I returned to Oxford today after my Christmas and New Year holiday with a cousin in Totnes in Devon. Once again I had the pleasure of catching up with my three paternal cousins and some members of their families. It has been a great delight in recent years to be able to spend more time with this side of my family - for many years we were simply too many miles apart. In addition there is the interest of re-visiting this historic town and seeing another part of the country.
We spent a relatively quiet time over Christmas, but enlivened by family members calling in. In addition to some reading - not, of course, the books I took with me from Oxford and returned with, still unread, but ones that belong to my cousin, I took the opportunity to catch up on Sky TV link with a whole range of history viewing.
There were some interesting Time Team programmes - notably those on the evolution of the village of Nether Poppleton in my home county of Yorkshire around the site of St Everilda's seventh century monastery, on Bishop Waynflete's buildings of the 1460s at Esher and the first Earl of Bedford's house at Chenies in Buckinghamshire from the 1530s and 40s.
Two interesting programmes concentrated on the reign of King James I. The first reconstructed on a test site what would have happened had the Gunpowder Plot actually been carried through. The explosion of the thirty six barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords would, on this evidence, have been catastrophic. The second programme dealt with the background to the 1611 translation of the Bible, and with an intelligent dramatic presentation of the King at the 1604 Hampton Court conference - the actor helped significantly to restore the image of the King as a shrewd and clever political operator, something which has not always been the case.
There were also new programmes on ancient Egypt and the links between Rameses II and the story of the Exodus, arguing sensibly (rather than otherwise) for links between Akenhaten's monotheism and the revelation to Moses, others on oriental art and archaeology, and the last of the trilogy on the history of Jerusalem (soon followed on the BBC News 24 by the latest, violent, dispute between different groups over cleaning the church of the Nativity in Bethelehem).
We enjoyed watching Great Expectations, though somehow I rather kept expecting someone to tell Gillian Anderson's Miss Haversham (a bit of a left-over from the summers of love of the 1960s?) that the truth was out there...well, there were all those fog-shrouded Essex marshes surrounding the place with all kinds of dark secrets. Had it been David Suchet's Mr Jaggers one might have suspected Hercule Poirot had taken up time-travel. No matter - a production that did make me want to read a novel I have not read.
My cousin being a sports fan there was also the opportunity some good ski-jumping to watch and enjoy - except, of course, for when the recording ran out four jumps before the end...
I came back today in time to attend the annual Oxford Oratory 'At Home' held by the Oratorians for helpers in the life of the church. Once again this was a very enjoyable occasion, and an opportunity to catch up with friends from the community, on their news and on plans for the future.
The return home and the New Year has, however, been rather overshadowed by news of the serious illness of friends and of their relatives, and also of bereavements - one from last February which I only heard about just before Christmas, others quite recent.