Christmas News 2010

Climb every mountain

"The four of us took our main holiday in Western Austria last August. We did lots of walking, absorbed the wonderful views, and explored the local mountains and lakes. We took trips into Switzerland and Liechtenstein as well." - Miriam

The highest place we visited was the Silvrettasee, a reservoir constructed at the watershed of two mountain valleys, and accessible only via a long series of hairpin bends. We were impressed by the efforts of the many cyclists who make the punishing climb to the top, and by the restraint of those who freewheel down again without going over the edge. We let the car take the strain, and had a leisurely stroll around the lake.

A cable car took us up the Pfänder for good views over the Bodensee (Lake Constance), but we had to do the hard work to climb the spire of Germany's tallest church, the Münster at Ulm.

Opera deconstructed

"I went on holiday to Austria, where I saw a theatrical model of a broken statue, which reminded me of the poster of Escape from New York, which is one of my favourite films. Next to it was a model of an elephant with high-visibility clothing in it." - Martin

The statue and elephant were part of a gigantic opera set, built on a stage on the Bodensee for a production of Verdi's Aida. The outdoor theatre was open to visitors during the daytime. We couldn't go to the performance as it was fully booked months in advance, but we made a mental note never to buy tickets for the front three rows of seats, all of which would leave spectators with very wet feet.

Airborne invasion

A paraglider flying over fields

The house we stayed in was half way up the side of a mountain, and on most mornings we were treated to the sight of paragliders floating down from their launching site high above us on their way to a landing place in the village below.

Left: Paraglider descending towards the village of Schnifis

There was a much larger craft on display at Friedrichshafen in Germany, where an airship was undergoing flight trials over the town and the adjoining lake. Below, the Zeppelin museum celebrates the town's former leading rôle in development and manufacture of these magnificent ships of the sky, as well as housing an art exhibition.

The four family members in front of a castle

Family group outside the Schloss Vaduz, Liechtenstein

A distant group walking by a lake with mountains in the background

Walking around the Silvrettasee

Lost in Liechtenstein

A stream flowing between woods with mountains in the background

The tiny state of Liechtenstein only has one main road that goes through it from north to south, but we still managed to take a wrong turning in the car and found ourselves climbing through a village and heading into the clouds. A short tunnel brought us into another world: the heart of a walking area, where two mountain valleys meet. In bright sunshine we followed a path a little way up one of them, walking back through a picturesque village.

On the way we were passed by a coachload of Liechtensteiners - the most we ever saw together in one place.

A few weeks after our return, Liechtenstein played a football match against Scotland at Hampden Park before a crowd which was larger than the entire population of their country.

Left: Mountain valley near Steg, Liechtenstein

Europe's wild west

"I went on holiday to the Azores where I saw some colour-distinguished houses like in Tenby and some calderas." - Martin

"We stayed on the largest island, and visited their sulphurous pools, like those we saw in Iceland. The Azores are wild with lots of mountains and lakes. We had cool and sometimes wet and misty weather but on good days superb walks and wonderful views." - Miriam

Located far out into the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores' volcanic origins are visible everywhere. The western end of the island of São Miguel is dominated by a huge caldera - a volcanic crater with walls some 500 metres high. We walked part of the way around the rim, and visited the sleepy village and two lakes that lie within the crater.

Wet and wild

People on a truck throw water bombs at people in the street

Young people letting off steam - sorry, water

While exploring the Azores' largest town, Ponta Delgada, we were puzzled to see plastic waterproof jackets being given out in the street. As crowds gathered along the sea front and youths filled plastic bags from the sea, a shopkeeper told us that this was part of the annual Carnival.

It started with sporadic lobbing of water bombs, and turned into an all-out water fight when trucks laden with young people armed for aquatic Armageddon arrived. Those of us watching from a distance were reasonably safe as long as we could dodge the occasional misguided missile.

A village, lake and wooded hiils with a tree-covered crater wall in the distance

The Sete Cidades caldera. Behind the far wall is the Atlantic Ocean. The hills inside the caldera are the remains of smaller volcanoes

Family fun

Never mind the Alps - the highest point of the year was accompanying my sister Carol for the grand entrance to her wedding, on a day which provided many wonderful memories. Adrian had another key rôle as he demonstrated his guitar busking skills while the photographs were taken.

We had another wonderful day when one of our councillors got married in Somerset. Back in Birmingham, the sound of drums filled our church as African friends renewed their marriage vows.

"In July, we had a family reunion in West Sussex at Steve (my brother) and Linda's home. We met for the first time my cousin Juan and his wife Eliane, and also met up with Juan's younger brother Tommy, whom I haven't seen for about 30 years, and his partner Gerda. Tommy and Gerda had come from Argentina having a couple of months holiday and seeing relatives in Europe. In addition my 4 Rosenfeld cousins and some children and grandchildren all met up with us, making 20 in all. We had a lovely time, on this beautiful sunny weekend, stayed at the local pub, explored West Chiltingdon (near Pulborough). We enjoyed wonderful food together contributed by different people and cooked to different traditions." - Miriam

Half man, half marathon

Although the World Cup got more extensive media coverage, the real sporting event of 2010 was the Birmingham Half-Marathon which took place in October. The previous year I had watched as the runners streamed along Pershore Road past our church. This time I was one of the competitors, jostling for road space with club runners, a banana, Batman, a gorilla, a bishop (a real one!) and thousands of rank amateurs like me.

The morale boost supplied by the crowd cheering outside the church had to keep me going for a very long way, but I did make it to the end. There's a full report on how I got on here.

The bishop beat me by 10 minutes!

Miriam at work

I continue to enjoy my work at the University of Birmingham. At the beginning of last year I was trained to do smoking cessation advice and subsequently applied to run a research study based on smoking cessation methods. I now coordinate a number of part-time nurses who run clinics for this research in their own surgeries; and I have a couple of clinics of my own.

Studious sons

"I am currently in my final year at college, which is why this year I have been attending open days at universities. I have been to Staffordshire University, the University of Worcester, Birmingham City University and the University of Wolverhampton. I am considering doing an illustration course." - Martin

Adrian is in the final year of his course at Queen Mary College, London. His future plans are still uncertain.

Vote early, vote often

We have elections just about every year in Birmingham, and in 2010 the General Election fell on the same day as the City Council elections, requiring extra effort all round. My campaigning tools included a hammer and a Stanley knife, but no voters were harmed in their use: I was mounting giant posters on garden stakes.

We had a busy time handling the offers of help that came flooding in and feeding the hungry troops, especially on polling day.

At the count, an enormous cheer from the Edgbaston counting area (next door to ours) at about 2 am signalled the end of Conservative hopes of forming a majority government as they failed to capture that crucial marginal. It was a similar story in Solihull, where the small amount of canvassing and delivery that I had performed may have helped to restrain the blue advance.

Campaigning in Solihull had some distinctive characteristics. I noted that some residents showed the strength of their support by displaying a poster at both entrances to their front drive.

A poster of Gordon Brown defaced with a Liberal Democrat slogan

The General Election campaign brought out a lot of creative talent (not that we would ever condone such activity, of course)

Church growth

A modern church building at night with Christmas decorations visible through the glass doors

Christ Church at Christmas

Our church has been through massive upheavals in the last few years, with the complete redevelopment of the site being followed by a change of vicar, yet it's still fundamentally the same place that we joined over 20 years ago. Our "new" building is now nearly 3 years old, and has fully justified the investment that was made in it.

Some welcome developments this year have been the establishment of an additional music group to allow more people to be involved and to reduce the load on us "lifers", and the installation of acoustic tiling to eliminate excessive echo.

It's also encouraging when people ask for a page to be added to the church website to cover a new activity that has started. Speaking of activity... 10 of our members took part in the Birmingham Half-Marathon, so we know a bit about staying the course.

The year in photos

A church built in Azorean style

Church at Mosteiros, São Miguel, Azores: or, indeed, just about any church on the island, as they all look the same

The city gates at Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Azores at night

The city gates at Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Azores

Phil and Miriam stand by a pool from which steam is rising

Underfloor heating at Furnas, São Miguel, Azores: The locals use holes in the ground to cook food

A church with onion dome and mountains in the background

Church at Bartholomäberg, Austria, in evening sunshine

A small church with a mountain and low cloud behind it

Church at Steg, Liechtenstein

Looking down on the roof of a modern building with café tables and chairs outside

Looking down from the spire of the Münster at Ulm, Germany

Children play on a Zeppelin climbing frame in front of the Zeppelin Museum, Friedrichshafen, Germany

Friedrichshafen, Germany: The Zeppelin capital of the world

Two giant feet on a platform surrounded by water

Part of the opera set built on the Bodensee at Bregenz, Austria

Martin and Adrian in conversation behind a balcony railing

Practising long lens photography