Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Upcoming Reviews

Monday, September 6th. Betty Keira will take a look back at one of her favorite reviews from the past year. Which one will it be?

Thursday, September 9th. Saturday's Child. Quite possibly the most misogynistic RDD in Neeldom, Abigail has a faithful family retainer that she feels responsible for, Abigail keeps taking on jobs for Dominic and he forgets to pay her.

Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay

British Word of the Day

to grieve; lament; cry

A Match for Sister Maggy was chock-a-block with 'ach', 'wee', 'fash', and 'bairn'. I knew all those and was entirely prepared to use one of them for my Word of the Day--until I came upon a word I had never heard before:

She stared at the beautiful alter through tears, fiercely wiped away. 'Fool,' she whispered, 'greeting like a bairn...'

The meaning was clear enough given the context but don't you just love the Scots?

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Match For Sister Maggy - Discussion Thread

A special thanks to Betty Keira for not only doing the review today, but also the discussion thread! On a side note, I made it out of Butte...but we'll be going back on Friday to return the exceptionally garish rental car (the ONLY one available - a bright red PT Cruiser!!!) and hopefully pick up our aging (but paid for) van.

At Paul's lecture he mentally notices that it is the plain nurses that always ask questions--something to do with their egos. But then he also notices that they aren't any more or less intelligent questions than usual. This reminds me of Rose Comely (The Doubtful Marriage) and her getting the Gold Medal for her year because she didn't have any boyfriends distracting her from studying.

The wards are given funeral flowers (after the funeral the blooms are donated to the hospital) and Maggy hates them and feels sorry for the nurse assigned to making them look cheerful and normal. I'm thinking of those big horseshoe garlands for winners of various derbies. But I imagine that with floral tape and oasis foam bricks that anything could be made to look attractive. Still, it's not like the inmates...er...patients need any reminding them that the next stop on the communicable disease expressway is six feet under.

Paul's large drawing room has doors you could fold back half-way down its length to regulate its size. How handy would that be? La Casa van Voorhees hosts groups of various sizes--6 (just us), 10 (us and my in-laws), 15 (us and all my in-laws), 20 (us and my family). I would love to be able to make the rooms large or small at will--but the kids would be constantly hanging on the dividers and opening and shutting them...

Maggy sits in a Catholic church and worries that she shouldn't be there as she is Calvinist and the 'Popish' church is her ancient enemy. She overcomes these qualms and finds comfort (how could you not with all that gorgeous 'Popish' art?). Usually, later Neels classics are a bit more ecumenical. There are no inter-faith marriages (he's always telling her that he belongs to the Dutch equivalent of the CofE) or any Catholic main characters (right?) but there is a live and let live quality to her religious discussions.

While touring (Amsterdam I think), Maggy is asked to stay away from the area behind the Oude Kerk as that is the Rossebuurt (red-light district). In the interests of the discussion thread, here are some rules for the Rossebuurt: You must be at least 16 if you want to buy sex, and the prostitute must be at least 18. Twenty minutes will probably set you back some €50. Don't expect to meet any Dutch working women - by far the majority are from outside The Netherlands. If a red light is in the window then they're a sex worker.
This area is also called De Wallen (the quays) and Walletjes (wallet) and, for the record, makes me very sad. No matter what your values are, nobody in the world hopes their daughter grows up to be a prostitute.

When Maggy is finally trusted to drive the The Rolls, she is a little nervous. No need to be, though. The 'Rolls was a lady and behaved like one'. If we're anthropomorphizing automobiles...I had a Mazda who was a slope-shouldered, drooping mustache Proletariat (and who behaved like one--you could never depend on it but it had leather seats), an asthmatic chain-smoker (low-class and aged Toyota that exploded on me one day) and a frowzy blonde with plenty of room in her trunk (if you know what I mean).

A Match for Sister Maggy--1969

But, Betty Keira, this is not the correct book cover! We're reviewing A Match for Sister Maggy--not Nurse in Holland or (dons reading glasses) Amazon in an Apron. Ah, gentle reader, this is because this book was poorly named twice before stumbling onto the genius of the final.

Doctor Paul van Beijen Doelsma (36) didn't intend be called fat, elderly, balding and heavily-accented so early in the morning but when Sister Maggy MacFergus (24--Junoesque doesn't begin to cover it) rushes pell-mell into the hospital lobby (Ala a certain impertinent warrior princess) that's just what happens. Naturally, she didn't know who that gorgeous giant was, leaning against the porter's lodge and listening lazily to her hurried explanations and complaints ('Nine o'clock for a lecture! The man ought to be shot!'), but when she scoots into the back of the lecture hall it's a wonder that the sound of her stomach dropping to her toes isn't heard around the world. If they shot him for lecturing so early then he makes a mighty handsome corpse.
Paul gives an excellent lecture, fields a few questions from the earnest, eager and ugly and then spies Sister Maggy in whispered conference with a fellow nurse in the last row. The 'other' nurse asks a question--a very intelligent and well-reasoned question--and Paul knows that it was Maggy that really asked it. He sends waves of white-hot passionate medical flirtation to the back of the hall. Many staff nurses, caught in the wake of his decisive fervor, lost their sanity that day...
After decimating hapless nurses, he makes an amendment to his schedule and decides to head on up to the Women's Medical Ward. He serves up more uncrushable ardor--thinly disguised by a witty game of 'Is your ward ready to receive me?'--and she is scrambling to catch up.
After a successful round, his parthian shot is to corner her in her office and kiss the starch out of her apron. 'I want you to remember me.' (Are you purring yet?) File a sexual harassment suit? Don't be ridiculous. He's hot and it's the 60s. She should be thanking her lucky stars.
Non Sequiter: In the ward we meet a horrible patient, Madame Riveau, and her menfolk who are Belgian. Belgian. In the land of Neels, death and mayhem are the handmaidens of all things Belgian.
The next Doelsma to enter the picture is Mevrouw Doelsma--Paul's mother and recent coronary sufferer. Though Paul is not there, Maggy lays some important long-term groundwork for her eventual happiness--impressing her future mother-in-law with important skills such as life-saving. When Paul does show up, Maggy the Shy Giantess keeps swapping out her off-duty--not so she can see him (no, no, that would be too easy!) but to avoid him. He counters her oblique overtures with the well-trod (but always welcome) gesture of sending her 6 dozen roses and referencing Robbie Burns.
But then he asks her to go away with him to Holland. Rockets are firing in her brain. Her heart takes flight. Rainbows and buttercups rain from the sky! Four-leaf clovers are popping up all over...(Snap, snap.) He asks her to go and nurse his mother for a few weeks. (oh.) Hm. That's not a proposition. Her pride is stung enough to refuse.
When he asks again, he gently explains how concerned he is for his ailing mother--which is a little rat-finky of him if you think about it...using his mother to advance his romantic ambitions. But Maggy consents and in the mean time has her dawning realization.
Paul loves his mother and Maggy loves him and I'm not sure why the roses have to be given away at this point or tears indulged in but perhaps Maggy realizes that she's just a cog in his machine. He'll do whatever it takes to get Mevrouw back on her feet--even sweet-talking an Amazon in an Apron. (See what I just did there?) Maybe this is what it felt like to be press-ganged by the British Navy...
Non Sequiter: Madame Riveau, meanwhile, has escaped from the hospital and has tooth pain.
In Holland Maggy meets Stien who is cute and small and everything the large, strong Maggy is not.
Editorial Note: As a reader, we wonder, 'Has Paul cleared his decks for action or is there a bilge rat running amok among the ammunition?' (Oh, you weren't?) We see Stien twice more--once on horseback going for an early morning ride with Paul and another time enjoying a late-night drink in the kitchens. Poor Maggy, her dressing gown bunched up anyhow, peers around the door with a poker and loses her dignity. I want to smack Paul around a little as it never occurs to him that running around with a girl small enough for Maggy to bench-press might throw a wrench in the wheel. Also, she lives in Utrecht (an important and muddying detail).
Maggy is pretty much ignored for a while as she nurses Paul's mother so she amuses herself...by taking his massive horse out for vigorous gallops. When Paul discovers it he erupts with the timeliness and precision of Old Faithful. Maggy, treating him tolerantly--like a fussy little boy who isn't getting his way--only enrages him further. Off he goes to tattle to his mother! Oh dear, says the old woman, don't be mad at Maggy. I told her she should drive the Daimler...What!!! She's driving his luxury cars too?
His apology for blowing his top leaves something to be desired and another row is kicked up.
But they aren't going to be that couple--the ones bickering up the aisle to the alter--so a cease-fire is proposed.
Him: Do you like me? I like you. Let's be friends.
That's good enough to shake on.
We remove to Leiden while Mevrouw gets some medical tests...
Maggy and Paul have done more hanging out (riding together, driving in the car, etc.) in Friesland (did I not mention that his ancestral home is in the land of large women and over-sized cows?) but upon his arrival in Leiden, he takes her on The Home Tour of Smoldering Passions. (Because you don't let people you don't care a fig about to peek into your attic nurseries.) But he doesn't let her see his room (fearing that just seeing where he sleeps will send her into a frenzy) or The Master Suite. See, it's closed up because he's just a bachelor and, oh...by the way, there's a family tradition about not letting the future Mrs. Doelsma see it before the big night.
He also takes her on a tour of the hospital (giving her a little kiss in the children's ward). But as he's still haring off to Utrecht at the drop of a hat and Stien lives there and Mevrouw Doelsma grouches that in Utrecht is 'the love of his life'..., Maggy throttles any growing expectations in their pram.
While doing some shopping, she comes upon the mysterious Madame Riveau (Who prefers to export her Belgian evil to distant lands like England and Holland.). They agree to meet again the next day for reasons totally unrelated to rational thought. But when Maggy does meet her, Madame is deeply sick and gets her to take her home to the fetid swamp she lives in. Madame promptly falls asleep and Maggy (doing her nurse-ly due diligence) can't leave her in this condition without any help. (Belgian though she be.)
Maggy, wearing a brand new dress, rolls up her sleeves and begins to clean. Boiling soapy water, hauling around furniture--the lot. And when the Riveau menfolk appear she orders them about and sends for a doctor.
Hey. I know a doctor.
Paul shows up in a rage--barely cloaking his desperate concern (She missed her train!) and when he tells her that she's wearing a pretty dress (bunchy and spattered as it now is) she is hurt. Are you being beastly? Genuinely surprised, he answers honestly. No--you would look--nice-- in a potato sack.
Back in Friesland he invites her to dinner.
Her: Oh but I don't have a dress. Him: They have a Big and Tall store here.
Important points about their date:
  • He underlines that this is not a farewell, thanks for nursing my mother back to health date.
  • He does this by pulling into a lay-by...where nobody gets kissed.
  • He tries to get information out of her about where she lives. She gently snubs him which feels wonderful after all those other times Neels heroines have been the snub-ee instead of the snub-er.
  • He tells her, at the end of the date, that he must have taken every other girl that he ever knew to that restaurant at one time or another.
  • He says, "Hey remember that time you came down with a poker and felt horribly awkward? Let's reminisce about that. Oh, and Stien would make a decorative wife."
He kisses her and she retaliates by standing him up on their morning ride.
She is provided a way to leave Holland by her hospital matron who wonders (in a letter) when Maggy will be back as there is a shortage of nurses.
She takes off to the airport the next day (while Paul's airplane from Germany is landing--yes, he had to go to Deutschland for two days and he rushes back when he finds out she's leaving). By skipping to the head of the queue (rather sneakily) she is able to avoid him.
Paul, at his wit's end, does the only thing a sensible man could do in a similar situation:
  • Take the family engagement ring and pearls out of the wall safe.
  • Notify Customs that they will be leaving the country.
  • Contacts his relative who can expedite a Special License with The Archbishop.
  • Murder his insane wife that he's kept walled up behind the doors of The Master Suite.
Oh, and then he wangles Maggy's address out of her hospital matron's hands. Kissing in Scotland and a wedding while they're at it--no need to travel to a remote cottage for implied conjugal relations.
The End
P.S. But I'm still worried about how matron will solve her nurse shortage.

Rating: What a pity that I remembered the end differently (My memory played tricks on me and I had patched the end of the not great Pineapple Girl onto it) because it was really rather lovely. I don't know how I feel about the Scots accent--it all seems a little as though La Neels had upended her purse, shaken out all the Scots vernacular and pasted them into dialog. Still, Maggy is a darling and has a formidable backbone so I don't mind the 'ach's and 'wee's and 'dinna's too terribly. Her eyebrows are practically an auxillary character of their own and I wish The Great Betty had not been so liberal with her 'large hands' and 'thick, glowering eyebrows'. A little delicacy, please. Paul is a little more difficult to understand (he doesn't off-load Stein soon enough to indicate a man decisively in love) but I like to think he's playing a long game--instant dawning realization and all else following. To sum up: Though I had remembered this poorly, it has earned a boeuf en croute--just think what it would have earned if I'd not had to take notes!

Food: Mevrouw Doelsma barfs up lobster. They eat boterkoek, twaalf, Rolpens met Rodekool (did you say 'roadkill'? It's actually spiced and pickled minced beef and tripe and apples and red cabbage. Gah.), caneton a' la Rouennaise (a 'famous' duckling dish).

Fashion: Paul has the 'loveliest waistcoat'. Maggy sports her blue uniform, a sweater and slacks to go riding in, a raincoat and scarf tied under her chin, a navy blue and white checked tricot dress, her utterly ruined vivid coral pink jersey, and a what is supposed to be a lovely cream guipure lace knee-skimming gown to go dancing in (though she is a strapping lass and I'm worried that that's rather a lot of lace to be looking at).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Betty Goes to Church

St. Paul's, London

She would go to church--St. Paul's perhaps...

Midsummer Star

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Page 38

Hello, I love you. Won't you tell me your name?

Midsummer Star has an unusually long (for Neelsdom) introduction until Celine meets Oliver--like 38 pages in. Usually I hate that sort of thing. 22o pages is a quick read and I'd like to dispense with the preliminaries. Still, I love all that build-up with the bed and breakfast and getting to know and appreciate our heroine (which totally comes in handy when you're tempted to smack her over the subject of Nicky).

So, what's your ideal lead-off? Love in the opening sentence? The slow ramp-up?

The Hitchhiker's Guide to....Montana

Just a short, clandestine post. I'm sitting in a hotel room in Butte, Montana. "Why are you in Butte, Betty Debbie," you ask? Because it beats the heck out of sleeping in a rest stop sixty miles back. All these lengthy road trips have evidently taken a toll on our great socking Bentley, and by 'great socking Bentley, I mean our not-so-trusty minivan. Which has hitherto been a model of trustworthiness.

We just barely managed to limp into the rest stop - the van died just before the exit. Lucky for me I had not only Dr. van der Stevejinck, but also 3 not so little boys that were well able to push us to the parking lot. Where we waited for a tow truck...a tow truck that would only be able to take two of us. Two out of five. Hmm. That would leave three people stranded in the middle of practically nowhere. Luckily for us, a very kind stranger stopped to use the facilities and had room for three and was going the same direction as us. He was a friendly guy, and now I know more about his cousins bunion surgery (I swear I am not making this up) than I needed to know. And about his children, grandchildren, siblings and the charter boat that he went fishing on this week. A very small price to pay for his generosity.

So, what to do on a Saturday in Butte, while awaiting the verdict on the dodgy electrical system? What would an Araminta do?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Betty and the Real World

Midsummer Star:

The doctor lays a trap for Celine to meet Nicky and his wife when he takes her to the musical Cats (as if that wasn't a mean enough thing to do). I found a 'What Cat are you?' quiz on the inter-web-nets so you too can see if you're a Munkustrap or a Grizabella or an Old Deutoronomy. I was Bombalurina. (My finest hour.)

At one point, Oliver asks Celine if she knows what chorea is and, with no medical training, she answers that she thinks it used to be called St. Vitus' Dance:

In the late Middle Ages, people in Germany and countries such as Latvia celebrated the feast of Vitus by dancing before his statue. This dancing became popular and the name "Saint Vitus Dance" was given to the neurological disorder chorea. It also led to Vitus being considered the patron saint of dancers and of entertainers in general. Vitus is considered the patron saint of actors, comedians, dancers, and epileptics.

When Celine visits Holland she is given a primer on their dike system and the differences between the sleeper, dreamer and watcher dikes:
The Netherlands (1953, January 31)
Hurricane-force winds and high tides helped the North Sea flow over Holland’s dikes in 100 different places, submerging more than 4 million acres underwater. One-sixth of the country was covered in water, drowning 2,000 people and another 300 in Britain. 300,000 other residents were affected through injuries of property damage. Holland lost 9.4% of its cropland and 3.4% of pasture. In addition, 35,000 cattle, 100,000 poultry, and 25,000 pigs died. Damages totaled $300 million. The Netherlands, following this disaster, started a $650 million program
to build new dikes on a 25 mile line in the southwest. They were designed to have three separate lines of defense: “watchers,” the large, strong outer seawall; “sleepers,” another wall built more inland; and “dreamers,” smaller barriers around individual farms.

Celine at one point babbles that the Pilgrim Fathers left from Leiden. First, why would she call them 'Pilgrim Fathers'? Is this an important national story for Brits? What did she think of these original germinators of paunchy and slick American millionaires? Anyway, Leiden is home to a monument which depicts a 1574 Leiden Thanksgiving service. According to the museum, that service inspired the Pilgrim Thanksgiving festival at Plymouth in 1621.

Pineapple Girl:

Tickets are bought to a concert featuring Shostakovich--here's a selection.
He achieved fame in the Soviet Union under the patronage of Leon Trotsky's chief of staff Mikhail Tukhachevsky, but later had a complex and difficult relationship with the Stalinist bureaucracy. His music was officially denounced twice, in 1936 and 1948, and was periodically banned.
Generally speaking, my rule of thumb is: Banned by Stalinists? Sign me up!

There is a visit to Heiligeree, where the bells are made.But Heiligeree, according to the Infallible Wiki, has a great claim to fame:
The village is known for having been the site of the first battle of the Dutch rebels against the Spanish. The army led by Louis and Adolph of Nassau defeated the Spanish, but politically it was no success. Adolf even died during the fight.
But the bells are funner, I suppose.

Cinema Betty

Midsummer Star has a fake engagement and a very gentle favorite of mine is:
It Started With Eve (1941)

A man's dying father wants to meet his new fiancée, but she is unavailable, so he substitutes a hat-check girl. Then the father unexpectedly recovers. It is an obvious vehicle for Durbin's awesome voice but the end is so cute.
There's also a really kitsch-y 60s remake called I'd Rather Be Rich (adorable but impossible to find) with the sex of the principles flipped.

Only one Hollywood starlet could earn the name of Pineapple Girl--Carmen Miranda!
Springtime in the Rockies (1942)
Vicky Lane and Dan Christy get into an argument about Dan's womanizing and go separate ways. A jealous Vicky becomes involved with her old dance partner and ex-lover Victor Price. Dan's career declines after that and he misses Vicky, so he follows her to a hotel in the Canadian Rockies where she and Victor are opening a new show together. Dan goes on a boozy bender and wakes up the next morning to find that he has somehow hired a latin secretary named Rosita Murphy. This leads Vicky to think that Dan is up to his old womanizing habits again.
But admit it. You just want to see the girl in the tutti-frutti hat.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pineapple Girl--Discussion Thead

Eloise and her mum live in a flat behind the Imperial War Museum which I imagine is a nice quiet address. How many visitors go to the Imperial War Museum each year, do you wonder? I wandered over to their website where I was treated to a promotional poster for a featured exhibit (see right). Question: Is the cartoon trench rat in poor taste or in atrocious taste? Visitors would be pouring in for that.

Eloise's nursing friends at one point ask 'had someone dragged her through a hedge backwards'. This is one of those British expressions that has made its way into my speech. When the four-year-old (and it is ALWAYS the four-year-old) comes in from playing and he's got dirt smearing his face in patterned whorls, rips in his jeans and something unmentionable mucking up his shirt then there's really nothing better to say.

Dr. van Zeilst asks Eloise how old she is...so she asks him back. "What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander". Many years ago, someone (maybe Betty Debbie) told me never to equivocate about my age. If you lie and say you're younger then you run the risk of having people think you don't look very good for your age. Words to live by. But seriously, since when has an RDD ever been put off (materially) by an age gap?

Liske wore jangly bracelets to a dinner party - while Eloise wore 'no bracelets to drive a man insane.' I have an aversion to wearing anything on my wrist--my husband keeps trying to convert me to wearing a watch but no dice. When I do feel the need to don a bracelet it is either the metal band (one thick loop of beaten silver) or the wood (one smaller loop of dark wood)--never both at the same time for fear of driving a man to insanity.

Eloise sneaks away while RDD is busy taking care of a food poisoning outbreak...then she says something about 'one man's poison'...I can't remember the last time someone else's food poisoning or similarly barf-y illness wasn't a major hassle for me personally as I'm more often then not the one expected to hold the bucket while they purge...

Pineapple Girl - 1977

Eloise Bennet - tall, shapely, nutbrown hair. Plainish as to face...'her nose was just a nose' (why is that a bad thing?)......she works the night shift at St. Goth's.
While making her rounds one evening, a patient presents her with a pineapple - rather in the manner of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Frankly, it's a good thing Eloise gets the pineapple. Why? Because that pineapple is the one thing that makes this Neels stand out - in an otherwise less than memorable book.
While racing down the stairs at St. Goth's, Eloise sees a strange man staring at her - as though she was surrounded by winking lights or something. Up goes her chin and Eloise becomes Pineapple Girl when she misses the final stair and takes a header - thus dropping the pineapple which rolls across the floor and is dented on the stranger's expensive shoe. I'm sure there were some quick pleas for the earth to open up and swallow her - but no such luck - girlfriend is hoisted to her feet and dusted off by the stranger and Sir Arthur Newman. Great first impression. Great.
Eloise aka Pineapple Girl, rides her ancient bicycle home, through the London streets - and drops into bed - to try and sleep through the day.
Mum brings her tea in bed and asks about the pineapple. Was it a special pineapple? Why? asks Eloise...because a large Fortnum and Mason basket of fruit has magically appeared, addressed to...the Pineapple Girl! Handsome stranger has sent a basket - but not his name, so there is no way to say thank you and she'd really sort of rather not...
Mevrouw Deborah Pringle comes to visit...she just had a rather vague 'procedure' and needs a nurse to come back to Holland with her for a couple of weeks. Mevrouw Pringle is a charming old friend of Mrs. Bennett's - not only does she get Eloise to agree to come to Holland, she also arranges for Mrs. Bennett to go stay with Mrs. Plunkett back in Eddlescombe.
Mevrouw Pringle confides in Eloise that she has inoperable cancer - and that she has six months to live. Editor's note: Anyone familiar with doctors in Neeldom will immediately suspect that 'six months to live' is a bald faced lie...which it is.
Mevrouw Pringle only has weeks to live - and no one is going to tell her - especially not her doctor - who turns out to be the handsome stranger who sent the healthy fruit basket. Doctor Timon van Zeilst.
And now we get to the interaction between Eloise and the RDD. I wish I could say I enjoyed it. But it leaves me a little meh. Timon is dating a small, willowy, vicious blonde named Liske. The kind who wears silver lamé suits with jangly gold bracelets. Yuk. The man has no taste. Of course he's now in love with Eloise - but besides the occasional kiss he is astoundingly reticent about his feelings. A little openness and this could have been a short story. But I digress.
Mevrouw Pringle is dying to have a dinner party (get it? I slay myself...). Too bad the only fancy dress Eloise has is a slightly elderly velvet dress the colour of a mole. Timon will bring Liske of course. Let him bring a dozen Liske's...she could care less. The Pringles son is coming - there will be someone for her. Yes, he's a head shorter than her and balding to boot. He is also the type of man who would poke around the kitchen to see if his wife cleaned the saucepans properly. In spite of his mother being terminally ill, Pieter only ever thinks of himself. Let's ignore him. He's really not a player. Meanwhile, back in Eddlescombe, Mrs. Bennett is being squired around the village by Mr. Jack Plunkett. Why bring that up? You'll see.
Mevrouw Pringle starts going downhill fast...really fast. In fact, she dies within only 2 or 3 weeks of returning to Holland. Eloise calls her mum - who says that she'll be coming to the funeral...Jack will drive her there and take both of them back. Mrs. Bennett and Jack are in fact, engaged and plan on marrying shortly. Love must be in the air - because it only takes a page or two for Eloise to realize she's in love with Timon. Rather hopelessly. She's plain...he's dating Vicious Liske and....he's stinking rich! Eloise's heart drops to her shoes when she sees his home for the first time - it's so grand. He is soooo obviously beyond her reach...besides, he's going to marry Viscous Liske, right? Liske is busy throwing "keep your hands off my property" looks at her - so Timon must be planning on marrying her, right? Who knows? He's certainly not saying.
Now that Mevrouw Pringle is gone, it's time to go back to London and the sad little flat behind the Imperial War Museum. It's time for Eloise to go back, Mum will be going to Eddlescombe to marry Jack. Eloise volunteers to finish up the packing in London then move into the Nurses Home at the hospital. She spends some time in fruitless daydreaming - yes, she's dreaming of Timon - probably a Liske-less Timon. Guess who is leaning on her doorbell while she's trying to get some much needed sleep? It's Timon! He would like her to come back to Holland with him and spend a couple of weeks cheering up Cor Pringle.
Her: Dang...oh, well...how about some breakfast? Sorry about the primitive conditions.
Him: I am a primitive man.
Really? We've had a glimpse of his grand house - the one with mulberry pink ceilings. That may not be quite our taste, but primitive it is not.
Eloise balks at going - how can she leave her job? She's got no more holiday leave. What about a secure future?
Him: If you were allowed to leave at a moments notice, would you come?
Her: Yes.
So, leave she does. Timon and Sir Arthur conspire together to bamboozle the Nursing Superintendent into letting Eloise go at a moments notice. In spite of the tearing hurry, Timon plans a side trip to Eddlescombe. Which gives Eloise time to stick her foot in her mouth.
Her: I thought you and Liske were getting married.
Him: You may think what you wish.
Aargh. More of that unbounded reticence. Even when Eloise tries to apologize, Timon is downright rude.
Him: Putting out feelers? That will get you nowhere with me.
Aargh. Double Aargh.
Eloise is a natural at cheering up the grieving Cor Pringle. She does get to see a little more of Timon, but that is a bittersweet treat. Especially when he hosts a dinner party and invites Vicious Liske. Dinner is delicious, but a willowy blonde like Vicious Liske doesn't eat. She does, however make thinly veiled insults while looking at Eloise - I should hate to get fat.
You can't answer rudeness like that - so Eloise doesn't, in fact she opts for seconds. You go, girlfriend!
After a visit to Timon's sister, Eloise just has to go fishing for information again - despite the fact that her earlier fishing expeditions have netted her exactly no fish.
Her: I thought you might have invited Vicious Liske since you're going to marry her.
Him: Am I? Would you like to see me married to Liske?
Her: As long as you're happy.
Him: With half a dozen kids? I'm not sure Vicious Liske would agree to that. I can see that I nearly made a humungous mistake...I'd need to fix that, Pineapple Girl...
Timon has a date with Vicious Liske...it's a break-up date! But Liske is not going down without some some down and dirty mud-wrestling. She comes to Casa Pringle. It's The Attack of Vicious Liske! Accusations and insults fly with wild abandon....Liske is at her most vicious. She is not fighting for love though, she's fighting for lifestyle. I can already tell that this won't end well.
One more time, one more try - Vicious Liske barges into Timon's house and starts slinging more mud, you are a harpy and designing trollop!...but this time Eloise is not going to take it, so she gives a little back - which is where Timon walks in...just in time to hear her say that Liske is like something that lives under a stone...and then Timon is wept on and lied to by Vicious Liske. AND HE BELIEVES HER!
Aargh. Triple Aargh.
Eloise grabs her coat and leaves...in the teeth of a raging gale - and I can't say I blame her. Of all the insufferable things to happen - having the man you love believe horrible things about you because of your worst enemy. I get it. I'd storm out in the teeth of a gale too. Timon does come after her - they shelter from the storm in an abandoned cottage. Seems like it would be a perfect opportunity for some romantic declarations or at very least, some explanations...but no...Timon would like to talk to Eloise tomorrow. In the meantime he's blathering on about the supposed mud she was slinging at poor Vicious Liske. Instead of waiting for him to show up for a talk the next day, she buys an airline ticket and flies back to England. Eloise has got the itch to get as far away from Timon as possible so she takes a temp job as matron in a boys prep school somewhere in the wilds of Cumbria. Let's wrap it up:
*Eloise goes out on a ledge to save a small boy from suicide.
*Timon drives up just in time to save both of them.
*Timon goes away.
*Eloise gets ready to leave the school and is stopped by Timon.
*Declarations of love, then the second shortest engagement in Neeldom (about 30 minutes - only topped by the engagement in Heidelberg Wedding).
The end.
Rating: Pineapple Girl is a bit like a can of fruit cocktail...only the peaches are dependable...sometime the pears are okay...but that's about it. Some of Pineapple Girl is good - but much is only so-so at best. Too much of the book is either canned grapes or maraschino cherries. Both of which should be banned by a unilateral trade agreement. Timon is one of the most frustrating RDD's...he has a few good moments, but all too often he's canned grapes - especially when he is so abominably reticent. He sinks to the level of maraschino cherries when he listens to Liske's lies and believes her over Eloise. The best I can give this is Madeira cake.
Food: Sizzling macaroni cheese, pineapple, rice pudding, porridge showered with sugar. And to top it off, here's a direct quote: "Would she ever forget the salmon mousse, the roast pheasant, the great silver dishes of vegetables, the sauces?" Doesn't get much better than that.
Fashion: angora cap, scarf and gloves to liven up her old coat, elderly velvet dress the colour of a mole, grey jersey, dark green coat and hat with a lighter green dress. Vicious Liske wears a silver lamé suit with gold bangles.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Question of the Week

My question this week is about The Plan.

We all have it. If you're a lady like myself, whether you are financially independent or not, you have a Plan. --what to do when disaster strikes. Usually my mental disaster is the death of Mijnheer van Voorhees. Here are The Protocols:
  • Call the mother-in-law (Apologize for being so careless with her son.)
  • Don't spend a penny (outside ordinary bills) for 6 months. (Let's not be rash!)
  • Use the life insurance to pay off the mortgage.
  • Stay at home until the youngest gets into all-day school. (And live sparingly.)
  • Fend off the advances of roving Lotharios.
When Celine of Midsummer Star receives news that her family is insolvent, she starts from square one and gets to a workable plan (B and B!) in a flash. The question is: What mental disasters send you scrambling for a piece of scrap paper that you can do muddled sums on?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Upcoming Review

It's that time of year...the time of year I'll be taking kids to college. Out of state. I'll be back before Labor Day - road weary and much poorer...but with a skip in my step at the thought of only having 2 kids in the house...instead of 5. That said, I'll be passing on doing a new book review next week.
Monday, August 3oth. Amazon in an Apron/A Match for Sister Maggy/Nurse in Holland. Not just one, not just two...THREE titles to chose from! Paul kisses Maggy the first day they meet! Scottish dialect (dinna fash yersel' sir, I ken well hoo to ride and have done since I was a wee bairn), a ladylike Rolls.

Thursday, September 2nd. I'll be taking a look back at a book that I've already reviewed. One that I didn't remember liking all that much...but after a careful re-read, I fell in love with it!

Word of the Day

Find the batboy!

A British military officer's orderly.

In Midsummer Star, the butler was Colonel Baylis' former batman.

Of course, in American-English, Batman is a caped crusader, avenging the death of his parents through acts of vigilantism. Since the Baylis butler possesses super hero talents like...er...accepting gratuities for carrying luggage...then I suppose he might be a kissing-cousin to Batman.

Also close is the term 'batboy', used to refer to a baseball team's young guardian of bats. (As in: M.C. Hammer was a one time bat boy for the Oakland A's.) I wonder if Old Barney would be willing to wear parachute pants?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Midsummer Star - Discussion Thread

At the Baylis B&B a gong is sounded for dinner. A gong! I love it. Back in the day when I had all six of my rugrats running around, I could have used a gong or at the very least a dinner bell. As it was, I simply had my lungs. My dad had his piercing whistle - which could probably be heard in neighboring states. That whistle is one of the things I regret not being able to do. It got the job done.

Oliver says, when they're getting out of a cocktail party early that the advantage of being a doctor is always being able to drum up an emergency. I like to call that an "exit strategy". You know what they say "Failure to prepare, is preparing to stick out a boring party until the bitter end." The Founding Bettys have an awesome mom that totally fell on the boring party sword and faked a heart attack. We ♥ you, mom.

Daphne calls the Seymours 'Mother-in-law' and 'Father-in-law'. Not by their Christian names or by an affectionate title. Weird? What do you call your in-laws?

When married, her name will be Celine Seymour. Yikes. Try saying it three times fast. The name Celine only brings to mind Celine Dion. Not. A. Fan. Sorry. Seymour - from the deep, dark, hidden recesses of my mind I managed to dredge up Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors.

Father's sole job is selling liquor and Mother's sole job at the B & B is doing flowers. Celine is turning out rooms, attaching drainpipes, painting, gardening, escorting people to their rooms, helping cook meals, setting tables, etc, etc, etc...I'm not sure how old Celine's parents are supposed to be, but gosh, couldn't they help out a wee bit more? Discuss.

Midsummer Star--1983

My copy of Midsummer Star is falling apart--the pages fluttering out like pieces of our heroine's ragged heart.

Celine Baylis, 22, is a gorgeous dark-haired beauty with years of theoretical education and 'finishing' behind her. She speaks French like a native, whips together food like a Cordon Bleu, looks awfully decorative and lives like Sleeping Beauty in a charming tumble-down Elizabethan Manor. But, as evidenced by her awful name (Celine just screams Neels villainess to me), her parents are not to be trusted.The Colonel (a dreamy type with a sporadic parade-ground manner) and his wife ('My, what a lot of flowers there are to arrange!') have dug themselves into a debt crisis. Their assets are these:
  • The manor. Yes, this 10 bedroom house has damp patches and needs repairs but if you squint just right and fail to acquaint yourself with the furnace (ha! It doesn't have a furnace, silly.) it is charming.
  • A couple of old retainers--cooking and butler/gardening. They're paying them no matter what.
  • A well-stocked wine cellar that The Colonel mothers like a broody hen.
  • An extensive kitchen garden--producing fresh delectables at little cost. The garden also has a good deal of flowers.
  • One newly minted entrepreneurial daughter--passionately determined to make a go of running a Bed and Breakfast. ('If Mrs. Ham can, so can I.')
Act I: The Bed and Breakfast or Mother Can Do the Flowers or Celine the Magnificent

This is my favorite part. Once Celine (a name which is probably not too bad in real life but fits like a bad suit on a Neels heroine) understands the magnitude of her parents' financial straits, she throws off the young Swiss-finished lady and rolls up her sleeves. Celine pitches in...cleaning crud up in the kitchen

With an unflinching desire to live life as it is and not the way she wants it to be that had me cheering she tells the family solicitor, 'I've been doing nothing for a long time...I think I'll try something else for a change.'
In no time they've opened up the rooms, worked out menus and rates (Six pounds for a night, dinner will be three pounds fifty and extra for drinks) and had a few visitors.
And then one day, when she's strolling gently past the front drive she gets malaria. Okay. Not malaria. But some disease that transforms her personality and gives her a brain fever. Let's call it...I'm just spit-balling here...(snaps fingers)...The Nicky.
Celine instantly succu
mbs to The Nicky. He is with his parents on holiday and plans to stay a few days! Celine's joy has little to do with swelling the family bank account and more to do with being rushed off her feet by this magnificent malarial specimen.
Editorial Note:

I think of falling in love with Nicky as the Old Celine's last hurrah. She's not in love with the Malady, per se, but in love with this languid, cosseted life she used to live. And though she works like a Trojan, I think she's got some lingering longing for her former self. New Celine is rushed off her feet, running after guests and getting dinner. Nicky takes trays out of her hands and strolls with Old Celine in the garden. (Of course, New Celine takes a basket along with her to collect some peas while she's at it.)
And then his father has a stroke. (Maybe from hanging out with The Nicky?)
The Nicky is less than useless, leaving his father to be cared for by strangers, while he lolls about the scenery and makes passes at Celine. Papa Seymour (The Nicky's father), meanwhile, calls threadily for 'Oliver'.
Oliver Seymour, Nicky's cousin, is an up-right, up-tight, do-right bore according to The Nicky--he's a virtuous prig but they'll have to send for him.
Celine is up a ladder in filthy clothes painting a drainpipe that she's hauled into place (no lolling here!) when she meets the Odious Oliver. Deep in love (read: 'Deep in do-do') with the Malarial Nicky, she feels like she needs to adopt his attitudes and loyalties--hauling her opinions into line with his in much the same way as that wayward drainpipe. So she sees what Nicky sees: A smug and virtuous man bent on showing The Nicky up as the cheap imitation he is.
Oliver loves her at once.

Act II: Young Love's Dream Dashed
Oliver steps into the situation with an un-Nicky-like aplomb. Nicky is only able snatch moments with Celine--whispering about weekends and...marriage...of course he means marriage if weekends away are involved--before Oliver breaks things up. And then, when Nicky and his parents leave and all the bills are settled (by Oliver), Celine receives a crushing blow.
Oliver: I noticed you and Nicky were making googly-eyes at one another.
Celine: We mean to be married. What would an old bachelor like you know about a divine love like ours?
Oliver: Only that it would be illegal in all fifty Colonies.
Malarial Nicky is married.
It can't be true, thinks Celine as she spirals into a fevered delusion. But when The Nicky returns, she (after much equivocation) tells him what Oliver said. Well?
Oh. That. Divorce is easy these days...let's have a weekend...you're naive...let me grab your arm menacingly...
Oliver makes a sudden rescue and Celine takes off to cry her eyes out.
When Oliver does track her down he offers a shoulder to cry on and a job. She (stupidly!) wants to know if Nicky would really want to divorce his wife and find her again. (I almost can't forgive this much idiocy.) And then she calls Oliver avuncular because he must not be interested in women. He took this unflinchingly on the chin.

Act III: The Fetid Swamp of Bethnal Green or Celine Gets a Job and a Flatlet
Oliver arranges everything (even the installation of Mother Baylis' much younger sister as Celine's temporary replacement) and before you know it, Celine is living above a paediatric clinic in the rough part of London--Bethnal Green in the East End.
The point is that absence and activity will make her forget The Nicky but I keep getting annoyed at the subtle implication that she's not up to the job. She bravely started a semi-thriving Bed and Breakfast with limited resources and a willingness to work, people! Don't tell me that she's incapable of swabbing baby vomit or de-funking toddlers.
My one criticism of Oliver is that, just as The Nicky said, he is always right. This would be rather tiresome to live with and you find yourself wishing that Celine would be mugged and strangled on her way to church just to prove to him that establishing her in the middle of a slum might be a bad idea.
She does not get strangled.
Instead, on her day off, she meets The Nicky. And she has tea with him. And she listens as he pours his honeyed disease into her ears. But back in her flatlet she isn't quite so happy. Maybe dating a married man would be a bad idea!
Oliver, seeing the need to bolster Celine's resolve, makes some effort to fill up her free time and she spends a wonderful day with him in the country and then at his home. They go to Cats that evening and stumble across Daphne--Nicky's wife...and mother of his child! 'You knew--that they were going to be there. You did it deliberately...'
'Yes, I did it deliberately.'

Editorial Note:
Recently legendary screen actress Patricia Neal died and I've been going through a lot of her obits. She suffered a series of horrible strokes during one of her pregnancies and her rehabilitation was attributed to her husband, author Roald Dahl, being a horrible SOB (not a stretch for him, I hear) and making her button her own shirts if it took her an hour. This is exactly Oliver's approach. Nicky is a disease to be purged from her system and Celine won't get better by being coddled. But don't think that Oliver enjoys it.
Nicky isn't going to stop pestering her (though her fever has finally broken and she's so over him) so Oliver, tossing over his shoulder on the way to stabilize a diabetic child, says, 'A propos Nicky--we could get engaged.'
She agrees to talk about it (intending to ask if he's suffering under malarial delusions) and, coming upon him waiting for her to change--sitting on the bottom stair, reading a newspaper--she is blindingly certain that she's in love with Oliver.
So, now it's a foregone conclusion that she'll agree to an engagement of convenience. Delightfully we learn that her middle name is Petronella (please don't print that in the newspaper, she thinks) and his Christian names are Oliver Edmund Frederick. They dance in the line of duty and kiss in the line of duty and if his embraces are more warm than is strictly warranted than it must be attributed to his skills as an actor.
On one weekend they visit his aunt and uncle (Nicky's parents) and run into Daphne (quite bitter over her husband's continual philandering and in a mood to pour her heart out to Celine) and Nicky (who hisses at Celine, 'Am I supposed to believe that this is a fairytale romance?...You'll be telling me next that you love him.' Celine's quiet and heartfelt, 'I do' wipes the smug expression off his face).
So that's Nicky taken care of. But we still have thirty pages left and we have to fill them with something...Ah, a red herring! Just the thing. One of Oliver's friends tells Celine that she was sure Oliver was waiting to marry her daughter Hilary. This is just like your GPS telling you to take the I-405 North exit to get to the airport when you know that to take the I-405 South exit will get you there sooner. Detours ahead!

Act IV: Hie to Holland or The Little Italian Dress Takes a Trip
And then they go to Holland because he has a business trip and wants to have her meet more friends. She gets a chance to air her French and likes her hosts enormously. He catches her in the garden one afternoon, kisses her thoroughly and gently reminds her that they are engaged. But of course, that only makes her stiffen (instead of relent and reveal which was what he was hoping for) and, as he is a seismograph where she is concerned, he lets her go and the moment is lost.

Act V: A Spot of Snogging
Back in England, she plucks up her courage and corners the good doctor. She has heard that Hilary is a charming girl and, finding the selfless love of New Celine more satisfying (albeit, more painful) than the blind rapture of Old Celine, gives him back his ring and breaks the engagement.
Just by chance she meets Hilary in the street and sees that she's not a day over 14. Uh-oh. Or, if I may employ the more nuclear, Scooby-Doo-ism: Ruh-Roh.
Forces (by 'forces' I mean 'A very determined and angry Oliver') keep her from getting a minute alone with Oliver to explain and she finds herself being told by his butler that he's gone away for a few days. Tears!
And thank heaven for tears because Pym (the butler) calls Oliver to let him know he was making innocent young ladies burst into lamentations on his doorstep. That's why, when Celine is swinging gently in her Elizabethan garden under her Elizabethan tree, Oliver walks around the corner of the Elizabethan house. He's there to see what the fuss is about.
There's no fuss. Just kissing and disclosures and more kissing
The End

Rating: This was a darling little book. It's not one of my favorites (as it becomes mired in the swamp of Bethnal Green rather securely) but it mostly works and the two main characters have much to recommend them. Oliver is always right and serious and dependable. Celine (ugh, I hate her name) is fresh and plucky and hard working...and as dumb as a post. The only part I don't like much is when she's trying to justify seeing Nicky again even after finding out about his wife. I hated it, but then, I think I hated it because it was uncomfortable to read...not because it wasn't an understandable feeling for Celine to have. When she was behaving stupidly I would think to myself, 'She single-handedly rescued her family from ruin' and say it over and over in my head. She never does get the recognition she deserves for such an awesome thing. I give this a happy boeuf en croute.

Food: Cornflakes, kipper fillets, lamb chops, syllabub (twice!), egg and mushroom flan (ick.), fresh peas are pushed to the side of the plate (that's what I do with my peas too), Yorkshire pudding, roast beef, trifle, wild duck stuffed with apples, ice cream, strawberries coming out of your ears, Boeuf Stroganoff and lobster.

Fashion: Celine meets Oliver wearing paint-stained jeans and a cotton sweater. She could practically drive to Rome on the mileage she gets out of a 'little Italian dress'. She also wears a dim apricot silk and a faded cotton Liberty dress.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Betty Goes to Church

At the church, Gijs parked the car, handed Margo over to Sir William and went with Aunt Flo, Two minutes later they followed them, and as the church door was opened Margo was surprised to hear the organ. It would be old Miss Twittchitt playing: Margo could hear the wrong notes. She had played for years and no one would have dreamt of suggesting a successor...
The Vicar's Daughter

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Grace Livingston Hill: Part Four

Through These Fires (1943): Lexie and Ben spend an awful lot of time half a world away from one another. When he comes under heavy fire the thought of a little girl swinging on a gate sustains him. He writes a letter to tell her that she kept him going and it goes on from there but they begin to be pen pals and don't meet again until page 209. Still, it's sweet and interesting and has a ton of home front details.

Not Under the Law: I have it around here somewhere but can't find it--so excuse me not using any names. Girl witnesses bootlegging wherein one of the gang is an old high school friend. She runs away from home, finds a gentle community to live in, stumbles on a land agent's shack (that she is able to move onto free land), decorates it (love those bits about all the things she can stuff into that cottage), finds a teaching job, is harassed by a would-be suitor, rehabilitates her former school chum and lives happily ever after. A woman's work is never done!

Dawn of the Morning (1939): Set in 1824, this book would have you believe that a bride would go an entire day before looking up and seeing her husband. Charles loves
Dawn (who has has seen just once) but she is being made to marry his older brother (who she hates). When older brother skips off, Dawn marries Charles--but she (for the love of Grace Livingston Hill) still thinks she's marrying the baddie. So then, after the vows, she ups and offs. Cholera-stricken family members, a run-away new bride, danger and intrigue...all to come back to the spot we started at--with a bride who had no good reason to run in the first place.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Grace Livingston Hill: Part Three

The Red Signal (published in 1919). Highly improbably story that includes German Spies posing as farmers! How fun is that? Hidden bunkers and wireless sets. Here's the blurb found on the front flap of the dust jacket:
When David Stevens, engineer on freight No. 5, snatched Hilda Lessing from the path of a fast moving express, he did not know that there was the making of a heroine in her slender frame, nor that fate was to entangle this simple child with himself in a web of plots and danger, from which she was to rescue them at the risk of her life. But some of the most breath-taking adventures of all fiction lie between the consummation of her happiness and the foiling of a diabolical plot threatening the safety of the nation.
The Best Man (1913). This was the second GLH that I ever read. Grace's grasp of espionage was delightfully vague and mysterious. Gordon is on an important mission that is vital to national security...or something. He obtains the encrypted message from the bad guys, but then has to run for his life. He runs right into a wedding and is mistaken for the groom (whom no one has seen for years). He 'marries' Celia - who didn't want to marry the real groom - she was being coerced. The two fall in love while being chased back to Washington D. C..

The Strange Proposal (1935). The Strange Proposal has one of the strongest heroines in Hilldom. Mary Elizabeth Wainwright is rich, John Saxon is not. He's religious, she's not. He's a struggling young doctor, she's a heiress. He has two feeble parents (who who own a struggling orange grove in Florida!), she has one hearty father (who is a wealthy businessman in Boston). What makes this one fun is the fact that the guy proposes to her the very first time they meet...when he thinks she's someone else.