2014? It Feels Like September. Where Did Autumn Go?

Welcome to the New Year. I think. As the rather wordy title suggests, I can’t work out where September, October and November went, let alone December, which seems to have glugged its way down a drain hole in the space-time continuum. And it’s still raining. Then there were those storms along the east coast that nobody heard about, because they coincided with the two-week BBC news blackout caused by Nelson Mandela’s funeral (the great man was 94, so his death couldn’t have been completely unexpected). Boston was very badly affected and I was very upset to hear that the Stump, with the tallest parish church tower in Britain, was badly damaged. And then the Aussies set about thrashing us in the latest Ashes Test series. So the world did continue on its course, but somehow I was on another train in a different dimension, held up by a signals failure at that terrible junction just north of Ely.

While Time Team was still going, my year had shape to it: springtime was lambing, summer was filming, autumn was the garden with a bit of filming and a short holiday break, then winter was for book-writing and feeding housed ewes. Then there was Christmas and one of Mike Jupp’s amazing 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles. We all have our own routines over Christmas and in our household we try to get all our pre-Christmas jobs finished by 3.00 pm on Christmas Eve, in time to hear the opening bars (by the solo boy chorister) of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, from King’s College Chapel. While that’s playing on Radio 4, I light the fire in the sitting room, and Maisie starts preparing Christmas Dinner. Once the fire’s going, I unwrap the Christmas jigsaw puzzle and lay it out on a Victorian card table we inherited from my grand-father.

Mike Jupp puzzle, early stages

Over the years, we’ve become puzzle connoisseurs and now will always go for Mike Jupp’s work. His paintings are tight and hard-edged, with a superb sense of perspective. They’re also full of tiny in-jokes that make puzzling fun: pigs with bits that resemble quacking ducks etc. Great stuff. Mike Jupp’s best-known puzzles are the ‘I Love’ series and this year we did ‘I Love Summer’. They’re very nicely packaged and published by Gibson’s (www.gibsonsgames.co.uk), of Surrey. I know this sounds like an advert, but I it isn’t. I just like it when something’s done very well – and is good value for money.

Mike Jupp puzzle, completed

I’m very aware that I haven’t been up-dating this blog as often as I should, but as I tried to explain earlier, autumn was a blur. I spent November doing a detailed edit of my Alan Cadbury mystery, The Lifers’ Club, which goes off to press shortly (but you can still subscribe!). For the rest of autumn, I was up to my neck in writing and editing my next non-fiction book for Penguin Press, the deadline for which was January 1st. I actually finished it with a few days in hand. Phew! And then three weeks ago I received a reminder from the BBC Religious Affairs Department (I think that’s what they’re called) that Neil Oliver’s latest series, about prehistoric religion, will be coming out soon. As I said, that was three weeks ago. Since then, the first episode (mainly on the Neolithic) was broadcast last Monday (at 8.30 on BBC2) and the one that features me and Flag Fen will go out on Monday January 6th, again on BBC2, at 9.00. It was great fun to film and I really enjoyed working with Neil, the producers and the crew. They managed to achieve a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere which I’m sure will come across in the film. Anyhow, I took these two pictures while Neil was getting ready to film a sequence on the Flag Fen lake. Despite my three years as an oarsman at Cambridge, I discovered that Neil handled the coracle with far more proficiency than me. Galling that.

Neil Oliver in coracle Neil Oliver in coracle close-up

Now I must get back to plot-planning and skulduggery on the dig. Yes folks, I’m in the early stages of Alan’s latest gory adventure…

But more on that later. In the meantime, do have a happy and relaxed 2014. Toodlepip for now!

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