Monday, March 11, 2013

A Christmas Wish--Reprise

The rosy fingers of Dawn didn't tickle us awake at Casa van Voorhees.  It was more like a smack across the cheek.  Daylight Savings Time (Do other countries enjoy this bi-yearly torture or is it just we few, we unlucky few, we Americans?) is always a bit of a bother.  Add to that, a lingering family-wide chest cold (augmented by my youngest pledge with vomiting (!) and eye-welding sleep gunk), being 8 (!) months pregnant and a Media-Free Fortnight ('This sounds very Betty,' you say. 'It is,' I reply--no media for two weeks and 10 days in, I'm not going to lie, it's killing me.) and what you have is a failure to appreciate being told by the oppressive hand of a nigh-dictatorial State that 6am is really 7am. 
But Betty Debbie is back from her sojourn on the incorrect coast and, let me tell you dear Bettys, that outweighs the entirety of the other, less happy, side of the ledger.  Don't you just LOVE Betty Debbie?  Because I do.
Love and lardy cakes (and a great lie-abed if you can afford it),
Betty I-promise-not-to-always-be-so-grousing Keira   

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 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'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 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.


  1. Yes, other countries "spring ahead" although they do so at odd times. I'm usually 6 hours behind my critique partner, Zara, who's Irish but lives in Switzerland. Today and for the next few weeks, we're "only" five hours apart. Then she'll spring ahead and we're back where we were before.

    1. Hey, what do you mean we "do so at odd times"? End of the month this year. Perfectly good time. Not that any time is a good time. Time they stopped this nonsense.
      Betty Anonymous

    2. The US has greatly expanded Daylight Saving Time, from early March to early November, so it's now well over half of our year. It used to be there was just a week when US/Europe had an extra hour 'off'. As much as I dislike the 'spring forward' day, I *adore* 'fall back' day, when I am suddenly an early riser, or a lot closer than I am in real life.

      Poor Founding Bettys! Betty Debbie was sick, now Betty Keira's whole family is sick, and oh, my, I do hope everyone feels much, much better very soon.

    3. Yes, poor Founding Bettys! Everyone at Casa van Voorhees, get well soon! Betty Debbie, I hope you are 100% better!

  2. I don't mind the pacing on this one. I am much more comfortable with people having time to mull over eternal pledges before making them, especially when their backgrounds and possible cultural assumptions are so very different.

    And I love them both. They seem like fairly normal, healthy, well-adjusted and even-tempered people who will be loving and respectful to each other. Really a lovely story, and a review that does it full justice.

  3. I love this story as much as I hate changing my clocks. Forward or back, it makes no difference, I just hate it!

    And with good reason!,0,2861449.story

    Betty Miller

    1. Oh, my! If that isn't a reason to go back to Standard Time permanently...

  4. Did you notice? I never have until the day before yesterday.

    'Olivia? Do you not hear what I say? Sophie Greenslade feels sick. Get her upstairs before she is, and stay with her until I come with her mother. We don't want a fuss...'

    Not the Sophy Greenslade.

  5. I enjoyed this story so very much, but I do wish that we'd been told what was to become of Olivia's sweet mother after she and Haso marry. Was she destined to remain with Mrs. Fitzgibbon and listen to that woman's endless griping and complaining (I'll admit I read the latter part of the book with some amount of anxiety myself, wondering when and if Mrs. Fitzgibbon was ever going to recount her tea cups and discover that Olivia had broken one of them. LOL) Or perhaps Mrs. Harding was to be moved to one of Haso's homes to live after the wedding? I believe that she and Mevrouw van der Eisler would have gotten on very well together. :)

    1. Dear Bettys, I too love a Christmas wish. Olivia is determined to make the best life she can despite circumstances. Haso is a little more endearing than some other of our heroes, as he is not supremely confident in his every waking moment, such as Marc Ter Feulen and Marnix Von Hessel. These are characters that I adore and strongly suspect of being hunka hunks of burning love, but they are rather full of themselves!