I shall keep trying to think of a festive tie-in for the title of our final finalist for the 2012 Best Betty Christmas vote, but doubt I’ll get there. The candidates, for the last time – second-to-last, really, as I’ll list them again when I post the voting link – are:
Damsel in Green (1970)
Caroline's Waterloo (1980)
A Girl to Love (1982)
When Two Paths Meet (1988)
The Mistletoe Kiss (1997)
A Christmas Romance (1999)
So our final re-cap is for When Two Paths Meet, recently reprised with Betty Debbie’s brilliant review. The setting is romance as geography: Katherine and Jason court in Salisbury (the only city in Wiltshire, apparently), in and around the cathedral famous for the beauty of its architecture and setting, as captured in the glorious paintings of John Constable – and, more vaguely, on the cover of the original Harlequin edition of this novel.
So we open in October, and in jig time Katherine has her first job, thanks to Jason, living quite close to the cathedral and companioning the elderly Graingers. She looks forward to deploying her salary in service of amassing a more flattering wardrobe by Christmas. She sets aside some money to buy presents for her vile brother and his almost-as-vile wife and their two unloving and unlovely children; whether that’s true-spirit-of-Christmas or get-yourself-to-a-shrink-and-deal-with-that-martyr-complex is in the eye of the beholder.
By chapter five, Katherine is a nursing aide at the hospital, and we are drawing closer to the holiday. Sister is pressing every able-bodied patient into paper-chain construction, and the ward is further bedecked with paper flowers and “coloured crepe-paper mats for the bed tables and locker tops. They would be the very devil to keep tidy and clean, observed Andy, but Sister, who considered herself artistic, always got carried away at Christmas.” Needless to say, the visit to Katherine’s family is a complete bust – “She had been stupid to come” – let us draw the veil.
An evening out with Jason’s fun and friendly young cousin, Edward, does Katherine a bit of good, as do the mince pies back at Mrs. Potts’s boarding house, and the promise of turkey on Christmas. Mildly heartened, Katherine has a bit of a spree on a snowy Christmas Eve, as she’ll be working Christmas and Boxing days. She buys herself a new wool crepe dress and plain black leather shoes, and after boiled ham with parsley sauce at Mrs. Potts’s, and then heads out to the cathedral for the midnight service. Exiting that uplifting event, she’s waylaid by the doctor and Edward and a steaming-mad Dodie Veronica, who drag her back to the doctor’s for steaming-hot chocolate and salmon (this does not sound a perfect match to me). She also gets an invitation to the Fitzroy New Year’s Eve party, which should be a doozy. Jason drives her home and kisses her cheek. Happy Christmas indeed!
Christmas day dawns early and chilly, and we’re off to work, where three RTAs in the night will keep us busy. However, there’s also a bran tub of presents; Katherine draws the last one. “notelets — so useful, Staff Nurse pointed out kindly, for writing thank-you notes for presents.
“Only Katherine hadn’t had any presents.” One could weep.
Still, the ward is genuinely festive, “the consultant surgeon, Mr. Bracewaite, arrived with the turkey and, suitably aproned and crowned with a chef’s cap, carved with the same precision he exhibited in the theatre.” (yuk) There are crackers (the bang-prize kind, not the cheese-and kind), paper hats, and a bottle of plonk (cheap wine), which the nurses drink on duty(!). Katherine gets to tour the other wards, adding another two glasses of hooch to her count for the afternoon. The alcohol content does not, fortunately, cause her to drop a patient, but she does bump into Jason in Paediatrics and drop a clanger – calling him by his first name. Oh, dear.
So that’s Christmas, but remember, it’s England – so Katherine’s early dismissal by Sister on Boxing Day counts as part of the holiday, especially as she once again gets scooped up by Jason and borne off to his house for tea ‘round the fire, with fruitcake. The witch Dodie appears, tosses out a few shockingly unkind insults, and then vanishes in a puff, leaving the Fitzroy boys and Katherine to enjoy Dover sole and trifle and poker lessons. I wish I could make a case for the 27th being part of Christmas – the snow’s still crisp and white and even – because the three of them hie off to Stourhead, and it’s just the loveliest outing ever. But I don’t see how I can advance that argument. So that’s it for Christmas When Two Paths Meet. (But New Year’s...)