Monday, February 28, 2011

A Dream Came True - Discussion Thread

Gloria calls Jemima 'neither fish, flesh, fowl nor good red herring...'
Here's a bit from WikiAnswers about that particular reference:
Q. What is the origin of neither fish nor fowl?
A. Also, neither fish nor flesh; neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. Not one or the other, not something fitting any category under discussion. For example, They felt he was neither fish nor fowl--not qualified to lead the department, yet not appropriate to work as a staff member either. This expression appeared in slightly different form in John Heywood's 1546 proverb collection ("Neither fish, nor flesh, nor good red herring") and is thought to allude to food for monks ( fish, because they abstained from meat), for the people (flesh, or meat), and for the poor (red herring, a very cheap fish).

When she reads selections from the newspaper, Jemima chooses to touch 'delicately on the separation of a peer of the realm and his wife.'  But touch upon it, she does.

At Lady Manderly's party, feeling a bit harassed by that woman, Jemima mutters (under her breath) a 'naughty word' and sails off across the landing.  This bodes well for future relations. I think the ability to let off steam is a valuable asset.  I don't approve the use of naughty words, but I do understand the need to vent frustrations. How do you vent? Do you give way to 'naughty words' or do you call your BFF and let it all out?

When I was a kid, I used to love to play the board game Clue. For some strange inexplicably British reason, it's called Cluedo in England (where it was invented).  Lady Manderly actually has tea with a Colonel and Mr. and Mrs. Plum. I think she was pretty lucky not to find a body in the library that had been killed with a revolver by Miss Scarlett.

Jemima writes letter after letter to Shirley, her landlady's daughter (while I'm sure not disclosing anything of emotional depth).  This Bettys grandmother was a champion letter writer.  She wrote very consistently from the time I left home to go to college, until her death (about 12 years later). I, however, was not a faithful letter writer.  I could count on getting a letter from her practically by return mail.  She could count on me to sent a letter every two or three weeks. I wish I had saved all of her letters - I think I have a couple of dozen.  Her letters were exhausting to read - pretty much an account of her week.  They would go something like this:
Dear Debbie,
I'm sure you've been very busy studying and going to school. That must be why I haven't gotten a letter for the past three weeks. I haven't had that much to do this week. On Monday I got up and made six loaves of bread, then picked a couple of bushels of cherries. I watched your cousins in the afternoon, so was only able to make a dozen cherry pies.  After the kids left I delivered the pies and bread to the widows from church. Tuesday was dry so I found the ladder and got up on the roof and started removing the old shingles. It took me most of the day, but I did find a little time after dark to knit a baby blanket for a new mother. Wednesday the weather remained fine, so I was able to get a good start on the roof.  I got all the new tar paper on fairly quickly and even managed to get a couple of rows of shingles nailed up before noon - which was a good thing, because I promised your aunt that I would help her can cherries.  We managed to pit and can about 40 quarts before bedtime.  I admit I was a little sore, but that could have been from the chemotherapy that I had after nailing the shingles and before canning cherries...
You might be tempted to think I am exaggerating...and I am, but only just barely. She did the most amazing amount of work...every day--  including re-roofing her house (she was in her 70's at the time), writing letters, knitting blankets, baking bread, pies, cakes, etc. - to give away. It's no secret where my father got his work ethic from (hint: it wasn't from his father). Part of the reason I didn't write as often as she did, was that I felt like such a slacker compared to her. Which I sort of was. How could I write a letter stating that I had stayed up for hours reading in bed, then overslept my alarm and got poor marks on a test?  It wasn't so bad after I started having kids - I had plenty to write about, but then I had so much less time to write.

'Jemima and Lady Manderly carried on the kind of conversation which the British, as a race tend to indulge in when confronted by an awkward situation--the weather, vague world politics, the newest fashions--hardly a successful topic since both ladies had conflicting views on them--Wimbledon and the Royal family.' It's tough to carry on a conversation with someone who has conflicting views and not...umm...conflict.  I think the term we're looking for here is 'stilted conversation'.

A Dream Came True--1982

This one deserved a better title.  Written in the midst of The Great Betty's Golden Age, it is a wonderful companion to the likes of Caroline's Waterloo, The Promise of Happiness and Polly.  Lady Manderly is one of those characters that would translate so deliciously to the screen, played by one of those stout, aging actresses who long ago gave up complaining about the lack of great roles for women over fifty.
As for the cover art...He's a babe (All hail the turtleneck!) but she's too glossy (are those claws?) and I don't think they could have a background that shouted, 'British lit!' more than if they were dressed as Beefeaters and touring London in a double-decker to the tune of 'Rule, Britannia!'. Love it anyway.

'Little Jack Horner sat in a corner...'  Jemima Mason, 26, can't resist typing out on the abandoned typewriter in the empty office.  But it's 1982, and she doesn't have an iPod (with all those ABBA songs) or a Smartphone (with Angry Birds!) to distract her and she was probably fretting over the fact that her brother is about to fly to America (!).  She's looking for a job as a companion so that her next two years (until her brother can come back and save her bacon (...Silly, Jemima, no one ever comes back from America.)) can be spent in a shabby bedsit waiting for her life to begin.  But then she meets Professor Alexander Cator who throws a batch of typing at her and heads to his office. (Betty Debbie points out that his name is fine in print but beastly to say aloud.  Alexander Cator.)  She also meets the knickerbocker-clad goddess, Gloria.
Alexander doesn't think Jemima will be much of a fit for his imperious aunt, Lady Manderly, but no one else has applied for the position.
Jemima introduces herself to the woman and becomes a textbook study in salary negotiations--whose first rule is: Always be prepared to walk.
They settle into an uneasy relationship and Jemima settles into her shabby bedsit over the newspaper stand down the street.  (Meeting the charmingly colorful Shirley and her fish-cooking mother.)
Alexander pops in and out and, while there is friction, there is also a dawning appreciation on his part.  'You may not set the Thames on fire, Miss Mason, but at least you don't chatter.'  Words to hug to her bosom in her twilight years, perhaps...On her part, she admits that he can be kind when he has a mind to.  She witnessed his concern over a cat she rescues and then he shows enormous delicacy when he catches her in a lie about living in a flat versus a flatlet.  (It turns out that a cat rather minds about the 'let' part.)
But his interesting visits to his aunt's house aren't enough to compensate for the awfulness of her job.  After going through the physically harrowing and soul destroying process of planning Lady Manderly's birthday party, she makes up her mind to quit.  Which is a pity as the staff are rooting for her to catch the Professor's eye.  '[Gloria]'s got looks and our young lady hasn't.'
Alexander asks her to stay on until after Lady M. has a short holiday in Stratford-upon-Avon.  So she does.
The town is a welcome respite from London--plays, outdoor walks and proximity to Oxford (Jemima's hometown) are its main attractions.  She's lonely--more lonely than she's ever been and the professor seems to have forgotten his earlier kindnesses.' have the unfortunate effect of bringing out the very worst in me.  You would do better to avoid me.'  But even if he means it (and I very much doubt he does) then he's fighting a losing battle.  Not a page later he tells her, 'You really are a treasure, you know.  We must keep you in the family.'  (I'd like Dawning Realizations for a thousand, Alex.)
So he's in love and we can dust our hands because surely all is plain sailing from here...Now, don't go buying confetti and streamers just yet.  Jemima is convinced that Alexander doesn't like her (though she is unwillingly and unwisely interested in him) and then there's Gloria, looming over the protagonists like a golden-haired, bony-shouldered (she has to be!) gargoyle, shooting little barbs at Jemima every chance she gets.
Also, Jemima is chatted up and taken out by a New Zealander named Andrew Blake--a dead end episode that still pushes the plot along (we have such a smart Betty!):
  • We get to see Jealous Alexander--green-eyed and gorgeous.
  • He gets to kiss her and then shows himself to be worthy of her when, even after she says she wants to slap his face, he sends dinner up to her room so she won't be hungry.  
  • It underlines how desperate for company Jemima is.  A reckless-driving Antipodean?  Who can't even comment intelligently on Hamlet? She deems that better than the cold snubs (from whom, Jemima?) she's been enduring lately.
 She no sooner recovers from this visit when he's back for another.  And when she walks in the sitting room to see him, her dawning realization is right behind her. (Conga!)  And a very clear-eyed love it is too.  Even while she's staring at him like a looby she understands that she'll take a flawed Alexander rather than a thousand inoffensive Andrews. But there's no question of that.  He belongs to Gloria!
Or does he?  After reading book after book of Neels heroes excusing all manner of awful villainess behavior with a bland bon homie, what a joy it is to read the words, 'Be quiet, Gloria!'  And it's not only Gloria he's shouting at.  Responding to the mild observation that she will get coffee from the cook, Alexander shouts at Jemima, 'You're not a servant!'  That's not going to do his peptic ulcer any good...
Allowing herself to be got at, Jemima is persuaded to travel to Scotland (balmy, sunny Scotland) before looking for another job.  Though the interlude is fantastic, I'll opt for bullet points:
  • Jemima receives answers to her job advertisement.  Three positions, each vying to be more vile than the last.  Maybe she worded it wrong...
  • A blizzard blasts the coastline leaving Jemima, Pooley (Lady M.'s maid) and Lady M. stranded with dwindling food stores.
  • Pooley breaks her arm.
  • They drink deeply from the brandy bottle and Lady M. is stirred to near-pluckiness.  
  • Alexander flies his own helicopter in to rescue them!  (How very Prince William of him.)
'It's not snowing at the moment, I'd best be on my way.' He wandered back to her, bent and kissed her hard and swiftly...
They get back to civilization and Alexander plies her with boeuf en croute--her food fantasy while stuck in the cottage with a lot of potatoes.  Lady Manderly and Alexander have a chat about when he'll get around to proposing to Jemima (That's right!  She's won over the imperious old lady with her ladylike displays of moxie.  And it makes me feel great that Jemima will be welcomed into the family instead of enduring the shivs in the shoulder blade that might otherwise have been her lot.)
To Lady Manderly's horrified dismay, Jemima quits her job, covers her footsteps so that a trained Indian tracker would struggle to find her and disappears into oblivion.  (By that I mean to say, she is still at the flatlet over the newspaper stand and working part-time there.)  What a harassed expression Alexander wears when he finally runs her to ground.  'I didn't know you were lying,' he said evenly.  But he's done being mad and kisses her into a stupor.
The End  

Rating:  Queen of Puddings.  Easy.  What makes it so great?  Though Jemina and Alexander don't spend very much actual time together (Their courtship consists of a few walks, the sliver of time before Lady Manderly walks in the room and some awkward meals.), it's always to good purpose.  Gloria gums things up a bit (a sticky millstone) but she serves a purpose:
  • If we pretend that Alex is a real person then I take him at his word that he's using Gloria as camouflage while he's trying to get Jemima to like him.  It's not a brilliant plan (If you lie down with dogs...) but Gloria keeps Alex's actions from screaming, 'IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou!' while Jemima decides if she'll give him a shot.  (Because she would have refused to go out with him on a straightforward date, I think.)
  • If we remember that Alex and and Jemima are merely characters in a book by Betty Neels (Breathe deeply, Bettys!), then I get that The Great Betty needed a true villainess (particularly as she made semi-evil Lady Manderly so likable) to sustain the tension and play off of.  It's okay for me--not great, but understandable (and particularly forgivable since we get a very complex and nuanced Lady M. in return).
And when we get long stretches while the principles aren't together you might expect to be bored to tears but, again, Lady Manderly just makes everything else so fun that you don't even notice.
It does need a new title (Jemima and Lady Manderly, Snowbound in Scotland, Life-flight to Love! (Hey, I'm spit-balling here...)) but the rest is a dish.  Love it.

Food: Steak and kidney pudding, a Potemkin trifle (Thrown together at the last minute to replace a dropped dish, it is merely superficially attractive and probably tastes beastly), awful coffee and tea (has Lady Manderly lost her sense of taste?), vol-au-vents, pate, lobster patties, a lonely risotto and ice cream.  When he's so mean to her over The Kiwi's Kiss, he still sends her soup, a cheese souffle, a peach and coffee.  Lady Manderly asks for chicken supreme when they're stranded in Scotland but the others eat baked potatoes and cheese, bacon, fried potatoes and treacle tart.  While stranded, Jemima dreams of having French onion soup, grilled sole and boeuf en croute (which is not immediately available but he feeds her it as soon as soon as he can which is just about the most adorable thing ever.).

Fashion: Gloria is decked out in black velvet knickerbockers and plaid knickerbockers at another point and I am consoled that, even though Jemima drools over her clothes, Gloria will live to regret her fashion choices.  Jemima is more often found in neat, navy blue numbers and brown dresses (one of which is a stunner ( a chestnut brown jersey with a pleated, calf-length skirt and a little jacket). Does Alex ever get to see it? Someone re-read it and tell me!).  In Scotland, Jemima goes rustic and dons an old cloth cap, a well-worn, too-big anorak and woolly gloves.  Lady Manderly, a reactionary if there ever was one, stuck closely to her purple satins, diamonds and furs.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Betty Goes to Church

Presently they passed a house or two and then an occasional villa, set well back from the road in a well laid out garden and then, surprisingly close, a church spire above the dunes and a cluster of rooftops around it, and a moment later the road curved and they were in full sight.
Not Once but Twice

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Betty and the Real World

The Awakened Heart:

Heloise, girlfriend, he's just not that into you.
Sophie asks Rijk if he believes in an Abelard and Heloise kind of love.  I've read enough references to have thought I understood what it was all about (actually I thought they might be mythical lovers like Cressida and Troylis) but here's the considerably less romantic wiki authorities on the subject:
Abélard, a 40-ish medieval French scholastic philosopher, sought a place in Fulbert's house, and then seduced 19-year-old Héloïse. The affair interfered with his career, and Abélard himself boasted of his conquest. Once Fulbert found out, they were separated, but met in secret. Héloïse became pregnant and was sent by Abélard to Brittany, where she gave birth to a son she named Astrolabe after the scientific instrument. To appease Fulbert, Abélard proposed a secret marriage in order not to mar his career prospects. Héloïse initially opposed it, but the couple married. When Fulbert publicly disclosed the marriage, and Héloïse denied it, she went to a convent at Abélard's urging. Fulbert, believing that Abélard wanted to be rid of Héloïse, had him castrated, effectively ending Abélard's career. Héloïse was forced to become a nun. Héloïse sent letters to Abélard, questioning why she must submit to a religious life for which she had no calling...Ultimately, after telling Héloïse of instances where he had abused her and forced sex, Abélard insisted he had never truly loved her, but only lusted after her, and their relationship was a sin against God.  Some scholars consider Abélard was attempting to spare her feelings (or his feelings, altered from disrupted hormones) and others point to the damage of his hormones and psyche, but from this point on, their correspondence focused on professional subjects rather than their romantic history.
Sooooo, let me see if I've got this right.  These lovers are famous because he was a prat and seduced a female in his own patron's home, boasted about it, had a kid, and ruined everyone's lives?  What am I missing here?  I fear I am going to have to take a tedious bourgeois knee on this one and abstain from comment.

P.S. That is not the Betty way.  I must comment.  Maybe he really loved her--who am I to judge?  But we're basing the birth of medieval romantic love on a story that sounds like something you might hear on the police scanner?  (But, Betty Keira, they were both super smart!  Yeah....)

Sophie observes that the day looks wintery and like a Bruegel painting.  Pieter Bruegel was known for his peasant scenes and landscapes.  On his deathbed he reportedly ordered his wife to burn the most subversive of his drawings to protect his family from political persecution.

Not Once But Twice:
One of Christina's nurse friends is going on a date to see Private Lives a play written by Noel Coward.  Coward was in the midst of an extensive Asian tour when he contracted influenza  in Shanghai. He spent the better part of his two-week convalescence period sketching out the play's three acts and then completed the actual writing of the piece in only four days.  The play contains one of Coward's most popular songs, "Some Day I'll Find You".  

Duert takes her out to tea at the Ritz, lunch at Claridges and another lunch in Holland at Le Bistroquet.  The Ritz...I think a bare picture suffices.  Doesn't that look heavenly?

Friday, February 25, 2011

It's in the Mail....

 I read in the paper that 1,900 invitations were sent out this week for the royal wedding. I'm sure it was just an oversight - but Dr. van der Stevejinck and I have not recieved our invitations to William and Kate's wedding. I'll be checking my mailbox every day. In the meantime I will be rummaging through my closets for suitable wedding attire. 

Cinema Betty

The Awakened Heart's most overlooked character is that of the jerk who dumped a young and naive 19-year-old Sophie, 8 looooong years ago.  In the great tradition of movies about men that are scum, I offer:
A Place in the Sun (1951)

'When that RDD comes along, I'm going to have an awful time forgetting what you look like...'
Montgomery Clift stars as George Eastman, a handsome and charming but basically aimless young man who goes to work in a factory run by a distant, wealthy relative. Feeling lonely one evening, he has a brief rendezvous with assembly-line worker Alice 'Al' Tripp, but he forgets all about her when he falls for dazzling socialite Angela Vickers. Alice can't forget about him, though: she is pregnant with his child Her mysterious death seems awfully convenient. 
The thing that kills me about this movie is how sneaky it is.  You just ache for George to shake himself off from that frowzy tart Alice and to have a happily ever after with a Elizabeth Taylor (Angela), beckoning with youth and dripping with money.  (I'm rooting for the wrong thing!) I have to wonder if Angela will swear off men for the next decade or so...

Not Once but Twice: Our heroine is in love with the younger brother...or thinks she is - then ends up with the richer older brother. I'm on it:
Sabrina (1954)

I'll catch you in the third act.
Betty Debbie says: 'I'm not sure which version to recommend - I obviously prefer Audrey Hepburn, I just wish she had Harrison Ford to end up with instead of Humphrey Bogart (Bogart + Kathrine Hepburn = cinema genius, Bogart + Audrey Hepburn = eww (your mileage may vary)). William Holden is mighty fine, but Greg Kinnear does a pretty credible job too.  Go with the 1954 version - just imagine a different leading man.'
Betty Keira says: 'You all know I have a thing about Audrey Hepburn so my calculus would ax her and keep Bogart...'

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Not Once but Twice--Discussion Thread

Adam takes her to a Greek restuarant where she has a kebab, and an Indonesian restaurant for nasi goreng...I don't need any other details to tell me he's the villain of the piece.  I really like kebabs and they remind me of this song from Flight of the Conchords (which is clean-ish (It's on Letterman but he does compare the relative attractiveness of a sort-of beautiful woman with that perhaps attainable by a high-class prostitute...).  Some of the lyrics: Let's get in a cab, I buy you a kebab.  And I can't believe I am sharing a kebab with the most beautiful woman I have ever seen with a kebab.
The power of the kebab...
You're much nicer looking than anyone in the vicinity of this kebab restaurant if you exclude the women in the line outside the club down the street...
George Henry likes 'modern' furnishings.  I don't need any other details to tell me that he's a villain of the piece.  I really like modern furniture but can't imagine doing up my whole house in a style so spare.  One of my favorite websites is Unhappy Hipsters--a site that fills my need for a peek at modern style (because the little Mijnheer is not a fan) while poking fun at the pretension that often goes with.

"He took his double x table and the grey oak cabinet doors when he left, but much like his absence she hardly noticed."
Christina goes to a beauty parlour and has her make-up done...she ends up not looking like herself. Make-up is such a personal thing.  I wear eyeliner most often (Middle-eastern and Indian women know what they're doing when they work from the eyes.) and then on some Sundays (It depends on how late we are.) I do a light foundation, lipstick, blush, and eye shadow.  It takes me five minutes, perhaps, and really, really basic.  I am the despair of Betty Kylene who knows what it is to dress up.

An English girl has her baby in Casualty (not enough time to make it to the maternity ward).  This is my nightmare.  Betty Debbie could tell you the story of someone she knows who gave birth in a car.  (No, thank you.)

Christina tells Duert that he has a 'very catholic taste' in girls--which you could take any way you like.  Glass half full: He is willing to be pleased.  Glass half empty: He is indiscriminate.  
Duert says he likes her better with straight hair--'you're not a girl to wear curls and waves'.  When I began dating Mijnheer van Voorhees I spent 45 minutes before each date curling my very thick (and stick straight) hair.  Gradually I tapered off as I found he was perfectly happy to bill and coo no matter what my hair looked like.  Perhaps Duert is the same...

Not Once But Twice - 1981

My apologies to all those who love this book. I knew going in that it wasn't one of my favorites, so I tried to keep an open mind.  Didn't help. 

He said:
I could have been a great...I could have had it all. It was all within my reach, but I foolishly let it slip away. Now I'm just a lonely old man, with nothing but my money to keep me warm. My name is Adam. Adam ter Brandt (24-ish). This is my story.

It all started with George Henry Forbes. We first met at a seminar in Brussels. If I hadn't run into him again in London, none of this would have happened. We were sitting in his study talking shop (he's a doctor...I'm a doctor) when She walked in. George Henry's sister, Christina Forbes. She was oozing with sensibility and sereness...and the most gorgeous eyes...other than that, she was a plain looking little thing who was getting long in the tooth.  A plain little thing that looked like she'd never been chatted up in all her twenty-seven years. Not my usual type at all, but she had something. I wasn't sure what that something was, but she had it and I was going to find out what it was. 
My time in London was limited, so I came up with a great plan - have her apply for a job at the hospital in Holland where I studied.  I knew she'd get the job, after all, my older brother Duert(37) is the director. She jumped at the chance rather pathetically - like she was jumping at straws. I found out a little later that she was anxious to find a place away from London - George Henry was engaged to be married shortly to a woman who didn't care for Christina.

Duert came running (as I knew he would) when he heard that I wanted to send a little English nurse over to his precious hospital.  He is rather a stickler for things like 'proper medical care' and all that rubbish. For some reason, he didn't object to little Chrissy.  Granted, she's a good nurse - evidently a better diagnostician than many of the junior doctors at St. Athud's, but besides that and being able to speak 3 languages, she's not all that.

When I got back from England, Chrissy was already in Holland.  We went out a few times, had a few laughs, everything was going great...and then Duert started horning in on my territory. He succeeded in turning her affections to himself, then exiled me to...America. Thus I have been reduced to the status of an ex-pat...I run a private clinic in LA. Cosmetic surgery has been good to me - liposuction, face lifts and silicone.  That's what my life has boiled down to. Money galore, but no sweet Chrissy.

She said:
What a load of hogwash. Sure, I fell for him. I fell like a ton of bricks.  With a face that's as plain as a pikestaff added to my increasing age - I was ripe to fall for anyone who gave me the time of day.  Even though I fell for Adam, I still retained a tiny little kernel of common sense. I knew that not all was as it should be. He was fun to be with...most of the time. But he was also rude and manipulative: 'Chrissy, get your hair done!' 'Chrissy, you need new clothes!' 'Chrissy, try some make-up!' 'Chrissy, you look a fright!' Yes, deep down I knew these were not the words of true love.

Duert was always there for me...he had the patience of a saint - waiting for me to shake myself out of the stupor that was Adam, offering his shoulder to cry on, taking me out for meals after the inadequate (and foreign!!) food that was all Adam saw fit to give me. He once held me in his arms for an hour while I slept! Duert grew on me slowly - Adam was frequently distracting me, and Duert seemed to be encouraging my relationship with Adam at every turn. That's not to say all was smooth between Duert and I. Once he told me, "Adam favours pretty girls, and you aren't pretty.' Duert's still paying for that one.

Adam wouldn't have been so bad if he had limited himself to flirting with me. He also lied continually about having to go to work or lectures, when he was really out with other girls. Why did he feel he had to lie? It wouldn't have come as a shock to me to hear (from him) that he was dating other girls too.  It should be no surprise that he also lied about and belittled his older brother.

What really got me was how close he came to ruining my life. Adam and I had already broken up and I was seeing more of Duert...I'd even been given the House Tour O'Love. Adam found me standing outside of Duert's house a day or two later and proceeded to be absolutely Vile and Malicious. He insinuated that I was after the richer brother, then went on to say that Duert would marry me because he felt sorry for me and that neither one of us would ever be sure of the other person's motives. Of course I didn't take him at face value, but he had sown a seed of doubt.

Duert saw the two of us together and assumed the worst. His attitude towards me changed and I felt wretched, just wretched. I was sure he despised me, so I gave notice. I couldn't leave without a parting shot - I as good as told Duert that I loved him and that the only reason I was outside his house that day was that I wanted to see his home again and remember it...then I bolted.

He said:
Hey, Duert here. In my defense, I was in quite a pickle. On the one hand, Adam is my brother. I've been privy to more of his skirt-chasing than any brother should have to be.  Christina seemed to be in love with him, so what else could I do but help her along?  That's not to say I let Adam have it all his own way.  I knew that sooner or later he would dump Christina and if I played my cards right, I would be right there ready to step into the breach.

It did take Christina a little while to make the switch...and then that no-good-dirty-rotten-scoundrel brother of mine deliberately went out of his way to to be vile. He broke the code of RDD siblings. The code clearly states that RDD siblings have the right to be:
  • selfish.
  • self-centered.
  • navel-gazing.
  • inadvertently cruel.
No where does it say that siblings have the right to be intentionally malicious. I found him guilty and sentenced him to no family holidays or family reunions for 5 to 10 years, sentence to be served in the USA.

After Christina stopped by my office on her way and of town and dropped that bombshell, I was gobsmacked. I wanted to run after her and sweep her into my arms, but I got roped into some hospital matters for the next half hour or so. I made arrangements to be gone for a few days - calculating it might take me that long to track Christina down - but I figured without my loyal household help. They were able to put me on her track much closer to home. I found my Christina walking on the beach in the teeth of a gale. We quickly sorted out our misunderstandings and I proposed. The end.

Rating: Not one of my favorites. Not even close. I didn't mind Christina...except that she spent way too much time being fooled by Adam.  Way. Too. Much. Time. And way too little noticing how much cooler and classier Duert was. I did like her inner thoughts...she knew she was being foolish. She didn't chase Adam - she just passively let him walk all over her.  I didn't mind Duert...except he spent way too little time with Christina.  I also had a tough time buying his 'love at first sight'. I do object to Adam - in a big way. I object to the thought that he is genetically related to Duert. I object to the thought that Christina will be related by marriage to the little toe rag.  Beans on Toast.  For a better treatment of this type of storyline see: Uncertain Summer (at least the heel is only a cousin...)
Fashion: Christina spends every waking hour (when not on duty at the hospital) wearing grey. A grey flannel suit, a grey jersey two piece, a grey chiffon ball gown. For some reason she's decided that grey is her colour - no wonder she never gets chatted up.  You can tell Adam's true caddish-ness by the outfit he wears to go clubbing with Christina. A blue velvet suit with an (I kid you not) open necked ruffled shirt. Duert looks pretty splendid in white tie and tails...I assume.  Christina doesn't really notice him.
Food: Adam takes her out to cheap little Bohemian little places - including Greek food twice, first kebabs, second time - fish salad.  Duert takes her out to fancy places - The Ritz for tea - thin cucumber sandwiches, little iced cakes and tiny meringues, The Claridge for lunch - avocado, salmon (because she wasn't sure what you did with lobster) and profiteroles. In Holland Adam takes her out for nasi goreng (an Indonesian fried rice dish) then Duert takes her to Le Bistroquet for avocado vinaigrette, sole Veronique and a hot souffle.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Question of the Week

Wigs.  Miss Phipps the Deliciously Objectionable Landlady in The Awakened Heart wears them.  Hers tend to slip a little when she excitedly involves herself in the romantic affairs of her tenants. 

Sometimes I feel sad to have missed the Great Hay-day of artificial hair enhancement.  Switches and wigs look so much fun. Today a pixie blonde, tomorrow a raven-haired beauty...Still, we do have Bumpits and Betty Kylene makes the most of that.

My question is: Have you ever worn wigs (for medical or aesthetic purposes)? Did/do you love them and what are the hidden pitfalls? 

Aubergine Parmigiana

We've come across aubergines in two books lately - one of which was Never too Late (the little six year old liked aubergines). No recipes or particular dishes were we're left to wonder how exactly they were served.  I have to admit that I only really knew three things about aubergines (besides the fact that it is also a shade of purple).
  1. They are also known as eggplants (at least they are here in the western U.S).
  2. They are the feature ingredient of Eggplant Parmigiana, which I don't think I'd ever had.
  3. Michael Franks sang a song about a woman who cooks eggplants. I bought his album The Art of Tea before I married Dr. van der Stevejinck.
So, I decided to give them a whirl. My nearly 16 year old (he's counting the days) was helping me put away groceries when he spotted the purple (aubergine) beauties. 'What do they taste like?' asked he. 'What do you think they taste like?' says I. 'The produce section.' says he.

I found a recipe by Jamie Oliver online - it looked good, but I was unable to grill eggplant slices today, so I ended up using a different recipe in an old Betty Crocker cookbook and combining it (a little) with the Jamie Oliver recipe.

Here's my version:

Stuffed Eggplant Parmigiana
2 smallish eggplants
1 lb. bulk Italian sausage
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 can of diced tomatoes (15 oz.)
1 small can tomato paste
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon crushed oregano
a couple of leaves of fresh basil, chopped
around 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
around 1/2 a cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Italian style breadcrumbs

  • Heat oven to 350'.
  • Brown sausage, onion and garlic in saucepan, drain thoroughly. While sausage mixture is browning, cut the two eggplants in half and scoop out most of the pulp (I left about 1/2 an inch), dice.
  • Combine in saucepan: sausage mixture, tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, oregano, salt. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Add diced eggplant and fresh basil, cover and simmer for another 15 minutes.
  • Place eggplant 'shells' in a baking pan (I used a 9x13). Fill shells half full with sausage/tomato mixture, sprinkle with mozzarella. Heap remaining mixture on top and sprinkle with more mozzarella, Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs.
  • Bake, uncovered for about 30 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

Verdict: Dr. van der Stevejinck loved it.  He had two servings for dinner and took a third serving for his lunch today. I liked it okay...but found the tomato sauce a little overpowering (Jamie Oliver suggests fresh in-season tomatoes...that sounds more to my liking). Fifteen year-old - wouldn't even try - way too much 'produce section' for him.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Upcoming Reviews

Monday, February 28th. A Dream Came True.  Jemima(!) is companion to the cantankerous Lady Manderly. Snowbound in Scotland...ladies maid breaks her arm. Rescue by helicopter!
Thursday, March 3rd. At the End of the Day. Julia is just turned 30. Professor van der Wagema is looking 42 in the face. The part of the fiancee is played by Neville Nigel Longbottom Longman. 

British Word of the Day

fruit machine
Brit a gambling machine that pays out when certain combinations of diagrams, usually of fruit, are displayed.
The pub was charming, clean and rather bare, with not a fruit machine in sight.--The Awakened Heart

Our last word of the day 'pools' also dealt with gambling but this one seems to just mean a specific kind of slots.  I don't really play the slots but find a weird sort of delight at the phrase, 'We've got the loosest slots in town.' It sounds like something a dose of Kaopectate would clear up.

Anyway, if they sound anything like the slots at the Las Vegas airport, I can see how they'd cast a damper on romance.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Awakened Heart - Discussion Thread

Sophie has to rearrange her shift a ton because of Ida--a chronically ill nurse.  We never find out what it is that Ida has. Is it chronic? Is it communicable? Is she faking? I want to know.

Rijk's home has an onion dome and a moat.  He says, 'It's quite cozy inside.' Personally, I think it sounds a Disney-esque/Slavic way.  I do have to wonder about a Dutch house with a moat and onion dome...somehow it doesn't seem very Dutch. It seems just a wee bit like having a mock Tudor in Southern California...complete with palm trees.

speaking of 'well corseted'...
Sophie's future mother-in-law is described as having 'well-corseted stoutness'.  I'm old enough to remember my mother wearing a girdle (not that she really needed it then)back in the 1960's - the kind with suspender clips for nylons.  When she discovered pantyhose, that sounded the death knell for her girdle.  I was old enough at the time to be privy to my mother's thrill at tossing away the girdle...her nod to Women's Lib.
Rijk tells her that 'a good deal of my wealth is the result of no doubt ill gotten gains from my merchant ancestors'.  Evidently the Hanna Bettys come from a line of shining examples of sterling reputation...with the commiserate impecunity that comes with.  Just kidding.  We're pretty sure that we can count a horse thief or two if we go back far enough. Unfortunately horse-thievery is not the kind of career that leads to a boatload of ill gotten gains.  It more likely led to a boatload of deported criminals.

The rector tells them that he 'may have the happy task of christening your children.'  Betty Keira wondered if Anglicans christen? Has she forgotten that christening (or re-christening) is a major plot device in The Importance of Being Earnest? Here's a picture from my favorite version.

The Awakened Heart--1993

 When Betty Debbie ran the Upcoming Reviews feature last week, Betty Barbara commented: "According to my spreadsheet, I have actually read The Awakened heart. Could've fooled me!!"  What ills does this portend...?

Here's what you need to know about our heroine.  When Sophie Blount (27) brings home Rijk van Taak and her mother sees them together, the wise woman thinks to herself, 'A good thing Rijk loved Sophie so much that he was willing to put up with her ideas...'  Sophie practically makes a cottage industry out of peddling a lot of old trot.
...Which is all a shame as they started off so well, the darlings.  Rijk met Sophie while her shoe was stuck in a grate.  Rather than use it as an opportunity to oogle her legs (which is rather a short-term gain, long-term loss, I'd say), he unties her sensible heeled lace-ups (shudder) and helps her out.
Though he makes no headway on his initial sortie, he reconnoiters at her flatlet shortly thereafter and says in a loud, carrying tone, 'Your good landlady has kindly allowed me to visit...' Every troubled maiden worth her salt is guarded by a beastly dragon and Rijk is quick to note Miss Phipps the Landlady's status as the  Anyway.  Over the course of the next weeks, Rijk is here, there and everywhere like that foam insulation that expands into every nook and cranny.  Message?  Sophie's heating bills this winter will be low, low, low.
But, as much as the professor loves his Sophie (Oh yes, he is one smitten-kitten.), he is less enamored of her living situation.  Miss Phipps's slipping wig and ready tongue, Sophie's dire flatlet, the fact that Rijk has to do his wooing while on flying visits from Holland, night duty, Sophie's strange reluctance to commit romantically to the only disease-free millionaire to come calling, and that awful, poky side-street all combine to bring things to a brisk boil.
Which leads him to say gently on a brief overlook of Epping Forest, 'May I take it that we are now good, firm friends, Sophie?...Then perhaps you know what I am going to say next.  Will you marry me, Sophie?' 
Her response is disappointingly gobsmacked and they have a short little chat about how her heart was broken most vilely during her mis-spent youth and how she vowed never, ever to let herself be vulnerable again.
Editorial Note: I lose patience with Sophie at this point.  Though hitherto adorable (if unwilling to play ball), she's decided to blight her life over a man whose face she can't even remember?!  She's decided to skip the whole marriage and kids thing over that?!  I felt more sympathy for Tishy (A Small Slice of Summer) who at least had been broken-hearted within recent memory instead of Sophie's cock-and-bull reasons to cloister herself away from life--a decision arrived at over the course of eight loooong years.  Gah!
He agrees to wait for her answer and here Betty loses me a bit. Maybe I was muddled myself, but there are several points at which she tells him that she agrees to marry him.  But they go back to, 'Is this your final answer?'  She tells him 'yes' on page 83. (Before they go to Holland.)  Reiterates it to Miss Phipps on page 89.  Mentally waffles on Holland (wherein the reader says, 'What?!') and tries to tell him again on 119.  She finally convinces him she means to marry him on page 137. 
You'll notice I skipped Holland.  The trip isn't that lengthy or that exciting and I kept getting distracted by the fact that she's spending her time deciding to marry him after she already said she would....Also, I really missed Miss Phipps and her sickening twitters.
Sophie seems to have no dawning realizations hovering on her horizon but in the lead-up to the wedding she is disturbed by Rijk's seeming inattention and absence.  And then one morning she awakes to an earthquake. (Not a real one.  Don't be silly, Bettys, real earthquakes only happen in Greece!)  She's in love with Rijk and he doesn't seem to love her back.
The marriage of convenience is all very well--it's certainly a pick-up after that so-so first Holland trip.  Sophie finds his servants endearing, his home lovely, her in-laws accommodating...But every Eden has a snake in the grass and Sophie's appears to be Irena van Moren.  She's one of those icy blonds who never have a hair out of place and has a vague, if disturbingly secretive, relationship with our hero.
Naturally there's a fight.  Sophie upbraids Rijk for stepping out with a woman she can't even loathe properly.  ('If she hadn't hated her so thoroughly, she would have liked her.')  Rijk ices up and Irena catches Sophie in the aftermath and sorts her out nicely.  'My husband--you knew?  You said you did.  He had a brain tumor and Rijk saved his life, but we told no one because Jerre is the director of a big business concern and if it were known that he was so very ill it would have caused much panic and shareholders would have lost money...'  At last!  A reason for secrecy and stealth that entirely exonerates everyone in a believable fashion!  I could kiss Irena.  And then Irena really does Sophie a solid by dragging her off to meet Rijk and make it up.
Jerre is the Steve Jobs of Holland
And they do.
The End

Rating: Parts of this one are very good.  Rijk is adorable and persistent and totally disgusted with Sophie's living set-up.  Miss Phipps is probably the all-time Betty Neels champion for objectionable (yet awesome) landladies...
But the problem areas are nothing to sneeze at.  This is not one of The Great Betty's most consistent reads--I think Sophie has to tell Rijk that she'll marry him, like, three times and I kept thinking, 'I thought you'd settled that already.'  Also, though I know that Love's Young Dream Blighted is a common plot device to explain the unmarried state of hot, hot Dutch millionaire surgeons in La Neels' other books, when applied to Sophie* and explained out (the over-explaining murdered my sympathy for her rather than rousing it), I just wanted to slap her around.  Nobody (maybe by 'nobody' I really mean 'no gorgeous and oft-chatted-up nurse') ruins their life because they were thwarted in love at nineteen by some rotter unless one's sense of priorities or proportion are out of whack.  Look Sophie, chalk that one up to experience and move along.  The girl does redeem herself by allowing Irena to rush her off to apologize to Rijk at the end and I generally liked her otherwise but her youthful and sustained silliness was a mighty big pill to swallow.
So, the beginning is just great (maybe Queen of Puddings great) but the middle sort of muddles around and we only get a little lift in the end so the rest is just Treacle Tart for me.
*I read this in the midst of a three-week-long barf fest at Casa van Voorhees so my grumpiness at life might have spilled over at Sophie...

Food: Milk pudding (which the idea of offends my sense of texture probably), cornflakes, grilled Dover sole, sherry trifle, hot sausage rolls, mince pies, roast duck and orange sauce, mushrooms in garlic, lemon syllabub, smoked eel on toast, tiny quiche, cheese puffs, baby sausage rolls, creamed chicken soup and potatoes 'whipped to incredible lightness'.

...but in velvet.
Fashion: A notorious heeled lace-up, a quilted rose pink dressing gown, a dark red checked skirt and jacket, a tweed skirt and needlecord jacket, a gorgeous midnight blue velvet dress with a low neck, a short dress in a rich mulberry silk, a dark green cowl-neck dress with a pleated skirt.  She briefly regrets that her wedding won't allow for a white satin wedding dress and wears instead, a winter-white dress and coat along with a hat (a velvet trifle decked with pink-tipped feathers), and a long dress of almond-pink chiffon (which would look beastly on me, I just sure of it).  And to contrast the heroine and the female burr under her bustle, Irena wears a scarlet anorak and stretch leggings when she glides effortlessly across the lake and Sophie skids around wearing corduroy slacks and a thick sweater.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Betty Goes to Church

Sophie dressed and went to sit in her window; she could see the church spire above the trees.  In less than an hour she would be beneath it getting married...The car came and they got in and were driven the short distance to the church, and, Sophie being Sophie, there was no nonsense about being late...
                                                                                      The Awakened Heart

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Betty in the Real World, part II

Bettys York
Right in the heart of York, you’ll find St Helen’s Square and our York branch of Bettys.

In 1936 the founder of Bettys, Frederick Belmont, travelled on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary. He was so enthralled by the splendour of the ship that he commissioned the Queen Mary’s designers and craftsmen to turn a dilapidated furniture store into his most sophisticated branch yet – an elegant café in the land-locked location of St Helen’s Square. Today, as you sit in Bettys surrounded by huge curved windows, elegant wood panelling and ornate mirrors, you can almost imagine yourself aboard a luxury liner.

According to their website, Bettys has six cafe tea rooms in Yorkshire. There is a ton of fun history, yummy pictures and even some online shopping here:

Betty and the Real World

 No Need to Say Goodbye:

Iceberg roses are like an Araminta--low maintenance.
Aldo knows his rose varieties.  He points out an 'Iceburg, two Super Star, a Queen Elizabeth and a Wendy Cussons'.  (Here's the rundown: The Iceberg is a 'trouble-free rose', the Wendy Cussons is susceptible to diseases and pests, the Super Star succumbs occasionally to blackspot but gets this rating from a fan "I don't see why people complain so much about this plant, it's gorgeous!" and the Queen Elizabeth is also susceptible to pests.)  Portland, OR (where I live) is known as the City of Roses (Take that, Anaheim!).  We have a Rose Queen and a Rose Festival every year and if you came to visit me around June, I would drive you up to the Rose Test gardens overlooking the city and you would drink deeply of the gorgeousness.

Our protagonists travel to the Firth of Forth to visit an old patient.  Besides having the best place-name outside of Walla Walla, Washington (the town so nice they named it twice), here's what else I learned:  The Firth of Forth is a fjord.  (Say that 10 times fast.)  The Firth of Forth is mentioned in Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck in a rejected version of the original script of episode 1 and was the cause for a McDuck not being declared the king because of a lisp. He had to proclaim the birth of Scotland including the girth of all earth north of the Firth of Forth. 

Never the Time and the Place:
The hero quotes Shakespeare: 'There is a divinity which shapes our ends....(Rough-hew them how we will.)' and I dug around a little to find out where. Hamlet is addressing Horatio and tells him how he sealed Guildenstern and Rosencrantz's eventual deaths.  (Not exactly love-poetry...)  The fellows have a movie of their own:
Rosencrantz: I don't believe in it anyway.
Guildenstern: What?
Rosencrantz: England.
Guildenstern: Just a conspiracy of cartographers, then?

Jo plays the piano quite well.  At the party she plays Handel's Water Music, Cats, Tales from the Vienna Woods, and Chopin.  I've always vaguely wondered why the Water Music was called Water Music (but clearly didn't wonder hard enough to find out).  Betty to the rescue! 

The Water Music is a collection of orchestral movements, often considered three suites, composed by Handel. It premiered on 17 July 1717 after King George I had requested a concert on the River Thames. The concert was performed by 50 musicians playing on a barge near the royal barge from which the King listened with close friends.
Why does that make him sound like the musical director of a Carnival cruise?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cinema Betty

No Need to Say Goodbye has a plot that relies heavily on our heroine believing that our hero finds her little sister attractive.  Oh, I've got that one:

The Major and the Minor (1942)
I vant to be alone...
I really love this movie.  Ginger Rogers is so adorable as the hard-up and out-of-luck small town girl fleeing the big, bad city.  What a shame her funds are so low that she can only afford a children's fare back to her home.  (So, back goes the hat, off scrubs the make-up, off go the nylons...) Ray Milland is enchanted by her flopsy-mopsy charade and invites her to his military boarding school for a brief interlude where little Su-Su is very, VERY popular with handsy cadets anxious to try out their inventive but tedious Little Maginot Line line.  Here's a taste:
Cadet Clifford Osborne: Well, the bus is here. The zombies have arrived.
Susan Applegate: Who?
Cadet Clifford Osborne: [disdainfully] The girls from Miss Shackleford's school.
Cadet Lt. Miller: We use 'em for women.

Never the Time and the Place has an actual bona fide white-ish wedding. I love weddings and I love movies with weddings in them and one of my all-time favorites is:
The Wedding Singer (1998)

Julia suddenly realized that an eternity spent with a man who hogged the window seat was untenable.
In 1985, Robbie Hart is a wedding singer from New Jersey. He is engaged to his long-time girlfriend, Linda, who was attracted to him at a time when he dreamed of becoming a rock star. He meets and befriends a waitress, Julia Sullivan, at the reception hall where he regularly performs. Julia is also engaged, to businessman Glenn Gulia.
 It spirals out of control swimmingly, not least when Julia realizes her married name will be Julia Gulia.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Never the Time and the Place--Discussion Thread

Almost soft...entirely awesome.
Like most of the hospitals in the land of Neels, the one in this one has different wings and parts added on at different times "not a very happy union, architecturally speaking".  The Founding Bettys grew up in a house that was much the same (You just don't build a house for a tiny nuclear family and find yourself thinking halfway through, 'I really ought to design this to fit another score or so of inhabitants--because you just never know.').  Add that to Father Betty's handiness ('Come on girls, let's bump out this wall....') and it added up to a whole that was functional, inventive and like your great-Uncle's jack-a-lope taxidermy.

Another nurse says Mr. van Tacx has 'such a lovely dark brown voice'.  Betty Debbie was telling me that our grandmother had such a 'metallic' voice the other day.  After much thought (okay, no thought at all), I figure Mijnheer van Voorhees has the voice of not-quite-ripe pears.  Lovely.

Set it and forget it
The rector's wife has a recipe for sloe gin...'she's a dab hand at it'.  Dangerous shoals await the Founding Bettys when we attempt to be knowledgeable about spirits.  So here's wiki for you:  Sloe gin is a red liqueur flavoured with sloe (also called blackthorn) berries, which are a small fruit relative of the plum. Sloe gin has an alcohol content between 15 and 30 percent by volume. The traditional way of making sloe gin is to infuse gin with the berries.
Teetotaler Question:  Is 15-30 percent alcohol content a lot?  Is gin considered a low-class drink (I'm thinking gin-joint here...) or high-class (I'm thinking of 007 here...mmmmm)?

At Stourhead he says 'I find it hard to work up any romantic feelings over statues...'.  Betty Debbie is quite right to remember the classical story of Pygmalion--a fellow who did not have that problem one whit:
According to Ovid, after seeing the Propoetides prostituting themselves (more accurately, they denied the divinity of Venus and she thus ‘reduced’ them to prostitution), he was 'not interested in women', but his statue was so fair and realistic that he fell in love with it. In the vertex, Venus's festival day came. For the festival, Pygmalion made offerings to Venus and made a wish. "I sincerely wished the ivory sculpture will be changed to a real woman." However, he couldn’t bring himself to express it. When he returned home, Cupid sent by Venus kissed the ivory sculpture on the hand. At that time, it was changed to a beautiful woman. A ring was put on her finger. It was Cupid’s ring which made love achieved. Venus granted his wish.
There are no pictures of Pygmalion and his statue without boobies or bottoms so you'll have to google it yourself.  This is a family blog. ;0)

He bought a flat from a friend - because they will need one...yes, just before he gets married, he goes out and buys a flat without any input from the girl he loves. Discuss

This was the comment Betty Debbie left for me, "Jo and her mum go to London for a shopping trip.  They first buy mum's hat, suit, handbag, gloves and shoes...THEN they go looking for a wedding dress." This part really chapped her hide.  I suppose you might excuse the mother if she just wanted to get her purchases out of the way in order to turn their full attention to the more important wedding dress purchase.  But then Betty Debbie reminded me that they were only in London for one day and that Mama ought to have taken a back seat to her daughter.  I remember Betty Debbie, my neighbor Super Nurse and other assorted mothers-of-the-bride sweating about their outfits but none that would have the poor taste to put their worries ahead of the bride's outfit.
When Mother shopped for her finery first, she awoke the sleeping Bridezilla

The children at the village school are given a traditional Christmas Box.  I refuse to look this one up.  At a guess I would assume that this contained an orange, small candy, and a box of crayons or other small toy... Does anyone have a more educated guess?