Today's column in the Newcastle Journal and Derby Evening Telegraph aims to catch-up on what happened while I was away and look ahead to the local election campaign and its likely aftermath. Here it is in full. It is also now available as a Podcast.
The Tories say they have a "mountain to climb" in the North of England. Labour are bracing themselves for heavy losses more or less everywhere. The Lib Dems bravely claim there are no "no-go areas" for their party. Sound familiar, anyone?
Excuse me if I experience a slight feeling of déjà vu when it comes to this year's local election battle.
The two main parties appear to be playing down expectations, doubtless in the hope that things will turn out better than anticipated. The third is playing them up, in the hope that the voters will take them seriously.
But as ever, the trick with this sort of pre-election positioning is to try to separate the spin from the reality.
What seems beyond dispute is that the Government is in for a hammering as voters vent their frustration at the sense of drift that has characterised Labour for the past year.
Last September, following the failed coup attempt against Tony Blair, I wrote that if the Prime Minister was still in place by time of these elections, the party would pay the price.
As it has turned out, it appears to be a price the party is prepared to pay in order to allow its most successful leader ever a dignified exit at a time more or less of his own choosing.
But whether that is how it will be seen by the hundreds of Labour councillors, Scottish MSPs or Welsh AMs set to lose their seats on May 3 is another question entirely.
The local councils are one thing. Labour would doubtless like to win back cities like Newcastle, but it won't do any lasting damage to the party's national powerbase if it doesn't.
Local government has, in any case, nothing like the power it had when I first started covering local elections two decades ago.
The Scottish and Welsh bodies are a slightly different matter, though. They do have significant devolved powers, as Welsh Assembly leader Rhodri Morgan's recent decision to scrap prescription charges showed.
Furthermore, because most seats in the devolved bodies are coterminous with Westminster constituencies, there is much more of an interplay between Labour's performance in Scotland and Wales and its electoral prospects UK-wide.
I must confess to being surprised that Scottish and Welsh Labour MPs have been prepared to put up with a situation which is likely to see their party's powerbase in those areas significantly eroded.
If, for instance, a Labour parliamentary constituency ends up with a Lib Dem MSP, it creates a situation in which Labour's hold on the Westminster seat can be steadily undermined.
It was for this reason that I expected Scottish and Welsh MPs to be in the vanguard of a renewed attempt to force Blair out well before we got into the local election campaign.
But they bottled it, and in my view, that is something they will fairly shortly come to regret.
So, I believe, will Gordon Brown. The prevailing consensus throughout the past few months has been that the Chancellor was happy to let Mr Blair "take the hit" for the expected May 3 carnage.
If that is the case, I think that he was taking an extremely defeatist view about his ability to restore Labour's fortunes if and when he finally takes over.
If Mr Brown truly believes that he is the man to renew Labour in government, he should instead have taken the view that the sooner he took over, the better for the party's prospects.
The more electoral damage that is done to Labour under Mr Blair, the more poisoned the chalice that Mr Brown will eventually inherit.
Assuming, that is, that he does inherit. The fortnight since this column last appeared has seen a further ratcheting up of the pressure on South Shields MP and Environment Secretary David Miliband to throw his own hat into the ring.
It no longer seems possible to take at face value Mr Miliband's denials of last autumn, when he declared that he was "neither a runner nor a rider for any of the posts that are being speculated about".
His failure to kill the current wave of speculation has led to suspicions in the Brown camp that he is, at the very least, still pondering a bid.
One Brown ally said last weekend: "Miliband knows exactly what he is doing. He could quite easily say specifically, `I won't stand against Gordon' or that he is far less experienced than Gordon - something he couldn't go back on. But he doesn't."
Mr Brown, meanwhile, is in an increasingly invidious position. Like the long-distance-runner who has spent too long anxiously looking over his shoulder, his position seems to weaken with each week that goes by.
Notwithstanding its historic import, his decision to announce a 20p standard rate of tax in the Budget appears to have won him few friends and the row over the 1997 pension fund grab has been deeply damaging.
Labour has a perfectly respectable story to tell on this, which is that an anomaly in the tax system needed to be removed in order to release funds to help the many, not the few.
Instead Brown's strategy seemed to be firstly to try to conceal the evidence that he ignored civil service advice, and then when that failed, spin a cock-and-bull story about how the CBI encouraged him to do it.
It is hard - very hard - to escape the conclusion that this is exactly what Mr Blair intended when he decided to "play it long" and drag out his departure until this summer.
Messrs Brown and Blair were united on the campaign trail for one last time last week as Labour launched its local election push - but it is hard to see who they were trying to convince.
The old double act has served Labour well over a decade or more, but it has long since run its course.
And the real story now is not what happens in the days and weeks leading up to May 3, but what happens in the days and weeks immediately afterwards.