Christmas News 2017

Cumbria rocks

Miriam on a footbridge at Buttermere

Walking around Buttermere

Martin and Miriam on a steep path above St Bees, Cumbria

On a steep path above St Bees, Cumbria

"We stayed a week in Cockermouth (Cumbria) with Martin, taking a small self-catering house with views over the River Derwent. The house was part of an old mill house. We had lovely opportunities to explore the Lake District, though my walking is a bit limited these days." - Miriam

Our longest walk took us on a steep rocky path past the waterfall at Aira Force, then on a long circular route across open country back to the river. On the coast, we edged past gorse bushes along a narrow clifftop path before discovering that we could have taken a much easier route through a field. Still, we felt that we had earned the commanding views along the coast and across to the Isle of Man.

Another circular route took us around the beautiful lake at Buttermere, passing through varied landscapes even without us attempting any of the hilly detours. At the end of the walk we visited the church in the village and found the memorial to Alfred Wainwright, whose ashes were scattered on Haystacks, visible at the far end of the valley.

Visitors to the area are advised to take a large supply of pound coins to feed the parking machines which are especially hungry at the most popular spots. It was of course worth every penny to be able to take the rocky path alongside Derwentwater to Ashness Bridge and to see the distinctive Herdwick sheep grazing on the hillsides.

Staying in Cockermouth put our own troubles with flooding in perspective: we met one lady who had got through 4 kitchens in 10 years. A stone wall running through our back garden forms part of the town's network of flood defences, an ever-present reminder of the devastation this beautiful town has suffered.

There are more photos of our holiday here.

Musical Malta

Phil and Miriam in Valletta

Above the harbour in Valletta, Malta

The large church and harbour at Marsaxlokk

Church and harbour at the fishing port of Marsaxlokk

"Our time abroad this year was a week long trip to Malta with the Phoenix Singers. This was at the end of May, so it was very hot, sometimes uncomfortably so. We sang at 2 planned concerts, the second being particularly well appreciated." - Miriam

The Cathedral in the ancient capital of Mdina was a magnificent venue for the first Phoenix Singers concert, but all too few people made their way through the maze of narrow streets to attend. Later in the week a tour of the beautiful island of Gozo ended with the choir singing during a Mass and then giving a well-attended concert in a huge parish church.

Malta is a small country and heavily built up, but Gozo is quieter. On another day we walked around the smaller island of Comino, leaving behind the crowds packed around the very deeply coloured Blue Lagoon and finding the rest of the island largely empty.

"A day trip to the capital, Valletta, was another highlight of the week. We took the opportunity to see a church reputedly founded by St Paul, but slightly spoiled by the Knights Templar influence that promotes human strength particularly in battle. Images of skulls adorned every possible image and statue."

Reminders of Malta's tumultuous history are everywhere. Many churches, statues and place names commemorate the refuge that St Paul and his companions found after being shipwrecked on the island. The ring of forts around the coast are a reminder of the many sieges Malta has endured, most recently during the Second World War. The medieval orders of knights that once ruled the island competed for influence, and our stay happened to coincide with a more modern contest for power - a General Election, held just a few days before a similar tidal wave rolled over the UK and which produced a much more decisive (and noisily celebrated) outcome.

There are more photos of our visit to Malta here.

Tour team

Phil with other Stirchley Baths volunteers

Let us show you round Stirchley Baths!

Phil and Miriam at the Community Inspiration Awards ceremony

An unexpected outcome of another year at Stirchley Baths was attendance at a black tie event, and an even rarer black tie photo

Of the numerous events at Stirchley Baths this year some of the most enjoyable have been the monthly heritage tours of the building, especially the part where we take visitors underground into the tunnels and a corner of the former swimming pool. Above ground, Martin has put in a huge effort to scan in documents and photos for a local archive, and Miriam has joined in a communal project to create a stitched mural which is nearing completion.

Stirchley History Group is now well established with a regular pattern of monthly events. One of our projects this year was to find out about the people who lived in some of the local streets over a century ago, and especially their occupations. This proved to be an interesting exercise in social history, and it was remarkable to discover what a varied population was here even then, when a jeweller might be living and trading next door to a coalman. Twice this year I have given illustrated talks about the history of Stirchey Baths at other venues, and have two more bookings for 2018 already.

The continued growth of the monthly Stirchley Community Market has been really encouraging. The committee ensure that there is a good mix of new and regular stalls each month and their marketing skill, especially in the use of social media, has helped to bring in more visitors this year. I arrive early at Stirchley Baths to help set up and then take lots of photos while the market is running which in turn help with marketing. The enthusiasm of the stallholders and the enjoyment of the customers all help to give a real community feel to the event.

A year of music

Miriam playing a piano duet

Miriam playing a piano duet with regular accompanist Sara Wilander at a Phoenix Singers concert

"I've played the piano a lot this year, having bought a book of Brahms pieces and some Bach piano transcriptions which are quite hard. I love playing Chopin and Schubert and have played a couple of solos at a local old peoples' home, and as a guest player for a string/wind quartet who have organised a couple of concerts to showcase their unusual combination (violin, cello, clarinet and flute)."

"I've played some more concerts with Elizabeth, retired professional violinist, playing some challenging Brahms and Mozart. I also give music theory lessons to Angela, who this year passed her grade 5 with a good merit mark." - Miriam

Supporting church

Snow on the front steps of Christ Church

Warm community: the Christ Church building is heavily insulated against a winter snowfall, but we are very much in touch with the needs of the rest of the world

"We remain in the same lively and friendly church in Selly Park. I do a little voluntary work in the office, am on the prayer team, run a weekly term time coffee morning and we go to a weekly local Bible study group. I also help with our local Christians Against Poverty group, a church supported initiative to help people who are trapped in deep debt." - Miriam

Looking after Christ Church's online presence can be done from anywhere with an Internet connection, but there are many advantages to being in the building at times, especially on Friday mornings when Coffee Mates - run by Miriam - is there to supply tea, teacakes and willing volunteers to fold the printed notice sheet. It's always a challenge to reflect the diverse life of the church in our publicity and explain it in a manner to suit each medium. There are many opportunities to make creative use of photography and design and, just occasionally (recalling my former career), programming.

Spanish steps

The keyboard of the Bournville Carillon

Participation in the For-Wards project led to a visit to the Bournville Carillon: player Trevor Workman demonstrates the instrument to composer Bobbie-Jane Gardner who turned our musical ideas into a piece which Trevor performed at a special concert

A particular benefit of taking part in local activities is that so many are within walking distance. The furthest away, on alternate Wednesdays, is Kings Heath Spanish Club (about 25 minutes away, uphill). On other Wednesdays, the Crunch creative writing group is a mere 10 minutes away (on the flat), meeting at the wonderful Artefact Café.

The For-Wards project connects local composers with the community to write words and music to reflect each district of Birmingham. The Crunch creative writing group was selected to represent the Bournville area for which the Carillon was the obvious instrument of choice. We were able to go up the tower for a demonstration and a few weeks later were at the première of the the piece written by Bobbie-Jane Gardner.

Among much good news, tragedy in the sudden death of a cousin has reminded us of the frailty of life and how easily the people and things we value can be taken away from us.

The year in photos

I have posted a photo every day to Twitter using the #mydailyphoto hashtag and these can be viewed on this website. I also now have an Instagram account.

Here's a further selection of photos from 2017 taken at various places and events through the year.