Monday, October 21, 2013

A Summer Idyll--Reprise

Good Evening, Bettys!
 Aunt Kate of A Summer Idyll is sure a piece of work.  She's a baddie of epic proportions.  I mean, sure, she donates all of her estate to charity but to specifically mention a young relation (you know, the one who showed up for the cool hand on the fevered brow routine in your hour of dire necessity) only to cut her out of it is in poor taste.  And The Great Betty did NOT do poor taste (unless it was to point out that some of our heroines had a crummy wine palate).
Anyway, as long as we're on the subject of unexpected wills, what would you imagine any of our heroines would do with a sudden windfall? (And don't say buy a wild horse and live depressingly alone in the country all winter.  That's taken.)
 Love and lardy cakes,
Betty Keira

For some reason, the plot to A Summer Idyll is very easy for me to remember:
  • Phoebe Creswell (22) is a nurse in training.
  • She's been on a few dates with Houseman Basil even though he is flashy and she is plain.
  • Basil takes her to a party wherein she drinks something that tastes like 'sugared petrol'
  • Basil ditches her so that he can go clubbing
  • Phoebe runs into him at the hospital a couple of days later, he insults her, she slaps him silly. It's official, I like her.
She considers dropping out of her training and starting again at a different hospital, but before she has time to put that plan into effect, Aunt Kate calls Phoebe's boss and demands that Phoebe come and take care of her in her time of need.

Dr. Pritchard channels his
inner stalker.
Phoebe is under no illusion as to how fun this will be (not at all), but it solves her problem rather neatly, so she heads off to Woolpit (yes, Woolpit) the very next day. Aunt Kate makes Attila the Hun seem warm and cuddly.  She has a 'young whipper-snapper' of a doctor.  Dr. George Pritchard (32) may be hot and Phoebe may be plain, but that doesn't stop him from falling for her. She likes him quite a bit, but that's all - as far as she's concerned, he's way out of her league. He, on the other hand, has taken to watching for glimpses of her out his surgery window.

And then Aunt Kate dies.

Even though Phoebe was her only living relative, even though Phoebe was the only one to come and nurse her in her final days...Aunt Kate leaves all of her worldly possessions to charity.  All.  She does mention Phoebe in the will...just to reiterate the fact that Phoebe is to get nothing. No. Thing.

For some reason Basil the Houseman shows up on the doorstep the day after the funeral. Phoebe shuts the door in his not-as-handsome-as-Dr.-Pritchard face after informing him that Aunt Kate didn't leave her any inheritance at all, including the house. Dr. Pritchard watches from his surgery window. Gears are turning in his head - if Phoebe isn't to live in the house, where will she go?

With a few weeks grace period (before the house is sold), Phoebe arms herself with some nursing magazines and starts writing application letters. Before the spit is dry on the stamps, Dr. Pritchard proposes! Editor's Note: I'm going to give him a pass on this MOC. He's in love and doesn't want her tangled up in nurses training somewhere else, possibly far away.

"Thank you George, you're a saint!"
He divulges the fact that he's 32 years old, half-Dutch and his first name is George. Hmm. George.  That brings to mind another guy named George. St. George. You know, that guy who killed a dragon. George Pritchard is not called upon to kill a dragon, but he does wallop a leather-clad biker who is stealing the silver and threatening Phoebe with a flick-knife. Yes, a flick knife. Best fight scene in a Neels, ever. Phoebe even gets a kiss.

Did I mention the implied future conjugal relations? George suggests that they take it slow and get to know each other for a month or so...
Phoebe: After we're married?
George: Yes. I'm quite sure we'll be a happily married couple pretty dang soon.
Happily married couple? George is sure thinking ahead. He proves his foresight again when they go shopping in Cambridge. He practically shoves her into an expensive lingerie shop and tells her to buy three of everything. He's got a twinkle in his eye (probably their firstborn...if you get my drift).

They are married by special licence.
Is there such a thing as too much pink?
Not in Neeldom.

Maybe it was the way he encouraged her to buy unmentionables...maybe it was his heroic gesture in regard to the violent biker...whatever the reason, Phoebe starts imagining a future in which they share the big bedroom at the back of the house.

Two days after the wedding, things start going south.  I mean east. They head off to Holland for 10 days.  They should have gone to Stourhead...relationships are forged and strengthened at Stourhead. Stourhead. Word.

What's that strange hissing sound? It's a snake in the grass named Corina. Corina. I can't say enough bad things about Corina. She monopolizes George - acts like she's his one and only. She flings herself on him at every opportunity. What does George do about it? Nothing. He passively allows Corina to push his brand-new wife away.  It's Corina who puts the beginning seeds of doubt in Phoebe's mind, but I blame George for allowing those doubts to fester.

The one good thing about the trip to Holland is that Phoebe realizes she's in love. And with that realization begins to allow George's cousin, Kasper, to flirt with her. Aargh! I just get frustrated at the amount emotional manipulation going on here. Phoebe is fascinated by Kasper - and blushes whenever his name comes up.  Like she has a guilty secret - which she doesn't! She does cast her good sense to the wind and encourages Kasper a tiny bit when George allows himself to be monopolized by Corina. Again.

A few badly chosen words and Kasper is invited to visit them in Woolpit, come June.

Woolpit(!) is lovely in early summer, George and Phoebe are settling in and finally starting to get to know each other...when here comes Kasper! Oh, and he's brought Corina with him. With enough luggage to stay a month! 

Corina does her best impression of a wolf hunting down a straggling caribou and goes after George with unparalleled single-mindedness. Gone is any chance for Phoebe to have time by herself with George.  Corina has dug herself in for a long spell of trench warfare. Phoebe fights back with strict breakfast hour rules. Seems kind of weak in the face of Corina's blatant artillery, but that's all she's got.  Luckily for her the village of Woolpit experiences it's own little measles epidemic. Corina and Kasper flee the scene.

Time for a happily ever after? No, George suggests that they should drive up to London and have dinner (and dancing) with Corina and Kasper. Phoebe prays for someone in the village to need some urgent medical attention...a fractured femur would be providential. Too bad for Phoebe that the entire village happens to be disgustingly healthy and un-accident prone. The dinner is just as bad as she thought it would be. Corina once again monopolizes George...she is left with Kasper...again.

Back in Woolpit things start to get back to normal...Phoebe sits around knitting, George reads the paper and takes naps in the sun when he's not working. I can see them sliding into Mr. and Mrs. Barcalounger.

Phoebe has time to contemplate the state of the that Corina was gone there would be time for her to get closer to George. She had no idea how to go about it - because she had no sexy little tricks. (To quote The Princess Bride, "I do not think that means what you think that means...")

Time now for a happily ever after? That would just be silly...because just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, it's The Return of Corina.

Not every book in the Canon has an unforgivable line...but many do. In A Summer Idyll it's when George asks Phoebe to apologize to Corina.
Corina was perched on the rent table, with her legs swinging. That she had been talking about Phoebe was obvious from the look of triumph she shot at her as she went into the room. She said at once in a little girl voice: "You see, George, how cross Phoebe looks. She doesn't want me to stay - she said she hadn't invited me..."

He looked up briefly: "You've already said that, Corina, and I'm quite sure that if Phoebe did say that she didn't mean it. My wife would never be inhospitable to our guests." His voice hardened. "And if she did, I'm sure it was inadvertent and she'll apologize."

Corina then proceeds to stay and monopolize George FOR A WEEK!!! She is finally dislodged by a quartet of poisoned kiddies and a missed trip to Cambridge.

After George FINALLY escorts Corina off the premises, all's well that ends well.
"Happen they be in love?"
"Happen they are." Mrs. Thirsk smiled broadly. "And high time too."

A couple of laps around the lake would give
those crazy kids enough time to sort themselves out.
The moral of this story? Visit Stourhead first!

Rating: I really really like the first half of this book - which made the second half much less enjoyable. The second half could have benefited from more bikers and less Corina. I liked George much better in the first half when he was actually doing something.  Once he and Phoebe get married, he turns into just about the most passive hero in Neeldom. He allows Corina full reign to do her worst...public kissing, private rides home, monopolizing a newlywed, etc. His seeming approval of Corina's actions is what drives Phoebe to  allow Kasper to flirt.  Drove me crazy. Of course Phoebe doesn't help matters along by inviting Kasper to visit. I'm as baffled as Phoebe when George says, "I was always under the impression that a girl knew when a man was in love with her - you're the exception to the rule." Really? Did he read that in a book? A girl knows when a man is in love with her? How was she supposed to know? 
The first half of the books is a Queen of Puddings for me.  The second half merely rates a Cheese Board.  I'd say it averages out to a helping of Mince Pies
Food: A drink that tastes like sugared petrol, tiny sausage rolls, tiny vol-au-vents, smoked salmon on slivers of brown bread and butter. Aunt Kate has fish in milk, egg custard and coddled eggs. Mrs. Thirsk is famous for her rabbit stew with dumplings. For her first dinner party, Phoebe makes watercress soup, ribs with little cutlet frills covering the charred ends, saffron rice and pavlova. Mrs. Thirsk prepares lunch that includes tomato soup, lamb chops and a 'green salad ice cream' for afters. I couldn't find any recipes for green salad ice cream. I'm wondering if it was a punctuation error. 
Fashion: green jersey separates bought at the January sales, worn with a velvet jacket - it was the wrong outfit to wear to a party where all the other girls were wearing slinky black dresses with deep vee necklines and no backs worth mentioning.  A grey wool dress that did nothing for her, a dull brown dress that wasn't any better. Shopping trip to Cambridge where she not only gets a load of new lingerie, she also gets pink satin high heel bedroom slippers.


  1. Great review. Very ehem racy?
    My favourite picture:
    Just when you think it's safe to go in the water
    Corina 2.

    re.: You've already said that, Corina, and I'm quite sure that if Phoebe did say that she didn't mean it. My wife would never be inhospitable to our guests.
    Dear George, I have hardly any quarrel with you but should you not have asked Corina what she had said or done to make Phoebe say what she did? And could you not have spent a little less time with Corina?

    I am not sure I would have even mumbled an apology. I am very much afraid I would have thrown accusations at various heads...

    You'll be glad to know you were right in your assumption, Betty Debbie(?):

    Lamb chops and a green salad comma ice cream for afters.

    1. And to make matters even worse, George confesses, at the end, that he paid all that attention to Corina in order to make Phoebe jealous! No. Just no. He deserved to have a hideous heirloom vase thrown at his very thick head. And that fatuous line about 'I thought all girls knew when a man was in love with them' Sheesh......
      Betty Barbara, who was underwhelmed by this Betty book

    2. Agree with the review and the comments. I was very disappointed with George's treatment of Phoebe from the time Corina entered their lives. He seemed a wholly different character from the gallant and kind George that we saw before the wedding. His excuse that he was only trying to make Phoebe jealous did not justify the amount of flirting he did with Corina during what would be the honeymoon stage of his marriage with Phoebe. I thought Phoebe was amazingly forbearing. In her place, I would have yanked Corina out of the front passenger seat of the car the first time she tried sitting there, instead of resignedly sitting in the rear seat and watching the two of them flirt before her eyes.

    3. I have not seen George flirting with Corina at any time. But he could have spent a lot less time with her. Sometimes he did push Corina aside, figuratively speaking, but not often enough. But, hey, it would have been an awfully boring and short novel if he had remained glued to Phoebe's side. As a practiced traveller - one of three kids on the back seat - I would have known how to make my wishes known regarding the seating arrangements - kid #1, "Ich will am Fenster sitzen!" kid #2, "Ich will am Fenster sitzen!" kid #3, "Nein, ich will am Fenster sitzen!"
      Ich = I
      will = want
      am = at the
      Fenster = window
      sitzen = to sit
      nein = no
      All in all, I would like to think that I would have done a lot more talking back.

    4. I always insist on guests having the front seat. I was reared to believe that's the way it's done. Host/hostess drives; guest of opposite sex goes in front, hostess/host in back with front passenger's spousal equivalent. It's a combination of courtesy to guests and that whole spouses don't sit next to each other at dinner concept.

    5. BvdB, I was raised that way too. Standard military etiquette. In a modern twist, in our dual-military household, I often drive, which oddly turns into a ladies-in-front, gentlemen-in-back formation. I did like the breakfast standoff....killing the enemy with politeness.

      Betty A: "I will am Fenster sitzen!" sessions usually generated "Kindern, halt den Mund!" in our childhood travels. What is the opposite of fahrvergnugen? (forgive lack of umlaut)

      Kindern = children
      Halt den Mund = Shut up!

      Side note: Do not teach your 4th grader to conjugate the verb "fahren". They take unseemly delight in the past perfect tense.

    6. Oh, Thanks, Betty van den Betsy, now I understand better why Phoebe accepted the internal car arrangement. I guess it's a different cultural practice. Over here in my country (Singapore), if a couple gives somebody or another couple a lift, it is quite accepted for the partner of the driver to sit in front beside the driver. Of course, it is all right for the guest to sit in the front passenger seat for pragmatic reasons such as the guest being a particularly close friend of the driver and the two not having met up for some time and hence wanting to chat, or if there are space constraints and it makes more sense for a more generous-sized guest to sit up front if the rear seat is going to be filled with 3 other passengers. But in a situation where the driver is a married man with his wife present and the guest being a lady who is not a close relative, it is usual for the female guest to take the rear seat. A guest behaving like Corina would raise some eyebrows over here! The same goes for dinner table seating arrangements here. Apart from formal events where Western protocol is adopted, for less formal meals with friends and family, couples usually are seated together.

    7. This is what I like about participating in a blog like this. I get to learn things that I would not know of if I were just passively reading the books on my own (including German words from Army Betty)! :-)

    8. I found out why Phoebe did not even attempt to displace Corina from the front seat. The sneaky serpent! It was while they were in Holland, after dinner at Kasper's humble thatched-with-ultra-modern-ugliness-on-the-inside abode and George, it seemed, was willing to give Corina a lift that she begged to sit in front by George because on the back seat she always felt car-sick. The venomous viper, when they dropped Phoebe off she said, 'There's an awful lot you should know about George,' she said lightly 'and I'm the best one to tell you.'

      In my country, although there is that classic rule male, female, male female..., spouses apart, hierarchy - higher to lower, I have never been anywhere where the spouses apart rule was applied. – No, wait. I myself may have been guilty of separating a non-married couple because he is always clinging like a leech and cannot keep his hands to himself. Call me old-fashioned, but I think it extremely bad form if a man cannot keep his hand from his girlfriend's thigh. At the dinner table. Birthday coffee. Barbecue... So after "years of disgust", when I had the chance I seized it and seated them apart. I had heard that "her" mother was equally displeased, her mother's mother did not like it ... The girl's father was also not always happy with his behaviour, like the time the hapless lad was usurping his wife's place at the kitchen table so he could sit next to his girlfriend and when the wife joined them the young man almost drank from her glass. "That would not have happened if you'd sat in your place!", said the dad. – Now, where was I? I have never been anywhere where spouses where not placed next to each other, at table. I asked my mother, she cannot recall any event either, where spouses had been seated apart.
      I remember the time I was invited to a family christening and was placed away from anyone I might have known among strangers (my BIL's family). I was highly displeased. Still am. (Elephantine Memory Rules applied.)
      Rear seat in the car? These days, the person who gets to sit in the front passenger seat is the person deemed the least athletic, i. e. a member of the elder generation. As long as there are only four people in total... Betty A. still cannot like the middle seat.

    9. Thank you, Army Betty, for putting all those smiles on my face.

      Re.: the modern twist in your car seating arrangement – ladies-in-front, gentlemen-in-back formation

      That is very interesting, because – sit back and put on your seat belt – there is actually another more modern concept for seating arrangments

      male, male, female, female, male, male,... which is called "Bonner Sitzordnung" after our former capital Bonn. Said to have proven effective in diplomatic circles, if I understand correctly, and may further the communication at the dinner table. If, for example, the gentlemen are deep into the discussion of, say soccer, football, or the stock market, and the ladies are bored then they may find a different topic of their own to talk about. (Much more comfortable if the gentlemen aren't talking "across" you.)

      Modern rules say it's up to you if you want to seat couples next to each other or apart. Depends on the event, I suppose. If it is a very formal affair...

    10. Oops, there is an e missing. It's late, my little red pen is fast asleep.

  2. I've been trying to remember which book had the awful first half and wonderful second half, to see if I could kluge them together...

    The only thing I liked about the second half was Mrs. Thirsk. I want a Mrs. Thirsk sans rabbit stew (as a former house rabbit owner).

    I wonder if the poisoned children were inspired by the legend of the Green Children of Woolpit?

    1. How about "No Need To Say Goodbye" which is rated Treacle Tart for the first half and Queen of Pudding for the second part?

    2. That might just work.....doormat for siblings morphs to doormat for scheming Dutch visitors in the dreadful book, feisty niece morphs to RDD-land in the good one. Just a few plot devices to iron out and we could be on to something! Thank you, Betty Scott!

  3. Oyster

    I almost forgot to tell you. I was watching Inspector Barnaby (Midsomer Murders, Sauce for the Goose) and at one point when I hadn’t been paying attention he asked his wife something like What colour is oyster. And his wife said it was kind of greyish. (I was watching a dubbed version on tv. I think I will ask my brother if they have the dvd.) I was always wondering what colour that was.

  4. Woolpit
    The bus turned off the by pass, rattled down the narrow road to the village and stopped at one side of the village green. Aunt Kate's house was on the other side, beyond the village pump, a nice old house with sash windows and tall Tudor chimneys. Phoebe said goodbye to the driver and carried her cases across the green, put them down in the porch which sheltered the white wood door, and thumped the knocker.

  5. Ha! I just found what is probably the best line in Neelsdom followed by action.
    Cool off, Miss Fortesque Florina, who hadn't realised that she could feel so royally angry, picked up the jug of lemonade on the table by Wanda's chair...

  6. Bread-and-Cheese in the Hedges

    It was quite a long journey, and by the time the train reached Stowmarket, she was famished. She put her two cases in the left luggage at the station, then went into a nearby café and had a meal of sorts before collecting her luggage once more and crossing the square to board the bus for Woolpit. It was a five-mile ride and Phoebe sat in the almost empty bus, watching the first signs of spring with delight. London‘s parks were all very well, but they couldn't compete with primroses and the bread-and-
    in the hedges under a thin sunshine from a pale blue sky.

    My little red pen is resting. I’ve sent it off to bed early tonight. It threw a temper tantrum. We were looking at Google images to find the perfect hedge picture for the excerpt. Preferably with hawthorn in it. You would not believe the number of pictures titled "hawthorn" showing blackthorn in bloom. My little red pen wanted to change all the titles and I would not let it. Hence the tantrum. Sigh.

    What’s the difference between Blackthorn and Hawthorn on