Monday, October 31, 2011

The Course of True Love--Reprise

 Though the Bettys seem split on the attractiveness of our heroine's cover outfit, no one can dispute the mesmeric tractor-beam of those pepper-pot towers.  Gorgeous.  Marc could have a humpback and squint and it wouldn't matter a bit compared to the awesomeness of having your very own castle.  Still, setting aside the vast expanses of square footage and battalions of cleaning ladies, my toddler would still manage to strew his Thomas trains from one end to the other.  So maybe it's just as well that I'm limited to the charms of suburbia.  
Love and Lardy cakes!
Betty Keira

 The Course of True Love is hard for me to rate. There is sooo much to like....and quite a bit to not like. Let's get down to it.

Claribel Brown is a physiotherapist at St. Jerome’s in London. Age: 28. Tall, Junoesque, beautiful – she is almost an “Olivia”…but she’s a blonde. BLONDE. One of a very few blonde heroines in Neeldom. (In honor of this, my illustrations will feature blondes!) As she is waiting to catch the bus home, one rainy day she is shoved into the gutter by someone in the queue. A Rolls pulls up silently and the man behind the wheel orders her to get in. She sensibly says “Thank you; I prefer to go by bus.” Handsome Stranger in Rolls; “Don’t be a fool, young woman, I have no intention of kidnapping you…” (which is probably what a kidnapper would say). He takes her home and they introduce themselves to each other. He is Dr. Marc van Borsele. She lets him into his house, whips off her tights and allows him to examine her injured foot (there's three things your mama told you never to do: take a ride from a stranger, let a stranger in your house and whip off your tights for a stranger). As he leaves he admonishes her not to open her door to or take lifts from strangers. This does not seem to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Claribel soon has an opportunity to ride in that Rolls again. She is heading to the train station to go home to Tisbury for the weekend, hauling her luggage and the TWO CATS (which I have to think is quite a handful – I’m writing this while sitting on the train – I had two small pieces of luggage and a cloth grocery bag…and that was really a bit more than I wanted to be carrying. I can’t imagine having a cat carrier with two cats too!) when Handsome (no longer a stranger) Dr. Borsele drives by and picks her up.
Marc seems to show up with almost monotonous regularity. Claribel helps out with the hospital bazaar (that was opened by minor royalty…which minor royalty, I wonder???What is considered "minor royalty"?) –Marc shows up. He takes her home and asks if she is going to invite him to tea….and so it begins. Marc is always stopping by and begging a meal from Claribel. I lost track of the number of meals/snacks she fixes for him. Marc invites Claribel out to dinner. I do love his deviousness…he looks at her with big puppy dog eyes and she caves; “…he contrived to look lonely and hungry and in need of companionship; Claribel was aware that he was doing it deliberately, but all the same it seemed heartless to refuse.” He seems very sure of himself and he is constantly asking favours of Claribel. “Claribel, will you come help me use these tickets to Phantom of the Opera?.” “Claribel, come to Richmond Park with me.” Claribel, Claribel, Claribel. You’d think she’d get the idea that he likes her…but she remains stubbornly clueless – and increasingly irritated at him. “why come to England when he has a perfectly good country of his own?” It would be easy to get irritated with him myself, but he redeems himself over and over again by all the nice things he does. He saves her train fare as he drives her to and from Tisbury, takes her out, recovers a chair for her, feeds the cats, and even washes up.
Claribel; “Domesticity has two sides to have overlooked the cooking and washing up and clearing away side of it.” “No, no…there is pleasure in the sight of some little woman bending over the kitchen sink. “ Claribel said “Huh!” (as well she should. Fret not, Gentle Reader, Marc was just having her on a bit…he actually washes up and feeds the cats so that she can get ready to go out with him) by this time it’s pretty obvious to any one (anyone EXCEPT Claribel) that Marc wants to marry her…he’s just waiting for her to find out that she wants to marry him. Enter The Evil Woman Irma Cooper. On their way down to Tisbury (again) they come upon a recent accident and Marc volunteers to take a beautiful girl home. This beautiful girl has no soul. None. The driver of the car she was in was taking her to "Brighton” and got KILLED. Yes, killed. You heard me. Evil Irma doesn’t care a bit about dead boyfriend, she needs to get home so that her parents won’t find out that she was going to 'Brighton'. Claribel sees through her, but assumes that Marc doesn’t . “Men!” said Claribel with feeling. “They can be so dim.” Marc really isn’t that dim – while Claribel is busy assuming the worst of him, he’s visiting his sister who gives birth to a son over the weekend and Marc was up all night.
The Deception:
Irma the Soulless turns out to be a stalker. Really. She lays in wait for Marc everywhere….Marc asks Claribel if she will pretend to be his fiancĂ©e so as to discourage Irma the Soulless. Claribel doesn’t want to do it, but Marc manages to get her into it before she knows it. He takes her out to eat at the Savoy – and puts a diamond ring in her hand when Irma walks in. April Fool's, Irma! She slips on his great-grandmother’s ring (boy is he going to have to pay for that when they are happily married – the fact that she had to put on her own engagement ring…as a deception). Marc asks her to “flash the ring”. (April Fool's again!) Claribel turns out to be a pretty good actress…”You should call me ‘darling’ more often; it does something to my ego.” She retorts that his ego doesn’t need it. She does agree to a series of “dates” at posh places about town so that Irma will have more opportunity to see the happy couple. Dining and dancing ensue, also lying. Marc invites Claribel to go to Holland for a visit...she says, "It's impossible, I've no holiday due, and what about Enoch and Toots?" Is it simply a coincidence that a bomb goes off in the physio department a few days later? And that Marc happens to come to Claribels rescue, throwing his not inconsiderable weight on top of her and Mrs. Snow? Hmmm.... Okay, okay I don't really think Marc had anything to do with the bomb...but it is awfully convenient - because now there is no excuse for Claribel not to go to Holland. It's here that Claribel finally sees Casa van Borsele. It's a castle, size small. Complete with pepperpot tower. Oh, and it must have slipped his mind, but instead of Mr. or Dr. or even's Baron van Borsele. With less than 20 pages to go in the book Claribel finally realizes she's in love. Baron Marc watches her face carefully...He must have found his scrutiny satisfactory for he observed softly, "Well, well....shall we go?" She briefly toys with finding an antipodean job (New Zealand)...but when she gets stuck at the top of the Oldehove tower Marc comes to her rescue as she recites Tennyson. I love you, no, I love YOU, Kiss kiss. The end.

Food: Dutch apple tart with lashings of whipped cream, gingerbread, lemon tart, potato soup, shepherd’s pie, pineapple upside-down pudding, steak and kidney pie, Lobster Thermidor, chandfroid of raspberries, chicken in a cream sauce, an omelette filled with strawberries with warm wine sauce and cream, Victoria sponge, chicken a la king,
Fashion: a plastic pinny that says “Work Hard”, needlecord skirt and knitted jumper, quilted jacket, cotton jersey ensemble in pale toffee, pearly grey crepe de Chine with pale pink flowers, dark blue crepe de Chine.
Rating: Why isn't "Steamed Pudding With Raisins" a rating? Because that's what this seems like it is. Betty has some wonderful prose and I loved much of this book. Loved it. Unfortunately Claribel is just a little too blonde for me (thus the hated raisins). She is much too resistant to Marc - with no good reason. He's a little abrupt and arrogant, and yes, he invites himself in to meals quite often, but ladies, he scrambles eggs, washes dishes, recovers a chair and takes her out on the town...And then there is a bona fide stalker - Irma the Soulless. Love her, or rather Hate her. In lieu of "steamed pudding" I think I'll give this "mince pies".

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reading and Writing

Jane knew that updating her Facebook status to 'Stuck' wouldn't help her word count...
 In the fall an indeterminate-aged blogger's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of NaNoWriMo...

We're big fans of the written word here at The Uncrushable Jersey Dress.  And, considering the sheer volume of content The Founding Bettys have churned out, the idea of grinding through 50,000 words in one month (!) ought not to be so daunting.  But if you're a tortoise (slow and steady, like some of us around here) it's still 1,667 words a day.

I have several friends who do it every year (or attempt it), Betty Debbie's DIL has in the past and is again this year and, of course, Betty Magdalen did it last year.  (We call that lost month The Dread and Interminable Silence when she just vanished.)  So, this year, I'm determined that we not lose touch.
"Never, never, never give up!" Staci couldn't agree that a Winston Churchill quote was somehow inappropriate for a football game.  Why, anything said with a high kick and jazz hands was good enough for her.

That's why this month I'm hosting an Uncrushable NaNoWriMo cheerleading clinic. (It's like real cheerleading but without pompoms, short skirts and the niggling doubt that this isn't going to help you get into Stanford.)  Some of our NaNoWriMo posts will be Betty-lite but all will be Betty-supportive.  And if our Betty WriMos need a little pick-me-up, we'd be happy to get and publish any emails you want to send on.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, October 31st.
The Course of True Love

Cats named Enoch and Toots, the RDD reupholsters a chair(!!!),
a plastic pinny that  says "Work Hard".

Monday, October 24, 2011


via email:

Good morning, ladies of the Uncrushable Jersey Dress!

I would just like to write you a quick email of praise for your wonderful blog, which I discovered and joined this afternoon (under the handle of Ketharil). I have begun trawling my way through the years of posts that I was lucky enough to find, and thought I would email you to tell you how much I am so far enjoying it. I've been a Betty Neels fan since I first discovered her books in a used bookstore while in college in 2003 or so... I must admit I enjoy her books even more now than then - they're perfect "slice of life" novels for the days when I just want to curl up and wallow in a girl triumphing over the world and earning her happy ending. Though it's hard to get any of my friends to read anything so "old-fashioned"! I just love the glimpse into (what seems to be, at least) another time and another world.

Of course, the constant mouthwatering food doesn't hurt, either - I've been known to attempt scones and tea cakes, and plan on working my way through quite a few of the recipes on your blog!

I wanted to thank you for your lighthearted and obviously affectionate reviews of the books - I haven't managed to read all of them yet, and you're helping me organize my wish lists nicely. I'm slowly working my way through your posts and expanding my "to-read" piles!
I'm also taking quite a bit of notes off of your website! I don't know if you're familiar with NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month - but it's fast approaching in November. The goal is to hammer out a 50,000 word story over the course of the month, and then edit, edit, edit at your leisure afterwards, once the bulk of everything is complete! This year is my second year attempting this massive undertaking, and I was planning on writing an affectionate homage to Betty Neels's works. While I'm not sure if my heroine shall be a nurse (I'm afraid that as a teacher/office assistant, I don't know nearly enough about hospitals...), there shall have to be a rich Dutch doctor in there somewhere to sweep her off her feet, fund a new and flattering wardrobe, and escort her to lavish meals I can't ever hope of reproducing. Finding your site was like finding manna from heaven - complete with recipes to try and more books to read!

It was icing on the cake to notice that both of you are also Pacific Northwesterners - I did grad school in Spokane but moved to Seattle a year ago, so I'm still finding my feet in new territory and I'm already finding new things to do in Seattle from some of your posts. It made the blog feel even more "homey" and welcoming to me - though I apologize for not having a new, unique, and exotic IP address to add to your world map!

Thanking you most gratefully, and looking forward to reading far more reviews and posts,

(Which goes rather horribly or perfectly with Betty; I can't decide which)

Dear Betty Beth,

First of all, welcome! Secondly, Betty Beth is adorable, thirdly: Yay Pacific Northwest! Of course we'll forgive you for not adding an exotic local (although in all honesty, we do love new dots on our map and have been known to request spouses to log onto the site when traveling abroad).

I'm not sure if Betty Keira has heard of NaNoWriMo - but I have. My daughter-in-law and I were just discussing it last week. She has participated in it before and is considering doing it again this year - we were chatting about topic and style choices. Good luck! I'd do it but a) I'm too lazy, b) I'm too busy, c) I'm too slow, d) all of the above.

Again, welcome to TUJD!

The Founding Bettys

Tulips for Augusta - Reprise

As a child, I was nicknamed "Chubby Checkers" - Betty Marcy was "Boney Maroney".  I know, I know, that totally dates us as ancient, but the point is, I completely identify with Augusta and the pain of being called "Roly". I really enjoy this book - except for the bit about Constantijn not explaining about Cold Sore Susan.  That bit really bugs me, but not enough to put me off the rest of the fun.  
-Betty Debbie 
Tulips For Augusta. Boy did I love this one. Sometimes when you hit the used book store and pick up three or four Neels that you've never read before (as used to happen to me *tears*), you have a tendency to whip through them pretty quickly, lost in a Betty fog. Both Betty Debbie and I are finding that even with taking copious notes and a going at a plodding pace, these Neels books are holding their own and some of them (Tulips For Augusta, Grasp a Nettle, I'm looking at you...) are better (way better) then remembered.

Augusta Brown, 23, Staff Nurse at St. Jude's is in a bit of a snit. She's been summarily ordered to tend the patients of the private wing. Her steady date, Archie Dukes, won't get to see her as often (which is for the best as those with names like 'Archie Dukes' are, like Communism and Fascism, doomed to litter the ash heaps of history). And she'll have to consort with Private Patients--those who The Venerable Betty must have had only the scantiest affection for. These include, like the cast of a mystery who-done-it:
  • Spoiled child and ineffectual mother. "Stop crying Marlene."
  • An old man with a young wife--too young, sister observed darkly
  • A film starlet Dawn Dewey (or is she Miss Scarlet?)--discontented and a little vapid
  • a chronic alcoholic with a pretty, weak face and a gushing manner--we'll call her Mrs. Peacock
  • The Brigadier (Colonel Mustard)--he and his leg will part ways in the morning. This reminds me of Benedict Arnold. In serving in the American Revolution, Arnold injures his leg but goes on to fight for 'the dastardly Tories'. Arnold's question, "What will the Americans do with me if they catch me?" A plucky officer replied, "They will cut off the leg which was wounded when you were fighting so gloriously for the cause of liberty, and bury it with the honors of war, and hang the rest of your body on a gibbet." Which story I find ghoulishly delightful.
  • Lady Belway--fractured femur, lace nightcap and a marabou (!) cape
Mr. Boddy has been found whacked over the head with a wrench in the sluice room and fingers are pointing everywhere.
No, of course, I jest. La Neels only kills off inoffensive parents in order to cast our heroines adrift.
Lady Belway has the most interesting visitors. A tall man (a giant really) with straw hair and Miss Susan Belsize (a character like a cold sore--disfiguring but ultimately treatable. Also, she spends a lot of time in Paris--that's how you know she's rotten) who dazzles the work-a-day nurses with her up-to-the-minute fashion. Augusta just wants to pop in and grab the chart when the blonde giant's eye is caught by her carroty hair. Yes, he calls it carroty but you forgive him because it's as plain as the tip-tilted nose on your face that he's just lost his heart to a certain Staff Nurse.
Is he chatting her up is he merely curious? Augusta is puzzled and annoyed but not so off her head that she isn't glad to be wearing her new elegant slingbacks as she passes him in the forecourt. This somehow compensated for the fact that he drove a Rolls-Royce.
On a particularly hairy day she receives tulips from The Man. He catches her on the stair and says, "You make me feel so welcome. There's an old song; something about a lady sweet and...kind." The Venerable Betty expects us to be geniuses, I expect, and know to what he was referring. I offer the rest of the song which is from Thomas Ford's Music of Sundry Kinds:

There is a lady sweet and kind,
Was never a face so pleased my mind;
I did but see her passing by,
And yet, I'll love her till I die.

Her gesture, motion, and her smiles,
Her wit, her voice my heart beguiles,
Beguiles my heart, I know not why,
And yet, I'll love her till I die.

Cupid is winged and he doth range,
Her country, so, my love doth change;
But change she earth, or change she sky,
Yet, I will love her till I die.

Well that just about sums up The Man's feelings about his dear Miss Brown. You love him too, right?
Before you can say boo to a goose, Augusta is off to Holland for her holiday with two great-aunts. She's a quarter Dutch and speaks a fluent if verb-mangled tongue. While there she meets your standard-issue Dutch fink/fashion photographer Piet who tells her that she's too short for a midi-length dress. Okay, that's it, buster. Gloves are off. The Union Jack didn't come to fly over half the known world by taking petty jabs from fishy Dutchmen lying down.
"How dare you tell me what to wear and--and criticize my legs? Keep your shallow-brained remarks for the bird-witted creatures you purport to photograph."
"Perhaps you don't know that I have a very good knowledge of English?" he queried stiffly.
"Why I counted on that."
I fully expected Dutch fink to show up later for retribution. Neels baddies have such a way of repeating on one. But evidently Augusta planted him a facer that kept him belly down on the canvas--consorting with snakes and other low-bellied vermin in his natural milieu. Hm. I pity the fool.
One of the aunts has an angina attack in the middle of the night and Augusta rushes to call the doctor. Hey, but what about The Man? If a doctor shows up he'll be bound to steal Augusta's heart and upset the balance of the Force! The Karmic wheel solves that knotty problem by making The Doctor and The Man one and the same (Remarkable Fate!). Showing no surprise that it is Augusta who answers the door, Doctor Constantijn van Lindemann (33 and with a brother named Huib--please get me a Dutch pronunciation guide for this name! I'm reading it 'Heeb'.) calmly tells her that he recognized her the moment he heard her. I should know your voice anywhere... Hot Dutch Doctor to Fuddled Brit Girl translation:
Darling, the solicitors have been notified and will be bringing the marriage settlement papers over in the morning.
The rest of Holland is just awesome--chock-a-block with his endearments to her. (And one of the best kisses ever.) But she is still wary of him. See, her brother and family still call her Roly (Brit for 'tubby') and then there's the Chanel No5 malodorousness of Susan Belsize. What does she mean to him? Why won't he discuss it? Has he got a homeless graveyard in the backyard?
So she hangs onto a shred of her dignity and doesn't tell him where she lives. Well, she does say something like, "In the shadow of the everlasting hills, by the banks of a mighty river..."
Back in England she goes back to work but manages to get a weekend off. Remember, her last vacation was a barrel of laughs--what with the angina and the sleeplessness and the Dutch fink. This one's got a quarry accident! Little Timmy, whose mother lets her six children (I expect a comment Betty Debbie) roam the countryside at will, has fallen into the abandoned quarry and Augusta slides down the shingles to the rescue, rips her petticoats (so much more romantic than cotton slacks and top) and shouts for rescue.
What to her wondering eyes does appear...? Constantijn! How did he come to be there?
"I wrote asking [the doctor] if he knew of a vet by the name of Brown who lived on the Somerset-Dorset border and owned a donkey named Bottom."
And if you're not in love with him yet you're past praying for. But then it gets even better than that! He follows her the next day to a jumble sale. Again, too many wonderful details to pick just one. But if I had to narrow it down (skipping, most regretfully, the spot of snogging in the vicarage kitchen) I'll mention the truly hideous-sounding fairings that he must have tracked down and bought (from the cold, dead hands of just the kind of parsimonious elderlies to frequent jumbles and buy ugly fairings) just because she'd off-handedly said she wanted them.
So we've got the second proof in as many days that he's paying scrupulous attention to everything she says (first the description of her home and then the knick-knacks). And now, the minor irritation of Susan Belsize erupts like a cold sore on a wedding day. Augusta is in love with Constantijn and someone--anyone--needs to explain the bubble-head taking up all the air in his life. But no one does.
Actually, that's not quite true. In a fit of misguided candor, Constantijn admits that she is his ward and that he had thought of marrying Susan about a year ago but it came to nothing...
Editorial Note: Girlfriend is pretty firm about needing to know about Cold Sore Susan but keeps getting headed off or, worse, snubbed. Of all the things to let fall about the highly decorative darling while you're wooing a once tubby sensible type this is not it.
But he not-quite saves things by calling her Roly and carroty and saying, "You know that I've fallen more than a little in love with you."--which phrase, no matter how nice, reminds me of Rocky Balboa proposing to Adrian (I was wondering if you wouldn't mind marryin' me.)
A hospital emergency disrupts her off-duty and when Constantijn collects her for tea the warden says, "He's yer young man, cos he said so." Now that's more like it.
She asks him again more particularly about Susan (which should clue him in to Susan's importance in Augusta's mind) and is told that he doesn't want to talk about it. (Well, make time, Buddy.) She tells him that she loves him (on a hammock--so put that cozy picture in your delighted brain) and is invited to Cold Sore Susan's 21st birthday party.
On the way back to London from a weekend at home, Constantijn proposes but she's trying desperately not to be disappointed at it's anti-climactic air. He did it in a half-filled restaurant! He didn't say he loved her! What does it all mean?
The pieces seem to fall into place with a sick little thud as she overhears an hysterical Susan tell Constantijn that she's in love too and hears Constantijn reply that he won't see 'this other girl' get hurt in any way.
That's the answer. It makes perfect sense. Roly (she has to think of herself as an unattractive alternative to Susan now) was just a diversion and Constantijn will feel duty-bound to marry her if she doesn't break it off. In a rage, Augusta fibs (poorly) about off-duty and free weekends. She must have time to think.
Constantijn is finally confronted with Augusta. Tears, heartache, recrimination! But he hardly says a word--just lets her get back into the car and drive off. It is up to Lady Belway and Mrs. Brown to sort out Augusta:
Cold Sore Susan was really Homewrecker Susan who wanted to steal Constantijn's best friend away from his sweet wife. Constantijn prevented it--but if a man can be captivated by a girl who might regularly don a white midi with a tapestry belt and T-strap lizard shoes (and handbag) then I give the marriage five years...tops.
Back Augusta goes to apologize and be kissed. A marriage is in the offing.

Rating: So totally a lashings of whipped cream that I don't know where to start. With the heroes' unabashed pursuit of his Darling Miss Brown? With The Venerable Neels particularly descriptive and delightful prose? With the quarry, torn clothing episode? With the nickname Roly?! I couldn't put a fifth of all the wonderfulness herein contained. Constantijn, unlike your more run-of-the-mill Neels hero, has zero problem letting everyone know that Miss Brown is the gal for him. The only part I don't care for is the very very end--I thought Augusta was justified in being in a rage and Constantijn has to let her sort it out herself? No helping? Thumbs down. But, then, if that was absolutely perfect then this novel would have earned itself right off the chart and we can't have that. Also, for reasons I can't figure out, I hate the name Augusta Brown. (Both fine without the other but together bug me.)
Food: Alkmaarse Jongens (a Dutch buscuit), Marquise Montmorency (a pudding that doesn't really float my boat), Mirabeau steak, lemon custard (and so help me you must try this, Betty Debbie sometime when I'm around) and a dry martini (since when does The Betty have heroines drink martinis?).

Fashion: Augusta's slacks (torn) and cotton shirt (also torn), a mid-length yellow lawn dress with long ballooning sleeves (that she wears for his proposal), a Terlenka pantsuit with a white tunic top, a blue and aubergine organza evening dress (that she wears to Susan's 21st).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How Far Would You Go?

It'll be a while before we reprise Saturday's Child...but that book has been on my mind this week. There's an episode in it where the RDD drives 920 miles to SPAIN to pick up his young niece and then drive the 920 miles back to Amsterdam with said niece and plucky British Nurse Abigail. I totally applaud the fact that the RDD was willing to go to such lengths to help out a sick family member (who coincidentally needed precisely the type of specialist that he was).

It sort of looks like the wiring was done by a blind secretary who
had a little extra time and a couple of spare paperclips. Is this normal? I don't know.

I mentioned on an earlier post this week that my 20 year-old son was injured/assaulted over the weekend.  What I didn't mention that he was 1,200 miles away at the time.  As a mother, I found it surprisingly difficult (because I'm usually not that kind of mom) to deal with this problem long-distance.  Could I have flown to his side? Sure. Would that have been helpful? Hmm. Maybe. Would he have matured more with me there? No.  Still, I angsted over this right up until 9:30 this morning when I met him at the airport.

Dr. van der Stevejinck and I ended up only having to drive the 60-ish miles to Sea-Tac airport.  My question is this: What would you have done?  Would you fly to your 20 year-old son's side - OR make the rational decision to have his immediate concerns taken care of by people that you trust (which means waiting a couple of days to see him)?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Betty JoDee

The Hoarders camera crew had finally arrived.  The world was about to see if a man wearing a reflective smock and low-rise pants could pry her TBR pile from her cold, dead hands.
Today is the first birthday in twelve years that I haven’t had a child at home during the day for it. I decided to celebrate by reading Betty Magdalen’s manuscript she graciously provided. I have been saving it for a special (read: uninterrupted) occasion. I burst out laughing when her RPJ (Rich Philadelphia Judge) gave her Outlier a tour of his ancestral house--with already outfitted nursery! I have encountered the, I assume for publishing, now requisite trip to Brighton and am working on my game face for Betty Magdalen when I encounter her next—who knew? The RPJ is quite the poppet though.

Professor van der Hertenzoon is taking me for my birthday tea/luncheon at a historic mansion (I’m not making this up; I hope they have at least Gentleman’s Relish for him). Meanwhile, I am blowing off all responsibilities to read Betty Magdalen’s tome, surrounded by dishes in the sink, dirty laundry, unturned-out cupboards, floors and bathrooms needing the “rough” done, uncounted linen,etc. I did manage to make my bed and step into the shower.

My question is this, Fellow Bettys: Would Mrs. Neels approve of Araluaminta ignoring domestic pressing matters to read a book? Did one of hers ever do it? I don’t think so. Would she grant an exception if the volume were one of hers (or a Betty’s, in this case)?

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, October 24th.
Tulips for Augusta

Adorable cover art, quarry rescue complete with torn slacks,
Susan the Potential Homewrecker.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Calling All Bettys

My supermarket does not carry Horlicks or Bovril - or beef tea.  Lemonade is available (that Neels standby for kids with measles...).

Without getting too personal, my darling twenty-year old son was...umm...punched in the face on Saturday.  It wasn't a fight or anything, just a wild punch by an unfortunate young man who was off his medications.  The upshot of all this is that my son is getting his broken jaw wired shut and will have to be on a liquid diet for the next few weeks.

What I'm looking for here are menu suggestions and recipes for liquid meals.  Anyone?  This particular child of mine doesn't have any spare fat on him to start with, so I'm not looking for diet food.

Discovering Daisy--Reprise

Dear Sister Bettys,
I love this one.  I remember pouncing on it when I spotted it in the bins at the Scary Goodwill.  Betty Neels! Large print!  What was with the cover?  Yes. It was my very first one with the newer covers.  Though this is one of The Venerable Neels' later efforts, I quite find it darling. It has the best of all those memes we have come to love: Canal dunkings, auto excursions, poisonous fiancees, unsuitable clothes, grocery store wrap-ups.  I have a dentist appointment today.  Guess what novel I'll be shoving into the bottom of my copious mom-purse?
Love and lardy cakes,
Betty Keira

Conspiracy theorists may doubt that The Venerable Neels wrote Discovering Daisy. She was, after all, nearly 90 years old when Discovering Daisy was published (Dr. van der Stevejinck's grandmother lived to be 93 and up until the last year or two was mentally quite alert). Whether it was Betty or an Oxford don writing under a nom de plume, I don't care. I love this book.

Daisy Gillard. 24, ordinary - middle height, charmingly and unfashionably plump, unassuming features redeemed from plainness by a pair of large hazel eyes, thickly fringed. In other words, an "Araminta". I love Daisy. Once she sheds her illusions about the rat Desmond, she is completely natural. She says what she means. She may be unassuming, but she's not particularly shy. We first meet her while she is in the throws of "love" with a Slimy Toad named Desmond. He is just using her as filler...until the right girl for him comes along (prettier and richer). We readers know that he is a shady character - he is of shortish stature and longish hair. He squires her around her seaside tourist town - taking her out to dinner and tea, and finally to A Dance. Slimy Toad tells her to buy herself a new frock...a red one. Of course she is out of place with Desmond and his friends - after one obligatory dance she is left to fend for herself. Which is actually a good thing. This is when she first meets Dr. Jules der Huizma. His eye is first attracted by the inappropriate red dress - then by the fact that the girl in the dress doesn't go with the dress. He chats her up just a little. Too bad for Daisy that she overhears him talking to his friend (about her) in the coat room. "I found someone...a plain little creature in a regrettable red dress. A fish out of water" . When Slimy Toad drops her off at the family antique shop, she immediately parcels up the regrettable red dress to send to charity - more hurt over the stranger's remarks than over being unceremoniously dumped by the Slimy Toad. A few weeks pass...Daisy is getting thin and her parents urge her to take afternoon walks (on the beach in November). Into the teeth of wind and rain Daisy obediently trots day after day. Her doggedness is rewarded one day when Jules is also walking in the wind and rain. "How delightful to meet someone who likes walking in the rain and the wind." He smiled at her as he spoke, and she forgave him then for calling her a fish out of water - a plain fish too. After all, in all fairness she had been both. Indeed, when it came to being plain she would always be that. That's part of what I love about Daisy - even when she's feeling down she's sensible. Jules (she doesn't know he's a doctor) stops by the antique store a couple more times before Christmas...first to buy a charm bracelet for a god-daughter, then to pick up a doll house for a five year old girl named Mies. Possibly a niece...but we are never destined to know.

Mr. Gillard buys a Dutch painted and gilt screen which Daisy carefully restores. A couple of elderly Dutch men come in the shop and are thrilled...the upshot is, they buy it and need Daisy to escort it to Holland. Dad says, great! Now you can stop at Heer Friske's shop and pick up The Georgian Wine Cooler of Destiny. Hey Dad! Do you mind if I spend a day sightseeing? Sure, why not? What could happen? Umm. Yeah. About that. Daisy does spend a day sightseeing and then caps the evening off with a quick dip in a rat infested canal. Lucky for her (or is it Fate?) that Jules is on hand to fish her out. After she is "thankfully sick", he trots her across the bridge to the hospital where they clean her up, give her a jab (the rats, you know) then send her off with Dr. der Huizma...who drops her off at her hotel. The next morning she takes a taxi back to the hospital and exchanges the hospital robe and slippers for her disinfected clothing. It's time to get The Georgian Wine Cooler of Doom and toddle back to Merry Olde England. And she would, she really would...if only she didn't get mugged on the way to Heer Friske's shop. Dr. Jules hears that she's back in the hospital when he goes to work in the morning. He pays her a courtesy visit - he is nice, but in a purely professional way. "Probably he considered her a nuisance and would be glad to see the last of her. Her spirits, already at their lowest, sank without a trace..."

villainess will now be played by Helene van Tromp. As in, "I will van Tromp all over little English girls". It is at this point that Jules begins to wonder why he wanted to marry Helene. "It was a sobering thought to take to his bed...strangely enough it was Daisy's face which imposed itself upon his last waking moments."

Daisy checks herself out of the hospital in order to finally take The Georgian Wine Cooler of Destiny home. Jules decides otherwise...he shows up at Heer Friske's just in time to stow the antique and Daisy's bag in the boot (British word alert!). She is taken to Jules home wherein the butler, housekeeper and dog all immediately fall in love with her. Natch. Helene stops by and sums her up as No Competition. At this point neither of our protagonists are admitting to love (but if a man drops everything to haul you and your antique Georgian Wine Cooler of Destiny across the channel in his lovely Rolls...there is a chance that those feelings might just be about to change). Helene may have been quick to dismiss Daisy as dull and badly dressed...but Jules finds himself looking at Daisy more and more. There is just something about her. "He was beginning to find her too interesting..." Interesting enough to invent excuses to stop by the antique look at a diamond brooch that you just know he's never going to give to Helene I Will van Tromp All Over You.

"Busy already Daisy? Do you not take a holiday from time to time?" "Well, going to Holland was like a holiday..." (if by holiday you mean two trips to the emergency room, swallowing rat water and getting mugged, then yes, it was a fabulous holiday!). This is actually quite a sweet scene because for once in Neels, both protagonists realize they have feelings for the other at nearly the same time. We are only on page 77. There are more than 100 pages to go before a final declaration of love! Wow. What could happen in 100 pages? Jules now realizes what marriage to Helene will be like. "He saw nothing but unhappiness for himself and Helene if they were to marry." Now there's some depression just waiting to happen. Jules now starts to get a little devious. He goes to visit Heer Friske (antique dealer of The Georgian Wine Cooler of Destiny). He very slyly puts an idea in Heer Friske's head that Daisy should come over and intern with him so that she can learn more about antiques. Heer Friske rises to the bait. Daisy is sent a letter inviting her to come to Holland and work for him for a little while. Mr. Gillard says "...I would say that it is a good idea." (Evidently he has conveniently forgotten the two trips to the emergency room from her first foray into Holland). This set-up is nicely timed so that Jules can drive over and pick up both Daisy and the diamond brooch. Daisy is installed at Casa de Friske...there to learn of and sell antiques, pick up a little of the Dutch language and eat thick pea soup.
Oh, and go on long drives through the Dutch countryside with Jules (but not with Helene who has gone to California - what? She'll be back). Helene returns from van Tromping America and Jules decides it would be a good time to go to Africa. I'll bet you didn't see that coming. Africa makes it's one and only appearance in Neeldom. We can now add it to the map. Yea! He has been asked to go to the famine areas and advise on the feeding of the starving babies and children, and now that Helene is back, it's a good time to go. Helene is less than pleased. "But it will be ghastly, you'll pick up one of those horrible diseases..." Daisy is much more understanding when he comes to say farewell to her. Jules sweeps Daisy into his arms and kisses her. "It was a kiss not to be easily forgotten. Indeed Daisy hadn't known kisses like that existed outside of romantic novels." "I have to have something', said Mr. der Huizma in a goaded voice, and released her so violently that she nearly fell over." Then off he goes. To Africa.
Mevrouw der Huizma (mother to Jules) invites Daisy over on her day off. They have a great time until who should drop by? Yup. Miss Helene I Will van Tromp All Over Daisy. Helene now begins to feel a little uneasy about Daisy, so she starts her campaign to eliminate the competition. First, she writes a long letter to Jules about how she ran into Daisy, who is so nice, and by the way, did you know she's going to be married? Then she works on a sugar coated arsenic pill sort of way. Very sweet on the outside, pure poison inside. The day comes for Daisy to go home - she runs into Jules who is just returning from Africa (my, fate IS remarkable), he again sweeps her up and kisses her. Helene is still around though...and spreading more lies about Daisy's love-life. Helene has got a little extra love-life of her own going on. Mr. Hank Cutler, An American from California, is in Holland on business...and part of that business is Helene. Jules just can't seem to stay away from Daisy - he goes over to visit her and see what's up with the boyfriend. The non-existent boyfriend. He asks Daisy how things are going - then comes a Big Misunderstanding. Daisy thinks he talking about a potential job opportunity that has come up in the antique world for her...he thinks she's talking about the non-existent boyfriend. Jules admits his love for her(there are still 23 pages to go!!!) and then finds out that she doesn't have a boyfriend/fiancee. That's right, she's free...but you're not, Jules! Back in Holland Jules stops by to see if he can talk Helene into releasing him. She's not home, so he sits down to wait. In walks Helene with Hank the American, who is quite willing to marry her and take her back to his nice place in California (did I mention he's rich). Meanwhile, Daisy is roped into nursing her cousin Janet and children. Janet has the flu and the kiddies are recuperating from chicken pox. After a few days of working herself to the bone, here comes Jules. He pitches in with the kids (he is a paediatrician, so he knows kids), does the shopping and eats scrambled eggs. He takes her back home and drops her off at her parents??? What's the hold-up? Daisy cries herself to sleep, then goes grocery shopping in the morning at Mr. Pati's store. As she reaches for the Assam tea, Jules lifts it down for her...then proceeds to put random things in her trolley (British word!) such as cat food (Daisy is one of a select few Neels heroines that doesn't have a pet). "We haven't got a cat," said Daisy. "Then we will take it back with us; Jette has a cat and kittens." At the end of the aisle Jules proposes. While the kissing is going on, Mr. Pati "watching from a discreet distance, crept a bit closer and stealthily wheeled the trolley back to the check-out desk. He was a romantic man at heart, and he liked Daisy, but business was business, so he began to tot up the goods in the trolley. A most satisfactory start to the day." The end.

Food: thick pea soup, pancakes with bacon bits, melon balls, jellied lobster (I just had to look that one up...), lamb cutlets, pork cutlets, pork chops, braised chicory (sounds weird), red cabbage, boiled potatoes, spinach tarts.

Fashion: Most notably "clothes off the peg", the infamous red dress, plain brown jersey dress that doesn't crease when packed, sober grey "'I'm selling antiques" dress, 3 piece dark green jersey.

Rating: Queen of Puddings! I should have been bothered by Jules pursuing Daisy while he was engaged to the odious Helene...but I wasn't. Jules kissing Daisy...again, it didn't bother me. There was quite a bit of delightful hero Point Of View going on - he kept trying to do the honorable thing by the heartless Helene - but Daisy was simply irresistible (And now I'm imagining Jules looking like Robert Palmer...). It was lovely to see the hero having to deal with his tortured love life. Jules was also quite nice to hooded eyes, sarcastic comments or mocking smiles. There were only two parts of the book that I didn't love. The first was Slimy Toad Desmond (aren't you glad I didn't go for an acronym there) and the incident of the red dress . I may not have loved that part, but I did get it. The other part was almost at the end...I have no idea why Betty made Daisy spend days taking care of the sick...unless she needed to eke out a few more pages. The episode with cousin Janet really does nothing to further the plot.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Public School

Betty Keira tossed the match and hoped that her four pledges of affection were right behind her.
I spent the evening last night contemplating the dubious charms of public school.  It was parent-teacher conferences yesterday and it all went swimmingly for the Progeny van Voorhees.  They go to a kindergarten through eight grade school and I generally love it.  (Really. The teachers are top drawer, the enthusiasm is through the roof and my kids are thriving.)  And then I ran into a situation that left me mistrustful (not morally or legally or anything) of one of the teachers.  (No, I won't say why.  We Founding Bettys (in our inestimable wisdom) have declared those rocky shoals out of bounds.)  And it got me wondering (while I was deep in the midst of my rip-up-the-registration-card-and-burn-this-sucker-down moment.  Me!  Daughter of TWO public school teachers!) about private school.
Of course, they don't call it private school in Britain.  They call it public school.  (Which is massively confusing to me.):
These [independent schools] were often established for male scholars from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds; however, English law has always regarded education as a charitable end in itself, irrespective of poverty. For instance, the Queen's Scholarships founded at Westminster in 1560, are for "the sons of decay'd gentlemen".  
The educational reforms of the 19th century were particularly important under first Thomas Arnold at Rugby, and then Butler and later Kennedy at Shrewsbury, the former emphasising team spirit and muscular Christianity and the latter the importance of scholarship and competitive examinations. Edward Thring of Uppingham School introduced major reforms, focusing on the importance of the individual and competition, as well as the need for a 'total curriculum' with academia, music, sport and drama being central to education. Most public schools developed significantly during the 18th and 19th centuries, and came to play an important role in the development of the Victorian social elite. Under a number of forward-looking headmasters leading public schools created a curriculum based heavily on classics and physical activity for boys and young men of the upper and upper middle classes.

Of course, in the land of La Neels, these types of schools abound as well as some more basic primary education to which young children can be driven hither and thither, setting the stage for all sorts of interesting adventures involving car smash-ups, runaway dogs and as a showcase for competent automobile-handling. I suspect that The Great Betty's default mode was for day-schooling at a 'public' school.  What about the Bettys?  What's your ideal educational environment?

P.S. A long time ago I established a page on Facebook titled The Uncrushable Jersey Dress, wondering if it would be beneficial.  And then I ignored it.  Lo and behold, it's been getting comments all this time!  If you want to add a small and Araminta-esque dollop of Neels-ness to your Face-chatting, look us up and join the conversation!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, October 17th.
Discovering Daisy
An regrettable red dress, mugging in Amsterdam,
falling into a canal.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Stormy Springtime - Reprise

I've got to say, I adore the couple on the cover of this one.  Meg's expression is priceless...and Dr. Culver (I too refuse to call him Ralph) looks dishy. The background of this cover is a bit perplexing...why is the yellow train (?) flying through the air? Maybe that's what Meg's expression is all about - her exasperation over the background.  Whatever the reason, I love her face - it's enough to make a forgettable title into something memorable.  I always know that this is the one with the Dear Little Flat and a stranger giving birth on the the heroine's bed.
Enjoy. - Betty Debbie
What a welcome change Stormy Springtime was after the push-me-pull-me of last week's selections. In it's lazily winding pages we find an antidote to Everard partisanship, Betty schisms and insults over imperfect language mastery.

Let us go no further without a look-see at the cover art. Stellar job, Harlequin. She's wearing an expression that it is impossible to translate as anything other than, "Drop dead."
Meg Collins, 23, has two managing sisters, no looks to speak of, a handful of A levels (and a fat lot of good they do her), and the care of a large Georgian house in Hertingfordbury that she's been living at her whole life.
Cora, her older sister, hardly matters. She dresses 'expensively with no imagination' which is all you need to know about her.
Doreen, the younger sister, is a ward sister who wants to marry a wealthy doctor--here Betty makes this a bad thing. Just go with it and never mind the scores of novels where that was the main plot device. Doreen is the embodiment of that particularly British phrase: "Eye to the main chance". I don't get the subtleties of the idiom but it manages to encompass a cunning ruthlessness that Doreen has and Meg wouldn't be on speaking terms with.
Mother Collins has cocked her toes up (nursed in her final year by our devoted and the sisters (the two pushy ones) agree that the house must be sold. Meg can take up a course of shorthand typing and get a flat in London they also agree. Meg knows better than to argue otherwise. She just goes ahead and makes her own plans.

Selling the home is a wrench but Meg shows it to a variety of unsuitable people one of whom is:
Professor Ralph (thank heavens she hardly ever calls him Ralph--a slang term for vomiting which is what the name makes me do a little in my mouth--hey, this might explain the cover art) Culver is 38, a consultant radiologist with a couple of dogs and very bad penmanship. (The Betty Neels Seal of Approval!)
The Goings On:
Meg meets Professor Culver while she's peeling off her wellies and damp socks on the back lobby floor--a circumstance that amuses him and annoys her. Undaunted she shows him through the rooms with her slippers on. It's perfectly okay though. She doesn't really want to sell the house anyway. The mortgage crisis wasn't even a glimmer in her future.
A nice little old lady comes to tour the house. How do we know she's nice? She doesn't have to be told that the fireplace is by Adam. If only I had an Adam fireplace--I wouldn't have to bother weighing people's characters. I'd just trot them over to the fire and wait for it.
Before you can say 'Bob's your uncle', Mrs. Culver has bought the place and installed Meg as a housekeeper until Kate (her regular housekeeper who is absent due to toe surgery--(shudder) such an unnecessarily gross detail) comes back. Even though this is 1987, Meg purchases demure grey dresses so that she can act the part of meek housekeeper in her ancestral home. Professor Culver (yes, that's his mother buying the house) thinks this is hilarious.
Doreen doesn't like the set-up (Meg as housekeeper) as she would prefer bossing her older sister about until she's hatcheted to death by her fed-up relative. She wants to find her sister an unambitious curate or, failing that, a semi-basement (Ala Laverne and Shirley) where Meg's soul would be sucked from her hourly as she spent her life staring up at the barren pavement through net curtains. Gold-digger Doreen does like the Professor, though.
Meg is very good at the housekeeping gig. The Professor pops by from time to time to upset the even tenor of their lives but he's not always nasty or anything. They just don't click and he unnerves her. And then the Professor rescues a dog. They name him Lucky and she thinks for the first time that he might be someone she would like to know. He thinks that she might grow on one. (This is page 41 and they've still got a lot of ground to cover before the kissing.)
On a tangential note, I wonder if animal rescue produces pheromones.
Mrs. Culver gets the flu. She is a rotten patient but the Prof comes regularly and begins a staring campaign. If red hot lasers instead of pondering gleams shot out of the Professor's eyes, Meg would be a little pile of ash. But he admires her for her heroic work and even after he overhears her calling him a fool he kisses her on the cheek and calls her 'little Meg'. What a nice consultant radiologist!
The spectre of Housekeeper Kate of the Hammer Toes, like a looming flock of Valkyries, is lurking on the horizon and Meg is brought to see that she must at least go to London and find a home. She has a third of the proceeds from this Georgian manor house so ought to be able to find something she likes, right?
Oh dear. What has Main Chance Doreen found for big sis?
It's as though a veteran of the India uprisings, upon returning to the sceptered isle, had a left over bit of The Black Hole of Calcutta wheezing about in his hip pocket that rolled out and took up permanent residence in Stamford Street--or as near as makes no difference. It's a dark airless pit. There's even a spider scuttling down the bath drain pipe and a tube of left-over brilliantine in the cupboard. (So of course I had to link to Put on Your Sunday Clothes--the only song to my knowledge ever to work brilliantine into its lyrics.)
In a word--it stinks. Meg is moping in the Pit of Despair when in walks the Professor (I'm not going to call him Ralph no matter how much you beg). She promptly bursts into tears with the sniffled admission that he, "made the flat look so dreadful". That's because you're in love with him, you idiot.
He can't let her live there (That's because you're in love with her, you idiot.) so offers her a job with him as a receptionist. He has a lodge at the gates of his home (in Much Hadham) that she can use on the weekends and a Dear Little Flat (DLF) at the top of the consulting rooms is also hers for the taking.
Editorial Note: The receptionist she is replacing is a hot little number. She's leaving to get married (this is the only reason hot little receptionists leave their jobs--they never have an unrequited passion for the doctor and leave for jobs down Brazilian coal mines). Everyone else in the office (nurse and secretary) are comfy and middle-aged. When our heroines are finally replaced they are never replaced with hot little numbers--only the comfy variety.
In offering the job, he drops a clanger. If you want to go out--but I don't imagine you will--the caretaker will take over. I sense a challenge...
She's actually quite good at her job and must be amassing significant wealth since she lives rent free, never sees anyone socially and has her real estate profits marinating in the bank.
One night she's taking out some trash and hears a sound. Hark! If one rescued pet didn't hit the Neels quota then surely two...She names the cat Nelson because (I heart you Betty!) he's battered and only has one eye.
During her duties at the office, the doctor elicits her help with a highly-strung mother. "I shall want you to cope with her--you have phlegm and common sense..." Meg took a sip of coffee. Compliments, if one could call them that, were flying. He's still not in love but he's getting there.
The trips down to Much Hadham each weekend create a tension most easily defined within the concept of the "Sphere of Influence". The Professor is to Japan during the height of WWII as Meg is to Taiwan. He can't help but interest himself in her goings on even though he's living it up at the manor house, passing the lodge with an Unexplained Blonde Tartlet and watching her grub around in the garden. It utterly ruins his weekend.
Betty, in casting about for a suitable plot device, decides to have her hero ask her heroine to go to Holland with him and his mother. Will she housekeep for them when they visit Elderly Outspoken Granny's?
She is swamped with love. Ah. At last. A reason behind her interest in her employer--her flatness when he's gone. It is this next bit that makes me love Meg. She decides to "present him with a picture of serenity and meekness. The meekness would come hard but she noticed that it puzzled him; at least it had made him aware of her." Sure she has to stem the sharp retorts but she's got a campaign--a plan. Ralph is the Maginot Line and Meg is a demure row of German Panzers. It's only a matter of time.
Before the Dutch vacation that isn't, they head down to Much Hadham. Unexplained Blonde Tartlet bursts into the lodge to 'slum'. "Ralph said you were a pre-war paragon with no ambition. Domesticated too..." Which makes it sounds like she wears a pinny when she does her business on the Times of London. This statement is never really explained away. I'm just hoping that Unexplained Blonde Tartlet, like in a game of telephone, got it wrong. What he really meant to say was that Meg is trained in martial arts and could go Daniel-san on ambitious blondes.
She's a bit tearful (don't worry, it's rage) but the Professor is gentle with her and so apologetic--unaware that with Meg's black belt in TaeKwonDo she was within a hair's breath of severing the thorax of the UBT.
When the Professor's weekend is over he's more testy than ever. I wonder what could possibly be bothering him? She responds to his bad humor by turning the screws and becoming even more meek. You don't have to be so d***ed meek about it!
Honestly the poor man is floundering, wondering what it is that makes him keep thinking of her, and she is doing her demure best not to offer him a rope.
Holland, as I mentioned, is really just an excuse to employ the nuclear bomb of Frank-Speaking Granny. Meg is ordered to have dinner with the family (after cooking it and running the house all day) in no uncertain terms and Meg is treated to having her appearance studied by Granny and the Prof. 'Small and neat' pronounces Granny. Professor Culver keeps his own counsel.
He is jealous of her time, miffed when she breaks dates (what am I saying, Neels women never date--I meant "sight-seeing excursions with a view to matrimony") with him and is really, to quote Benedick, 'horribly in love' with her. She maintains her meekness and for her pains is kissed soundlyant "sight-seeing excursions with a view to matrimony") with him and is really, to quote Benedick, 'horribly in love' with her. She maintains her meekness and for her pains is kissed soundly and called 'prim'. That's what they call in the horse selling business a fair trade.
Back in England she visits the lodge one more time--I ought to say, one last time--and wakes in the night to clanking and noises. Mrs. Pitt is delivering her baby in a broken-down car and Mr. Pitt is desperate. Meg should have turned them out immediately when she realized what a fine name for future loyal servants they had. Instead she gives them her bed and speeds off to the great house.
A baby is delivered and then Meg begs the butler to send the Professor off to bed as soon as he comes back. There it is. The moment when he realizes she loves him. You might miss it if you're not looking and it explains the upheavals which come next:
  • The Pitt's are offered jobs and the lodge. The Lodge. Her lodge. (And in fairness, she probably wouldn't want to use the bed again.) She can no longer visit on the weekends and the Professor, sharing the news with a fine disregard for her feelings, is ebullient about it.
  • Doreen has a flat warming party. The Professor only shows up long enough to say "Sayonara sister" and collect Meg from some plum-jacketed long-hair.
  • She kisses him back. (Which ought to make her thumb the listings for Brazilian coal mine jobs but doesn't.)
  • He sacks her---What?! Just like that? Yes, just like that. She's to be replaced by some comfy Mrs. Loftus (Pointless Digression: the only Mrs. Loftus I ever knew made me feel like I hadn't flossed my teeth enough every time I saw her) and has to move out of the Dear Little Flat.

Don't you want to know why? he asks. And then comes one of the best proposals of Neels-dom. I love the collect stray animals. Darling, would you consider collecting me?

Yes! Say yes! The Unexplained Blonde Tartlet gets knocked off even the back burner and they head up to the DLF presumably for a spot of post-engagement snogging.
The End

Rating: I love this one. They are tepid about one another for a long, long time but instead of it making the Dawning Realizations feel abrupt, it gives you a feel for how humbling a course reversal it must be. I'm all for that. I loved that she had a plan for her eventual happiness (no thought of running off to Brazil to work in a coal mine for Meg!) and kept plugging away at it.
He was a delight--disturbed, confused, hesitant, rash. The first name (so sorry if our Bettys have Ralphs they know and love) was just awful but I think that's what endearments are for. The end was a little rushed but I probably only felt that because it was so awesome. I give this an unqualified queen of puddings.

Fashion: Lots of scrubby working-in-the-garden clothes, a sack apron tied anyhow, those notorious wellies, Doreen's up-to-the-minute cashmere numbers, Meg's receptionist-looking navy blue dress with a demure white bow, an old rose silk jersey two piece that she has to wear so many times that she vows never to wear it again.
Food: a winter salad (I must know how this differs from the other kind), her imaginary dinner of steak and tomatoes and courgettes and creamed potatoes, creme au chocolat.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Bettysday Limerick

via email:

Happy belated Bettysday, dear Bettys. I celebrated my birthday just about a fortnight before the Venerable, and this year, thanks to TUJD, I did so with a *brand new!!* (to me) Betty. "A Christmas Romance" had not crossed my, or my completist brother-in-law's, radar before your marvelous blog introduced it to me. So I got it as a birthday gift, and was appropriately delighted. I took it out to tea at my local Ritz, and snapped a blurry photo (the carbohydrate-overload affected my eye) to share with Team Olivia Araminta. Because surely all Bettys ultimately are on the same team, yes?

I also composed a few lyrics over my meal, thusly:

The rich, Dutch doctor looked down
At a mousy Araminta named Brown
Her violet eyes
Caused his heart’s capsize
And that must explain his fierce frown.

On page one, our heroes meet cute
She in wellies; he in a suit
Her cat likes his dog
She gets lost in a fog
Page 220, kisses render them mute.

Debbie and Keira decide
That Brighton they cannot abide
Thus their blogging began
Gath’ring every Neels fan
“Our heroes!” Sister Bettys all sighed.

Love and lashings,
Betty van den Betsy

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel OR If We've Started on the Cooking Sherry, Can Aunt Mabel be Far Behind?

Summer was brief this year.  After an incredibly long, wet spring, the rain finally left, but with a sinister "I'll be back" parting shot.  Well, it's back. Temperatures are falling, days are getting shorter and shorter while the puddles are getting deeper and deeper...time to curl up in Neeldom and sip a cup of hot apple cider.

I've been in a cooking mood lately - but with only three family members in residence at the moment there's not much scope for cooking.  I've resorted to stocking my freezer with homemade soups, cookie dough, main dishes...I'm about ready to move on to roll dough and pies...would somebody please stop me!
 Here at the van der Stevejinck homestead it's also time to stock the freezer, rake the lawn and clean the garage (so as to be able to park in it when the weather is nippy)...etc.

One of my favorite 'snowed in with only a RDD and a housekeeper who has the flu and/or measles and there are limited foodstuffs' book is An Old-Fashioned Girl.  It's reading books like this (and pretty much any of the other 'snowed in' books - has anyone else noticed how often the household comes within a hairs breath of having to eat someone?), that make me want to re-evaluate my pantry and re-fill any empty spots.

Assuming your last name is not Donner, in the event of a sudden, unexpected snowstorm where would your shortages be? (Not tins of Bovril-of course we all have an abundance of that particular item...right?).

Monday, October 3, 2011

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, October 10th.
Stormy Springtime
Two bossy sisters, a Dear Little Flat
and a home birth.

The Gemel Ring--Reprise

Good morining, Bettys!  What lively discussions we're having around here of late. (I refuse to use more than one exclamation point in a paragraph so just read that with wide-eyed wonder ala: 'Grandma, my, what big teeth you have.')
Betty Debbie and I need someone to open our minds to the wonders to be found in The Gemel Ring because this Beauty Queen is destined to go crown-less in our respective stuccoed and lavishly-maintained villas.
I dug into my discussion thread of the same and I remembered that at least (very small beer) Everard had good taste in retirement homes:
Charity carries an old man into the secret home for the elderly. I live near a massive retirement home. We call it The Death Star. ("Death isn't funny, Betty Keira," says my conscience. "I know," I reply, mumbling under my breath about what a spoil-sport my conscience is.) It is a great big monolith of a building. I would much prefer it if Shady Oak-y Glen-ish Retirement Land would adopt the Everard van Tijlen approach to nursing homes--low-key and looking nothing like a Death Star, I'm sure. 

Happy Reprising!
Betty Keira
 Like Grasp a Nettle, which Betty Keira reviewed earlier in the week, The Gemel Ring was not high on our list of faves. While Grasp a Nettle grew on us quite a bit, The Gemel Ring did not fare quite as well. Was it as bad as I remembered? No. Did I like it? Hmmm...I'll tell you later.

Charity Dawson. Nurse - Sister on Men's Medical. An "Olivia" (tall, well-built, red brown hair, green eyes). She drives her own car - an MG Midget which was a gift from her godmother. Not only does she drive, but she also carries an Advanced Drivers Certificate. Besides English, she speaks French and "passable German" (depending on who's asking), she is described as "brainy", she swims like a fish and is also a first class tennis player. You'd think a girl like that wouldn't have any self-esteem issues. You'd think. We first meet her on a driving holiday with sister Lucy and her parents, Lieutenant-Colonel Dawson and wife. They are passing through Holland after touring around Germany.

Enter Mr. Arthur C. Boekerchek. No, of course he's not the hero - but our main characters meet over his unconscious body. Mr. Boekerchek is an American from Pennsylvania...he's quite a friendly guy when he's not passed out. We'll catch up with him later.

Our real hero is Professor Everard van Tijlen, almost 41. Yup, he's as old a Neels guy as we're going to find. As Charity is assessing Mr. Boekerchek's condition, up saunters The Professor. The first words out of his mouth are insulting to Charity. She has been doing her best to communicate with the local policeman - who doesn't speak English or French - but does understand her German. Everard: "It will be better if we speak English...You have a very marked English accent, you know." ?? Why be rude about it?

Mr. Boekerchek wakes up and thanks them, then gets their names and the hospital where Charity works. He's going to need this info later. Charity notices the doctor passing them as they get off the ferry. He's driving a white Lamborghini Espada. Fast. Charity's father comments on the price of such a car and guesses that it is driven by some "pop singer". After a brief visit to the family home in Budleigh Salterton, Charity heads back to St. Simon's Hospital and Surgical Registrar Clive Barton. He may be a pleasant man, but his hair is receding a little. This does not bode well. He takes Charity out to dinner where she refuses a marriage proposal but that's okay. On the way out of the restaurant he meets a small delicate blonde, "a wisp of a thing", who literally falls at his feet. The Clives of this world were born to marry wispy little let it be written, so let it be done. We're done with Clive.

Two weeks go by and then Charity is called into the Hospital Matron's office and is bidden to go to Holland and nurse Mr. Arthur C. Boekerchek, who it turns out is really quite ill. He has a rare condition - and guess who's the leading authority? Naturally it's Prof. van Tijlen. Mr. Boekerchek needs an operation - so Mr. B. requests Charity come and nurse him through it. After some hesitation she goes (after a little genial strong-arming by the American Ambassador - or someone). She is quite surprised to see Prof. van Tijlen...and to find out that he is the doctor (or should I say surgeon?). His next words are just about as rude as the first words he spoke, "Ah, the English Miss Dawson, come to stay with us for a little while. An opportunity for you to demonstrate your talent for languages; you should acquire a smattering of Dutch during that period." Umm...why antagonize the nurse? Could it be that he's attracted? She wants to shout something rude at him, but manages to say, in a cool voice, "I think there will be no need of that, Professor, for my Dutch would probably turn out to be as bad as your manners." Yea!!! She shoots. She scores....but then she gets all gushy and girly and wished to see more of him. Why? Could it be that she is so superficial and shallow as to be attracted to him purely based on looks?? (not that I blame her too much - see book cover. He. Is. Some. Kind. Of. Wonderful.) Aargh. Come on some backbone. Mr. B. lets slip how much the doctor's bill for his surgery was, Charity is shocked and appalled and lets Prof. van Tijlen know it. He allows her to think the worst of him (that he spends his money on fancy cars and pretty girls). Before leaving to go back home, the Boekerchek's invite Charity to a party at the Embassy - giving her a chance to go buy a long white dress. Not a wedding dress - you can tell, because it has an aquamarine sash. Of course the Professor is there. Of course he insults her. Again. "Don't let me interrupt you in your exercise of the German tongue, Miss Dawson. I can't say that you have made much progress, but enthusiasm is the great thing, is it not?" At this point I could enthusiastically punch Professor van T. She just about bursts into he says, "You look as though you're going to cry". I feel Charity is fully justified in replying, "I hope you will believe me when I say that I dislike you more than anyone else I know." Too bad she doesn't mean it.

Back at St. Simon's she finds that Clive has gotten engaged to Little Miss Wispy Blonde. That's okay - Charity didn't love him. She realizes she's really in love with Professor van Tijlen. Again, why???? No sooner does she have her dawning realization than she hands in her resignation. Charity heads home to Budleigh Salterton to convalesce. Convalesce?? Yes, she needs to mend her broken heart. Sniff. Her recovery plan includes tramping for miles with the dogs, gardening with her peppery father and driving her mother to town to shop and visit her friends. Instead of blooming in the air and sun, she becomes thinner and paler. Sounds like the heart condition is getting to her. I love that her dad tries to help...he gives her a glass of his best port each morning (it's medicinal, right?). Her dad comes down with "a touch of lumbago" (I believe Dr. van der Stevejinck was suffering from a touch of lumbago last week - I'm now going to use the term "lumbago" whenever he has a sore back...because I can). Lt. Colonel Dawson and the rest of Charity's family will now exit, stage right. Except for a paragraph or two near the end of the book, they are now relegated to shadow status. Which is really unfortunate - because a peppery Lt. Col. who plies his daughter with his best port could have so much scope. Ah, well. Enter the Rude Professor again. What? At her house? Yes. It seems that Mr. Arthur C. Boekerchek has had a relapse and wants Charity to special him. Everard has driven over from Holland, with a stop at St. Simon's first to arm-wrestle Charity's address from the "hatchet-faced virago" who wasn't inclined to give out personal information. Up until this point I had little liking for Everard...but then he gives us a teeny tiny, itsy bitsy little glimpse into what might possibly be a soul...and not a deep-freeze. What does he do? He allows Charity to drive his Lamborghini Espada for a couple of hours. After a brief nap, he is back at her again..."I've yet to meet a pretty girl who didn't expect a large slice of attention from her men companions - and turned sour when she didn't get it." Charity comes back with, "You are a very rude man, the rudest I have ever had the misfortune to know..." All it takes is a tiny little compliment in the next paragraph..."I'll give you full marks for being such a good driver..." and she gets all gushy/girly, "Oh, do you really mean that?" He smacks her down again..."If only your accent were as faultless as your driving." Really? Really?

After four days of intensively nursing Mr. B., Charity goes for a walk. As she stands admiring some old houses by the canal who should drive up? Yup. The Professor (in a Daimler Sovereign this time). He all but accuses Charity of stalking him - and while she stands there gobsmacked, mouth open, he takes the opportunity to insult her again. "Close your mouth, my good girl, you appear half-witted." He grabs her arm and hauls her inside - where she gets to meet his Grandmother. The grandmother takes a shine to Charity - and invites her to look around the place. I cringe at the next part, I really do. Charity is standing in the home of the man she loves, and asks him about a ring she sees in a little red box. A ring? Hint, hint. Everard doesn't tell her anything. Why? Because he is The Lord of the Gemel Ring. She then (cringe, cringe) spouts off some love poetry: "but I return a ring of Jimmals to imply thy love had one knot, mine a triple tye." (cringe x 3).

Back on nursing duty Mr. B. surprises everyone by having a coronary...which is but: A Prelude to a Hospital Fire. Charity does not desert her post, though all around her flee...Everard finds her by Mr. B. and tells her it's time to go. She suggests the further lifts. They hear a noise as of rushing wind and Everard says irritably to Charity (as though it were all her fault): "There's your precious lift...going up like a torch". Evidently the coronary and the hospital fire don't have any detrimental effects on Mr. Boekercheck. He is released from hospital a week later and Charity goes with Mr. and Mrs. Boekercheck to a cottage in the country to recuperate.

This is but a brief respite. Just before heading back to den Haag (and from there, home), Charity spends a day off exploring Utrecht...the Professor's home town (this is faintly stalkerish of her). She doesn't go near his house this time, but while walking around she sees a little old man fall down in the street. She picks him up (wow!) and carries him into the dreary building across the street, where, much to her surprise (and his), she runs into The Rude Professor. Turns out, Mr. Cranky Pants is a Secret Benefactor to the elderly. It is his rest home. He spends much time and money (thus the steep fees he charges for taking care of rich Americans - Charity feels a bit of a chump about that now) taking care of the old folks. Juffrouw Corrie Blom is the woman who oversees the home for him. She is a large woman with a massive bosom, who dresses in dark grey. Charity worms information out of Juffrouw Blom, and then feels guilty about it and goes to the Cranky Professor to apologize. He hauls her off to Tea with Granny again. After tea, Granny cryptically remarks, " would have done very well..." Everard then gives her a speech...which is a little awesome and more than a bit mortifying at the same time. He admits to being attracted to her - she is pretty but also disturbing. He says that he does not intend to become "disturbed", so he shall forget her and marry someone who will not take his mind off of his work (sounds like he's in the market for an Araminta). Ouch. All very high-minded. Or do I mean high-handed? To round it all off, after Charity manages to say goodbye, he grabs her and kisses her hard. She then gives her best lines in the book, "I hope you will find some girl to be your doormat..someone who can't say boo to a goose and who will always agree with you...and have dozens of simply horrid little doormats who have to wear glasses and won't know how to be naughty...Goodbye!" It is now time for Charity to ride off into the sunset of Budleigh Salterton...or is it?

She gets a phone call from Everard asking her not to leave until he can see her. Charity's fancy begins to take flight, only to be shot down by Everard when he asks her to step into Juffrouw Blom's capacious clogs. Corrie Blom has sprained her ankle and Everard wants to use Charity to fill in. She rather reluctantly agrees, and as she is walking past him to go pack, he catches her and kisses her with, and I quote, "a kind of controlled savagery." We can now add "savage" to the list of Neels Kisses. This is definitely an outlier - I'm not sure it ever appears in the canon again. His next step is to go on a date with the doormat.

Charity has no problem taking over for Corrie. She even convinces Corrie to let her get her a pretty nightie (instead of the voluminous tent she wears). Charity finishes the rest home job and then goes home because the Gemel Ring is not in the display case anymore! Everard MUST have given it to the doormat.

Granny shows herself to be quite the con artist...she gets Charity to come back to nurse her (Granny is in no need of nursing). She sends Charity down to Everard's office to get her reading glasses out of his desk...and instead of reading glasses she finds.......THE GEMEL RING! It hadn't been given to the doormat after all. In walks Everard: Kiss kiss, you were snooping in my desk, no I wasn't, kiss kiss, the end. Finally - and pretty darn abruptly.

Food: Sandwiches, scrambled eggs, tiny iced cakes, Kaas broodje (there was a serious lack of food in this book!)

Fashion: Lime green wild silk dress and matching jacket, neat cream shirtwaister, long white-not a wedding dress-with aquamarine sash, green and blue organza, green jersey, blue nightie (Corrie)

Rating: I honestly don't know what rating to give this book. I could never work up any liking or sympathy for Everard. He was rude, insulting, hyper-critical, irritable and cranky...when he wasn't being mocking and supercilious. The best things about him are things (cars, Gemel Rings, good looks)...but none of those really add up to any kind of real reason to fall in love with him. His one redeeming feature is that he operates a rest home (which is all well and good, but Charity didn't know that when she fell in love) The character of Charity was lovely - as long as we ignore the 600 pound gorilla in the room. Why would a smart, talented, good looking Olivia fall for such a putz? There was no saucy flippancy to her remarks...she comes off sounding a wee bit desperate. I did love Mr. and Mrs. Boekercheck (very awesome) and Corrie Blom was a brief, but fun, interlude. Granny was also fun, she's got one of the best lines in Neeldom (speaking of a girl that Everard had dated)..."she's only half alive and the live half isn't at all to my liking."

I think I will have to resort to doing maths again. Mr. and Mrs. Boekerchek get a queen of puddings, Corrie - boeuf en croute, Granny - lashings of whipped cream, Charity - treacle tart (I would have rated her higher if I thought she would be happy with Everard) and Everard - a great big "tinned soup". Overall it lands somewhere between digestive biscuits and beans on toast (for me...).

If you really do want to read this book try whistling the Colonel Bogey March while you read. It seemed to cheer up the ill-fated prisoners in The Bridge On the River Kwai.

Cross Over Characters: Dominic and Abigail from Saturday's Child (which I like a lot better!) and Max and Sophy from Surgeon from Holland.