Monday, May 28, 2012

Britannia All at Sea - Reprise

Let's all get in Betty Debbie's time machine and travel back 32+ years to when she was a starving college student at BYU!  This was before the inter-web-nets were instead of stalking boys we liked on Facebook, we stalked them in real life (sort of).  And by stalked...I don't mean it in the creepy way it's used now.  I'm using it in the sense that we would look up a boys class schedule (yes, we could do that back then - even without the inter-web-nets - not only was it allowed, my school actually provided the means to do so) and hang out, perhaps in the hall outside said class, and allow ourselves to be seen - thus providing opportunity for the boy to: a) notice us. b) talk to us. c) ask us for directions. d) ask us out. Was it a coincidence that after I found out that Dr. van der Stevejinck had a class in the same building as me - just one door down and one hour earlier, that I was never tardy? I always 'happened' to be waiting to go to my class when he was exiting his. "Fancy meeting you here..."
Whenever I read Britannia All at Sea, I get a little of that nervous butterfly-y feeling in my stomach when Britannia goes to Holland and 'runs into' Jake.  Yes, there is a little element of cringe involved, but I get it. 
This one's for all the girls who had to give fate a bit of a helping hand. Enjoy.
Betty Debbie

Britannia All At Sea did not have a good name with The Founding Bettys. Betty Debbie called to divvy up a month's worth of reviews a few weeks ago. One by one the books were taken until...oh, did you hear something? What was that?...just the sound of Betty Keira falling on her sword. Brittania All At Sea. That one where the girl practically has to arm herself with snares and an elephant tranquilizer gun to land our hero, right? Um, not exactly. This is yet another book that upended my derision and scorn to become very well liked indeed. Does Betty Neels rock or what?
P.S. The cover art. Bikes? Okay. Interesting heroine? I grant you. Hero? While not ugly, per se, he has too much hair for a self-respecting RDD.

Britannia Smith, 24 (but carries herself like a confident 35), is a splendidly built Staff Nurse at St. Jude's. She's engaged in a spot of multi-tasking in the sluice room--comforting a shattered student nurse and directing traffic. She doesn't know who that vast giant of a man is who wants to get on the ward but he'd better come up the other stairs like all the regular riff-raff and look smart about it.
Professor Jake Luitingh van Thien is ultimately worth all the trouble it will take to write that name out on checks for decades to come. He describes himself to Brittania less than an hour into their acquaintance as 'getting on for forty, unmarried, rich and something of a hermit; I need please no one.' Well. Hello, Mr. Fussy-britches. I'm imagining Kurt from The Sound of Music stepping out from the line and saying, "I'm Kurt and I'm incorrigible." and daring Sister Maria to do her worst.
They fall promptly in love with each other and it's not just about looks either. Haven't they just colluded to save that poor student nurse from false specimen-dropping charges (Wait. Is that poo? Does she mean poo?) wherein traits like loyalty, discretion, generosity and self-disinterest were on full display? Being in love is not going to make our Brit nurse tongue-tied and giddy though. If Jake has bad manners, well then, Britannia is going to educate him in the Miss Smith School of Manners and Butt-Kickery. Britannia manages to thread the needle--neither needlessly catty nor boringly meek. As evidenced by the time she wrinkes her nose at him in church and makes a face, she's practically a master's thesis in cheeky.
Jake, not letting the grass grow, invites her to a swanky meal at the end of her very long day. Bacon sandwiches at Ned's--greasy spoons and plastic tables evidently epitomizing London romance in the same way aggressive panhandlers and street mimes spell it in Paris? Jake gives her the third-degree concerning her marital prospects and dating status then asks if she's in love. "Yes," she said briefly, and wondered just what he would say if she told him it was himself. ...He observed in a nasty smooth voice, "I suppose I am expected to say what a lucky man he is." She puts him in a half-Nelson and makes an exit. (Okay, sure she didn't but you can't get the image out of your head now.)
Shoot. Now they'll never meet again and she's wasted her chances. But Fate is in an interesting mood and she gets an opportunity to accompany a friend to Holland on her two week vacation. She asks her parents if she should go and we are treated the the most delightful three-way dialogue about the Professor's 'suitability'. It puts me forcibly in mind of the famous "Who's on First" skit.
Editor's Note: I remember thinking that this was way way more stalker-ish the first time I read it but upon...ahem...mature reflection I rather admire Britannia for it. She has met the man she wants to marry. That man is in Holland. She must go to Holland. Betty Debbie likened it to lurking around the classroom doors of the fella you wanted to have ask you to the Homecoming Dance on the principle that proximity leads to opportunity. Britannia isn't going to chase Jake...she's just going to make chasing her a little less difficult for him.
In Holland, they meet under less than ideal circumstances. She's always on a bike. The weather is always crummy. Jake is always jumping into his Rolls (after shouting at her) and tearing down the Dutch equivalent of the inter-state leaving her to pedal on without him.
"You're not fit to be out on your own."
"...You can come with me if you like...nothing like fresh air to blow away bad temper...oh well, perhaps you can't cycle anymore."
Just when it seems like they will never make headway and that he's doomed to only see her in dumpy anoraks and sweaters for the rest of eternity, he shows up with his bike. Ah-ha! The cheekiness paid dividends. Or maybe it was calling his manhood into question...
Before you know it she's meeting his mother and Madeleine, a trendily dressed beanpole with a personality to match. And then on page 84--84, mark you! No good can come of mutual declarations of love on page 84!--he tells her that he'll never marry the beanpole because it's Britannia who makes the sun rise in the east, makes unicorns spring from baby tears and lollipops rain from the sky. Seriously though, he's quite eloquent but, though she says she returns his love, she's having none of it.
Editorial Note:
This was the other thing that nearly drove me to drink when reading this book. She spends all this time creating opportunities for him to fall in love with her and then when he tells her he has fallen 'more than a little in love with her' (a phrase which ought to be banned from proposals of marriage hereafter) she, to use a Betty-ism, funks. But upon re-reading I think Britannia had a point which, if you will grab your chair and inflatable pillow and hunker down for a spell, I will be happy to explain.
He is much, much richer than she had any reason to assume when she decided to do a spot of man-chasing. Britannia is the 'jug-of-wine-loaf-of-
bread-and-thou' type and has to adjust herself to the inadequacy of her upbringing in preparing her for a life like his (which she only finds out about 30 minutes before his proposal). She has a good point.
Having decided so firmly that she loved him and wanted to marry him, it looks as though her chasing (mild though it was) is paying off. Eek, she must be thinking to herself, I shot him with my tranquilizer gun and now it doesn't look like a fair fight. What if she is merely a passing fancy for him? What if she 'caught' him? Also, good points.

And so we move on to the second portion of the book which I refuse to waste a ton of time on as it in no way lives up to the truly wonderful first act. It slows waaaaaay down and gets a little dreary.
Jake continues to try to persuade Britannia to marry him and she continues to refuse. We do get some lovely spots of snogging to relieve the tedium of her monotonous refusals and a very frustrated doctor.
On the very last day of her holiday she takes a bike ride to take one last look at his castle. Cast aside the dubious sense it makes to be bike riding in Holland in December...No, don't cast it aside. It's the whole point of the next episode which leaves her with a badly sprained ankle, nausea, a concussion, facial bruising and two (not one but two!) fainting spells. Happily, Jake knew just where to look for the future Mevrouw Professor Jake Luitingh van Thien.
Faster than you can say 'convenient plot device', it is decided that she has to stay in Holland--at Jake's. Like a sherpa on his way to the summit, he carries her around an awful lot. But he is a little aloof--she did, after all, plan to abandon him entirely and he's understandably miffed (if still determined to make her his wife).
On St. Nikolaas she is allowed to come downstairs to the family festivities--dressed like an invalid. The only beanpole in the ointment is that Madeleine is there. Britannia is offered no better explanation than, "She always comes." Like hayfever and the seasonal flu, she always comes. (Sounds like it's time to take some Benadryl...)
After dinner, Jake proposes again (in a really lovely way) and this time Britannia is persuaded to accept. "That's better." He kissed the top of her head. "Now let us be sensible and assess the situation." He paused: "Well, let us be sensible presently." But it's still only page 154 and I worry about those two crazy kids...
The engagement is not to be made official for a week or so but things seem to settle down. Britannia is still worried about entertaining on a massive scale and caring for the Weesp china but as long as she has Jake's absolute and unconditional love...
Suddenly, that is cast into doubt. Madeleine hasn't wasted the best years of her life to come in second to some anorak-sporting, tea-swilling, British bumpkin. She makes one last throw of the dice by showing up at the castle with tears and evidence. No, let's go back and capitalize that: EVIDENCE!
The letter begins, 'Mijn lieveling...' and ends, 'all my love, Jake.' Madeleine is happy to translate. I know what you're thinking but while it is easy enough in retrospect to suggest that Britannia demand the letter (not just peeks at the intro) and trot over to the Dutch to English Dictionary for hours of painstaking translation, at the time she was upset.
Jake returns to find Britannia nothing more than miserable and confused (not accusing or Weesp china-throwing or anything) and he flips his lid. (And I don't blame him too much either--he was simple-minded about Madeleine's ability and desire to muddy his waters and spent a lot of time press-ganging Britannia to accept him and his millions.)
He practically drags Britannia back to England by her hair (30 minutes to pack her things!) no matter how she tries and tries to talk things out. She is dumped at her fuddled parents' house and he wipes his hands of her.
Less than a fortnight later she is thinner and pluckily working out her notice on the Geriatric ward. Up walks Jake (with an appropriate number of pages left in the book to make it stick this time) to engage the old lady Britannia is putting to bed in a spot of conversation. "I hope that when Britannia here is your age, my dear, she will be as charming as you, and yes, I have come to fetch her; she's my girl, you see..."
Gulp. They retrench to Ned's (bacon sandwiches) and he makes her agree to marry him tomorrow.
The End

Rating: This was so much better than I remembered. I began it in such a grumpy mood ("Oh, it's the one where she has to chase him down.") and wasn't twenty pages in before it had me laughing out loud. The first 85 pages feel like something out of a Fred and Ginger musical--the kind where if they're not singing and dancing they're slanging like fishwives. The remaining 130 pages were not as good but I don't quibble with the writing or the plot (though I don't love, love it). Rather it's a pacing problem. The Mighty Neels peaked 60 pages too early. First half: Acerbic and effervescent courtship. Second half: Doubt and Anxiety and Bodily Injury. Final pages: Cute as a bug's ear. Britannia will have a interesting personality to manage in her husband but she is more than up to the task. I give this one a boeuf en croute.

Food: Speculaas , roast leg of lamb with spiced peaches, bacon sandwiches at the beginning and end of the book, cheese on toast, disguised eel (it would have to be), lemon sorbet and a pipkin (I want a pipkin!) of soup.

Fashion: Hospital nurse's cape, autumn colored tweed suit, short dark green dress, long pink dress (her go-to in Holland), a vast and elderly blue guernsey sweater that he makes her meet his mother in (Un. For. Give. Able.), a Gucci scarf and countless anoraks. Madeleine wears a red fox fur jacket and suede skirt.


  1. Cute Cute Cute! Except when Brit gets qualms. This is a should-a-was a Rom Com! I'm not thinking Fred and Ginger, Rock and Doris, or even Hepburn and Tracy. But who?
    Betty Megan likes Bradley Cooper and Sandra Bullock (I think she's too old for him but if we could time travel, okay)
    I like Ewan McGregor and Scarlet Johansson But I've never seen them in a comedy, so...
    And body else?

    1. Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth.
      Betty Anonymous

    2. How about Joan Hackett and James Garner?

  2. Britannia All at Sea, what a truely enjoyable read. Especially the beginning. The only thing that grates a little (read lot) on my nerves is the heroine's I'm-only-middle-class-I-could-not-possibly-learn-to-run-a-large-RDD-home thinking later on. If the RDD's excellent housekeeper (who, in all probability, is not even middle class) can run a home this size, why does Britannia think she could not. Wait, she will not even be expected to do the cleaning, the cooking, the dishes (no, not even the Weesp), the laundry, the ironing, the grocery shopping, the She will have ample experienced household help – who have run the RDD home to perfection for years and, in all probability, will continue to do so. So what is her problem? Where does she see a problem?

    I am getting on for forty, unmarried, rich and something of a hermit; I need please no one. - The colossal conceit. If anybody said something of the sort to me I would not pity him, like Britannia, I might give him a pitying look, I would greatly dislike him. (I would look down my nose at him. He he.) But I love it when RDDs/REDs make arrogant remarks like that, even though I don't like them for it.
    Betty Anonymous - getting a little muddled in her script

  3. Take a look at the photostream of this RDD-worthy home in Hoenderloo, Jake's village in the Netherlands. The house has been sold, so I don't know for how long one can enjoy the pictures. (Well, most of them, anyway.)
    Black and white tiled floor. Ha.
    Betty Anonymous

    1. Can anyone read the Dutch and tell us more about the house, like when it was built and when it was renovated? Some of it looked too "new" for a proper RDD (although the kitchen with all the mod cons looked nice for the Jollys).

    2. It's a beautiful house; thanks Betty Anon. It does look pretty new in the photos, and I'm curious what that roof is. Mock thatch? I also get the impression they used the fisheye lens in every shot to make the rooms look bigger than they are...

    3. The good news: Built in 1936, new traditional thatched roof in 1992, completely renovated in 2003, 11,585 square meter lot, outdoor kitchen, teahouse, small paddock for one horse.

      The bad news: No pepperpots, this would be where RDD's mom moved to after he married.

      The worst news: The fireplace was imported from........(dare I say it?)...Belgium.

      Betty von Susie

    4. A few more details:
      260 square meters
      1500 m³
      7 rooms (4 bedrooms)
      garden, garage and barn/storage
      parklike grounds
      thatched outside kitchen with barbecue

      Built in 1936, completely renovated in 2003.
      The villa is built in traditional style and thatched.
      The insulated thatched roof is from 1992.
      Insulation: thermopane windows. Stone wool under the thatch, floor insulation under the orangerie/conservatory, dining room and living room.
      Content: about 1500 m³.

      Very generous "princely" entry with double front door, leaded windows (don’t know if they are stained glass) on both sides, marble/granite floor, wardrobe ( might be a coat rack), built-in cupboard and washroom (toilet). The window sills are granite.
      There is a roomy wardrobe (closet) with two doors with leaded glass. The wardrobe is done in the same style as the imposing stairs.
      The ...handmade wooden stairs with...thick red runner and copper stair rods, flanked by stained-glass windows ( with four kinds of animals from the Veluwe), take you to the first floor ( = second floor in American English).
      The office has unbreakable glass windows and a seperate side entrance, double French doors to its own patio with French tiles. The basement can be reached via the office.
      The Jollys’ kitchen is equipped with dishwasher, oven, microwave, fridge, 6-burner gas range. ... The floor is paved in dark tiles.

      The dining room has a fishbone parquet floor (2007), open fireplace and French doors. The living room has a special Belgian open fireplace with sandstone mantelpiece. The floor is also fishbone patterned parquet (2007).
      The masterbedroom has two very roomy walk-in closets and a balcony with a beautiful view. En suite bathroom.
      Theehuisje (pavillion) ...with electricity.
      Stable for one horse. (Sorry, just one horse, so forget about going for an early morning horse-back ride with the RDD. And absolutely no buying poor ill-treated donkeys off any tinkers.)
      Outside kitchen thatched (2007) with stylish kitchen block with granite counter, fridge, barbecue and fountain (?).
      Behind the garage, there is a paddock for one horse, which may be enlarged. (The paddock not the horse.)
      Central heating boiler installed in 2009.
      The kitchen and both bathrooms each have their own electric boiler.
      Betty Anonymous

    5. RDDs do often install central heat and mod cons in the kitchen, but what the beastly Dutch oath is "stone wool"?

    6. It's made from petrified sheep.

      Betty von Susie

      P.S. Okay it's made from rock that has been heated to 1600 degrees Celsius until it melts and then is spun like cotton candy but petrified sheep is funnier..

    7. I'm not sure that either one sounds like a good idea....

    8. Sorry, it's glass wool not stone wool. Does that sound familiar, Betty JoDee?
      Betty Anonymous

    9. Ah, pink fiberglass insulation...much better

    10. Mostly yellow, but I knew you'd get the picture.
      Betty Anonymous

  4. And it's only a little over a million Euros. Veronica would turn up her nose.
    But Olivia would love it.
    And I'm afraid Ariminta would think it much too grand.

  5. Sizewize, the home is probably too small for an RDD home, not enough room for the Jollys, you see, but perhaps just right for an RDD cottage in the country. 4 bedrooms. The 4th bedroom on the 2nd floor (3rd floor American) is up in the attics, right under the roof, there is a simple bathroom (shower & sink) up there as well, and a storage room. And you could install a sink or a kitchenette in the bedroom. (For Nanny or Mevrouw Boot.) The other three bedrooms and two bathrooms are on the floor below, as well as a storage room and a laundry room (completely tiled).
    Betty Anonymous

    1. I think my only concern is that it's too modern for The Great Betty and thus for her RDDs. Lovely, but modern. I know: how about if it's the place his parents buy and move to when it's time to leave the family home so their son can live with his own wife and children?

    2. Mag, Mag, Mag,
      Are you ignoring me? I already said that's where his mom could move to because you KNOW his dad died already, La Neels likes to axe those parents you know, when she isn't axing kiddos. I think she wants the RDD to be the only alpha male in the book. Too much trouble to flesh out a character? Kill'em.

      Betty von Susie

    3. There are plenty of poppet RDD fathers running around (older replicas, retired, help with the practice during travel, etc.). They do, however, generally still live in the ancestral home while the RDD occupies his maternal grandmother's legacy. However, when the old guy dies, the mom is booted out tout suite (she wants to go...). Not so much on the tart-mouthed great aunts though....

    4. Booted out tout de suite? - Shame on you for even thinking it. Ok. You're just trying to be funny , right? Anyway, Mevrouw Mourik van Nie told little Tishy, when she asked, How could you bear to leave it?, that when the children were quite small she told her husband that if he were to die first she would want a house of her own, so that Jason would feel free to lead his own life.
      Betty Anonymous

    5. You said it Betty JoDee!
      Charming gracious-still-beautiful mother? Out she goes. Meddling toothless old hag (with bosoms like raisins, I'm sure)oh please do stay forever, Madame Plot Device! Betty must have dreamed of having a fan club of bald headed readers the way she made/is still making us want to pull our hair out, IMHO.

      Betty von Susie

    6. Betty Anonymous, I often try to be funny. Alas, according to The Consequences of Brighton, this is rarely achieved.

    7. Which reminds me, Betty JoDee (and sidestepping Betty von Susie, who's mad at me for failing to acknowledge that she's smarter AND faster than me), that our house is clean. Hint hint. Lots of room for the pledges of your Brighton Tourism, and a pool.

      Just say when.

    8. I could never be mad at you Magdalen (and certainly not smarter, and only a little faster because I am on vacation this week and have nothing better to do) You are an original Betty and I am in awe of your awesomeness. I'm just a Betty come Lately....

      Betty von Susie

    9. Betty JoDee, I often try to be funny myself. This is rarely achieved when speaking to my mother.
      ℬetty Anonymous

  6. This is one Betty Neels that I love, for some reason. It's not meaty, nor is it Top 10, but I like coming back to it for comfort read.