Christmas News 2007

Island fling

We divided our holiday time between the Scottish Highlands (mountains, some flat bits) and Madeira (even higher mountains, no flat bits - even the airport is built partly on stilts over the sea).

"Hello Phil Banting"

The voice was that of a party colleague who I normally meet only at regional conferences. The place was a footpath leading to one of the highest waterfalls in Madeira - a remote spot accessible only by a gearbox-wrenching car journey followed by a stiff walk.

This unexpected social encounter reminded us that Madeira is a place for scenery rather than solitude, even in February. On a mountain path, 1000 metres above sea level overlooking a village far down in the valley below, we tried not to let on to fellow walkers that we climbed most of the way in the car (in first gear, mind you). In the capital, Funchal, waiters lurking outside their cafes engaged us in conversation to lure us in. As we approached the cable-car station in Monte, high in the hills above Funchal, taxi drivers tried in vain to tempt us away with the assurance that the taxi fare was cheaper.

What a lot of weather we've had (1)

The north of Scotland might not seem the ideal refuge from this year's miserable British summer, but as it turned out, the local micro-climate often gave us sunshine when it was pelting with rain elsewhere. We crossed the Flowlands, stopping at an RSPB nature reserve, to reach the north coast, and looked across to the Orkneys in perfect conditions.

In our second week we stayed in a flat high above the harbour in Oban, with a view of the neighbouring islands. We crossed Mull to reach Iona, with Martin and Phil taking a detour to Staffa, where we admired the rock formations (which we were expecting) and the hardy visitor who swam the length of Fingal's cave (which we weren't).

Miriam, Phil and Martin with a statue of Christopher Columbus

Atlantic explorers:
With Christopher Columbus on the island of Madeira

Martin and Adrian silhouetted on a mountain peak

High on the Paúl da Serra, Madeira's mountain plateau

Who else wants to be a millionaire?

Churches are not usually associated with great wealth these days, but ours recently became a notable exception when the Building Fund passed the one million pound mark. A significant proportion of this was due to Miriam's hard work in applying to charitable trusts for grants. Not that we are sitting on this pile of cash, because it's all being spent month by month as the building goes up - which it has been with astonishing speed since the old building was demolished in May.

"Our church's new building is now making good progress, the roof is on, the scaffolding down and we expect to move on to new things (I'm not allowed to say move back!) in the middle of February, if not slightly sooner. It has been a time of trusting God to provide, for instance by getting the building started just before the planning permission ran out but giving us the maximum amount of time to raise the necessary finances." - Miriam

Miriam's healthy happenings

Miriam is followed by a goat

My post in the Department of Public Health and Epidemiology at the University of Birmingham looking into encouraging an active lifestyle and healthy living in children continues; we are in for a challenging and busy year as we try to put in place several different types of activities in four inner city Birmingham schools. I have also returned to the Department of Primary Care (for a day and a half a week) where I have become more involved with direct recruitment of patients for health-related trials.

We had an enjoyable 2 week break in Scotland, one week in Oban and the other near Inverness, travelling up to John O'Groats one day, and spending evenings brushing up on my table tennis against Adrian. I rarely won as I make too many mistakes though. The week in Oban included a day meandering round Iona, enjoying a peaceful island (with very few cars) and the old Abbey. Our time there also coincided with their Highland games; the sound of bagpipes could be heard all over the town for much of the day.

When goats attack:
Hungry stalker at the Rare Breeds Farm, Oban

Martin looks out

Aerial view of the City of London

London Eye sight: View of the City

I went to Scotland on holiday for two weeks, where I spent the first in Inverness and the other in Oban. Two of the places I went in Scotland were Ben Cruachan Power Station [a pumped storage hydroelectric scheme] and Iona, where my church organised a trip back in 1994. While at Oban I stayed at a small flat which was colourful from the inside and gave me a clue of what my future home will look like if I lived in a flat.

To celebrate my 18th birthday, I went to London for the weekend where I went on the London Eye, visited the science museum (which was bigger than the one in Birmingham which closed down) and visited Kinetica museum, which is filled with a mix of art and technology. At London I spent the night in a small hotel which had a canteen and living room connected.

To celebrate the end of my second college year, I went on a trip with my keyworker to the Sea-life Centre, where I took quite a lot of interesting photos. We then went to McDonalds to have lunch.

On my way back home from college I walked into a flat to see what my future home would look like if lived in a flat. I took the lift to the top floor and looked through one of the windows and got a good view of a nearby building under construction [the new hospital which dominates the skyline in Selly Oak].

Two funerals...

The shadow that had hung over our family for the last few years deepened at the beginning of the year when my father's illness entered the terminal phase. The next few months were difficult for all of us as his health deteriorated, though he remained mentally alert and was spared the pain which often accompanies his condition.

Shortly before he died, we suffered another great loss with the death of Dad's sister-in-law, my Aunt Margaret. Friends since childhood, they had both been involved in an extraordinary range of activities during their lives, and both died with an active Christian faith.

...and some celebrations

There were happier occasions on Miriam's side of the family; the wedding of her cousin's daughter, and her mother's 85th birthday.

What a lot of weather we've had (2)

Adrian's luck with the weather ran out when a camping trip with friends coincided with the wettest day of the year. A lot of water came down on top of the tent and some ran under it, but fortunately none came through it.

Back in the dry, Adrian completed his first year at Bournville College. He phoned for his A-level results from near the top of Cairn Gorm; the results were as good as the view!

Phil's family finds

While Dad was doing his family tree research, I put some of his findings on our website, which brought us into contact with web searchers who had new and valuable information. I have now started to pursue the research myself, and have made some unexpected discoveries: for instance, that one of my Pardoe ancestors built some of the houses near where we live. I was also surprised to learn that my great-grandparents Pardoe, who later settled in the Black Country, were married in the same church as Miriam and me - though nearly a century earlier.

The year in photos

Funchal at night

Funchal, the capital of Madeira, by night

View of Porto Moniz, Madeira, from high up above the town

Porto Moniz, Madeira, from a view point high above the town

Looking down on a village surrounded by high mountains

View from Boca da Corrida, Madeira:
the village of Curral das Freiras is in the centre right of the picture, far down in the valley below

Adrian in front of painted signpost at John O'Groats

At John O'Groats:
Adrian describes his epic journey from the car park

The ferry heads towards Mull, viewed from a white sandy beach on Iona

The ferry heads across the water from Iona to Mull (weren't we meant to be on it?)

View of the sky through stone arches in McCaig's Tower, Oban

Above and below: McCaig's tower, high up on the hill above Oban

The evening sun shines through the arches of McCaig's Tower, Oban, casting shadows on the ground

The sun sets over distant mountains and an island

Sunset in Oban: the island of Kerrera is directly ahead

Two reindeer by an emergency roadside telephone

Roadside assistance in a lay-by at the eastern end of Glen Coe