Monday, September 30, 2013

Nanny By Chance - Reprise

Distressing?  No.
Heartbreaking? Closer at times, but no. 
Angsty? No.

I was trying to come up with a word that described Araminta's situation in life.  

...and the word is...


I find so many things in Nanny By Chance to be reeking with poignancy.  

  • she has 2 living parents...and she is practically a non-entity to them.
  • she is just fine being called 'Mintie' - probably because she's just happy to be called anything.
  • her second date with Piet van Vleet wherein her small hopes and dreams are crushed.
  • she comes home to a cold house and is expected to fend for herself.
  • her ill-fated nursing career.
I could go on, but you get the idea.  All of this could have wound up being dismal and depressing, but Araminta is made of sterner stuff..."I bought the chips because I was hungry"...Life may have dumped her into a garbage skip,  but Araminta is going to pick herself up, dust herself off and try, try again.  

-Betty Debbie


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. There's an article in today's New York Times about Amsterdam. It describes some of the sights Betty mentions (Weigh House), some of Amsterdam's history, and some of its more famous residents (Rembrandt, van Gogh, and Anne Frank.) Here's the URL:

    Betty Kathy in MD

    1. Yea! Is this Betty Kathy who went to the tea in Maryland last year?

      Betty AnoninTX

      PS Interesting article.

  2. Betty Barbara here--
    Well, this one was actually a chore to get through this re-read. Almost everything about it made me grind my teeth--her oblivious parents, her own lack of backbone and that was just the first few pages.
    I was obviously not in the mood, so I shall say no more.

    1. Poor Barb. Enjoy a nice Roses Have Thorns and feel better soon.

  3. That photo of David H. is just the worst thing ever. Really, really icky. But so perfect. Betty K., this is a great review of a less-than-great book from which you have mined the gems. Troy makes up for David, and your ersatz dialogue for Araminta and Marcus is brilliant. Who is the man in the mud?

    Even when I don't love Betty, I always love The Uncrushable Jersey Dress.

    1. Who is the man in the mud?

      From Wikipedia:
      Edward Michael "Bear" Grylls (born 7 June 1974) is a British adventurer, writer and television presenter. He is best known for his television series Man vs. Wild, known as Born Survivor in the United Kingdom. In July 2009, Grylls was appointed the youngest-ever Chief Scout at the age of 35.

      You can follow him on twitter and facebook.

    2. It's funny, though, Bettys. When I reread some of these reviews I realize that I haven't always made some of the links between the brilliance going on in my head and what I managed to write down on the screen very clear. That picture is one of those times. I wanted to say that waving pieces of clothing was funny and one might be reduced to nothing. But it's a little bit of a stretch. This is just one of those times that I think I stretched a little too far. ;)

  4. Dear Betty Kathy in MD, thank you for sharing the article in the New York times with us. It was very interesting. I had the afternoon off yesterday and was pleasantly engaged reading it and clicking my way through the links in it and then looking up some of the places in Amsterdam. I knew some of the ghosts, of course, but not all of them, and of some of them I didn’t know that they had been to Amsterdam.

    About the Weigh House in Amsterdam, it‘s a very pretty building with all the little turrets and pointed roofs. But I think it is not one of the weigh houses we have seen in the Canon. Betty van den Betsy will know if the Waag in Amsterdam has made its way onto her famous spread sheet. I remember the one in Leeuwarden and Alkmaar. Haughty Harry and Friso went to a café above the Weigh House in Hoorn. In Nanny by Chance it’s the one in Leeuwarden.

  5. Betty Illustrated vs.

    The Ghosts of Amsterdam By RUSSELL SHORTO

    In the heart of Amsterdam a little iron bridge crosses the Kloveniersburgwal canal. Standing in the middle of it gives a panorama of views: up and down the canal, through a tiny cafe-cluttered street, down yet another street, through an ancient gateway into a courtyard, and to a place where the waters that flow through and around the city execute a complicated branching maneuver. As Gary Schwartz, an American-born Rembrandt scholar, once pointed out to me, from this spot you take in the Amsterdam that the greatest-ever Dutch master experienced.

    Want to see the view? Then step onto the little iron drawbridge in Google street view. Open the link, give it some time and you will be standing in front of the Café de Doelen, close the info. Oh, oh, it was garbage day that day, what a lovely sight. Look up ^ (one click). Much better. Now look right > (three clicks) and there it is, the little iron bridge. Now simply move your cursor and step onto the middle of it and either rotate or look right or left to enjoy the view. Full screen – even better. The imposing building across the canal with the larger white boat in front of it, is the Doelen Hotel, by the way, mentioned in A Gem of a Girl. Next to the Doelen is the big, modern airy cafe called De Jaren, mentioned in the New York Times article, the site of Rembrandt’s home.

    1. It’s a small world, after all. If you open the link and you are standing in front of the Café de Doelen, don’t turn right. This time, walk around the corner into the tiny cafe-cluttered street towards what looks like a white wooden gate but is actually a bridge. When you get to the bridge, don’t cross it but turn left, walk a few steps and stop in front of the third building (red brick). Turn left to see what it says on the black door. CHURCH OF ENGLAND. Ha! This, dear Bettys is the English Church in the Groenburgwal where Adelaide Peters had sung carols and felt a little homesick on Christmas day. Aw, the poor dear.

  6. I see it's my turn to be in the minority. To begin with, I'm sorry -- I don't see a problem with Araminta being shortened to "Mintie". To each their own and all that. Besides, what's so hot about "Araminta" spelled out as a name?

    Yes, her parents were twits ("We know what's best for you dear" -- yeah, maybe when she was 2 you did ...), thoughtless and unkind. About someone criticizing her backbone -- I would point out that her upbringing didn't give her much chance to develop one, above and beyond the obvious physical kind. I kind of have the impression that if she'd tried rebelling against her parents with any force, it'd be like punching a big overstuffed bag of marshmallows -- you can pound away all you want, but you're just going to sink in and get stuck.

    I loved the little boys and Marcus' elderly Aunt and Uncle. BTW -- culinary side note -- I'd always thought that poffertjes were pancakes ... here they sound like profiteroles sans cream and chocolate. ("small balls of choux pastry smothered in fine sugar" is how they're described.) Mistake?

    1. I rather like her nickname. "Mintie", I think it's cute. You are right about the poffertjes. They are tiny pancakes. And in most cases
      poffertjes are pancakes in the Canon. It's not choux pastry. Traditionally, it's a yeast batter with buckwheat and wheat flour.

  7. "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."

    Er — no, have you? Really? Oh Betty Keira.

    This is piet-van-vliet, by the way, feathery fellow.
    PEET fun VLEET (rhymes English fleet)

    Dr. Piet van Vleet
    PEET fun VLATE (rhymes English late)

    Dr. van Vleet
    DOK-tuhr vun VLATE

  8. Boterkoek and Krentenbolletjes

    Tea poured and Jet's botorkeok cut and served, he asked, 'Well, what have you done all day? Was school all right?' The boys were never at a loss for words, so there was little need for Araminta to say anything, merely to agree to something when appealed to.

    'Mintie never has a headache,' declared Peter. 'She said so; she said she's never ill...'
    'In that case, I dare say she will be with us again in a short time,' observed his uncle. 'I see that Jet has baked a boterkeok, and there are krentenbollejes...'
    'Currant buns,' said Paul. 'Shall we save one for Mintie?'
    'Why not? Now, tell me, did you enjoy the exhibition? Was there anything that you both liked?'
    'A tent—that's why in the room at the very top. It was full of tents and things for camping.

    botorkeok / boterkeok = boterkoek
    krentenbollejes = krentenbolletjes

    Speak along:

    Jet YET

    boterkoek BO-tuhr-kook

    boter = butter BO-tuhr


    recipe & pictures: lusciously.

    • 2 eieren – 2 eggs (one for the dough, one for the egg wash)
    • 250 gram bloem – 9 oz flour
    • 250 gram suiker – 9 oz sugar
    • 250 gram zachte roomboter – 9 oz butter, unsalted, softened
    • Optioneel: amandelschaafsel – optional: flaked almonds
    • Optioneel: amandelspijs – optional: almond paste

    Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F and grease, line with baking parchment or spray your baking pan. Mix the butter and sugar and add the flour and one egg. Knead until supple and spread in your pan. If the top isn’t smooth enough you can use a warm wet spoon or a piece of plastic wrap. Beat the second egg and brush on the dough. Take a fork and draw lines on the dough, just as you like them. Then put the pan in the oven and bake for 25 minutes until done and golden brown.

    Optional ingredients:

    If you want flaked almonds on top add them after brushing with the egg wash/drawing the lines and before putting it in the oven.

    If you want an almond paste filling as you often see at the bakers, devide the dough in half. Use one part to cover the bottom of your pan. Then put on the almond paste that you prepared according to package instructions. Put on the second half of the dough and continue with the egg wash and the drawing of the lines.

    You may not expect it but a boterkoek tastes best when cooled off but you can of course taste a mini bit of it without waiting.

    Other recipes called for a pinch of salt and vanilla sugar or grated lemon zest or...

    9 inch round pan