friends from school called Dean at my house. With me he watches television, goes bowling and to the cinema.  At the cinema I got to see with him Paycheck and I, Robot. I sometimes go to his house and do things like go to the park and play on his brother's PS2.

I started school in year 11 (which is my final year) and my form tutor is called Mrs. Harper.

I changed the look of photos that I took in order to show how good I am on a computer, hung them up and took photos of them.

I went to Dad's Lane Fish Bar with a few of the people who go to my church and managed to eat all of my food.

When I go on buses from home to school and from school to home it has a screen which shows adverts, tells what on TV tonight and lets us see what is recorded on cameras on different buses (including the bus that you are in).

I went to a birthday party which I listened to old pop music.

Drum and drummer

Adrian looking at the guitars in a music shop

Adrian casts a critical eye over the guitars in a music shop

Adrian's drumming career got a major boost when he did his first gig in January, providing the accompaniment (with his old Dad on the piano) to the church pantomime. He has continued to make rapid progress, and has also taught himself to play the guitar.

Not content with a solo career, Adrian has formed a band with a group of friends. After many weeks of hard practice they gave their debut performance a week before Christmas at an end of term party at Adrian's school. They were good - yes, really!

New church, old building

The Church Centre separated from its "parent" at the beginning of June, changing its name to Christ Church to become a parish in its own right. This hasn't affected our day to day activities all that much, but it has created some challenges. First, instead of needing a new building, we now really, really need one. Also, Phil had the job of creating a new website in time to pull the electronic levers and make it "live" at the right moment.

Perhaps the hardest challenge, though, has been to try not to refer to the place as the Church Centre any more.

Northern celebrity special

Two figures stand out in Nothumberland's history, at least as far as the tourist industry is concerned. The first is St. Cuthbert, who made his home as a hermit on Inner Farne. Rather reluctantly, he moved to Holy island to serve as Bishop. He was eventually buried in mighty Durham Cathedral, and it's hard to believe that he would really have approved of resting among such magnificence.

More recently, Grace Darling captured the imagination of Victorian England by rowing from Longstone lighthouse to save the crew of a ship that had foundered on nearby rocks. In fact her father William, who was the lighthouse keeper, made two trips while Grace made only one, but he hardly gets a mention. Well, that's the power of the media for you.

Online activities

Our website continues to bring in visitors, mainly family tree researchers, who make "hits" on our names. This year's contacts include a friend from Phil's very early years (which led to a reunion after a 35-year gap) and someone writing a book about the Second Anglo-Afghan War in which Phil's great-great-grandfather, Henry Banting, earned a medal.


How Adrian saved the car on holiday

We parked the car on a hilly road and went out to get a view of Alnwick Castle. Adrian stayed in the car, and noticed that it was starting to move backwards. So he climbed out and put his weight behind the car to stop it moving. So that's how Adrian saved the car, but of course he's far too modest to mention it.

The year in photos

Opticians' sign in Alnwick with letters missing

Eye tests Northumberland style: if you can see all the letters, you obviously need glasses

Seals lying on a shingle beach

Seals on the Farne Islands

A multi-storey hamburger

One of Adrian's light snacks

A view looking up at the Wheel at night

The Birmingham Wheel which operated in Centenary Square for part of the year