Sunday, October 31, 2010

Betty Goes to Church

Aunt Maud had been wrong; the hat did something for her, she looked almost pretty. She winced at the memory of the severe felt she had purchased for church-going last winter, with her aunt's unqualified approval. The next hat she bought, she vowed, turning her head this way and that before the mirror, she would buy by herself, and it would be a hat to shock the family, the village churchgoers and the parson himself.
The Magic of Living

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Betty in the Real World

The finale of Three for a Wedding happens in De Bijenkorf in front of a display of kitchenware. De Bijenkorf means 'The Beehive' and they are a chain of upscale department stores founded in 1870. Interestingly, the same company that owns them also owns another more downscale chain that is a staple of Betty Neels books; Vroom and Dreesmann. The title of this one takes its name from that child's rhyme about magpies that The Venerable Betty liked so well. One for sorrow: two for mirth: three for a wedding: four for a birth: five for silver: six for gold: seven for a secret, not to be told: eight for heaven: nine for hell: and ten for the devil's own [self]. It's used in at least one other book--the end has an old Nanny noticing four magpies which mean that the principles can finally have some implied conjugal relations. I'm not in love with the fact that the title is anchored around such a flimsy thread. The sisters see some magpies and the rhyme is said but then there's no other tie-in. Anyway, this is a book I wouldn't mind re-naming.

Phoebe gets to visit the Night Watch. As this happens fairly often throughout the Neels canon I'll just mention the two recent(ish) episodes of vandalism related to this work:
[It] was attacked with a bread knife by an unemployed school teacher, Wilhelmus de Rijk, in 1975, resulting in a large zig-zag of slashes. It was successfully restored but some evidence of the damage is still observable close-up. De Rijk committed suicide in April 1976.In 1990, a man sprayed acid onto the painting with a concealed pump bottle. Security guards intervened and water was quickly sprayed onto the canvas. Luckily, the acid had only penetrated the varnish layer of the painting and it was fully restored.

When Two Paths Meet:

They go for a walk around Stourhead in the middle of the snow. You Bettys might recognize Stourhead from that scene in the Keira Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice where we're supposed to believe that there's an atom of sexual energy between the principle actors. How I hoped I would like that version (and I don't hate it but...)!

Most of the action takes place around Salisbury Cathedral. The Graingers live right next to the 'close' - and Jason is pretty near to it also: A Cathedral Close is an architectural term referring to the series of buildings that serve as appendages to a cathedral. These may include buildings housing diocesan offices, schools, free-standing chapels associated with the Cathedral, and the houses of the bishop and other clergy associated with the cathedral. They sometimes, although not necessarily, are arranged in a sort of square around a courtyard forming a close. This map of the close at Salisbury Cathedral shows a typical arrangement.

Speaking of Halloween Costumes...

I agree with Betty Debbie that Betty Neels didn't have much to say on the subject of Halloween. Probably she thought it was a vulgar American holiday. But I'm a bit of a vulgar American so it's right up my alley.
Two years ago the planets aligned. I was 8 months pregnant and couldn't be bothered to do better. I totally grant that Betty Debbie pulled off her 'hanging Chad' better than I managed my 'pregnant chad. Here's what I wrote at the time:

After 8 long years of irrelevancy the pregnancy gods have smiled upon me and allowed one last chance to separate the wheat from the chaff --acquaintance-wise. If you got the pregnant lady wearing the "Chad" name tag as the obviously punny "pregnant chad" of Broward County fame you are so very clearly wheat--if not...chaff.

One of my finest hits was Mijnheer van Voorhees as a heavily tattooed convict. Lamb chops look scarily awesome on him.

I'm not a real seamstress. Betty Debbie can pass as one fairly creditably but I'm a perfect Halloween

sew-er--my work is best inspected in the dim light of a moonless night--hence, many of my cobbled-together creations. If I resemble any Neels heroine, it's the one who made her little sister's fancy dress out of some old curtains and a drastically taken-in adult shirt.

My daughter's best costume was the year she was three. She was a darling, imperious, short creature with dark hair. Two words...Edna Mode. She spent her evening waving a rolled-up newspaper at people saying, 'Pull yourself together!'

And then there was the year I went as a Suffragette: The unforgivable bosoms (shoot, and now you're looking) sorta work in my favor in this costume, I think. I'm holding scissors in this pic (to trim Nathan's lamb-chops but I think they are allegorical: I'm cutting the tape on that glass ceiling!) so you miss my muff (!) but the effect was fabulous. After last year (ugh) having to go as a pregnant chad, I was ready to splash a bit. We're merely soldiers in petty coats, ladies.

This year I'm going as Evita Peron (dear we're treading a fine political line) because I found a killer dress at

the non-Neels equivalent of British Home Stores. I have my opera gloves, yards of beads and a faintly palid air that will undoubtedly carry me off so that I and my heavily embalmed skin may rest in perpetuity.

Friday, October 29, 2010


It's fall, Amabel from Always and Forever is in Yorkshire...what does she eat? Parkin.

I've been waiting to try this one. Waiting until the right time of year. Evidently Parkin is traditionally eaten on Bonfire Night - November this gives you just enough time to make it and let it age for a few days. I used the recipe found on I simplified the recipe here (just eliminated the metric stuff), but feel free to go to the original and compare. I made it Tuesday and now it's sitting in a Ziploc bag aging. I did make one goof - I was trying to multi-task (always a bad idea for me to do that when making an unfamiliar food) and left out the brown sugar. I'm not too fussed. If you look at the recipe you can see that it has 9 oz. of various syrups - so I'm pretty sure it will still be sweetish.
Yorkshire Parkin

Parkin is essentially the Northern English form of gingerbread. Different parkins are characterized by where they are made and Yorkshire Parkin, one the most famous, is made using oats. Yorkshire Parkin is eaten on Bonfire Night, November 5th, celebrating the famous failure of Guy Fawkes to blowup the Houses on Parliament in 1605. Guy Fawkes was a Yorkshireman.

This Parkin Recipe is easy to make and creates a moist sticky cake. However, you will need to store the cake for between 3 days to a week before eating. This allows the cake to soften and become moist and sticky. Delicious.

• 4 oz soft butter
• 4 oz soft dark brown sugar
• 2oz black treacle/molasses
• 7oz golden syrup/ corn syrup
• 8 oz medium oatmeal**(I used regular rolled oats that I put through my mini chopper as the 'oatmeal' does not refer to rolled oats, but rather oat meal (think cornmeal))
• 4 oz all-purpose/plain flour
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 2 tsp ground ginger
• 1 very large, or 2 medium eggs, beaten
• 1 tbsp milk
Heat the oven to 275°
• Grease an 8" x 8" square cake tin.
• In a large heavy-based saucepan over a gentle heat melt together the butter, sugar, treacle, golden syrup. Do not allow the mixture to get hot.
• In a large spacious baking bowl stir together all the dry ingredients. Gradually add the melted butter mixture stirring to coat all the dry ingredients.
• Add the beaten egg/s and mix thoroughly. Finally add the milk.
• Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook for 1 ½ hours until firm and set.
• Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. Once cool store the Parkin in an airtight tin for a minimum of 3 days up to a week before eating; this allows the flavors to develop and the mixture to soften and become moist and sticky. The Parkin will keep up to two weeks in an airtight container.

Verdict: It was tough having to wait for the real taste test. The best way to describe my attempt at parkin is that in flavor it's similar to gingerbread, but in texture it's closer to a bar cookie - such as coconut bars. One thing I wish I had done was to line the pan with some parchment - it would have been much easier to remove from the pan.
I think parkin is one of those childhood comfort foods. Much better if you grow up with it. Dr. van der Stevejinck and I liked it - with applesauce. Will I make it again? Maybe. It was fine. Fine.

Cinema Betty

Three For a Wedding has a shadowy love-interest named Jack who is a good man (pretty much) but he's not ringing Phoebe's bell. This reminded me of:

A Holiday Affair (1949)
Janet Leigh is a single mom with a really, really nice guy named Carl (the poor Carls of this world are doomed to be upstaged) who wants to marry her and be the father of her son. That she doesn't return his feelings are a bit of a bonus--after all, she is a widow and doesn't want to fall in love again. Robert Mitchum--a very unsafe choice with sleepy RDD eyes--stirs the pot and young Timmy--trying to be the man of the house--has more than a little bit of Three for a Wedding's Paul in him.

This is one that you can get from Netflix but the wait gets longish around Christmastime.

When Two Paths Meet has an abandoned baby. Think we can't turn that into classic comedy gold? Watch me:
Bachelor Mother (1939)
Polly Parrish (Ginger Rogers) is a salesgirl at the department store John B. Merlin and Son in New York City who has just been told that since the Christmas season is ending she is going to be dismissed. During her lunch break, she sees a stranger leaving a baby on the steps of an orphanage. Fearing the baby is going to roll down the steps, Polly picks it up as the door is opened, and is mistakenly thought to be the mother.)

Love (with an adorable David Niven) ensues.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

When Two Paths Meet--Discussion Thread

The doctor finds a job for her as companion for an elderly couple - Mrs. Dowling (the cook/housekeeper) doesn't like her at first. She warms up after seeing how helpful and unassuming Katherine is. I've never been in a position to have a companion AND a cook/housekeeper but there is a pretty strict protocol that The Venerable Neels shares with us. Companions are ladies.
Companions don't ever ask for breakfast in bed or meals at odd times.
Companions ought to be able to shovel coal and whip up a Cordon Bleu meal in a blizzard.
Companions should not eat in the kitchen.
Companions should be willing to eat in the kitchen.
It's all dizzying. So much better to just simply marry a rich Dutch doctor...

This is yet another book where Nature whoops Nurture's can. I'm a little torn about how much I buy this. Can the main woman in a child's life (which is, in essence, what the put-upon Aramintas are) have so little to do with shaping a child's personality? Maybe. Their manners? I don't buy it.

The Other Woman is named Dodie. Now, my name is Betty Keira...and I'm awfully conscious of living in a glass house where strange names are concerned. But I'm a good shot with a rock and Dodie is not a name to be whispered in the moonlight:

Its source is Dorothea, a Greek name meaning "Gift of God."
Nickname For: Dorothy

Popularity: The name Dodie ranked 4070th in popularity for females of all ages in a sample of the 1990 US Census.

Though this name appears on the 1990 U.S. Census lists, it is used by only a small percentage of the general population.

Both Betty Debbie and I think of it as a boy name as we evidently (yes, with my family, I have to say 'evidently') have an uncle with that name. And then there's the ill-fated Dodi al-Fayed...

She basically doesn't have any kind of wardrobe--so each paycheck she carefully plans out what to buy--by Christmas she should have enough of the basics so that she can then start picking and choosing. The Founding Bettys wonder how you would go about starting from scratch? What would be the first thing you'd buy? For me it would be a good pair of jeans, some hard-wearing and washable tops, a cute buttoned sweater, a straight black skirt and then maybe a versatile accessory like a belt or a long necklace. Ugh. Modern living is so much more mundane. Not an uncrushable jersey dress in a luscious strawberry pink to be found.

The doctor offers her a job as a nurse's aide. 'monotonous work, mostly: getting beds made, fetching and carrying for the nurses, feeding patients, carrying bedpans, cleaning up when someone's sick...' This is not the career path for everyone but this Betty is well-suited for sweat-shop labor. I worked in an industrial laundry for four years. I am very good at repetition. The body gets in a zone and the mind goes day-tripping.

When Mrs. Potts (landlady) has to go to the hospital, Katherine makes up her bed for Mrs. Spooner (Mrs. Potts sister? - doctor's housekeeper) 'she had become quite expert at making up beds since she had been working at the hospital'. It's nice to see her using her skills...

Her brother gets the Matron to make her come take care of his sick wife. Henry proves himself a good actor..."the two faced villain!" Leaving aside brother's acting skills, this plot device occurs in several books and I am no less confused by it than when I read it the first time. Maybe I'm showing post-Women's Revolution age here but has it ever been kosher for an adult nurse to be dismissed on the word of her brother?!

When Two Paths Meet - 1988

I thought I remembered this book quite well. I did have most of the plot down pat - but I didn't remember loving this one. Why didn't I love it? The question bothered me until about 2/3 of the way through...then I knew. It's a 600 pound gorilla.

In the pre-dawn chill a knock sounds at the door...Katherine Marsh hops out of bed and tiptoes downstairs so as not to wake the household. A good-looking stranger urgently requests entry, as he has just found a newborn baby beside the road. Man with baby? Check. Dawning Realization? Check. Dr. Fitzroy asks that Katherine accompany him to the hospital so that she can hold the baby...Katherine is happy to help out (although sister-in-law Joyce is NOT), even happier that instead of being forgotten at the hospital as she expected, Dr. Fitzroy has arranged for her to have breakfast in the canteen. When he takes her home she shakes his hand goodbye and 'looked up into his face learning it by heart...memory was all she would have.'

Katherine lives with older brother Henry and his wife Joyce. They are a delightful couple. Psych! Not really. Henry is a schoolmaster...which hardly bodes well for the youngsters in his care. I find myself wondering what kind of school he teaches at...and can only imagine some horrible Dickensian boarding school and Henry a close runner-up to Wackford Squeers. Alas, the only thing we really know about Henry is that he is pompous, selfish, self-absorbed, doesn't care for his own children...which is where the redoubtable Mr. Squeers has him beat. Mr. Squeers at least likes his kids. Joyce is very busy with her own social life to have any time for her kids either. If ever there was a couple who shouldn't have had kids, it's these two.
Dr. Fitzroy shows up with a job offer! Poor Joyce and Henry aren't given any choice in the two weeks notice to find a new slave. Katherine is going to be trading her job of taking care of two ill-behaved children for a job taking care of a peppery old man and his wife. The new jobs pays 40 pounds a week, which is more money than Katherine has had in her pocket in maybe forever. One of the perks of the job is that Dr. Fitzroy drops by a couple of times a week to check up on Mr. Graingers dickey heart. A job that actually pays AND the chance to see her true love twice a week? You betcha. Henry turns puce when he finds out that she's taking the job...'You ungrateful sister! I've given you a home and food and clothes...' 'And look what you've gotten in return - unpaid housework, a nanny and you haven't even given me an allowance.' Good for her. I really like Katherine when she's in this mode...not so much when she wastes sympathy on Henry and Joyce (but no sympathy on the children...who deserve it more).
The Graingers are nice to work for - there's just one fly in the ointment. Granddaughter Dodie. The 600 pound gorilla. Dodie spends the book being rude, caustic, thoughtless, selfish, etc. She is, in a way, refreshingly forthright - she's not two-faced at all. The reason I don't care for her plot line is the inexplicableness of La Neels having Dr. Fitzroy spend soooo much time with The Dread Dodie. He also suggests to Katherine that The Dread Dodie could give her fashion advice. Umm. No thanks. Dr. Fitzroy is startled to see a look of such rage that he blinks. No way girlfriend is going to take fashion advice from the enemy...because that's just what The Dread Dodie is - the enemy. Both girls know it instinctively.
Dodie conspires with a relative to shift the Graingers to Cheltenham for a spell. Even though Mr. and Mrs. Grainger like Katherine a lot, they sashay off to Dodieland with nary a backward glance. This means that Katherine is out of a job. Dr. Fitzroy steps into the breach and gets her another job...nurses aide at the hospital. Yay! Bedbathing old men and emptying bedpans. She does make more money...enough to rent a room from Mrs. Potts. Her independence is growing by leaps and bounds...and now that she's working at the hospital, there's a chance every day to see Dr. Fitzroy. The best thing about the job change (besides seeing Dr. Fitzroy more often), is that Katherine finally gets to make friends with girls her own age - Miranda 'call me Andy', another nurses aide, and a girl at Mrs. Potts.

Dr. Fitzroy's younger cousin, Edward comes for a visit. He would be an ideal brother, says Katherine - over and over and over again. Seriously...Katherine loses no opportunity to let the good doctor know that she has no romantic feeling for the guy. Especially after Edward asks her out and Dr. Fitzroy goes strangely avuncular. Lots of fun to be had with Edward and Jason (yes, Jason). Hot cocoa around the fire after the midnight Christmas service, invitation to a New Year's Eve party at Jason's, teaching Katherine how to play poker and a day out walking through the snow at Stourhead, where once again Katherine tells Jason how sisterly she feels toward Edward. Maybe that's what tips the scales for Jason, but at any rate, he takes advantage of Edward's brief absence to propose. Yup. Right out of the blue. Since everyone has told Katherine that he's supposed to be marrying Dodie, she turns him down. And then kicks herself for it. The Dread Dodie would be an awful wife for Jason. Too bad Katherine blew her one and only chance. Did I say one and only chance? Jason is delightfully persistent - he brings up the subject of proposing with great regularity. If only he would stop going out with Dodie - which he does with great regularity. Oh, and if he would preface his proposal with an 'I love you', that would also help out a great deal.
Henry tracks down Katherine and persuades the Matron that Katherine is needed back at Casa Marsh to care for his ailing wife. Let's all join with Henry in shedding a few crocodile tears. Of course Joyce isn't sick, and Katherine is sure of it - especially when Henry smirks at her behind Matron's she leaves a message with Andy for 'anyone who asks' about her whereabouts. Who's going to ask? Jason sees her entering a car and tracks down Andy to see what's what. What's up is that Joyce has gone out for drinks at the pub and left Katherine with her offspring. Jason shows up after dinner and Katherine falls weeping on his lapels.
Her: Jason, oh Jason! Take me away!
Him: Sorry I couldn't come sooner, I had outpatient's.
He makes amends by taking her back to his place for a much needed dinner. Some cards are laid on the table...hers. He knows she loves him, and gets her to admit it...before proposing again. Her walls are crumbling, she's just about to tell him 'yes' the next day when she hears that The Dread Dodie is engaged to someone else!! Instead of being thrilled, she's now sure that it's a rebound proposal. Katherine refuses one last time...muddied waters are cleaned up...I've loved you since I first saw you in that old dressing gown. I've loved you since you told them to give me a good breakfast. Kiss kiss. The End.

Rating: There's loads to love about this book...unfortunately, there's a 600 pound gorilla named Dodie in the room. Dodie is remarkably straightforward in her hatred of Katherine - and I don't have a problem with that, it's the fact that Jason keeps going out with her and sort of throwing her in Katherine's face. Drives me crazy. Queen of Puddings...unfortunately garnished with a tin of Dodie soup.
Fashion: a wardrobe bought one item at a time each payday. Week 1 - undies. Week 2 - suitable grey dress. Week 3 - a raincoat bought at Woolworth's. Week 4 - A warm and pretty dressing gown and cozy slippers. Week 5 - Winter coat in an unassuming peat brown cloth. New Year's Eve party dress - grey taffeta with a square neck and elbow length sleeve that make her look like a nun at the circus.
Food: Hospital canteen Breakfast O' Love of cornflakes, eggs and bacon, toast, butter and marmalade. Minute steaks, trifle, cheese souffle, egg custard, prawn cocktails, steak and kidney pudding, apple tart AND apple pie, boiled beef and dumplings, boiled ham and parsley sauce (?).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Betty Neels Travel Bingo

Last week (on the discussion thread for Tangled Autumn) Betty JoDee asked where she could get a "Betty Neels Travel Bingo". It would be a blast to do an actual Betty Neels Travel Bingo and include specific places that are mentioned in her books. What would make that even better would be the chance to use it.

A few years ago, when Dr. van der Stevejinck and I were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, we took a 3 week trip to Europe. Before going, Betty Keira challenged me to make up a 'travel bingo' game. At first I wasn't quite sure what she was talking about - but then the shear genius of the idea hit me. Hit me like a ton of bricks. I made a 5 by 5 grid and filled in each one with something we might conceivably see or do on our trip - and we had to take a picture of it. In fact, if you see the picture next to my name in the comments section (Dr. van der Stevejinck and I are engaging in a bit of public snogging) - that was a picture from that bingo game. As I remember it, we were supposed to 'kiss in a castle', while in the Frederiksborg Castle, in Denmark, we were able to check off that box for the game. It's too bad we weren't doing this blog then, because I could have so checked off a TON of Betty Neels places. As it was, we did go to a lot of places that are mentioned in her books. Ah well, I guess I'll just have to save up and go again.

Next week Betty Keira and I (with our husbands) will be going to Hawaii for a few days. We are even now working on our 'Betty Equivalent Travel Bingo - Hawaii Edition'. Swimming in tropical waters will stand in for swimming in the North Sea (very gratefully - especially since the North Sea is pretty chilly this time of year), a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center will replace the Arnhem Open Air Museum in get the idea.
We are totally willing to take suggestions. What would you put on it?

Question of the Week

At one point in Three for a Wedding Phoebe comes to the rescue of two old ladies. She's in Holland, she doesn't speak Dutch but 'she mimed the need for a blanket...and then once more played her desperate charade to convince her companion that she would have to go for help.'

I once had a perfectly lovely discussion with an Italian Grandmother at the Vernazza train station. We relayed the ages of our children/grandchild, discussed their merits and I was made to understand the depth of excitement the grandmother felt while she waited for her grandson to arrive (and now that I know a little more about Italian birth rates, I understand even better).

Anyway, all this was accomplished with my knowledge of Gelato-Italian (an inability to speak Italian unless ordering gelato) and hand motions.

So tell me about the times you've been lost in translation.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Upcoming Reviews

Monday, November 1st. The Magic of Living. Stutterer Arabella saves a busload of spastic children, ill-fitting swimsuit, horrible cousin.

Thursday, November 4th. The Girl With Green Eyes. Heroinne name Lucy Lockitt!!! Somewhat neglected middle child, orphanage, father is an archeologist - studying ancient Hittites.

Word of the Day

Marry me, Phoebe! I'll shower you with bleeps!

1 a short, high-pitched burst of sound.
2 (alsoˈbleeper) a small instrument for making this sound

She had barely sat down when her bleep started up-Childen's this time, and could she go at once because Baby Crocker had started a nasty laryngeal stridor.

This is one of those words that I think I know. It sounds like she's describing a 'beeper'--but does this mean that she had to make a phone call to get the additional info or was it more like a walkie-talkie? Hmmm. Not sure. Maybe someone who knows the technology better might tell me?

One of my favorite bits involving a beeper (can't say 'bleep' as it makes me think I'm covering up an obscenity) is from the TV show 30 Rock. Liz dates someone who earns his living selling an outmoded technology. (He was the last remaining beeper salesman in New York City and was known as the "Beeper King" since the original "Beeper King" killed himself.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Three for a Wedding - Discussion Thread

Three for a Wedding features one of the most evil governesses in Neeldom (I can think of one other that gives her a run for her money - Miss Murch from A Girl to Love). She threatens and manipulates her charge, lounges around reading glossy magazines, invites friends over for drinks and beats puppies in her spare time. Discuss your opinion on the 'not telling Lucius about his evil governess' thing.

Thankfully our hero drives a Jaguar XJ12--we need to keep monitoring his good taste as to autos since that regrettable incident of several weeks ago (see the Ring in a Teacup Panther de Ville Automobile Debacle). The Jaguar XJ12 earns an 'uncrushable' rating.

At a museum Phoebe sees an engraving of 'some medieval gentleman having his leg amputated and, from the look on his face, taking grave exception to it'. First of all, thank you Betty. Second of all, ouch. Third, way to work in some medical 'art'.

'She spoke cautiously, not quite happy about holding conversations in the North Sea while swimming' I rather imagine it would be a little difficult to speak at all while swimming in the ocean there. I mean, it's not like the North Sea is a calm lake. I'd be concentrating on my swimming too.

Phoebe goes to visit the war memorial at Dam Square--'treading their way among hippies'. This is not the first or last time Betty mentions hippies - as a group that's best to be avoided. The Founding Bettys grew up near Eugene, Oregon - the hippie mecca of the northwestern United States. We never found them to be of any particular worry - maybe our brand was a little different. The ones around us were mostly about peace, love, tie-dye and doobies. Mostly. The Founding Bettys graduated from the same dang high school as Ken Kesey (I'll let Betty Keira tell the story about him coming to speak at a school assembly). They have passed on a legacy that lives on today at the Oregon Country Fair (which I've never gone to) and the Saturday Market (which I have - it's more about handicrafts - and it's held in the middle of the city - not out in the woods). Here's a partial list of Country Fair Do's and Don'ts from the Fair website:
What to bring to have a fabulous time...
Your festive spirit.
Your big smiles.
Your sparkly duds - beads and feathers and costumes are always welcome.
What to leave home to have a fabulous time...
All your cares and woes.
Alcoholic drinks.
It may suggest leaving alcoholic drinks home, but I didn't see that doobies are banned (btw - the girl with the black sticker applied isn't actually naked from the waist up - she has flower pasties - and I'm not talking about food). I have never actually been (or had a desire to go) to the Country Fair. I'm not too sure about Betty Keira.

Schevingenen is referred to as a 'Dutch Brighton'. Except for a scene in The Chain of Destiny wherein the heroine is ditched at the Panorama Mesdag by her patient's philandering brother so that he can sneak off with a married woman, there are no other hints that it's 'that' kind of place. I imagine it's rather a more family friendly holiday spot.

Three for a Wedding--1973

Lots to discuss in this book--many delightful bits but plenty to take issue with.

Gold Medals seem to run in the family. Pheobe Brook, 27, Medical Night Sister, was the leading light of her year and little sister Sybil has just garnered the top honors as well.
Even though the title of the book references Sybil's wedding and it is that same wedding that gets the ball rolling, Sybil is practically a cardboard figure--a hodgepodge of enthusiasms and tantrums ('I can't spend two whole months in Holland! I want to get married! Revolve around me!') and never really gets fleshed out.
Sybil wants to get married and a nurse-training scheme in Holland is getting in her way. So, instead of accepting responsibility for her own actions and telling the hospital authorities that Nick (we're supposed to believe that marriage with a 'Nick' will turn out well?) has proposed, she asks Phoebe to take her place and pretend to be her. Phoebe brings her considerable logic to bear on the situation but Sybil demonstrates her preparedness for marriage thus: 'Oh dear,' she wailed through her sobs, 'now I don't know what I'll do--at least, I do. I shall run away and hide until Nick goes to Southampton and we'll get married in one of those pokey register offices and n-no one will come to the w-wedding!'
Have I mentioned that she's 23?--not 12. And one must assume she won her Gold Medal with hard work and diligence--Well, that or her class was peopled with the criminally moronic, deaf-mutes and dope fiends...Hmm, there's a thought.
So Phoebe agrees.
Phoebe is told only that the doctor in charge is one of those catatonic fellows--sleepy and uninterested. He couldn't possibly remember Sybil from the one time he met her. But he does--at least enough to know that for him she was just another nurse. Phoebe (masquerading as Sybil) however, is, as he scribbles in his ubiquitous notebook, 'A darling English girl. I shall marry her.' Maybe it was the good deal of leg she was showing as she leaned out the window...
Editorial Note:
Mind you, he knows right away that she's not who she says she is and still falls headlong into love. I adore that he's nerdy enough to need a reminder.
But Dr. Lucius (I'm thinking of a chubby Southern boy circa 1952 with horn-rimmed glasses and an overbearing mother) van Someren, 34, is supposed to be married so despite finding him very attractive, Phoebe resigns herself to aesthetic appreciation and philosophical detachment. (Sybil's Nick (who probably, with a name like that, has a criminal record of some sort) told her he had a son so naturally...)
They settle down to a wonderful working relationship. She's a good deal more experienced than a recently-graduated student nurse has any right to be but he is unobservant, right?
The moment he gets her across the Channel and onto Dutch soil (where, conveniently it would be difficult for her to beat a hasty withdrawal) he calls her Phoebe.
Right. About that...
No harm, no foul. He's happy to have her anyway and will even arrange for her to go back to the wedding when her sister ties the knot.
That's a sticky plot morass cleared with almost unseemly haste. We may proceed.
On one of her solitary rambles about Delft she is roughed up by a group of 8-year-olds. Before you go calling her a pansy keep in mind that she was very likely in high heels and they were swinging book bags. (My daughter's could probably take an arm off if swung just so.) One of the young vandals, she was sure, was able to understand her English shouting. Curious.
Lucius, inviting her and another nurse, to coffee at his home (after some fibrocystitis-themed sight-seeing) where she is introduced to (Dum, dum, DUM) Paul--8-year-old hooligan by day, adopted son of Lucius by night! Phoebe offered a hand and smiled. Little boys were, after all, little boys and what was a rude gesture between friends? (Don't you just want to wrap her up and keep her in your pocket?)
She also meets Maureen Felman, a dishy and smug-faced governess. Their dislike is mutual, thorough and instantaneous. (Think Godzilla vs. Mothra) Of a later meeting it is said, 'Here was the enemy, although she wasn't quite sure why (no Dawning Realization yet)--and declaring war too.
But the doctor isn't married. That's the other disclosure of the day. Phoebe is thrilled--she isn't in love with him (well, she is but doesn't know it) but there's a rose-colored intermediary state where she admits to liking him an awful, awful lot.
She goes on night duty and her one compensation is that Lucius picks her up in the morning and they go swimming together in the North Sea. This is Betty Neels code for 'Delightful Post-Work Pick-Me-Up' and Betty Keira code for 'Are You Insane and Trying to Kill Me?' Paul and Maureen come sometimes which is just as fun as it gets with Paul staring at her with dead eyes and Maureen using her as a scratching post. Are there dueling dishy swimsuits? Heck yes.
Phoebe goes back to England for the wedding which I thought we already agreed was a next-to-useless detour. Oh, she gets to wear a pretty hat, find herself uninterested in an old boyfriend and then (finally, at last) unmuddle her way into a dawning realization.
Back in Holland she runs into Paul, unusually verbose and wanting to show her around the town. What's that expression? Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Paul bolts her into an abandoned warehouse.
Let's just sit right there for a spell.
Paul. Locked. Her. In. A. Warehouse.
By the sheerest good luck, Lucius remembers a Squirrel-y Paul from lunchtime and manages to wring her location from him (but only after witnessing his governess lazing about with glossies and booze--not for the first time, mind you). Phoebe, meanwhile, has been amusing herself with morbid scenarios including tramps and hippies (yes, hippies and not the fun kind) and, when he arrives, bursts into tears on Lucius' waistcoat.
'Paul is at home, he will want to apologize to you.' 'Some other time--it surely doesn't matter....' 'Am I to infer that you have some reason for not wishing to meet Paul?' 'Of course not.'
Yeah, it's not like he locked her away and hoped she would starve to death or anything...Oh. Wait.
So she has to go (after such an ordeal) and smooth everyone's ruffled feelings which reminds me of those times when my toddlers have, through sheer carelessness, caused me bodily injury (usually by banging a toy into my head or something) and I've cried out only to find them so stricken by my reaction that they fall to pieces and I have to comfort them. Being a grown-up stinks.
Lucius is making steady progress though. He's kissing our sweet-in-the-face-of-uncertain-odds heroine and dating her often. During one meeting he asks what he should get Paul for his birthday. (See, he's trying to involve her in parenting decisions.) Some mice, she answers, or a dog. (Or boarding school or detention or a cruise around the world...)
Paul thaws considerably when presented with a new (new to him) puppy but Maureen isn't going to take that kind of broadside lying down. (She's been poisoning his mind all along against Phoebe and making threats.) Phoebe walks in on her beating the poor thing to death a few days later. He doesn't die and Maureen concocts some cock-and-bull story for Lucius about a door left ajar and an auto run-in. Phoebe does not contradict or correct her. She doesn't even put her finger on that bony chest and tell her where to get off.
The final act in this little melodrama is when Paul comes to Phoebe a few days later when his father is out of the country. Maureen has locked the dog...oh, heck. She's just evil.
The conspirators break the little dog out of Puppy Prison, flee to Lucius' old nanny's house in Amsterdam (yes, she takes a child away from his home and travels to another city without telling his father) and await The Great and Terrible Day of Judgment.
Maureen has poisoned the well. Lucius thinks Phoebe is a kidnapper. Impolitic words are exchanged. But then we get a swimmy denouement in front of the kitchenware display of De Bijenkorf department store.
I lost my temper--I don't often do that, Phoebe, but you see while I had been in England I had dreamed--oh, a great many dreams.
The End

Rating: I don't re-read this book very often and I thought it was because I didn't like it very much but I find that that's not entirely true. I love the meeting between the principles and accept the absurdity that a 27-year-old woman would let herself be talked into a plot device more worthy of a Disney film. I love the professor, whose working life we get to see more of than is normal--he cares deeply about his patients and is driven to cure them--and he's not as absent-minded as he lets Phoebe believe he is.
Phoebe comes off as a darling but way too closed-mouthed when it comes to the Assorted Evils of Maureen. What/who does she think she's helping by not ratting her out?
Also, I have a problem with Lucius' failure to connect the dots on Maureen--or maybe, I'm annoyed that The Great Betty brings up such weighty issues such as beating a dog to death, trapping a grown woman in an abandoned warehouse and the years long brain-washing and neglect of an innocent child without truly adequate wrap-up. I can't enjoy hating Maureen because I'm worried about all the fall-out.
On those grounds I give this a Madiera Cake.
That said, I adore how gradual and obvious Pheobe's love is for Lucius without her being aware of it and I love all those trips to the beach.

Food: Really not much to discuss. Oranges, ice cream, herring balls (gah!), oyster soup, duckling stuffed with apples, and Gateau St. Honore'.

Fashion: Again, there isn't as much here as in some Neels but The Great Betty uses it to contrast Phoebe and Maureen with a deft hand. Phoebe wears an uncrushable cotton dress and takes 2 swim suits to Holland, wears a delicious-sounding strawberry pink silk number, and she packs a 'pastel patterned party dress which could be rolled into a ball if necessary and still look perfection itself'--as 'a concession to a kindly fate'. She also buys a French silk scarf and laments that she could be wearing 'hot pants and a see-through top' for all the notice he's taking of her. Maureen wears a scarlet and white beach outfit, false eyelashes, and an artlessly simple white dress with gold sandals.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Betty Goes to Church

The service wasn't so hard to follow with Tonia and Rolf to look after her. When Rolf got up to join the other elders and take the collection she didn't look up from her hymn book; not until he was standing beside their pew, holding the little black velvet bag on its long cane handle - which she might have found amusing if it hadn't been Rolf holding it - did she look up to find him gazing at her, his face grave but with a look in his eye to send the delicate pink sweeping over her face. she bent her head and kept it bent when he returned to sit beside her for the sermon, which was long, so that her thoughts began to wander...
-Tangled Autumn

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Betty in the Real World

Magic in Vienna:

Lady Treascombe, Cordelia and Eileen travel to Vienna on a boat cruise down the Danube. I had thought that La Neels only crossed the Iron Curtain once (that one where they collect the doctor's old nanny from Poland) but it is clear that Bratislava in Slovakia is one of their stops. The Great Betty tells us that it is bleak (Communists did love their boxy concrete edifices) and that there are guns in evidence but I was surprised to know that any Western river boat would be allowed to stop in any event. I wonder if this mimics any trip Betty took--I'll bet it did. I wonder if she tried to smuggle anyone out.

Charles takes Cordelia and his niece to the Spanish Riding School for an outing. (Naturally he is surprised to notice Cordelia's delighted absorption.) Another of the writers that we'll get around to including in our 'Life After Betty' series will be Mary Stewart. Her 'Airs Above the Ground' is a mystery that revolves around these awesome horses. Here's a little wiki mess:
Traditionally, Lipizzaners at the school have been trained and ridden wholly by men, although the Spanish Riding School states that there has never been an official ban on women. In October 2008, two women, an 18-year-old Briton and a 21-year-old Austrian, passed the entrance exam and were accepted to train as riders at the school - the first women to do so in 436 years.

I believe it would be appropriate to join hands as I lead us all in the opening verses of The Anthem: 'I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore...'

On another outing, they go to a concert and listen to Strauss' Tales from the Vienna Woods: The waltz's premiere that year reiterated the ascendancy that the dance had made from its humble village origins to become one of the pleasures of fashionable Viennese society, largely thanks to the performing and composing talents of the Strauss dynasty.

Tangled Autumn:
Landseer's Stag at Bay Dogs with bared teeth give such a nice, cozy feel in a home.

The local nurse, Gloria, has a picture of The Stag at Bay hanging on the wall in her cottage, as part of the eclectic collection of art that has been given by locals. Landseer is the same artist who did that one of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Princess Royal (holding a dead fowl) and more dogs than sense littering Windsor Castle (which would totally get pride of place in my home over the toilet--as dead birds = kitsch). I like his style but would have to re-gift this little number. I couldn't even put it in a closet without getting the heebie-geebies.

During the obligatory house tour, Sappha sees several flower studies by Bosschaert. (To the Google, Batman!) They're nice if a little precise for my taste. His wiki article was brief but contains this nugget: In 1587, Ambrosius Bosschaert moved from Antwerp to Middelburg with his family because of the threat of religious persecution.
Would that make him Catholic? Why won't you tell me Wiki? Why?!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fancy Dress

I don't think The Great Betty ever mentions Halloween in any of the books of the canon. I'm pretty sure she never mentions 'fancy dress'...except perhaps(?) in conjunction with a cruise. Even at that, I don't think the main characters are required to dress up (as they would be on duty or something...). My review of Tangled Autumn this week got me thinking...we've got a little over a week until Halloween...I need to nudge the guys in my house and get them thinking -

Last year my (then) fourteen year old son decided he wanted to be Pac-Man. He is generally a procrastinator - but for some reason, he was on fire for this one. I think he spent, all told, about twenty hours making this costume. My contribution was buying clear packing tape and yellow plastic tablecloths. Here's an excerpt from my 'regular' blog:

If he had planned it out ahead of time, we maybe could have started saving up large pieces of cardboard. As it is, we pretty much didn't have anything bigger than an orange box...if that big. I think there is possibly more duct tape than cardboard involved here.

It was not a costume to run around the neighborhood in
[notice the lack of arm-holes and the restricted vision] - we sent Alex with him to make sure he didn't run into any little kids. His costume was a big hit - everyone recognized the iconic shape and color. I'm practically teary-eyed when I think about all the hard work he put into this costume.

I'm usually that person at the church Halloween party who has opted out of wearing a costume. I just am not a costume kind of girl...but a couple of years ago I did steal an idea from Betty Keira (this is when living 200 miles apart is an advantage). Yes, it's a 'political' costume, but just barely. I had to explain it a lot, which is a bit of a pain, but then a friend of mine who teaches middle school Social Studies just about wet her knickers when she saw it. That was good enough for me.

Dr. van der Stevejinck adores dressing up. Unfortunately, he's the one who procrastinates the worst at coming up with an idea (which I refuse to do for him). Several years ago I made him a black robe so that he could go as Severus Snape - I grumbled mightily about it (it was the day before Halloween - in fact, it was the evening before...) A couple of years ago I made him a Clark Kent/Superman costume (again, stole the idea from Betty Keira) would have been much easier if I could have found a Superman tee-shirt - I had to make one from a thrift store blue tee-shirt - and then I made an applique using yellow fabric as a background with red over it. Yes, it was a bit of a pain, but it worked. I'm wondering if I could convince him to go as one of Rolf's alter-egos this year. Hmm...I'm going to need something for the eyebrows...

I'll see if I can talk Betty Keira into doing a costume post - she's quite creative and fearless about dressing up.

Do you like wearing a costume? If so, what have been some of your favorite costumes?

Cinema Betty

Magic in Vienna had an emergency appendectomy (with Eileen's uncle doing the anesthesia) which isn't the same as getting tonsils out but it'll have to do.
Cheaper By the Dozen (1950)
Father realizes that getting tonsils out all in one go would be better than piecemeal and when one daughter (thinking she's going to get out of it) gorges herself on food that morning, it's so much worse for the anesthetist.
There are no large families in Magic in Vienna but wouldn't it be better if there were? Eileen wouldn't be so 'spoiled' (Betty's word), Sal (with a sister about) would have been told where to get off if she wanted to leave her child for two years, Cordelia would have had someone to turn to instead of being a slave to the steps, Charles wouldn't have been allowed to be so abstracted and bookish...

Betty Debbie felt that Tangled Autumn had a vibe reminiscent of:
Kiss Me, Kate (1953)
Satyr, pirate, brigand,...was there anything else?

Howard Keel's eyebrows are certainly satyr-like and the prickly relationship between him and Kathryn Grayson is so very Sappha/Rolf. If only to see the utterly charming Ann Miller and her legs that go up to there singing Too Darn Hot in a scene reminds me of that Manet painting where some nattily-dressed gentleman are picnicking with a stark naked woman. Ann Miller is not the kind of lady who minds being the only one wearing a sequined bathing suit to a dinner party.