Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Christmas Wish - 1994

It's funny that a book with the title 'A Christmas Wish' should be so thinly connected with Christmas. I strongly suspect that the title owes more to publishing exigencies than anything else. I'm not saying bah, humbug, it just means you'll have to get your Christmas fix elsewhere.

Olivia Harding is THE Olivia...famed in song and story. A tall, junoesque red head with a cheerful disposition who has been dating Rodney the Rat for a few years. That's our girl. She's 27, 'on the verge of 28'. By the end of the book verging on 29...
Banished to the dismal hospital dungeon as file clerk with Debbie, The Incompetent But Cute, Olivia bursts into song. ♫Oh,what a beautiful morning♫ (Trilled somewhat off-key)... Enter handsome stranger. He's there to get the notes for Eliza Brown which he asked for and to return Elizabeth Brown's notes which were sent by mistake. And so begins a story that takes nearly a year from start to finish (February or March-ish to January-ish). Olivia and Haso are bumper cars (or, if you prefer, 'dodgems') in the game of love. They bump into each other at irregular intervals...but after a couple of initial bumps that are quite accidental, Haso starts aiming for Olivia's car.
Olivia selflessly offers to be the file clerk to be made redundant during the hospital 'downsizing'...Debbie the Incompetent But Cute needs the job much more than Olivia does. Don't worry about me, I can turn my hand to anything, she cheerfully tells her soon to be ex co-worker. Unfortunately, she really can't (turn her hand to anything). 'She couldn't use a word-processor, she had no idea how to work with a computer and a cash register was a closed book as far as she was concerned.' File clerk jobs were pretty thin on the ground, and Olivia was starting to get a bit desperate. Haso hears from Debbie about Olivia's joblessness and selflessness...so he 'bumps' fate a bit and in a very roundabout way, manages to get Olivia a job offer as a Jill of all trades at the boarding school that his goddaughter Nel goes to.
Easter holidays come round and Olivia is surprised and delighted to see Haso coming up the steps. Haso is not at all surprised, but he manages to look it. He is there with Rita, Nel's mum, to pick up Nel for the holidays. Olivia puts one and one together and assumes that Haso and Rita are part of that equation. They're not, but she doesn't know that. Olivia spends the holidays with her mum and granny in London - which is loads of fun when you have a granny like hers. A granny that refers to Olivia as 'her great disappointment' - in front of Haso and Nel. Oh well, at least Olivia has a pleasant ride back to school with him. They get on quite well together...well, she's a friendly, unpretentious girl - predisposed to like people in general. Haso sees a wedding invite on the mantle - a wedding invite to Rodney the Rat's wedding...which is in a month or two. Editor's Note: Get used to the pacing - most of Olivia and Haso's interactions have a gap of weeks or months in between. Olivia takes a bus to Bath and manages to put together a suitably glamorous outfit for the wedding - a dress that looked like linen, but was nothing of the sort (from British Home Stores), a wide straw hat from a department store and a length of green ribbon to dress it up. Those items along with a pair of Italian shoes from more prosperous days and a pair of good stone-coloured gloves(also from better days).
End of term...it's time for Nel to get picked up for summer vacation - and another chance for Haso and Olivia to chat - over a joint of beef and a ham. He proves his handiness with a carving knife...'he carved the meat in a manner worthy of his calling'.
Haso just happens to be going her way - and offers to take her up to London. Lunch at his place is enlightening - in a dawning realization way. She realizes she's in love, and yes, her immediate thought is that she must hide her love away and never see him again. Thankfully those resolutions are very quickly tossed out the window.
Nel expresses a wish to Haso to see Olivia while they are in London. He's more than happy to have an excuse to see her - but then Rita invites herself along. You just know this won't end well. And it doesn't. Olivia is not at home - the thought of six weeks of summer vacation at granny's place was daunting so instead of hanging around the house, Olivia has gotten a part-time job at The Coffee-Pot. Which is where our hero, Nel and Rita find her. Rita senses competition and positively sparkles at Haso - while being rude and condescending to Olivia. Olivia assumes more about Rita and Haso's relationship than it deserves. Haso doesn't have any interest in hooking up with Rita. The one and only reason he is nice to her and spends a little time with her is Nel. Haso is a trustee and godfather to the little girl - and frankly shows more feeling for her than her own mother does.
Back at school Olivia doesn't see Haso again until Sports Day. Which is some time before half term. Let's say early fall. A page or two later it's end of term...just before Christmas break. Rita didn't keep a promise to Nel of attending the school program, but really, what did you expect? Olivia does get a bit of a shock - not from Rita's lack of attendance - no, it's worse...she's sacked. That means it's back to Grandmother's flat we go.
Sylvester Crescent is rather a depressing sight. Evidently the 'genteel' inhabitants are above putting anything so crass as Christmas decorations and/or trees up. Mr. Patel's corner store is the only cheerful sight. Mr. Patel is a sweetie pie. We'll see more of him soon. In the meantime, Haso and Nel stop by with a Christmas floral arrangement and Haso learns of employment difficulties. Which might be why he sends a large Christmas basket by way of Mr. Patel. Half a page later Christmas is over and it's the day after Boxing Day.
Haso needs a favor, and Olivia is his go-to girl. He's in Holland with Nel. Nel ran away from Mevrouw Schalk the wart faced housekeeper of Rita's. Haso would like Olivia to fly over and take care of Nel until things can be 'worked out'. Well, of course she'll come...
Olivia and Nel spend a couple of days in Amsterdam, culminating in a visit to Rita. Rita would much rather keep mean Mrs. Schalk than her own daughter. Haso drives Olivia and Nel up to Friesland to spend a few days at his mother's place. After saying goodbye Haso practically runs back to kiss her goodbye. He plans to come back in a few days to sort things out. Indeed, he comes back twice. The first time he catches her and Nel playing with his younger brother Dirk. A green eyed monster rears it's ugly head briefly - but Olivia takes an early opportunity to assure Haso that Dirk is just like the brother she never had. Whew. That's worth a steamy-ish goodbye kiss.
The next visit is when Things Will Be Resolved. Haso brings Rita...and just as Things Are About To Be Resolved - **RING** - it's A Medical Emergency. Haso has to run back to Amsterdam for a quick operation - he'll be back ASAP. Unfortunately Rita is even ASAPer. Once Haso is out of the way Rita quickly convinces Olivia that Haso is going to marry her, and that Olivia is making a fool of herself, and BTW, here's some money for your fare. Olivia packs her bags, writes a farewell letter to Haso, says goodbye to Mevrouw van der Eisler and Rita (and mentions the letter), then leaves.
The next morning Haso returns to find Olivia gone and the letter she left has mysteriously disappeared. Haso is not mystified at all. He takes Rita's purse and dumps it out. Yup, there in the detritus is Olivia's letter.
Rita: My lipsticks, my powder compact - it's smashed - and my money's spilled over the floor.
Haso: A Look of Utter Contempt.
Best Treatment of A Villainess in Neeldom. Ever.
Haso rushes back to London - he doesn't have to go to Granny's flat. Olivia is filling in at Mr. Patel's corner store. Kissing, proposal, more kissing.
'Love,' said Mr. Patel, and started to pick up the oranges.

Verdict: I love this book. My only two complaints are 1. It takes both characters quite a while to realize they're in love - they only see each other about 8 times in 8 or 9 months... 2. It's really not about Christmas...so the title is a wee bit of false advertising. Nevertheless, I love it. I really think these two kids are going to have a great marriage - he'll be a great dad, she'll make his life funner (yes, funner). Queen of Puddings - and here's a few more reasons why:
Ten Things I love about Olivia: (1)She's cheerful. (2) She's willing to work, not only that, (3)she doesn't consider working at The Coffee Pot beneath her. (4)She doesn't mind telling Haso about how she contrived her outfit that she wears to Rodney's wedding. (5)I love the way she winks at her mother to let her know that Granny isn't getting to her. (6) Her mad skills at being a Jill of All Trades at the boarding school. (7)Playing in the snow with Nel and Dirk - building a snowman and throwing snowballs. (8) The way she tells off Mevrouw Schalk for being unkind to Nel. (9) The way she makes up stories about the big painting at the Rijksmuseum. (10) Did I forget to mention that she gives up her hospital file-clerking job so that Debbie the Incompetent But Cute can keep hers? Ten Things I love about Haso: (1)He's nice to file clerks - helps Debbie do some filing and (2)has enough of a relationship to be able to tell Olivia about Debbie's family circumstances weeks(possibly months) after Olivia has left the hospital. (3)Not only offers to take Olivia to Rodney's wedding, (4)he goes the extra mile and does her proud by wearing a morning suit. (5) He is a very conscientious trustee, taking better care of Nel than her own mother does. (6)He's never mean to Olivia - going to see her when she's waiting tables at The Coffee Pot was not his idea. (7)He drives a great socking Bentley. (8)He never flirts with Rita - who dangles after him fairly blatantly. (9)When he comes back to Friesland and finds that Olivia is gone and so is the letter she left for him, he knows Rita is the culprit and he makes her confess by first dumping out her purse to find the missing letter. (10) He earns Mr. Patel's admiration (and mine) - for his unhurried kissing of Olivia. Five Things I Love to Hate about Mrs. Fitzgibbon. (1) She's the most unpleasant grandmother in Neeldom. (2) She constantly belittles Olivia. (3) She's selfish to the bone. (4) Granny is a social snob (she's distantly related by marriage to a baronet). (5) She only likes to sit in the most uncomfortable chair in the house. And Then There's The Thoroughly (and Easily) Hateable Rita. Earns 'Worst Mother of the Year Award' in the category of Widows with Young Daughters.
Fashion: Olivia may as well be walking around starkers for all the mention of clothing in A Christmas Wish. There is the infamous outfit she wears to Rodney's wedding...but I've already covered that. A blue wool dress - plainly made of good material and hopelessly out of date. Other than that, she borrows a padded jacket and wellies from Mevrouw van der Eisling so that she can play in the snow.
Food: Hospital canteen food: shepherds pie and two veg. Breaking up with Rodney meal: mushrooms in garlic sauce, Dover sole, and a gin and tonic. Rodney waves away the dessert trolley. Lunch at Haso's house: watercress soup with a swirl of cream, lamb cutlets, new potatoes, peas and baby carrots, trifle. During an outing with Haso and Dirk: potat frites with generous dollops of pickles.

27 comments:

  1. Betty Barbara here--
    I really enjoyed this book as well, though maybe not quite as much as you. And my problem is Olivia. Are her wages really so necessary to the survival of the household that she couldn't have saved up for tech school? And take it from someone who had never encountered the working side of a cash register until age 43, they are not hard to learn! All new hires get a quick tutorial, because no 2 companies use the same model. Olivia is obviously bright--so I got very frustrated with her dead-end job situation. She certainly shows that it isn't fear of Granny that is holding her back. End of rant.
    Re: the uncomfortable chair that Granny sits in. I loved that bit. She is sooo status conscious that she sits in that chair just because it came from the distantly related baronet!!
    Re: Olivia's clothes--don't forget Granny scolding her for wearing her "good skirt" for her trip to Holland. Granny was "concerned" because there wasn't money to throw around on clothes for Olivia! Yes, dear Mrs. Fitzgibbon is NOT your typical Neels' granny.

    BTW, I got the impression that Juffrouw Wart-Face was a nanny/governess/minder hired by Dear Rita to take care of Nel for the duration of that visit.

    One last comment--the thing I appreciate most about the later Neels books is that we get to see the RDD/hero deal with the "other woman" and put her firmly in her place! Love being in on the dismissal scene. In some of the earlier books the "other woman" just married an American millionaire or faded back into the background. We didn't get the pleasure of watching the hero kick her to the kerb for messing with the heroine.

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  2. I enjoyed this. I guess the pacing didn't worry me. Yes, Olivia should have been able to get on-the-job training, but you know who popped into my head as I was reading about her lack of employable skills? Diana Spencer, pre-princess. She went to the finishing school in Switzerland, and ended up working with kindergarteners. That was 1980 or thereabouts, so it did happen. (All the same, I was super annoyed with the Board of Governors sacked Olivia, who really was perfect for that job...)

    But poor Nel -- maybe Rita will "lend" Nel to Haso & Olivia and just forget to collect her back.

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  3. Ha! You did one I've read recently. I too had a problem with Olivia's job woes. A good looking well-spoken young woman with a good personality will never have trouble getting a job in high end retail, for starters, and since she'd so competent she will advance. I thought her unemployability was a Plot Device. But the getting rid of Rita made up for av everything.

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  4. Betty Barbara here--
    I guess the reason Olivia's lack of training bothered me more in this book is that there were obviously several years between the time she finished her suitable education and her father's death.(Say she graduated at 18, she's 27+ when the story starts, she and her mother have been living with dear old gran since Dad died 5 years ago, that leave 3-4 years unaccounted for).
    So what did she do with her time while living at home? We know she dated Rodney the Rat--but what else? And why was she content to live at home rather than striking out on her own?
    Most of the other untrained Neels heroines didn't have that luxury.
    At least Olivia's mother wasn't a "poor me" type.
    Of course Betty Miranda is correct--Olivia's job woes are a Plot Device, but it still irks me.

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  5. The dumping of the purse was unexpected and priceless; however, I thought Haso blew a bit hot and lukewarm too much. It seemed that he bit the dirt early, but then not so fast....

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  6. Also, for those Bettys who have a regular cover--just where is his right hand resting?

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  7. Betty Barbara here--
    (Having just looked up the original cover picture)--Oh my, oh my! Now that's a risque cover for a Betty Book!! Lookee HERE!

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  8. It looks like the author was trying to say, 'Look! I can draw hands!'

    And I doff my hat to the hyperlink, Betty Barbara...

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  9. Aw, I was going to go upstairs and look at the cover. I just hadn't quite summoned the energy.

    What I don't get about the cover -- because c'mon, he has his hand on her leg and nothing more, people -- is what's the big brown thing in the foreground. Furniture? The dog? A modesty panel because she's wearing a skirt???

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  10. What cover are you looking at, Betty Magdalen? His hand is at least on her umm...HIGH... leg. And I think what you think could be a dog is her skirt. The darker brown is her top, right? You'd better troop upstairs and see it in person.

    p.s. Olivia's hands DO look Amazonian, Betty Keira.

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  11. Betty Barbara here--
    Betty Magdalen, by now you have seen the cover and realized that she is wearing a dark brown tunic top, a camel colored skirt and his hand is in her (ahem) lap. No way is it merely on her leg!
    Like I said earlier--very risque cover for a Neels book.

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  12. In what universe is a man's hand -- yes, even an RDD's very sensitive hand -- able to feel through: the tunic top, the camel-hair skirt, her knickers and her tights (Brit speak for undies & pantyhose)? If she's wearing everything you say she's wearing (because we know Betty's Girls don't go commando, and they don't go bare legged either), then his hand is at least four layers away from anything good.

    So to speak.

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  13. Betty Barbara,
    Please explain to Betty Magdalen that the issue is not layers but geography. Please use your Mother Voice.
    Thank you,
    Betty JoDee

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  14. Betty Debbie is sitting in the back row snickering. 'Geography'!!!!

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  15. Betty Barbara here--
    As requested by Betty JoDee.....
    Ahem, here goes--
    Betty Magdalen--In Real Estate parlance--it is all location, location, location. It doesn't matter how many layers are there.
    To be very blunt (cover your ears, delicate Bettys), it looks like he's trying to cop a feel!

    And don't ever let me catch you sitting like that, young lady, unless you have a (suitable heirloom engagement/wedding)ring on your finger!

    Besides which, you shouldn't do things like that in the sitting room, you might scare the dog...

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  16. Okay, it's not Geography, it's Geometry. If any RDD thought for a moment he was going to feel anything with a hand in her lap, he's had significant brain damage and should be rushed to ... which one was a brain surgeon again? I forget. Anyway.

    If his hand were north of the Equator, I'd say, yes, he's copping a feel. The items of interest north of the Equator are convex, meaning they bulge out and can be uh, felt up. The items of interest south of the Equator -- on the female form only! -- are distinctly concave. A hand outside of clothing isn't feeling a thing.

    And the layer count is up to five, because Araminta is wearing a slip, we just know that she is.

    So no way is Professor Sittheer Koppa-Felder even sensing body heat with his hand where Betty JoDee is convinced it must be.

    Now, if your point is simply that it has, as they say in the law, the appearance of impropriety, then yes, it does, and he should stop.

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  17. Betty Barbara here--
    Yes, Betty Magdalen--now you Get It--
    the appearance of impropriety is the key phrase.

    And yes, he should stop.

    And Betty Barbara now says "Enough Already!"

    But I've had fun, how about y'all?

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  18. I'm think I'm still thinking about "an RDD's very sensitive hand."
    Can we have another Clint Walker?

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  19. Well, they're all doctors, so they all know where all the bits & bobs are, so to speak.

    And they *all* have nice hands. Even Clint Walker had nice hands...

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  20. From January 1969 The Open University of the UK was available for almost nothing (not so true today) to anyone (possibly over 18) who wished to obtain an academic qualification - distance learning!

    Clearly our heroines had never heard of it.

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  21. I think the cover shows Olivia comforting an emaciated elderly relation who is close to death. It shows her kindly nature.

    Haso is huge and weighs 15-17 stone so it cannot be Haso.

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  22. Tut, tut.
    She is wearing a dress. The light brown thing is a chair with a throw on it. (Which the artist presumably added after botching the legs logistics.) His hand is convex with his fingertips on her upper thigh. And that is it. So Betty Magdalen was right in the first place, "he has his hand on her leg and nothing more, people".

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    Replies
    1. Oh how I wish this would let me post. Clearly she is in the lap of a Vulcan. His ears are pointy and his hand is making the „Live long and prosper „ sign

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  23. Betty Grace here:

    I kept hoping that during Rita-the-Neglectful-Mummy's holiday in the South of France she would do the decent thing and die in a car crash. Lady 'Granny' Denning, being not so young, could have conferred guardianship of Nel onto Haso, who could then have asked Olivia to enter an MoC for the purpose of raising said Nel. Okay - that would have been a whole different book.

    I enjoyed this, but did feel annoyed at Olivia's lack of skills. Granny Fitzgibbon said more than once that Olivia had had no need to work before her father's death, so Olivia was one of these middle class girls who potter about at home, arranging the flowers whilst waiting for a suitable husband to come along. And probably shop at Jaegar. Hard to imagine anybody being content with such a life, but I suppose some are.

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  24. This is a very lively tale! Olivia certainly gets around. I liked it, I liked it a lot.

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  25. Oh this irritated me terribly.

    We realise that Neels' characters tend to wash ashore in a decade that is not quite their own but this was 1994!!! Surely, Olivia would have engaged in some sort of tertiary education rather than waiting for a man to wed. Yet, it seem to all the characters around her that this was her only viable option.

    What was really infuriating, is Olivia musing that she would not actively encourage her daughters to engage with their education but her sons' education was to be nurtured from a very young age. An attitude that has her on the precipice of poverty throughout the whole book.

    The plot device of Olivia's job insecurity could have been achieved by reflecting the increased casualisation of the workforce not because 'educating a female is waste of money as they are expected to marry' theme prevalent in Neels' books.

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  26. Oh, this is one of the most charming books of Betty's and, surprisingly, has not lost its charm in translation, which I happened to read first. The plot repeats partly in another book (getting quire recently the entirely collection of e-books, I read about two a day and I am sometimes a bit confused with titles), but Betty the Clever mixes different parts of different stories really smartly... and Haso is so splendid!

    @The Silence - I suppose the problem of tertiary education is, even now, the problem of having, or actually, not having enough money; but what I also observe and much laugh at it – let us say it is 1994, but the female (male also) characters seem for me simply copied-pasted in all books: the fashion, the language, the Victorian behaviour, and - first of all - wanting only to be married as soon as possible (despite of being mostly successful in their profession if they have a solid one), having a house, a bunch of children, dogs, cats, ponies and donkeys; time flies past and around them, within over 30 years they got a sapphire and diamond ring, a double-string pearl neckless, wear a full-sleeved elbow-lenght evening dress (splendidly built Disney Cinderella?) and I sometimes think that was something our Great Betty longed for herself and lacked (we do not know much of here life actually, don't we?)... anyway, I really love all, but one or two, stories, read by me so far!

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