Monday, March 28, 2011

Nanny By Chance--1998


Araminta Pomfrey's parents didn't want her very much.  They were aging intellectuals whose implied conjugal relations were just that--implied--and it must have seemed puzzling when the little blue stick turned green.  But maybe they thought they'd make the best of things; name the little nipper Caratacus, found a dynasty of little Celts to carry on their work.  Alas, it turned out to be a girl and she didn't look all that bright either...
They lost no time thumbing through the baby-name book, determined to do their best by her.  But it all became a tedious bore long before they reached Boadicea ('What a brain-wave that would have been,' they thought to themselves in the ensuing years.), and The Book of Kells was calling, so they dragged their fingers down the page and stabbed at 'Araminta'.  That would do well enough.
She'd been a handy little homebody for several years (being more or less at their beck and call and working locally at a children's convalescent home) but now, at 23, she wanted to branch out.  Training to be a nurse was a parochial little calling.  Her parents, more disappointed than anything, had decided in the dark watches of the night that they would try very hard to accept this alternative lifestyle with good grace.
But first they'd farm her out like an indentured servant to a friend of a friend who needs a temporary nanny.  (Much of a muchness with their previous treatment of her.) What could be better?
Professor Marcus van der Breugh, 36, has been landed with twin nephews Peter and Paul for a month.  He's a busy, dedicated medical professional who is looking for 'a nice unassuming girl who won't intrude' to keep the kids out of his hair.  If there's not a junkyard dog and a 'Trespassers will be shot' sign on his heart, then there is, at least, a modest, but firm, brass-plated 'No soliciting' placard.
They hie off to Holland and settle into proscribed roles.  He to work hard and play sparingly.  She and the children to 'be [them]selves in the nursery'.  Occasionally, thoughts about her hair (of all things!), like dive-bombing sparrows in springtime, assault his brain.  And then he is disturbed about the way Miss April Mevrouw Lutyns Christina and 'Mintie' (just work past it, Bettys) seem to be circling each other.  Add that to the guilt he feels over his neglect of Araminta during her off hours...He caught her eating a paper bag full of chips!  He wouldn't let his worst enemy have a lonely meal like that.  And, worse, she seemed to be enjoying herself! Her frankness made him ashamed.  'I bought the chips because I was hungry.'  Why, he must wonder, can't things just go back to the way they were before...?
During one of their many expeditions, Paul and Peter and Mintie (urp) get locked in the top room of a toy store.  Like she's in an episode of Man vs. Wild, she whips off her stockings, breaks out a window and flies a distress flag.  And that's what a mildly-panicky Professor finds when he rushes to the scene of their disappearance: Mintie's (gah) tights waving in the breeze.
Does she get wrapped up in a bear-like hug?  Commended for her cool head under pressure?  No.  An icy-cold rage is on requisition...She'll be shot at dawn.
Things go from bad to worse.  The boys get mumps.  The only positive things to arrive from this are that Christina is loathe to darken the Professor's door and...and that's it.  The bad things are:
  • Araminta must invent new and exciting ways to tell the boys they can't get out of bed, eat anything substantive, or have any fun. 
  • The Professor leaves.  Why should he stay around just because his relations are nigh unto death?  (No.  That's unfair.  He leaves only when they are in the irritable/recovery phase.)
  • Araminta meets Dr. Piet van Vleet  (Oh Betty.) who is agreeable, presentable and disposed to take her out on dates!
(But Betty Keira.  You have made a grievous error.  You have bullet-pointed that into the 'bad things' column.)  Piet is one of those rare auxiliary males in Neels-dom who neither has long hair nor wears purple velvet waistcoats nor attempts to maul heroines on deserted by-ways in an unwelcome fashion nor chats one up as a blind for their dastardly assignations with married ladies.  (Betty Keira.  You have made a grievous error...)  So what's his problem?
The Professor couldn't get it out.
Araminta is too excited at the prospect of a day out with a real XY man to find out.  The Professor could tell her.  He sees her quiet happiness with misgiving (--and annoyance. She's never looked at him that way.)  He finds out that Piet has asked for a follow-up date.  He sees Araminta's new outfit and his stomach turns over.  But he never makes/gets a chance to say what ought to have been said.  So Piet says it. Piet van Vleet is engaged to Anna in Canada.  (Toungue Twister!)
What a rotten night.  Araminta is crushed--well and truly crushed.  It wasn't even that Piet was Young Love's Dream but he was a very good contender for Young Love's Back-Up Plan Because, Seriously, No One Else Is Interested and I'll Go Stark, Staring Mad if I Have to Listen to Celtic Lore 'Til I Die.
She holds it together until the door is closed and the Professor, already knowing how bad it must be, lets her fling herself at him and cry it out.
Editorial Note:
He assures her that it will be better if she gets it all out and I beg to differ.  When one's pride is keeping company with the Titanic, the last thing you want is a witness to it all--and, worse, a witness who has never starved for admiring females in his life
For his part, he is gently aware of 'the softness of her person' (I love our Betty) and the wholly unexpected concern he feels for her.  But that's not enough to get the train out of the station.
The household decamps back to England and Araminta, driving away from Marcus' home, has the bottom drop right out of her world.  She loves him.  Great.
Within days she has said goodbye to all that has become beloved and dear and has been escorted home by Briskett (The Manservant) who sees the empty house and the chilly welcome and the brisk note telling Araminta to fend for herself and relates it all to The Boss...who is furious.
Editorial Note:
This is his Dawning realization, I think (Even if he's still not quite man enough to admit it).  I love it because Marcus didn't even see Mintie (ick) off.  He managed to be at work and he probably congratulated himself on the level of I-don't-care-ness he (with difficulty) achieved.  And then he finds out that she was abandoned at home and the rage he feels is all out of proportion.  See, he didn't know her or her family before they met.  He'd gained an independent idea of her worth and constructed this whole life for her based on how much he treasured her.  Her homecoming, he realizes, ought to have been approximately the size of  Texas and, instead, it rises to the level of a boiled egg and some stale bread and he can't do a thing about it and he hates it.
'He took himself for a brisk walk and went to bed--but he didn't sleep.'
The following week brings Araminta to her nursing career at last--which is what she wanted in the first place.  Because she's a little behind the others, she has to get the hang of things as she goes along and she has to fill the place of an ominously washed-out student nurse on Sister Spicer's ward.  Long story short: She's a flop.  She hates it and Sister Spicer rides her hard and she's always doing something to earn her wrath.  And just when the flood-waters have risen to her chin (Can you tell we've had a sodden March here in Oregon?), Marcus catches her on the stairs and allows himself the luxury of letting her weep all over him.  (And he enjoys it.  Ugh.  He's so pathetic, he thinks to himself.)
Zippo-Chang-o and he's talked a certain nurse out of her contract (Unbuttoning his collar so the SNO could oogle his chest hair was so demeaning but what had to be done had to be done.) and into a position at a young boy's boarding school as Assistant Matron.
When she gets time off to visit Peter and Paul for the weekend he attempts a little wooing but he's only successful in unpacking all the red herrings he brought.
Oh Troy.  I can't say if I'll still love you when
board shorts become the fashion...
Her: Are you going to be married?
Him: Heck yes.
Her: Is she pretty?  I want to hack my tongue off for saying that.
Him: Yes. I think she the most babe-a-licious babe in the universe.  Do you recognize my description from anywhere?  The bathroom mirror, perhaps?
But they don't get anywhere...until she is dismissed from her job (right before Christmas!) and crying her eyes out (Part II was a bit of a weep-fest.) in a beach shelter.  (The theme music to A Summer Place is playing in my head right now.)
He makes it clear in no uncertain terms that he won't crack open a book about Celtic history for as long as he lives.
The End

Rating: Queen of Puddings.  I don't know if this rating would apply to every reading but this book just happened to land at just the right time for me in the TBR queue.  Yes, Araminta is the quintessential Araminta--plain, put-upon and poor(ish)--but she manages to be a great match for the Professor--always plucky but never snappy (maybe she's tart during the worst of the mumps but hardly ever).
One of the details that I can't quite swallow is fact that she can't make it as a nurse--her circumstances for success (prior experience with ill children, good sense, and her slightly more mature age) all bode well for a career as a professional fevered brow soother.  Also, the ending (in what, I swear, sounds like a sea-facing bus shelter) is a little anti-climactic.  Oh, and I loathe the idea of everyone calling her Mintie forever.
But these are small quibbles.

Food: Apple tart and whipped cream, roast guinea fowl, marinated aubergine, sea bass and sticky toffee pudding, chips (which offend the Professor greatly), krentenbollejes (currant buns), mushroom soup (which my childish self would probably describe as floating boogers...), cold lemonade when the boys get the mumps, ice cream and yoghurt.  When she returns to her abandoned home, Araminta eats a boiled egg and stale bread (Make French toast, silly!).

Fashion: Though she doesn't have a whole lot of money, Araminta manages to wear a brown two-piece jersey with a corn silk tee shirt (both ladylike and sensible, which her Celtic-loving mother would approve), a soft, blue crepe dress described in scathing terms as 'adequate' and 'sober' and a scanty nightie that he sees her in, looking like a 'normal girl'. (How many of those has he seen?)  Mevrouw Lutyns wears a black silk trouser suit that probably looks wonderful until she bends in any direction.  For her ill-fated dates with Piet van Vleet she buys a dress and loose wool jacket in a pale amber.


  1. The Blogger just ate my entire lengthy comment AARRRGGH!!! So I’ll try to recreate.

    I ended up thinking that the sum of the parts was greater than the whole somehow. And some of the parts were indeed great:

    Her name Araminta Pomfrey (up there with Eliza Proudfoot and Ermentrude whatever)

    Parents were Celtic scholars with academic publications—“triumphs of knowledge even if they didn’t do much to boost their finances.” Professor van der Hertenzoon just received his royalty statement for last year of one of his book published over a decade ago, -28 cents.

    I was tired and had blurry contact lenses so I read family doctor name as Dr. Jekyll instead of Dr. Jenkell. I couldn’t keep a straight face after that.

    Manservant Briskett was a hoot—beautifully written plus he humanized Marcus who was a stiff cookie except maybe for the initial meeting with Araminta (but Founding Bettys, I expected a picture).

    I loved Dr. Van Vleet as the Other Man. For once, she fell for someone believable. It was just an unfortunate set of circumstances. He didn’t do anything wrong, in fact, was quite pleasant and was not leading her on. She, because of her sheltered vulnerability and loneliness (thank you, cold fish Marcus) lowered her guard and got stung.

    Her crappiness (is that a word?) at nursing had a ring of authenticity to me. The teaching staff was used to dealing with gooey-eyed teenagers who think that nursing “might be fun” and “could meet rich doctors.” Araminta was not an eighteen-year-old to suffer the humiliation and ruthless weeding out/hazing that was requisite to the training. It was not her fault; it was the fault of the supervisors for not adjusting to her being a different classification of student than their run-of-the-mill. I’m sure she would have been fine with different handling. (She particularly disliked not being allowed to take the time to deal with the patients—a function of maturity not inability.)

    Loved the taxi driver/loved RDD’s handling of the taxi driver (this is what sets The Great Betty apart)

    In the end, however, I left strangely dissatisfied. I think I have come to the point where I would like one of our professional writer Bettys (Betty Magdalen, Betty Keira, Betty Miranda, etc.) to pen a more elaborate ending (I know, I know—breathe in and out of the paper bag slowly to restore a proper oxygen flow) for one. I don’t mean Brighton or more “Darlings,” just....

    p.s. Did it bother anyone else that Uncle Marcus had his nephews stay in the ferry cabin with Araminta instead of himself? Oops, I mean “does it bother anyone else that Uncle Marcus had Araminta keep the boys in her ferry cabin instead of keeping them in his cabin?”—giggle. I know she was the nanny, but I thought that this did not bode well for his fatherhood.

  2. Betty Barbara here--
    Ah, another endocrinologist! But this one doesn't fly a helicopter. Too bad--the twins would have loved that.

    My one big quibble with the story was the Dr Piet episode. Why did the young doc ask Araminta out? Did he think he was doing Marcus a favor? I can get why he didn't mention fiancee Anna from Canada on the first outing (if it was supposed to be a 1-time, doing the boss a favor sorta outing). But why, oh why did he ask her out again??
    On the plus side of that-at least it prodded Araminta into shopping!
    Trust 6 year old boys to come up with a horrible nickname and then bully everyone into using it! I did like the way they were on their uncle's case each time Marcus called her 'Miss Pomfrey'.

  3. Betty JoDee--
    I am so glad I'm not the only one whom Blogger hates! Yes, it ate my first version today and has done so on other occasions. I honestly think it has to do with how long it takes you to compose your comments. I think the comment box times out (or something). Whatever, it is very frustrating!
    Betty Barbara

  4. Betty Barbara, I told myself right before I hit "post comment" to copy it first, but did I? Nope.

  5. Well, I loved it. It's what I would call a "weepy" volume in The Canon. (I'm re-reading Saturday's Child now, and it's also a "weepy" -- I get the feeling that in writing these "weepies" The Great Betty was exorcising her own ghosts from the times in her life that she was lonely, poor, miserable, and convinced no one would ever love her. I ♥ The Great Betty.)

    Also, I went from finishing Nanny By Chance to watching last night's episode of Army Wives and that was a three-hanky show for sure.

    My only complaint -- and the reason I have to downgrade it to Boeuf en Croute is that there was no reason why Araminta couldn't have hacked nursing. NO REASON. And Marcus could have just as easily rescued her there as anywhere. Yes, I understand that The Great Betty was a bit behind the times. (Did anyone else notice that it was a SINGLE STOCKING that Araminta uses as a flag -- the other was on her leg when Marcus rescues her! -- and as we know it wasn't lacy-topped thigh-highs she was wearing that meant . . . a girdle, or garter belt. Really, Oh Great Betty? Even my mother, a scant decade younger than you, had switched to what you would call tights.)

    But I did think she could have done better by poor "Mintie" (mouthwash? ice cream?) that to have her wash out of nursing just because Sister Spicer was a witch.

    The ending didn't bother me. And, as this book has about as much of the RDD's POV as we're ever going to get, I accept the trade-off. If someone wants me to try re-writing it, though, I'll give it the old nursing school try.

    1. My understanding of Araminta (always see Harriet Tubman in my mind's eye now when I write that) and the Great Nursing School Washout was that she could hack the work, she just couldn't hack the heartlessness of modern nursing, where efficiency was the priority, and patient care and comfort took a back seat. That theory could fit rather well with a long-retired nurse authoring a story of modern times, couldn't it?

      The stockings are a hoot. I used to wear them, in the 80s, pretty regularly, until I got sick of trying to find garter belts that didn't peer out from under my skirt hems. Sadly, I was trying to be sexy, which I doubt was Araminta's motive.

    2. I actually went in for seamed stockings (with the little diamond at the heel) which were "in" for a time in the late 80s-early 90s (at least around here). Regular stockings were in then, too, and fortunately so were longer skirts so the garter belt thing (or in my case, a shaper with garters), wasn't a problem. :) I can see that would be a major hassle!

  6. @ Betty Barbara: I have stopped questioning why engaged-to-be-married men ask out heroines. The Great Betty finds nothing bizarre about it (I'm with you though) so I do my best to just accept it as part of the unexceptional landscape of Neels...

    @Betty Magdalen: Yes, yes, yes! If she hadn't spent all that time working at a convalescent home and putting up with selfish elderlies (her parents) then I could see how it might not be her cuppa...but she, more than almost any other heroine (I'm thinking of poor Polly here.) knew what she was in for.

  7. Not that Piet van Vleet needs a defense attorney, but one possibility is that Anna of Canada put him up to it. "Oh, she sounds lonely, Piet. You should show her around the place. After all, you know Dr. van der Breugh isn't going to do anything to amuse the poor girl. And if she's as plain as you say, I know I have nothing to worry about."

  8. I think the plain ones get asked out by the engaged men because they are not seen as a threat. They are essentially asexual and thus they are concerned "safe". Piet isn't concerned about Mintie putting the moves on him.

    Also, while the nickname "Minty" is atrocious, I kind of like Araminta. It sounds...pretty. Hey, it's not Bertha. I could not get over that name.

  9. Betty Caitlin hits the nail on the head. Bertha ,is the unforgiveable name...

  10. I rather like Araminta too and kept waiting for him to say, 'The others can call you Mintie but I love the name Araminta, myself'. Didn't happen.

    But Berta is a good deal more awful...

  11. Betty Barbara--
    Didn't I just state that I was never gonna write another comment without copying it before I hit "Post Comment"?!?


  12. Okay, here I go again…

    I have zero problem with a nice man showing the sights to a nice tourist. Nothing in Piet’s manner indicated that this was a “date.” Unless a guy makes the moves or is deliberately hiding it, he is under no obligation to reveal any romantic entanglement, except that in the course of becoming friends one would naturally mention an engagement. In my single days, I had a rule that I never went to lunch/dinner with a married man alone. Engagements didn’t count, although I never actively flirted or sought to attract. Now as a married woman, of course, I dine with no man—single, engaged, or married—alone (okay, Betty JoDee, who are you kidding? You don’t go anywhere without a gaggle of rugrats trailing behind). Perhaps The Great Betty was a bit more modern than some of our Bettys who seem to classify all interactions between male and female as having romantic overtones. However, if Marcus suspected that Araminta viewed this outing as a “date,” he should have made sure to drop Piet’s engaged status into casual conversation without making a big deal out of it and embarrassing Araminta. And no, I sure wouldn’t want a big heart-to-heart with a devastatingly attractive man afterward to complete my humiliation.

    PLUS, there have been plenty of Olivias/Aramintas who have traipsed all over the countryside and several countries wining and dining with RDDs, often having no idea of his marital status with nary a protest from my Fellow Bettys. Piet gets a pass.

  13. By the way, Professor van der Hertenzoon laughed aloud when I showed him the Houston Rockets graphic.

    Betty Cyndi, upon hearing of your Lent sacrifice he mentioned that he has given up hearing about the blog for Lent and that he hopes that I will respect his commitment.

  14. Oh my... now it's Sunday again, I can catch up. I do miss you guys during the week. This was a good choice for a sacrifice. At least I can come visit on Sundays. :-) Your husband is very funny, Betty JoDee. :-) I think my husband feels just as yours does. He says, "Well put, well put." My question is, how is this a sacrifice for these guys? Don't think that counts. :-) Anyway, tell him listening to your wife's obsessions is in the fine print on the marriage contract.

  15. Ooh, thanks Betty Cyndi for the "fine print" line--I will definitely use it (and we miss you during the week so it's a bit of a lenten sacrifice for your Fellow Bettys, too--that's from a non-lenten-type Baptist *laugh).

  16. Going through the archives, so I know this may never be read a year later:

    When I hit the Hasselhoff photo.....well, ROFL!

    I am grateful for the laughter you all are bringing to my life!

  17. Au Contraire, Betty Libby. All Betty's have a second sense to know when comments are being made even on old reviews. Psyche! Actually we just look at the recent comments on the side bar. ;-)
    Howjado? Not sure if you're new or old but Welcome to my orbit.
    And I second the emotion on the laughter.

  18. A very happy New Year and many, many thanks to everyone at TUJD!!!!

  19. This one was unrelentingly cruel. We know not if Neels was railing against modern society circa 1998 with late parenthood, degree inflation and the attendant shame of only wanting to be a wife and mother.

    As observed above, it is unbelievable that Araminta would not be able to cope with the requirements of the nursing course. She has harboured this ambition for a number of years and worked in a role not dissimilar. Yet, she diminished by her parents for not being an intellect (she is intelligent) therefore she is incapable of anything and as for Marcus, 'He had told her that he didn’t think she would make a good nurse and he very much feared that he was right.' We really dislike Marcus for doing this to Arminta (after she nursed the twins!!!).

    The review was more romantic than the book. LOL. Arminta agrees to marry Marcus as she is at her lowest ebb. She was psyched out of nursing, made redundant both at home and at the school. Marcus is very much her last option at some semblance of life. Hardly romantic.

    It moments like these you need Minities...