Christmas News 2011

Rhineland retreat

A water wheel among half-timbered buildings

Monschau: What an old German town ought to look like

A tall modern building

Düsseldorf: Big and modern

"We had a family holiday in North-west Germany, within easy reach of Cologne and Aachen, a very enjoyable time for all four of us, with lots to explore, lovely accommodation and weather." - Miriam

Staying in a peaceful village on the edge of the mountainous Eifel region, we headed into the hills to reach historic towns like Monschau. The huge Rursee reservoir was astonishingly quiet, with the owners of the yachts moored around its shores evidently otherwise occupied propping up Europe's economy.

Urban art

Adrian's choice of 21st birthday treat set the cultural tone of our holiday. The Goethe Institute in Düsseldorf, full of memorabilia celebrating the writer's life and achievements, was certain to interest any student of German literature. For the 75% of us not in that category there was much to see in the rest of the city, with a stroll along the Rhine leading to the modern Medienhafen district, a playground for architects.

Cologne is rightly famous for its mighty Cathedral, but the neighbouring Ludwig-Museum, housing a huge collection of 20th century art, forms a compelling contrast. While the Cathedral's basement is filled with ancient treasures, the same floor in its modern neighbour is devoted to pop art. A brief visit to another nearby gallery allowed Adrian to get his fix of German Expressionists.

History - light and dark

View over the Rursee from Burg Vogelsang

View over the Rursee from Burg Vogelsang

A visit to Burg Vogelsang recalled some of the darkest days of Germany's history. Originally built by the Nazis as a training camp it still contains many relics of their perverted ideals, though the invading Allies defaced many of the statues and monuments.

The story was resumed at the Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschlands which charts Germany's rise from the utter ruin of 1945 to the present day. Occupying a modern building in Bonn whose size fully justifies the length of its name, it records military occupation, division and eventual reunification, attempted and successful revolutions, an airlift, 3 World Cup wins, an economic miracle and much more. A British equivalent would comfortably fit in one of the huts at Burg Vogelsang.

Multinational multibirthday

Looking down on a city canal lined with old buildings
"The middle weekend of our summer holiday was spent in Utrecht meeting up with my cousins, and German second cousins on the occasion of a 50th birthday, that also coincided with Adrian's 21st and Phil's 50 something!" - Miriam

Four generations of Miriam's extended family ate and celebrated in the restaurants alongside Utrecht's old canals, watching the pleasure boats go past until late in the evening and enjoying a boat trip ourselves one morning.

Left: Looking down on the old canal from Utrecht's Cathedral tower (Domtoren), the tallest church tower in Holland

Degrees of success

Adrian wearing a mortar board and graduate gown

We always knew Adrian was first class

"We attended Adrian's graduation ceremony in July where he was awarded a first class honours degree in Comparative Literature from Queen Mary, University of London, and has recently commenced a permanent job." - Miriam

The ceremony took place in Westminster on the afternoon of the Murdochs' appearance before a panel of MP's, which meant negotiating a path through groups of protesters and journalists to reach the venue.

Inside the hall, all was orderly, and we joined in the regular bursts of applause as the clever ones filed on to the stage for their ceremonial handshake. The award of some honorary doctorates broke the routine, and I recorded some video clips hoping for at least one famous recipient. My luck was in: although I did not recognise the name, Bruce Dickinson, once a history student at Queen Mary, is the lead singer of Iron Maiden. I posted the video on Youtube, and it has now been viewed over 11,000 times, with links from several Iron Maiden fan sites around the world. My only regret is that I did not record his acceptance speech. Oh, well, next time...

It was no surprise to us that Adrian chose to stay in London after graduation, and he has recently started a job with an IT company, building on the experience he gained in previous vacation work.

Martin goes to town

Martin standing in front of a railway station sign

Martin at Cyprus: that's his local stop on the Docklands Light Railway

"The boys have both made us so proud this year! Martin - the challenge and excitement of seeing him obtain a place at the University of East London on merit. With Adrian's support especially valuable during the first week he now seems settled." - Miriam

"I started at the University of East London, where if I do really well and try hard, this will be the last institution I will be educated at before I eventually get a job, which I am thinking will be illustrative." - Martin

A modern university campus

Martin made his choice from no less than 4 offers of university places, and has taken up residence in a flat at one end of the ultra-modern Docklands campus. The Docklands Light Railway and a well-charged Oyster card give him easy access to the rest of London, and he has met up with Adrian and other relatives as well as exploring on his own.

Left: The Student Village at the Docklands campus, University of East London. In the distance is Canary Wharf

Miriam at work

Miriam cuts a large birthday cake

In June Miriam celebrated a Big Birthday with family and friends

"The stop smoking project at work has taken up all my attention this last 18 months. It has just completed recruitment on time to the revised schedule and next will come a messy few months of com- pleting the last visits and phone calls, whilst starting the next project. This will be on a different aspect of smoking cessation and the use of nicotine replacement therapy."

"Early in 2012 I shall drop my hours of work and just go in for three days, the remaining two days being covered by a colleague as a job share - my wind down to retirement, the exact date of which is not yet decided."

Calculating the past

Close-up of an electronic printed circuit board

An example of the world's first microprocessor at the Arithmeum, Bonn

"I have been to the London Science Museum where I saw some weighing scales with numbers as weights, which I used to play with circa 1993, which was also the estimated year it was made. I have also been to the V&A where I saw the Psion Organiser, which is like an old handheld computer." - Martin

We went further back into computing history at the Arithmeum museum in Bonn which traced the history of calculating machines over several centuries of increasing mechanical complexity and ingenuity. A star exhibit was the device that made them all obsolete - the world's first microprocessor and the calculator it was designed to go in.

Church "in the can"

Christ Church in the snow

Christ Church at Christmas last year

As well as leading some music and continuing to develop our church's website, I've made use of my camera's ability to record video in astonishingly high quality.

For a special Café Church session on disability, Martin and I made a short video describing his experience of autism and how he has learned to live with it. Later in the year I was present for much of a 24-hour youth event organised to support the worldwide campaign against human trafficking. It took many hours of editing to get the video highlights down to 12 minutes.

Our wonderful modern building has also hosted a comedy evening and a live HD screening of the Royal Wedding, and we had our first Weekend Away for 14 years. Still to come...

"During early 2012 our church is running an Alpha course, the first we've run on our own. We both expect to be involved, even if just doing the washing up!" - Miriam

In other news...

Romanian reunion

10 years after our last visit to Romania, we were pleased that the family that hosted us then were able to come to Britain - the first time their children, now teenagers, had been here. They stayed with our friends Bob and Christina, who first started the link soon after the Romanian revolution. Many memories were brought back by old photos and videos, not to mention pálinka (home-made plum brandy) - once tasted, never forgotten.

Looking at a photo album

"We haven't changed a bit - well, maybe..."

Off road

My hopes of competing against Haile Gebrselassie in the Birmingham Half-Marathon - and of improving on my time in last year's race - came to an end when injury forced me off the road in the summer.

The compensation was that I got to actually see the great Haile - if only briefly as he sped past - which I would certainly not have done as a runner.

My recovery from injury has been slow but I hope to be there on the starting line next October.

Twitter: it's a riot

Social media were made a scapegoat when a wave of disorder swept across many cities, including Birmingham. Having joined Twitter only a few weeks earlier, I was grateful for the up-to-the-minute information put out by the emergency services.

Even in more peaceful times, it's a good way of keeping up with what's going on, whether among local community groups or in Middle East revolutions. Just as important... it's an endless source of satire.

The policies are hot, the voters say not

Losing a council seat in our ward last May was an unpleasant experience, but that has not deterred us from pursuing our all year round campaigning. To those of us who have been around long enough to remember coming fourth here, having 2 out of 3 seats still seems like a pretty strong position.

Political warning: Opinion poll ratings can go down as well as up, and you may not get back all the time and shoe leather you invested.

The year in photos

Adrian sits in front of a fountain next to Cologne Cathedral

Adrian contemplates Life, the Universe and Everything in the square outside Cologne Cathedral

Dover Harbour receding into the distance as viewed from the ferry

Dover Harbour receding into the distance as viewed from the ferry

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

Outrageous modern architecture in Düsseldorf

Aerial view of half-timbered buildings in the centre of a town

View of the centre of Monschau, Germany, from a hill overlooking the town

A colourful back street in the old centre of Utrecht

A colourful back street in the old centre of Utrecht

Phil, Adrian, Martin and Miriam in the old centre of Utrecht

Some suspicious-looking characters spotted in Utrecht

The River Cam viewed from Magdalene College, Cambridge

The River Cam at Cambridge, where Miriam and I spent a pleasant weekend