Friday, April 30, 2010

Hey There, Georgie Girl! (Part II)

More books by Georgette Heyer (I told you my library had a ton of them!):

Charity Girl. At first I thought this one was going to be just like Sprig Muslin...foolish young girl runs away and is picked up by handsome eligible young man and is taken to an old girl-friend's house. Much of the book is taken up with the hero dashing about the country trying to find the young girl's missing grandfather. It's an fine read, but I wouldn't put it at the top of my Heyer reading list. (I would buy it at a thrift store, otherwise, check it out from the library)
Faro's Daughter. On one hand, I sort of have to love a book wherein the heroine has the hero kidnapped and locked in the cellar. Some sort of awesome! On the other hand, I never really connected with the gambling in the story. Deb, the heroine, is a bit more worldly than most of Heyer's heroines that I have encountered so far - but then, she does work in her aunt's gambling establishment. Deb is also quite dauntless...she doesn't blink at losing 600 pounds to the hero while playing picquet with the hero. (I wouldn't mind reading this one again, library check out.)
The Toll-Gate. Murder, mystery, more murder, midnight marriage, love at first sight. This is a story that's more about the hero than a heroine. Captain John Staples...a lovely tall drink of water. He finds a young, frightened boy alone one night at a toll gatehouse and sticks around to help - and gets caught up in a mystery. John manages to fall in love at first sight - and is a little dispairing of getting the girl to agree to marry him - until her grandfather sort of forces a surprise wedding over his own deathbed. You go grandpa! (buy it from the thrift store...or library)
These Old Shades. I have already talked about this one once: "Delightful story, fun characters. I'm not usually sold by Hero/Heroine with 20 year age differences, but Miss Heyer made it completely plausible. She also managed to make me believe that the "reformed rake" was truly reformed...and that's saying something." Lot's of fun, and if you don't mind men tottering around on high heels, then you should love this. (I would buy this one - partly due to the fact that it's a prequel to Devil's Cub)
Devil's Cub. The Zombie Bride recommended this one, and I have to say, thank you, Rebekah. It is a sequel to These Old Shades - with the son of the main characters from that novel. I do love the heroine - who shoots the hero (in the arm) in order to make her point - her point being that she isn't "that" kind of girl. She also manages to stop a sword fight - which earns her a slight wound to her shoulder and a ripped bodice. Two thumbs up. (I would buy this one!)

Cinema Betty

Cobweb Morning was unexpectedly difficult to match with a movie. Do you have any idea how many films have to do with amnesiacs? Tons. But at the end of the day, the only one that really sang to me is:
My husband and I have a running gag where I insist that Overboard is 'about Oregon'. Okay, maybe not exactly 'about Oregon' but when stunning blonde amnesiac Goldie Hawn falls off a luxury yacht (in Oregon waters!) and into the arms of the local widower-ed handy-man (Kirk Russell) and his four boys, her personality doesn't change but her priorities do.

A Girl in A Million has a girl fall in love with a man while she sits at the hospital bedside of another. That could only mean:
While You Were Sleeping

Okay, okay, maybe I'm squeezing in another amnesiac movie. But this movie has the distinction of being one of the last great rom-cons. Is it just me or did things head firmly south with The Wedding Date (gag, gag, gag)?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Betty and the Real World

Real references to actual cultural touchstones! Get 'em while they're hot!

Cobweb Morning:
  • Early on Alex gives Anthony the Pompous a look that causes him to say, "You look like one of the Furies!" Wiki tells us they are 'supernatural personifications of the anger of the dead' and that 'their eyes dripped with blood'. That Anthony really has a way with the ladies, no?
  • When Alexandra rescues the kittens and dog in the canal, Taro's reaction is not to slap Penny hard (but you can do it in your head if it makes you feel better) but to call Alex The Witch of Endor. I had to look that one up because it reminded me of Samantha's mother in Bewitched--Endora. The Witch of Endor was originally a Biblical figure who appears to raise the ghost of Samuel from the dead. Witches in the Bible? Yeah, I missed that too. One theory is that Saul, ostracized from God's favor, was reduced to participating in demeaning and taboo activities. Anyway, Alex is dripping wet and looks a bit wild and has 'resurrected' the animals from a watery grave--so maybe that's the reference. Then again, a Witch of Endor ship is referenced in the Horatio Hornblower books. Ships are wet. But there are other pop culture references to The Witch and I still think I haven't twigged to all the meaning Betty intended.
  • The little golden angel that Taro gives to Alexandra plays Away in a Manger when you wind it up. The song was originally attributed to Martin Luther proving the point that you don't need the inter-web-tubes to spread mis-leading and patently false information. It was actually penned in the 1880s but we do have the Lutherans to thank for publishing it.
  • Penny doesn't do anything buy lay around and read Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. I tracked down the December 1975 issues. She would either have to probe the fleetingly stable and emulative life of Liza Minelli or...uh...embrace the passion of dead clowns, copious eye make-up and ruthlessly plucked brows.

In A Girl in a Million we have:

  • Corinne being taken out to eat at The Savoy. During WWII the hotel's air-raid shelters were dubbed "the smartest in London", Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier first met at The Savoy and when 13 guests sit down to dinner, another place (and full place setting) is set for Kaspar (a porcelain black cat) to stave off bad luck.
  • Also, I just thought I'd reference the title. If there are 8 billion humans on the planet (I'm ball-parking here) and there are 1,000 million in each billion, then (let's see...carry the one, square root the outcome, divide by 30...) there are only 8,000 people who could be 'one in a million'--of which, roughly half are men. So, less romantically, Caroline is One in a Company of Four Thousand--not quite as pithy a title, I grant you.
  • Caroline sings nursery rhymes to help Marc come out of his coma. They include, Sing a Song of Sixpence (hearkening back to when live birds were actually cooked into pies for an amusement? Contrary views abound.), Hickory Dickory Dock (thought to be originally a counting-out rhyme like Eeney Meeney Miny Mo or Ink-a Bink) , Goosey Goosey Gander (the only one I'm not really very familiar with--is this a generational thing or an American thing?).

A Girl in a MIllion--Discussion Thread

  • Similar names. I have always maintained that the one thing stopping me from really diving into classic Russian literature are the names. When reading, my brain does a little short-hand and will read the following sentence (Pyotr Pyotrovsky and Petya Pyotrslav visited St. Petersburg...) thus: P.P and P.P visited St. P's... See. It doesn't really work. The names are long and difficult (for me--I have no ear for them) and are a little too similar to make 700 pages (Boy, the Russian classicists weren't brief, were they?) a comfortable slog. And it really is a shame because with some Brocks and Tiffanys and Georges sprinkled in there, I think I could manage it. Anyway, Neels does this a teeny tiny bit when she names our hero Marius van Houben and his tiny relative Marc van Houben. (mentally, that's M. vH. and M. vH.) Also, our heroine is Caroline and Marius's cousin is Corinna...C. and C. (--shoot. Velvet Elvis is singing in my head now.) Would it be too, too OCD if I took a bottle of white-out and renamed everybody? [Betty Debbie] Thank you. This is a pet peeve of mine - having characters with names that are similar.
  • When Marc gets out of hospital they take him on the airplane to Holland, then an ambulance from the airport to home. An ambulance? Was there no great, socking Bentley at hand?
  • I owe my increasing respect for the work of anesthesiologists to The Venerable Neels. I don't think I even gave them a thought before Betty and if I did, I certainly didn't think it required any particular skills to put someone under--securing masks and counting backwards from 10 figured highly on my list of must-haves. Foolish Betty Keira. Marius is an anesthesiologist and good thing too or little Marc might have not made it. I'm still a little sketchy as to why the doping made all the difference but I'll take Betty's word for it that the scalpel and knife were secondary considerations to his successful surgery. My own four births (happily drugged) should have taught me that it is more an art than a science. I'm all in favor of good anesthesiologists - a good one makes the pain disappear...a bad one doesn't. I've been fortunate enough to have some very good experiences with anesthesiologists (except for the unfortunate incident of setting my broken wrist while only having "conscious sedation")
  • One of the most charming bits in A Girl in a Million is the pretty, rustic summer-house that swivels towards the sun or shade. First question: What kind of ball bearing system do they have on that thing? Does it rust over winter? Does it just take a little squirt of WD-40 to get it ship-shape again? Second Question: Where on earth did Betty find one? Can you order them in a kit? What's the confirmation number on my order? When can I expect it to arrive?
  • But seriously, the only large scale thing I can relate it to is the revolving restaurant at the top of the Space Needle.
  • What a week for measles. This time Caroline catches them from a Cas patient. She had them as a young child (light case). I thought it was like chicken pox--once you've had it you're immunized. But come to that, I've had chicken pox twice...the second time was in middle school all over my face and head...because the universe wasn't satisfied with giving me head gear and glasses. The Great Betty usually has characters suffer them at home--which makes sense as the infection rate is around 90% if you've never had them before. But this time, Caro is on a ward for two weeks. I wonder how many theoretical Women's Medical patients had to suffer just so Betty could have an excuse to have Marius send Caro flowers. A Girl in a Million was written in prevalent were measles in the UK then?
  • Robert the Red Herring tells Caroline that no one will be upset if he takes her out, "I'm engaged to a girl in Birmingham...She wouldn't mind me being friendly with you." Of all the dirty cracks...Don't do me any favors, buddy. Ditto.

A Girl in a Million - 1993

Caroline Frisby ,24(small, thin and plain...except for eyes and hair), and Aunt Meg are on holiday in Holland. Caroline delivers a package for her nursing student, friend, Corinna (it's a good thing she didn't fly to Holland...suspicious packages....). As she's leaving, she misses the last step and and unlike a cat, falls down in a heap at the feet of Marius van Houben - our RDD. He stands her up, dusts her off and marches her inside so that he can bind up her scrapes. We are then treated to a whirlwind tour of Amsterdam:
  • Oude Kerk
  • Nieuwe Kerk
  • Koninklijk Palace
  • Anne Frankhuis
  • a bewildering succession of museum
  • finally, the Rijksmuseum
All in one day. Caroline and Aunt Meg were certainly out to get their money's worth of sights on their coach tour. Editors Note: Coach tours. Hmm. That brings to mind two words...Band Trip! I can't think of a more soul sucking way to go vacation. I was introduced to coach trips as a teenager (which is probably why I have no fond memories) when the marching band I was in took their yearly trip. There's nothing quite like sitting in one bus(coach) while the adolescent males in the other bus hold up girlie magazine centerfolds to the window. Ah, thanks for sharing. After traveling home in the coach, Aunt Meg tells Caroline that they could have done with a Bentley..."now that's the way to travel." I agree. I'm sure a Bentley would be much less soul sucking than a coach. Back at the hospital (did I forget to mention that she's smack in the middle of nurses training? My bad), Caroline steps on the wrong toes...literally, and gets transferred to Children's, where who should walk in but the man at whose feet she fell? Who doesn't seem to recognize her. Oops. They get thrown together quite a bit when young Marc van Boursel is admitted to the Children's Ward after a bit of brain surgery. Caroline is one of the nurses (well, student nurse) who is asked to "special" (British word alert) the comatose toddler. The Venerable Neels is at her most medical when Sister Crump is giving the nurses who will special Marc instructions, "...a craniotomy and decompression of the vault - but there is some diffuse neuronal damage....[also] oedema and some haemorrhaging so be on the look out for coning." Neuronal damage? Coning? How 'bout "Baby Boy has a Thump on His Head." As she leaves Caroline to take care of the sick little boy she gives one more pithy piece of advice "Just keep your hand on the panic bell." Well, duh. The next 20 or 30 pages deal with Caroline specialing Marc. We shall skip lightly over this part. Suffice it to say, that by dint of hard work and singing lots of nursery rhyme songs, little Marc pulls through. Sister Crump describes Caroline as being like a bulldog. "Once she gets her teeth into something, she doesn't let go." ...A conspiracy is formed to get Caroline to go to Holland so that she can continue to nurse Marc for a couple more weeks. Madge the Nurse is mad that Caroline is chosen to go...she let's off quite a rude remark "your brain's as dull as your face." Excuse me? Did she really just say that? Wow. Now that Caroline has been chosen to go to Holland, it's time for a shopping trip to Marks & Spencer! After spending some time drooling over mini-skirts and vivid tops (this is 1993 - I don't remember mini-skirts being that in vogue...knee length, maybe), she sensibly ends up buying a green voile two-piece. Caroline is about to find out that traveling with the monied class is different than coach tours and bus queues...going through the airport with Mevrouw van Houben was quite a different kettle of fish. Editor's Note: I'm writing this review the day before going on a trip that will involve 3 airports - Sea-Tac, Atlanta and Charleston. While I've never been to the Charleston airport, I have had plenty of experience at Sea-Tac, and a few memorable layovers in Atlanta. I'm trying really hard not to be jealous of the lack of queues in this book. Caroline, Mevrouw van Houben and little Marc travel to the van Houben homestead at Alpen-aan-de-Rijn, in an ambulance. I'm not sure I quite understand the need of an ambulance. Why don't they just borrow Uncle Marius' socking great Bentley? Of course Marius walks in on Caroline in the middle of eating lunch - she has a mouth full of food. Awkward. She pours herself another cup of coffee and proceeds to sip it while Marius is waiting impatiently for her. When she finally finishes she says, "I'm ready when you are, sir." "Don't cross swords with me, young lady - you might come to grief." She judges it prudent not to answer that. Yessirree - by all means, let's be prudent. A few more pages of nursing young Marc, and it's time for...

An Interlude in Amsterdam or Let's Take the Kid to the Hospital For Days of Tests.
Marc is to go to hospital in Amsterdam for some tests - just to make sure he's doing okay - of course he will be taking his private nurse, Caroline. Editor's Note: My experience with the healthcare "system" here in the U.S. is quite different. Here, if we have tests, most likely it will be on an outpatient basis. Waiting for hours in a soul-sucking waiting room with horrible flourescent lights. "Not that anyone could look good under these zombie lights. I, I, I, I can feel them sucking the juice out of my eyeball. Suck, suck, suck, SUCK..." - Joe vs. The Volcano. Now, back to our story...Marius asks Caroline to go out to dinner with him...on a whim. She turns him down - sure that he didn't mean to do it (he didn't!). Caroline says that she is going out with some of the nurses, which of course is a bald-faced lie, and you know that nothing good ever comes from telling bouncers. She sneaks out of the hospital after dinner intent on exploring Amsterdam after dark. By herself. Because she doesn't have looks or much money, she feels pretty safe...lucky for her Marius was watching her sneak out and follows her, because she is accosted by Ill-Kempt Man! Horrors. It's nice that someone is finally showing an interest in accosting her, unkempt or not. A little coffee with Mr. van Houben by the Rembrandtsplein will fix that right up. It's right around this point that Marius begins to change a wee bit. He starts talking to his dog, Neptune aka Nep, about Caroline. He had no fewer than 5 conversations with his canine friend during the second half of the book. Personally, I feel this bodes well for him. Any man who can talk to a dog and ask advice of a dog can't possibly be all bad. Caroline and little Marc now return to Alpen-aan-de-Rijn (which looks like "Alps on the Rhine" to me...) where Marius comes and invites Caroline to spend a day sightseeing with him. She gets a slightly mulish expression on her face and wants to turn him down, but Marc's mother is right there and accepts for her (great, first she's called a bulldog, and now she's a mule?). This leads up right up to: Caroline's Grand Day Out. Marius really does our girl proud. My favorite part of the day (besides shopping in a flea market!) is when he takes her to his home and introduces her to his cat, Jane, "...nothing to look at but a charming character and a splendid mother." Well, if that's not a type and shadow, I don't know what is. At the end of this fabulous day, our heroine has her dawning realization - the fairly hopeless kind. I don't know why she had to feel so hopeless - the man just spent an entire day escorting her around what seemed to be the entire country of Holland. If that doesn't say something about a guy being interested...

Back in London, Marius's cousin Corinna takes Caroline out to lunch at Marius's home in Chiswick. Then Corinna calls up Marius and chats about Caroline...Corinna can smell the budding romance - even if both parties are avoiding talking about each other. Enter, Robert Brewster, Muddier of Waters. The new houseman strikes up a friendship with Caroline, so that he can take her out and talk about his fiancée. Miriam. Marius see the two of them together and assumes a closer relationship...this faulty idea is not helped at all when Brewster, Muddier of Waters, tells Marius that he will be getting married a nurse...who likes paediatrics....This might be construed as a bad thing for Caroline's interests, but I'm convinced that the supposed competition is what really makes Marius wake up and smell the hummus. He shows no interest in going out with a handsome woman in her late thirties, "who spent a good part of each day keeping middle age at bay". *snort* Keeping middle age at bay? *snort*. More talking to the dog ensues. Around this time, Caroline gets transferred out of Children's Ward and into Casualty. The nice thing about Cas is that it kept her too busy to think too much about Marius. The bad thing about Cas is that's where Caroline picks up a nasty case of the MEASLES! I have to thank La Neels for introducing the medical term "Koplik's spots" into my vocabulary. Anytime I see that term, I immediately know that we're dealing with a case of measles. Caroline is quite ill...when cousin Corinna hears of it, she calls up Marius who CHARTERS A PLANE!!! to come see Caroline. Wow, I'm impressed. While Caroline is in the hospital, Marius has another conversation with Brewster, wherein the waters are cleared and he finds out the Brewster is planning on marrying Miriam, NOT Caroline. After a couple of weeks in the hospital (with measles?), Caroline is granted two weeks of sick leave. TWO WEEKS. Marius thoughtfully waits to propose (so she can regain her strength...and maybe some curves) until Caroline goes back to work...and then he gets down to the business of snogging and proposing. Her superior is informed of the fact that Caroline is leaving " from today, with the full permission of the board of governors." Sister Moss rose from her chair, her complexion dangerously puce...."You're on the board, sir,"observed Sister Moss awfully. "Indeed yes, Sister. You will wish us happy?" The End

Rating: I will cautiously give this one a "boeuf en croute" with the caveat that this is a VERY gentle story...there is no other woman and even Robert Brewster, Muddier of Waters, is just a simple misunderstanding. Marius does do a little knight in shining armour business when he rescues Caroline from The Unkempt Man - and I love, love, love that he charters a plane to come see her when she has the measles. Caroline spends most of the book taking care of sick infants of one sort or another, and there is never really any flirtation (which I wish it had). I was talking to Betty Keira about this book earlier in the day and I told her, "there's nothing to really sink your teeth in" - that's very true, but that doesn't mean that A Girl in a Million isn't a sweet little story.

Food: a can of Dutch soup, rhubarb and custard, apple crumble, sausages and chips, homemade biscuits, duckling with orange sauce, straw potatoes, castle puddings, omelette, chicken soup, cheese soufflé, beefburgers, minced chicken, junket, yoghurt.

Fashion: blue denim skirt, silvery grey cotton shirtwaister, flowered skirt, the inevitable cardigan, plastic mac, pale green voile two-piece, a jersey dress that won't crush, Laura Ashley pink dress with wide lace collar, navy and white dress with navy jacket.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cherry Napoleon

This is another recipe by the numbers...
  1. Cut puff pasty into desired shapes. Cook according to package directions.
  2. Make or buy filling. I used cherries from my garden - that I pitted and froze last summer. I heated the cherries on the stove added a little water so that there would be a little syrup, and then thickened with cornstarch. I may or may not have added a touch of lemon juice and a spoonful or two of sugar.
  3. Assemble. Use lashings of whipped cream as desired.

A few weeks ago I made vol-au-vents with puff pastry. I didn't want to waste the leftover pastry, so I cut it in triangles and baked it. I already had whipped cream in the fridge, so all I needed was some filling. The frozen cherries worked quite well, except they made the napoleons a bit teetery and inclined to topple over. It's all good - they tasted just fine whether they were standing up or laying down.

My youngest is not a fan of cherries, so I made him a couple of these dusted with powdered sugar with chocolate syrup drizzled over. He was quite happy with his.

100% Pure Betty

Which back-of-the-book blurbs make you want to buy?

A surprise proposal
--A Winter Love Story (Harlequin evidently didn't want to sell this book.)

Second thoughts--Brittania All At Sea (They didn't want to sell this one either.)

The vicar's daughter met the surgeon--Romantic Encounter (Cowboys dance with farmer's daughters, Farmers dance with the ranchers' gals...)

Sarah wasn't pleased to see Radolf Nauta again--Roses Have Thorns (But she was quite pleased to remember his unpronounceable surname...)

No one could envy her position--A Dream Came True (Because her name is Jemima...)

Question of the Week

In Cobweb Morning, Alexandra has to buy the man she loves a Christmas gift. But since he (as far as she knows) neither knows of her love or reciprocates it, the gift she chooses has to say, "We are friendly but you're paying me but I wouldn't presume on that relationship by appearing too personal or flinging myself into your arms without warning".

So she gives him a leather pocketbook. The second gift I gave my boyfriend (the first was a card and brownies for his birthday three weeks after we started dating and I was in a flap about how much and how little to do) before he became my husband was a leather pocketbook. And the reasons I choose it was because I:
  1. Didn't know if he was getting me anything for Christmas. (I didn't want to look like I was giving him a guilt trip if he'd forgotten.--Which he totally had and then picked me up an Erykah Badu CD in recompense.)
  2. Couldn't afford much better.
  3. Knew him well enough not to get him clothing. (Mijnheer van Voorhees is a man who likes to conduct his own shopping trips.)
One of my favorite second-hand book buys is a copy of Your Manners are Showing: The Hand-Book of Teenage Know-How (1946) by...Betty Betz (verses by Anne Clark). She offers the following advice:

Boy-girl should always be in very good taste because parental eyebrows are raised easily if the gift is too personal and too expensive. Boys, if you don't know what to send your girl you won't go wrong with books, records, candy, flowers, a compact, or your best photograph (unautographed please). And girls, if you're stymied, try to keep it in the lower price brackets with a wallet, key chain, books, records, hand-knit socks, or your prettiest picture. Expensive jewelry or intimate clothing is very bad taste in gifts unless two people are formally engaged and even then it's questionable...

So, my question is: What was the first thing you ever gave your fella? Did it fit the criteria of both Bettys?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Word of the Day

pl. lol·lies Chiefly British
a. A piece of candy, especially hard candy.
b. A lollipop.
2. Money.

Use: Good thing the old Dutchman is rolling in lolly because I plan to make him to succumb to my ill-mannered tartlet-ness.

The Formidable Betty would only let villains, villainesses or charming Cockney servants use the word 'lolly'. Though she likes her heroes wealthy there is no reason to become boorish enough to mention it.

In the mid-90s (when I was still bothering to be remotely hip) an Americanism equivalent of 'lolly' was 'duc-age'--'Duc' for ducats and 'age' for "I'm a slacker and finishing words properly would betray an unseemly interest in the world".

Upcoming Reviews

Monday, May 3rd. When May Follows. Poetry by Browning, an old arthritic nanny, the hero is a baron, MOC, magpies.

Thursday, May 6th. Philomena's Miracle. Croquet on the lawn by Walle's castle, a Maserati Khamsin, cucumber sandwiches and a villianess named Tritia.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cobweb Morning - Discussion Thread

One of the most charming things about Cobweb Morning is the mistaken idea that Alex has about Taro's financial standing. She is very thoughtful of his pocketbook. At one point, even though she is really, really hungry, she orders an omelette because it's cheap. Taro follows her lead. Paperweight Penny the Sociopath orders the most expensive item on the menu. Back in my dating years (centuries ago) I was the "cheap date". I seldom dated boys that had deep pockets...and I was thoughtful enough to never order above the mid-range price menu items. That was in high school. In college the boys tended to have even shallower pockets...if that was possible. Cheap concerts, plays (or the even cheaper $1 movies) at the college with perhaps ice cream from the Creamery afterwards. [Betty Keira]Almost my whole courtship with Mijnheer van Voorhees was conducted at the BYU Creamery. We could walk the mile and a half there, eat cheap ice cream for another half hour and stroll the mile and a half back to my apartment (and annoying roommates). We probably went at least twice a week just to be alone-ish. When dating a college student it is best not to get uppish if one wants to scout the territory with a VTM--view to marriage. Good times, good times.

I'm puzzled that no one comes forward with knowledge of the Perfidious Penny. Sure, she disappeared from a different town, but beautiful, young, felonious amnesiacs must have been a dime a dozen if no one spotted her on the telly or newspaper.

Taro has a hidden talent that no other Neels hero admits to. He whistles. Mijnheer van Voorhees cannot whistle. Not only does he whistle, he can whistle a variety of bird calls - and when he whistles, the birds come. When I was in 7th grade I had an unsuspected whistling talent. I could whistle through the gap in my front teeth without moving my mouth. The whistle was not very loud, but it was high pitched. I used to do it in my English Class while we were taking tests. I can still visualize Mrs. Hock-tooie (not her real name) walking up and down the aisles trying to find out where the sound was coming from. Alas, braces scotched that talent. I suspect fancy whistling is fast becoming a lost art.

When Alexandra's mum gets the measles, it's time to rush off to the airport! After a brief kiss at "the barrier" (which sounds like the reef off Australia...), Alex walk off across the tarmac and climbs the steps to the plane. I, for one, do not miss the days of tarmac walking and airplane step climbing. I have had numerous occasion to fly down to San Jose, CA (hello, Betty Sherri!), where tarmac walking and step climbing were de rigueur at the old terminal (and may still be, for all I know - I've been flying in to the new terminal lately). In a couple of days I'll be flying to Charleston, SC, where I hope to have no airplane steps/tarmac walking in store. Anchorage, Alaska is my only experience of tarmac walking and stair climbing.

Maiden aunts are always Miss in Neeldom. Never Ms. Just sayin'. I kind of miss that we don't use Miss, Ms. or Mrs. much anymore. I sign emails to my kids' teachers and the Mrs. van Voorhees seems pretentious. It oughtn't.

Cobweb Morning--1975

First off, Betty Debbie and I were sorting out our review assignments and this was her statement: You have...let's see...Cobweb (HA!) Morning! (cackle, cackle, cackle). "I'm going to remember that you did that," I intoned severely. Cobweb Morning. Ugh. I did not recall it with perfect felicity.

Alexandra Dobbs is a 27 year-old brick house. She's stacked. In her frilled and goffered hat (the strings neatly tied under one chin), she's better than Anthony Ferris (whose name denotes a certain kind of pompous chin-less-ness), the ambitious gasbag who takes her to cheap Italian places and lectures her on punctuality.

Taro van Dresselhuys, 36, is dressed in shabby tweeds and drives a middle-aged Morris 1000. I've been reading Betty Neels for a long time now and don't need Alexandra's father to remind me that a Morris 1000 is a car for elderly ladies and retired gents. "He can't be doing very well." Tatty tweeds and middling cars? Can this possibly be the hero? Maybe if we turn him on his head a rich partner will shake out of his tweed pocket and rescue the fair Alexandra from the Anthony Ferrises of this world.

Cobweb Morning begins promisingly with an auto smash-up. A beautiful blonde paperweight is brought into the ICU carried romantically by our Tatty Professor. No, our professor was not involved. Even when driving Morris 1000s Dutch doctors have Romulan Defensive Shields attached to each bumper. Instead, they (him and an elderly aunt) came upon the single-car smash soon after it happened.
Alexandra wonders who this lovely paperweight could be. Who is the old woman in the corner with the pearls, gloves and handbag? (I'm imagining Barbara Bush here but you are free here to imagine the late Queen Mother, Miss Marple, Julia Child or Frumpy Helen Mirren.) And who is the officious Dutchman recommending the Cape ventilator?
Alex (no one else calls her that but typing Alexandra each time is going to lead to a stress fracture) tells Anthony the Pompous all about the smash and the decorative paperweight but as his favorite pronouns are 'I, me, my' she doesn't get more than a word in.
The professor, evidently adept at coming upon wreckages and carnage, witnesses the Sturm and Drang of The Implosion of Alex and Anthony--"You walked down the street as though you hated--er--whatever his name is. You have a very eloquent back."
Meanwhile, the paperweight has woken from her coma! Her traumatic head wound mysteriously didn't touch her face, leave a mark on her body or result in more than 'the weakies'. All the blonde hair prompts Alex to call her 'Penny Bright' instead of Albino Viper or Man-Eating Lioness or Honey Arsenic which would all have probably jarred her memory--being as they are, doppelgangers of her personality. Wait. What was that? Memory, you say? Oh shoot. We've got a case of retrograde amnesia here. And they don't know who she is or where she came from. Don't you just hate it when you leave the house without the merest scrap of identification? And the car she was traveling in was stolen!
Hey darling, that case I've been working on. The one that made national headlines. She woke up! Guess what...
Snort. You're late and inconsiderate me blah, blah blah me, blah blah blah blah me me me.
Anthony has torn it. Alex hands in her resignation the next morning in a scene so abrupt you'd be forgiven for missing it.
But back to Paperweight Penny...She's going to be released from the hospital (like some sort of medieval plague flung along with a rotting corpse over a castle wall) and live with Miss Euphemia Thrums (Barbara Bush) because no one has come forward to claim her. In a whole month no one was missing an angelic-looking sociopath? Really? This is what an economist might call a case of supply exceeding demand.
So, Taro of the Tatty Tweeds asks Alex if she might consider staying with Aunt Euphemia to nurse Penny. (Seriously, it kills me that she's named Penny. I love that name. Had my youngest little tax rebate been a girl we would have gone there.)
Okay, sure but don't pay me so much, will you? Girlfriend needs to watch a few more Today Show segments on strong salary negotiation. But she's worried about his Morris 1000 and the tweeds so, like a nice girl, wants to be Penny-wise (Ha! Penny-wise. I kill me.) for his sake.
Aunt's house is interesting. I am supposed to find it charming that a room in the back has a wall of windows leading out to the land beyond but I am hung up thinking about heat loss calculators and energy efficiency and tacky 70s era sliding doors. A good room for watching the wildlife if you want to but bring a Snuggie (This one to the left is called the Peekaru and will cost you 80 bucks and your dignity).
Penny's recovery is swift. She is peevish, irritable, sulky, bored and silent in turns. She likes nice things but only if they belong to her. She hates to be outdoors and loves laying about with a Vogue or Harper's Bazaar to pass the time.
Type that into my handy-dandy Occupational History Generator: She's a Professional Dental Patient! (Hm. That can't be right.)
But when Taro pops over from Holland she's another person--the kind that makes you feel like you've had one too many Krispy Kremes. But even her sweetness can't hide her shockingly modern views. "People don't get married these days--we're free to do just what we like." So it looks like we can cross nun, Sunday School teacher and cleric's wife off her list of possible identities...
Before Taro leaves, he and Alex share a moment of enchantment out in a cobweb morning. (Uh, a spot of snogging around the spider webs.) What a propitious time for a dawning realization.
Christmas is approaching and when Taro asks what everyone would like Penny points to a wildly expensive Vogue dress (never minding Taro's shabby clothes) and Alex, to turn his generosity into a joke, asks for a sapphire jewelry set (necklace, bracelet, earrings, broach--the lot) and a little golden angel. Laugh, laugh.
On Christmas Eve she gets a little wind-up golden angel, some hard staring and a kiss for her pains.--"...not the sapphires, they'll have to wait." (Land ho!)
It is not to be, however, as he quickly downshifts for Christmas morning, handing Penny her Vogue number and mistletoe kissing every Double X in the household. All that general jocularity dampens Alex's spirits. "She could make rings round Penny if she wished to when it came to attracting a man, but...Taro hadn't shown in any way that he would like her to...Christmas, she decided as she got into bed, was an overrated affair, and mistletoe was just plain silly." As, I suppose, is the Easter bunny, Turkish delight and the internal combustion engine. She is in no mood to see silver linings.
A few days later, Alex is driving Penny home from a shopping trip when the wheel is wrenched from her hands. Alex responds with a hard slap across Penny's lucid face (pause and enjoy....rewind, read again, enjoy some more) and the Morris 1000 sustains a knock to its bumper (no Romulan defense shields for Brit nurses). Shaking and frightened, Alex pulls into the driveway where Penny hops out of the car and proceeds to have a psychotic event. "She hit me...and drove into a tree..." Instead of slapping her again, as was entirely warranted by her mad ravings, Alex doesn't interrupt the floor show and is given a mildly hard time by the good doctor.
Editorial Note: I had remembered her being called on the carpet much more severely (and unfairly) before this reading. I owe Betty an apology. Taro does not make himself irredeemable but certainly muddies the water.
Taro approaches her the wrong way, she retaliates, there is much row-ing and she storms upstairs to pack her things. Wisely, Taro corners her and asks her to put herself in his position: There you were, darling, with that nutbar bawling her head off and the Morris' Romulan bumpers missing...You could have been killed!
Alex's best quality is that she never sulks. The bag is unpacked and no one is worried overmuch that she will sleep under the same roof as the Attempted Murderer. If The Mighty Neels had more of a Gothic bent, the gentle verbal undermining and car smash would be followed by loose stair treads, pond duckings and cudgels to the head at the bottom of the garden.
But Alex is unable to forget the clear-eyed purpose in her face while Penny was swerving the car into a mighty chestnut tree and begins to suspect that Penny's retrograde amnesia is not the Harrison Ford Regarding Henry variety where a brand spanking new personality (and better hair) comes with traumatic memory loss. No, Penny was this way before and perhaps, perhaps, she's remembering things she'd rather keep quiet.
So, Taro proposes a trip to Holland so that Penny can be examined. Alex frowned. "I haven't any clothes." "Dear girl, there's a lot I could say in answer to that, but I don't like to upset Aunty's sense of modesty...I find to my disappointment, that you appear to be more than adequately covered."
Head between the knees, breathe into the paper bag, in and out, nice and easy (slap, slap), Betty Keira. Oh the Humanity!
I'll be alright. Just a mo'. Was that a pass by a Brighton-ish Expressway? I feel like a Victorian matron whose husband just called the piano supports 'legs' instead of 'limbs'. Get the smelling salts.
In Holland, Penny's examination almost immediately exposes her as a fraud. She remembers everything and has for some time--and she would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for you meddling kids and your pesky dog! Her real name is Jacqueline Coster (this is the last time you'll hear it) and she had a spat with her live-in boyfriend, walked out on him and hasn't seen her parents in years.
Penny's Payment (Betty's words) is to put Taro's kittens in a garment bag and his dog on a leash with a heavy metal rod and toss all into a canal. Good thing Alex is such an awesome swimmer. Taro's reaction to the contretemps is much too mild. Just when another hard slap is warranted or a call to the authorities (administrators of the loony bin, I mean), he shrugs it off and awaits her departure. Penny's parthian shot is to mutter, "If I ever get the chance, I'll do you a bad turn." Again, no hard slapping.
With Penny out of the way, the story loses a bit of steam. But we've still got 70 pages to make small talk...
Alex gets a made-up job in Rotterdam and Taro sets a stage for proposal neatly. "You're a darling..." Fireside snogging just begins to get interesting when...Ring! Blast those Dutch telephones! It's big brother. Mother has the measles...If you're not doing anything... What business does a woman in her mid-fifties have getting measles for the first time?!
Taro retreats from emotional scenes and carries her off to the airport the next morning. "I moved heaven and earth to be free to spend [today] with you and here I am, speeding you away at the earliest possible moment." He's dripping with frustration and now I'm thinking of Peter, Paul and Mary. Kiss me and smile for me, tell me that you'll wait for me, hold me like you'll never let me go...etc., etc.
The Un-Incarcerated Snake in the Grass (Penny or Jacqueline, whichever you like) sees her at Waterloo Station waiting for her train and talking to...Blind-to-Social-Cues-Anthony. Oh this is going to turn out well.
Alex shakes off Anthony (who keeps saying something like he'll be down to visit...she can't be bothered to listen--Taro and Mother and Horlicks is swirling in her brain) and arrives home, rolling up her sleeves, fixing invalid meals and hearty meals and cleaning and fetching and missing Taro terribly.
Anthony arrives several days later--because there's nothing more helpful to a crisis than entertaining ex-boyfriends. Like a teenager trying to decline a Saturday night date and finding herself having to be ruder and more blunt as hints sail cleanly over a pimple marked head, Alex decides she can just park him in the sitting room and ignore him where possible. Ding Dong!
Oh for the love of...Taro. Black-browed Taro. I actually like this bit. Taro is angry and jealous and is too far gone to hide it behind a mask of indifference. "I thought that I had been given the right to ask questions of you, Alexandra... I came because I had a letter from Penny...I didn't believe her, but I had to come and see for myself..."
He storms off but not before making himself utterly charming to her father.
Pooh! Suddenly taking a job in Australia or New Zealand or Central Africa (Girlfriend, in a few years Robert Mugabe is going to make that career path non-viable.) seems to make sense.
It takes Aunt Euphemia to sort them out. She invites her back to Snuggie Cottage where the Professor, contrite and darling, tracks her down and proposes in a muddy, windswept garden. Looking forward, Alexandra sees a happy brood of little boys wearing Wellington boots.
The End

Rating: Not as bad as I remembered it. I didn't see Taro giving Penny the benefit of the doubt (as my memory stubbornly clung to) so much or being quite so off-hand with our Miss Dobbs either. A book with retrograde amnesia can't be all bad but I felt that The Mighty Neels was having so much fun with the villainess that she didn't give as much time to Taro and Alexandra as was needed. It did have some lovely bits here and there. So, ho-hum and the cheese board.

Food: Wholesome fish pie (gah), Canard a' l'Orange (orange duck?), smoked eel on toast (mmmm. Just like mama made.), Steak Orloff

Fashion: Tweeds and sweaters, well-fitting uniforms, red silk jersey dress, Penny's Vogue dress (pale blue wool more than 100 Pounds), ridiculous wool hats and a mile and a half of scarf, leather boots, Wellies

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Betty Goes to Church

Julie...had found her way to St. Pieterskerk, where she stayed for the service--not understanding a word, of course. The sermon had gone on for a very long time, but the organ had been magnificent and some of the hymns had sounded very like those at home.
--A Kiss for Julie

* St. Pieterskerk, Leiden--organ pipes

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Secretary is Not a Toy

Betty Debbie and I both noticed that the books we reviewed this week had secretaries as heroines. While not uncommon in Neelsdom, this occupation sticks fairly closely to cartoon skills:
  • Shorthand typist
  • File clerking
  • Coffee/Tea bringer
  • Schedule (you BET I'm saying it SHED-yule in my head) juggling
  • Heading blonde, brassy Mevrouws and Missus-es off at the pass
Which got me thinking. Do secretaries/executive or administrative assistants still need to know shorthand and have any shorthand knowledge or did that all go out with the desktop computer?

Betty Goes to The Theatre

Venetia Araminta Cassandra Dawlish Graham Darling always prefers to going to The Theatre as opposed to The Cinema. We are often treated to our heroine going to see stage productions of current (to her) musicals. It's always musicals. Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and let's not forget the classic Starlight Express. Boy did La Neels have a thing for Andrew Lloyd Webber music.

I too occasionally enjoy stage productions of musicals - I've gone to several over the past few years... The production values vary widely, talent - ditto, but there's one thing I know I can count on. It won't set me back more than $8 a ticket. Dr. van der Stevejinck and I go to the biggest cultural event of the year here in our small town...the high school musicals (I'm sort of kidding...but not completely).

We've never been a "drama" family. The closest that we've come to having someone in the show was the year Nathan, husband of The Zombie Bride, ushered for Lil' Abner. He may have gotten extra credit or something. Even though our family members haven't been in the shows, we always seem to know at least a few of the kids that are in them.

Last night we spent three hours voluntarily sitting on high school auditorium chairs so that we could watch this year's production of The Sound of Music. The talent pool this year seemed a bit shallower than usual...with the exception of the von Trapp children - some of them seemed to be able to not only carry a tune, but also to sing in harmony (we Hanna Bettys do not cast stones at those who are musically challenged - those stones would probably turn into boomerangs and come back to smack us in the face).
There is something to be said for live entertainment...what stage productions have you gone to (musicals or otherwise)?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Cinema Betty

A Kiss For Julie. The choice was easy. Harassed intellectual boss with explosive secretary?

Ball of Fire

'Sugarpuss' O-Shea (the Mighty Barbara Stanwyck) needs to lay low from her mobster boyfriend (Slim Sid?) and is happy to use the pedantic Good Professor (Gary Cooper) for those ends...Yum-yum ensues.

Two Weeks to Remember: Betty does skis? I had to go with another Betty...near skis. Miss Grable is taken off to a snow bound cabin for a spot of don't-tell-the-wife and ends up snagging the forest ranger. Can't remember if she actually gets on skis but it is a weekend to remember.

How To Marry a Millionaire

Poor Betty Grable's agent probably said these words, "Sure...ah...that...ah...Marilyn is signed up as another leggy blonde but they promised to put her in glasses." This is Miss Monroe in glasses: I know, I know. It's got sex kitten written all over it and Poor Betty Grable has to make do with appearing short and mis-dressed. She ought to have fired her stylist, broken out a certain bikini and showed an unnamed blonde starlet how to be a patriotic fantasy for the entire European Theatre.

Hey There, Georgie Girl! (Part I)

In our continuing series "Life After Betty" we here at The Uncrushable Jersey Dress have been recommended several different authors...I'd like to talk about one author today (with a special thanks to Betty Janet for getting me started on her).

Georgette Heyer. My local library actually has a ton of Heyer books, and I was lucky enough to get a bunch of them. After reading Cotillion, I was intrigued. I liked the book quite a bit...but I wouldn't be found sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S....I did like the way Heyer crafted most of the story...and for such a long frothy story, that was saying something. So in I dove. Since nearly everyone who recommended Heyer had a different favorite, I figured I'd just have to read what was available and make up my own mind.

The Masqueraders. A boy disguised as a girl and a girl disguised as a boy...because their father told them to. They each manage to fall in love...but when a boy dressed as a girl falls in love with a girl, how is he to woo her? And when a girl dressed as a boy falls in love with a man...ditto. Quite the tangled web...which is all untangled by the happily ever afters. Delightful. (I would buy this one...)

Sprig Muslin. At first I didn't think I would like this book. A very respectable man is traveling on his way to propose to an old maidish woman whom he has known and liked for years. He ends up practically abducting a beautiful 16 year old run-a-way. For her own good. Most of the book involves him thwarting her escapes and countering her endless supply of lies...which at first were annoying, but then you just can't help but see how audacious and occasionally brilliant they are - even when they backfire.(I might buy this one...)

The Reluctant Widow. Meeting and marrying a man on his deathbed? Where's the fun in that? This book just missed being enchanting. The heroine is a bit too whiny for my taste (although, in all fairness, she had plenty to grumble about). Hidden staircases, murder, manslaughter, spies, lost military secrets - these all add up to a more serious story. Which is okay, just not one of my favorites. (Library check-out only).

Sylvester. The Duke of Salford may as well be Mr. Darcy. He is very proud and also very correct in his manners, to everyone. He decides it's time that he marries so that he may...*ahem*...beget an heir to his awesomeness. He tells his mother that he has looked over the eligible bachelorettes and narrowed the choice down to five. He plans on choosing one - but he doesn't have any particular preferences...she suggests another girl (Phoebe) - and so he goes off to meet and perhaps marry her. Trials and troubles ensue...he finally begins to see that perhaps he might be a tad proud, she begins to see....I love that his mother is the one who pretty much proposes for him. (I would buy it in a minute, if I found it at a thrift store)

The Grand Sophy. Sophy is a force of nature. If I had to describe her I would have to say that she strongly reminds me of Barbara Streisand in Hello Dolly. Only younger. When her father goes off to Brazil on a diplomatic mission, she stays with her cousins in London. And she fixes everyone. She has great dash and verve - this is one book that I would describe as "a romp". Quite, quite fun. So far, it's my favorite. Read it. Now. (I will definitely be buying this one...I can see us becoming quite good friends).