Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Upcoming Reprise

Dear Bettys, 
So sorry to be a little late this morning.  It happens to be my 33rd wedding anniversary and Dr. van der Stevejinck took a personal day. 
Love and lardy cakes!
Betty Debbie

Monday, July 1st.
Never Too Late
Fiancee named (wait for it...) Tony(!), MOC, RDD has a daughter.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Never Say Goodbye - Reprise

My youngest pledge recently graduated from high school.  It was a big deal to me on many, many levels.  Many. 
During his final semester, he took a required class: CWP (Current World Problems).  One of the assignments he had, had to do with getting on a petition website called Change.org.  If you haven't heard of it, here's a little blurb from their site:
Change.org is a non-partisan organization that empowers anyone, anywhere to start and win campaigns for social change.
Every day, people who start petitions on Change.org win meaningful change using the most easy-to-use & powerful grassroots organizing tools on the web.
Evidently, anyone who wants to, can start a petition on this site.   Will it be you?

Where am I going with this?  If any book in the canon deserves a better title, a more descriptive title, and a new cover, this one does.  Who's with me?  Together, we can make a difference!

Viva la Revolution!
Betty Debbie
Grrr. Yet another name for a book that fails to disclose a hint of the awesomeness beyond.  I did a Google-image search for the cover and no less than four other authors had the same title.  The Great Betty herself had three other titles that began with 'Never'.  In the interests of disclosing the delights within, might I suggest another? (cough* feelfreetousethecoverart*cough)  

Isobel Barrington, 25, doesn't like private nursing.  (What Neels heroine does?)  She's plain but pert and due to her seven year stint hitch-hiking through India as a practitioner of Bikram Yoga she's also wicked-agile and in unity with the universe.  (Though that could be the ankle tattoo talking.)
No, I jest.  Isobel is a little starchy in her neat blue uniform and she's not about to let herself be pushed around by this disapproving, if hot, hot, kill-joy.
Dr. Thomas Winter is as cold as his name.  He lives in a gorgeous and frigid ice palace and takes one look at the young woman warming up his sitting room and just knows she's trouble.  But the pickings are slim and he needs someone fast.  His old Nanny, Mrs. Olbinski, lives in Poland (in 1983!) and since her husband has died she needs to be smuggled out of the country. 
No, not smuggled.  (Dang it!  I had just jury-rigged a diversionary device made from sugarless gum, a book of matches and a men's XXL wool suit coat.)  There are papers and processes but they should just be able to sail out of Gdansk.  And so, leaving her widowed mother (and public school fee-needing shadow sibling, Bobby) behind, she heads to their first stop, Sweden, with Dr. Winter.  
On the way there, she attempts to solve the enigma wrapped in a riddle that is her employer.  'I expect you're married.'  His look was meant to freeze her bones, only she wasn't that kind of girl.  She returned his stare with twinkling eyes.  'You expect wrongly, Miss Barrington.'  He looked down his patrician nose.  'Perhaps it would be better if I were to address you as Nurse.'  'Yes, Dr. Winter.' The twinkle was so disconcerting that he looked away still frowning. 
And their relationship goes on from there.  He attempts to be quelling (which she regrets as she sees the warm and kind man he can be while they stay with his friends) and she just refuses to be anything other than herself--restful, full of common sense and able to meet any circumstances.
And then they set off for Poland...in the midst of The Cold War.
Mr. Olbinski was a Polish dissident possibly like 1983 Nobel Peace Prize winner (and mustachioed babe) Lech Walesa
Perhaps you are wondering what The Great Betty had to say on the subject of the Cold War.  Answer:  Next to nothing.  We get an entire Polish interlude wherein the words communism, Cold War, Soviet Russia, Iron Curtain and NATO are not mentioned.  The closest we get to any concrete discussion of the repressive  regime is the factoid that Nanny's husband was a dissident (and lived a nice long life and presumably died of natural causes) and this little gem from Isobel's mother:  'Poland?  But isn't that,' she paused, 'well, eastern Europe.'  Well, yes, Mrs. Barrington.  It was.  It still is, as a matter of fact.  And the Poles themselves?  La Neels essentially compresses the lyrics of 'Russians Love Their Children Too' into a quip about how well the British are liked in Poland.  (Just go with it.)
We get the teensiest glimpse of a bona fide apparatchik when someone, who doesn't even have the decency to sound much like a commie goon, comes to the shabby apartment to tell Dr. Winter that Nanny's papers are not entirely ready.
They do some sight-seeing to pass the time and (we find out later) Thomas buys an amber necklace that Isobel admires.
Editorial Note: I don't know what was going through his head at this point.  I like to think that, even then, he recognized her as someone special (they do share a hand squeeze over some sublime organ music) but I can't quite bring myself to believe that he's already been bitten by the love bug.
They eventually return to Sweden and Isobel has a chance to showcase her exceptionally good cooking skills, formidable work ethic and ability to bond with old ladies.
And then they're back in London.  Almost as soon as they've taken their coats off, a whirl of blonde and pampered loveliness flings herself at Thomas.  Meet Miss Ella Stokes.  Ouch, you're thinking.  Isn't she a bit beneath his dignity?  Yes, she is.  But he's not shopping for a wife and Ella is at least manageable.  The doctor is well able to control his feelings around her so she's suitable as far as maintaining his lonely and independent existence goes.
Nanny proceeds over the next week to develop a thorough disapproval of that immodest 'saucebox' and an abiding attachment to Isobel--who treats Nanny like a treasured relation instead of a paycheck.  And for her part, Nanny can see that Thomas and Isobel are made for each other.
Thomas is 'preoccupied'--a clue so subtle that if you blink you will miss it.  Nanny has told him to mend his wicked ways and get married (anyone but the saucebox!) and he's grappling with feelings with approach attraction to that impertinent but warm-hearted nurse.  What to do?  What to do?
'Do you have a boyfriend, Isobel?'
That did not just come out of his own mouth, he must be thinking.  She answers him calmly enough but he's spooked enough to be gone before Isobel has to leave in a few days.
And that's when Isobel realizes that she's in love with him.  
Nanny's in tears.  (You have to put on your detective hat to realize that she's been sure that Thomas and Isobel would get together and if he's taking off now...Hankies!)
But Isobel sees him one more time before he goes.  'You feel I should have wished you goodbye, Isobel?  By all means let us do the thing properly, then.'  And he kisses her into next week.
Fast forward a week or two.  Thomas has sent a parting gift with a stiff little note--the amber necklace which she wears beneath her blouses.  She's just finishing another maddening private nursing job when Thomas shows up to collect her from Mother's house.  Nanny has been contracting pneumonia.  Thomas has been wrestling his demons.  And when Mrs. Barrington asks'How long will Isobel be with you?' it is all he can do not to enunciate slowly, 'For.ev.er.'
She nurses Nanny and they are eventually moved to his 'cottage' (read: des res, Hat tip, Betty Magdalen) by the sea for further recuperation--an excuse for Thomas to surprise her in a bikini and surprise her with Mother and Bobby (oh yeah, Bobby).  Everyone is thrilled to bits with everyone else and Mrs. Barrington and Nanny are already sewing baby-layettes out of daydreams.  (Heck, so is Thomas at this point.)
They reconvene briefly in London and Thomas corners her about that suspicious bump under her neckline. (Haul your minds out of the Brighton sewer system!)  'Why don't you want me to see that you wear the amber necklace?' 'It reminds me of Poland.'  His response is aggravated.  Why won't she just admit she likes him?  'I need nothing to remind me of Poland--or, for that matter, of you.'  And then he kisses her into next month.
But the next month isn't a very fun place to be.  Thomas has gone on a prolonged vacation (presumably with Ella in the Caribbean--Doesn't he know how near America that is?!) and Isobel returns home to find her mother laid out on the floor with a stroke.  She grows thin with worry over money and nursing her mother around the clock and longing for Thomas to come when she knows that he won't.
He finally does and ruthlessly shames her into letting him admit Mother into a rehabilitation hospital.  (I'm sure he hates doing it but plain speaking is the only thing that will force her to accept the help he is dying to give.)  And when Isobel has rested herself at Thomas' house she sets off to find another job--hopefully one that deals with night shifts or mental patients so it will pay well.
Her next case is a twofer: an insomniac head case that provides her ample opportunity to think. To forget him was going to be impossible, but to encourage thoughts of him was just plain stupid.  Thomas comes breathing hellfire down on her head for taking 12-hour-shifts.  He confiscates her pets and Isobel's control slips enough to suck her into an Ella-induced death spiral (Pull up!  Pull up!) wherein she babbles about honeymoons and best wishes and a lot of other old trot.
Isobel's Death Spiral
The Venerable Neels thrusts one more child (it's quite a habit with her) under the careening bus of True Love's Bliss.  She arranges for Thomas' godson to have the measles.  Isobel takes the case and never guesses that Thomas was behind the hiring (as he was also secretly behind having Bobby (you remember Bobby) sent off on vacation).  She has a lovely time (getting fat and rested) and at the end is collected by Thomas.  Why can't she seem to shake him?
Because he loves her.
They seal the deal on a hillside overlooking her childhood home (which he has just repurchased for Mother and what's-his-name to live in).
The End

Rating: I didn't remember loving this one all that much when I first read it--I think I was thrown a little off-balance by how unusual it is (Polish dissidents!), I had read Nanny as a more dour personality than she is and maybe I'd missed the subtle but numerous clues that Thomas' heart was lost early on.  So, I'm not speaking lightly when say that after this read this might be my new favorite Neels.  (I left a ton of wonderfulness out of the review.)
Thomas is deeply lonely (lonely enough to undertake a trip to Poland to bring back an old Nanny and lonely enough to tolerate Ella and Her Dance of the Seven Veils Shtick at all) and doesn't quite believe that he needs a wife (which is why we're okay with Ella being so awful...Thomas wasn't looking for deep and informative 7-part docudramas.  Instead, was channel surfing and she was the midnight infomercial he tuned into.  ('Set it and Forget it!)). The Great Betty was so consistent with him--he never, late in the book, says anything like, 'He really didn't know why he couldn't stop thinking about her...', negating all those signs he's given that he is being purposeful. (And you know La Neels did that a time or two.)  Nope.  He's in love and maybe flounders for a bit but that's as far as it goes.  And yes, Ella is draped like a stinking red herring all over the place but, aside from using her to get a little response from Isobel, her clinging is explained as just that.
Isobel is perfect--she's plain enough to never consider chasing Thomas (so, oddly, had she been prettier, she never would have got her foot in the door) and never loses her nerve or common sense.  Sure, she can't bring herself to be so twinkling at him after she realizes that he's the one for her (being caught in a never-to-be-reciprocated-love would put the damper on anyone's sense of humor), but she doesn't let her feelings for him send her back into any sort of shell. And if he needs telling off, she's still happy to do it.
Mother and Nanny are darling--watching the proceedings with enough knowing smiles and indiscretion to let the reader in on their secret.  
Bobby is a shadow sibling par excellence.  (Providing the important plot device of being a  financial drain with no pesky hanging about.)
Lashings of whipped cream, for this Betty.

Food: There was a lot but here is some of the more interesting offerings--Sprats, pancakes with jam, Aquavit 'for the men', smörgåsbord, hot beet soup, crayfish, pork knuckle, vastkustsallad, seafood pancakes and apricot flan. 

Fashion: A coffee-colored skirt paired with a shrimp pink blouse, a Liberty print blouse, a cream linen dress which douses her coloring, neat blue uniforms, and her treasured amber necklace that she tucks away inside her bodice (which is such a wonderful metaphor for the whole thing).  Ella is a 'vision' in a sky-blue suede skirt and blouse ('its buttons undone to what Isobel considered to be a quite indecent level').  She also dons a sheer silk blouse with nothing on underneath but her flesh!
Highlights for Isobel are the bikini (which I don't even approve of in real life but thank The Great Betty for on my knees) and a faded but flattering sundress.  The lowlight is when he walks into her house after mother's stroke to see her wearing a plastic pinny with 'All Hands on Deck' across the front.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, June 24th.
Never Say Goodbye
Instead of a caption, I'm just going to post Betty Keira's cover art and title make-over:

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Kind of Magic--Reprise

Dear Bettys!
So sorry this post is a wee bit late.  I canna believe that I have five bairns and tis Summer! Ach! Ye ken?
Love and cock a leekie soup!
Betty Keira

The heroine is Scottish! The hero is...Scottish! Och aye, and it's away to the Highlands we go.

Rosie Macdonald, 25, lives with her parents down in the land of the Sassenachs.  They've been exiles for sixish years, while Uncle Donald Macdonald (who is really a cousin) has taken over the family homestead because dad lost some money some way and now works as an agent at a large estate in Wiltshire(Callooh! Callay! A Working Dad!) .

Grandmother, Mrs. Macdonald Senior, is a martinet.  Imperious, icy, demanding, selfish and stubborn - not your cuddly kind of granny at all. Mrs. Macdonald lives in Edinburgh with her housekeeper and downtrodden daughter, Carrie. Granny has decided to make a Royal Progress by way of a railway tour of Scotland and decreed that granddaughter Rosie will accompany her as her minion. Rosie is not all that keen to go - she knows acting as granny's companion won't be all sunshine and fluffy bunnies - but go she does.  The tour is just what she expected - full of older Americans with a smattering of Germans.
Granny, with all the good nature of a particularly vile strain of amoebic dysentery, declines to disembark the train at any of the scenic stops, and since she isn't getting off, neither is Rosie. The route passes within a few miles of ye olde family farm...which is still in the nasty hands of Cousin/Uncle Macdonald.  A word about him.  We know he is a Bad Man.  Why?  Evidently he had the bad taste to marry a...*gasp*...heiress, which rates only slightly below premeditated murder as far as crimes against humanity go.  That by itself would be bad enough, but we're also given an insight into his true nature. Rosie caught Uncle/Cousin beating his dog - way back when...and she's never forgotten it. Granny just hates him on principle (that's her default setting). 

The one and only time Granny gets off the train, she sprains her ankle. Enter Dr. Cameron. He's prompt and to the point - his patient comes first.  Rosie is peeved that he barely spares her a glance. And so it begins.  Rosie isn't sure she likes him (the apple isn't falling far from the tree - granny's not the only one who wants attention).
Rosie spends a lot of time and energy taking care of her crotchety grandmother - even to the extent of making her tea at 4am and losing out on some of her own beauty sleep.  This does not go unnoticed.  Dr. Cameron prescribes fresh air - which isn't going to help the lack of sleep, but will put some roses back in her lovely cheeks.

While taking her now daily constitutional, the gentle dew from heaven becomes more than a little torrential. Dr.Cameron, on his way to an emergency, picks up Rosie.  There's no time to drop Rosie off at the hotel. Uncle/Cousin Donald is gravely ill.  Rosie visits him in hospital, thus ensuring her family a mention in the will.
And now for a little refresher course on one of my least favorite plot devices:
Girl asks, 'Are you married?' Boy says, 'No, but I'm hoping to be in the near future.' Girl then assumes he has a girlfriend, boy assumes girl can read his mind, even though it's shielded like the starship Enterprise on a secret mission through Romulan territory.
Dr. Cameron drives Rosie and Grandmother back to Edinburgh in a dark blue Rolls Royce (which granny accepts as her just dues...and Rosie worries about the rental costs).
Aunt Carrie has a boyfriend! Despite being a dry and dusty solicitor, Mr. Brodie would like to marry her.  Granny thinks it's a load of rubbish for Carrie to run off and get married at her age...but her beau is made of stern stuff and manages to cut the ground neatly from under Mrs. Macdonald.
Dr. Cameron turns out to be Professor Sir Fergus Cameron - he works at the Royal Infirmary. Granny embarrasses Rosie clear down to the toenails with her 'you are on National Health?'
Rosie heads back to England.  But not for long.  Uncle/Cousin has the grace to pop off and before doing so, had the great good sense to change his will so as to leave the farm to Rosie's father. The family packs up and moves back to Bonny Scotland. Mum and Dad take the car and the family silver, while Rosie is relegated to taking the luggage on the train. Sir Fergus surprises her at the station in Edinburgh and drives her home.
Her: You're very far from home.
Him: Home is where the heart is.
Maybe his Scots accent was a wee bit too broad, but for whatever reason, Rosie is too thick to understand the veiled hint...then again, she thinks he's got, at the very least, a girlfriend if not an actual fiancee.

Most of the the middle of the book is taken up with much gadding about Bonny Scotland.  Walks to Rannoch Moor and drives through the countryside.  Rosie takes a couple of days to visit Edinburgh  - with a little bit of discretionary funds from dad to spend on new clothes..then hauls Granny back to Old Macdonald's farm. For some reason Rosie gets saddled with keeping granny happy.
Rosie is starting to think a little more kindly about Fergus - she likes him enough to be sad that he's going to marry soon.
While in Edinburgh, Rosie spots Fergus driving around with a beautiful woman. Oh yeah, the waters are positively murky.  Visibility is down to zero.   
There's a lovely little scene grocery shopping together in Edinburgh - tossing fairy powder and the like into a trolley, but it's quickly spoiled by the worst part of the book for me: Rosie asks Sir Fergus Point. Blank. if the woman she saw in the car with him was his fiancee. Point. Blank. Instead of doing the Extremely Simple Thing - which would have been to just tell her who it was (his married cousin), he avoids answering.  He thinks she might be...maybe...possibly dating young Dr. Douglas - and since he's being so cagey about the mystery woman, Rosie pretends she IS dating the young doc. Oh what a tangled web...

After finally realizing she's in love with Sir Silent-About-Important-Details, they spend the day together. More gadding about Bonny Scotland. Fort Williams, Lock Shiel, Glenfinnan, Lock Eilt...oh, this is a private drive - does it belong to you? Yes, and here's my mother.  

Being in love means pretending to be serious about young Douglas...but Fergus soon susses out the truth about Dr. D:  Young Dr. Douglas has no intention of marrying anytime soon, wants to marry for money, and much prefers the small and helpless type of female...which doesn't sound a bit like Big Beautiful Rosie. Next up:
  • Aunt Carrie gets married in Tron Church - Grandmother looked rather like the bad fairy bent on casting gloom over the party.
  • Fergus is again seen driving the beautiful mystery woman around.
  • Highland Ball - Rosie asks young Douglas to take her. Fergus looks smashing in his kilt.
  • When Rosie finds out that Fergus knows about her attempted deception, she's furious...
  • Fergus plans to wed Rosie...but in the meantime he's the antithesis of a woo-er. She will have to figure everything out all by herself - he is not about to pluck ripe apples from the tree. Argh.
How will The Great Betty resolve this muddled mess? In spite of darkness and rain, Rosie spies a torch (that's Britspeak for a flashlight) waving and deduces that someone is in trouble. Three hours later Fergus drives by and comes to the rescue. His words, 'My brave little love,' break the ice a wee bit. But there's still the pesky matter of his fictional fiancee.

When Fergus does finally run her to ground and kisses Rosie soundly, she protests. What about the girl????
My darling, you forgot to read my mind - that was my cousin. Haven't I been driving all over Bonny Scotland with you? Let's have a big wedding - you can have three weeks to plan, otherwise it's off to Gretna Green! More kisses and a really delightful final paragraph. The End.

Rating:  The sound you hear is me, grinding my teeth. For a romance, A Kind of Magic is a great tribute to Scotland.  The Great Betty must have gotten a sponsorship deal with the Flying Scotsman...or the Scottish Tourism Board. Either-Or. So...lovely scenery...deliciously horrible Grandmother...but only a so-so love story.  Rosie seems to be taking after her grandmother in thinking mainly of herself - the least little thing seems to set her off.  Fergus may be hot, but he takes being a strong silent type a bit far. I can't quite picture a happily ever after for these two crazy kids.  Rosie will  spend as much time as possible taking offence at things, and Fergus will only get more and more silent as he ages. There will be some great behind closed doors bits...but for day to day living...not so much. Somewhere between a treacle tart and mince pies for me.

Food: Granny has lemonade with her pills. Shortbread, beef casserole, dumplings, treacle tart. Poached salmon, mushrooms in garlic butter(I made these last week!!), cucumber salad. Picnic lunch of sandwiches - smoked salmon, cold beef, cheese and pickles between thinly cut bread, lavishly buttered. Smoked salmon, roast beef with all the trimmings, millefeuille for afters. Lunch with his mother: smoked salmon (again!), trout, strawberry tartlets. Cock a leekie soup, shoulder of lamb, a dream of a trifle.

Fashion: Cream jersey, lovat corduroy skirt and country blouse with matching gilet (which seems to be what we Americans would call a vest - or a sleeveless jacket). Mrs. Macdonald wears a black crepe number with pearls. Pale green cotton jersey, chiffon and taffeta evening dress in old rose, denim skirt (see cover art!) for walking with Fergus - he wears cavalry twill trouser and a cotton sweater over an open necked shirt. An old dress and worn-out gym shoes and extra large gloves for weeding the rose garden. Grandmother's hat (for Aunt Carrie's wedding) is a masterpiece of black straw, tulle and curled feathers. Rosie wears white chiffon with a tartan sash to the Highland Ball, Sir Fergus rocks a kilt.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, June 17th 
A Kind of Magic
Railway tour of Scotland, martinet of a granny, Royal Infirmary.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Daughter of the Manor - Reprise

Betty Keira (along with 3 of her pledges) came up for a brief visit this weekend. She braved a 4 hour car ride with a 7 week old baby, so as to attend the graduation of my baby (yes, that was why choirs of angels singing a hallelujah chorus could be heard across the land)...I still find it somewhat amazing that two sisters who are in such vastly different stages of life can be such great friends and have so much in common.

Amazing and awesome.

One of my favorite bits about The Daughter of the Manor is the game of hide and seek - I love that James is willing to chuck his dignity in the bin and get a bit silly with the kids.  Lots of books in the canon have the heroine out in the garden tossing balls and ringing 'round the rosie, but usually the RDD/RED is more of an observer.

What's your favorite bit of child interaction in the canon?

Guess which two are first cousins?

 'Leonora wondered where the money was to come from.  Dinner parties cost money.  They could pawn the silver, she supposed with an inward chuckle; on the other hand she could make an enormous cottage pie and offer it to their guests...'
That's our girl--Leonora Crosby, daughter of the ramshackle manor, engaged to be married to Tony 'something in the City' Beamish and crushed under the weight of financial burdens and her parents' unrealistic expectations.
 She's hit a bad patch and metaphorically taken a nasty spill.  She's also stepped on some ice wrong and actually taken a nasty spill.  Both her bottom and her soul can feel the cold, wet awfulness of reality seeping in.
Enter the hero.  (What?! Our hero is not her intended?  To which I answer, 'His name is Tony, is it not?')
He skids to a well-bred halt in his great, socking something-or-other and takes in all that fallen loveliness, suffers her rudeness and is charmed when she apologizes.  Charmed but, alas, not enchanted.
Dr. James Galbraith (a man with a name that all but screams, Come with me and be my love and we shall all the pleasures prove...), the newly engaged G.P. for the area, tells us right at the outset that Leonora is 'not a girl he could be interested in'.  My, my his pride is climbing a mighty tall ladder...
For her part, she is a little embarrassed to have met him in such a way, is thrilled to have a 'something in the City' kind of fiance to dangle on her arm and tells him, 'I am never ill.'
Editorial Note: She says it a couple of times and I kept waiting for La Neels to strike her down with a case of exhaustion or measles or even a horrible flu but she stays as healthy as a horse for the duration. 
So let's discuss Tony instead.
This novel can be bisected into two parts.  Before, (with) Tony (BT)and After Tony (AT).
Before she throws his can to the curb, Leonora puts up with flying visits, intermittent phone calls (and no letters, love or otherwise), pompous discourses on subjects ranging from 'Why I am the most important person in the room' to 'Why you should pay more attention to me', and appallingly dismissive comments that set the seal on his scum and villainy, such as, 'Don't bother your pretty head...'  Of course her mother loves him.
And let me tell you about that piece of work...Father, not quite a villain, adores his daughter so much that he'll let tradition and pride make her old before her time.  Mother, meanwhile, hardly ever complains outright about the things they lack (new clothes, bridge money and...oh, um...an intact roof) but flits (even that word sounds too full of purpose and point) around avoiding all the unpleasantness of life in a moldering ruin.  
So, for Leonora, life BT is an unending juggling act of meeting everyone's needs but her own.
Is it any wonder, then, that Buntings, the newly purchased home of Dr. Galbraith, calmly presided over by Cricket (!), is, in contrast, an oasis of civility and comfort?
But the manor isn't all that bad, thinks Tony 'something in the City' Beamish.  With a good deal of money poured into fixing it up, the old people carted off to a modern home (...where Sir William would be less likely to contract pneumonia, he tells Leonora while employing his puppy eyes), and it could be a gathering place for all the other 'somethings in the City'.
And then Leonora finds out.  (Release the Kraken!)
Pouring out her troubles to an admiring and still charmed (but still un-enchanted) Doctor Galbraith (who never liked Tony and thought Leonora was a good deal too good for him), he suggests following Tony to London and getting explanations from the source.  Oh, and he'll give her a lift. 
She opts for the Blitzkrieg approach and before we know it she's chucking her engagement ring at his flummoxed head (You mean you didn't want to be wed for your material goods and shoe-horned into a life of urban misery?)
Leonora supposed she was happy the engagement
was broken but, just too late, had a brainwave about
a cake that would have saved the day.
 Doctor Galbraith is once again there to mop of her tears and respond matter-of-factly.  (All he knows of his own motives at this point is that he'd thought of Beamish as a 'lucky man' to be engaged to Leonora, that he is hostile to Tony and that he was watching a train wreck in the making.)
Mother is crushed.  (Isn't it alwaysabout Mother?)  Father seems to be aware that he's not been paying attention.  But no one really helps matters.  Mother even begins thinking of match-making between Leonora and James (as long as there's a stray man with a Rolls lying about unclaimed...) which makes her daughter want to go into hiding.
And she does for a little bit.  Though Tony continues to skulk about... 
...until James asks her to be a part-time, temporary receptionist for him.  It turns out that being a daughter of the manor is a transferable skill-set.  She knows everyone for miles, knows how to deal with complaints and upsets...She's a gem.  So James asks if she wouldn't mind working for him for keeps.  And since that leaky roof isn't fixing itself...
Tony makes one last try and James gets to dump tea all over him (awe. some.) and Leonora gets to keep her dignity intact.
Of course, if one wanted to snog in a
cupboard and Peter O'Toole wasn't about,
 James was not a shabby substitute...
It isn't until James is having a weekend away to visit his sister that he twigs to why he wants to see Leonora dripping with diamonds and why he wants to chuck her mother from the top of the stairs and why his manservant, Cricket, is nearly moved to tears when she visits for meals.  He's in love. 
Life After Tony is pretty great but now that lovely, gentle, undemanding relationship is thrown off the skids.    She is aloof and he is confused but they'll get there.  But first his sister is coming to check her out.  They play-hide-and-seek which is, in this case, not entirely a euphemism for snogging in a cupboard...Leonora has a dawning realization while James walks her home from this excursion.
Nanny gets ill.
James advertises for a part-time receptionist (but he has one!) and Leonora is fit to be tied.  He finally sacks her outright and she demands an answer to the $64,000 question 'Why?!'  Happily, he offers to explain.  But first we'll have a break for a medical emergency. (A barn roof collapses with children inside which begs the question, 'What did The Great Betty have against children?')
But when that's cleared up (you know, aside from the ruined lives of all those families...) they adjourn to Buntings where he proposes.  But what about Mother and Father and Nanny?  (Yes, yes, is Mother to be dipped in boiling oil or merely defenestrated?  Enquiring minds want to know...)
James' answer, superficially similar to Tony's 'Don't worry your pretty head', is its polar opposite in meaning and intent.  'Will you leave everything to me?'
The End

Rating: I was deep into this one before I decided that I really like it quite well.  There are almost nonexistent sparks between our hero and heroine initially, but what saves this from being boring is the Terrible Machinations of Tony 'something in the City' Beamish and the Sensible Un-knotting of Her Love Life from Leonora.  Sure, she's a watering pot while severing her engagement with that awful slug of a man but her great good sense is a comfort and a prop to the reader even while she's grizzling into a certain British G.P.s wool suit coat.
After Tony (ugh) is disposed of, things pick up between Leonora and James nicely.
One of my favorite things about the book is getting a peek at how she holds the manor house together by being thrifty, hard-working and unfailingly patient with her self-absorbed parents.  How could James fail to fall in love with that?
We're handing out a lot of these lately but I give it a boeuf en croute.

Food: Leonora is hard-up but gets a lot of mileage out of eggs.  She makes souffle and scrambled eggs and omlettes.  We also get scones, grilled sole, mushroom and garlic soup eked out with chicken stock, Melba toast, oxtail soup, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, apple tart, artichoke soup, cheese pudding, baked potato piled high with baked beans (which The Great Betty passes off as comfort food), his and hers beverages (beer and lemonade in that order), corned beef pie, and junket with clotted cream.  Cricket, over the moon that Leonora has come for lunch, breaks out a mortar and pestle to make some anchovy paste stuff. 

Fashion: Our poor heroine doesn't show to her best advantage while wearing shabby tweeds and wellies, an elderly mac, an old blue dress, a sensible pinny, a scarf, and a bathrobe.  Her party dress is a dire-sounding modest silver-grey velvet (and I'm all for modest but you just know that neckline is under her chin).  She wears a stone-colored jersey dress to drop Tony...erm...like a stone.  And Janice the Un-Wed Runaway  Mother wears shorn locks in vibrant and improbable chestnut, a stud in one nostril, long, dangling earrings and the shortest skirt Leonora had ever seen.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pour yourself a cuppa and pull up a chair...

via email (make sure you watch the youtube link and read the conversation over 'tea':

Dear Founding Bettys and Betty van den Betsy:

Didn't know if you'd seen this, and/or if you thought it worthy of inclusion in the blog:

The Rijksmuseum museum in Holland had an idea:
Let's bring the art to the people and then, hopefully,
they will come to see more - at the museum. >
They took one Rembrandt painting from 1642,
Guards of the Night and brought to life the characters in it,
placed them in a busy mall and the rest you can see for yourself! > > 


This afternoon, I had tea with the British Army and Dutch Army wives in the neighborhood.  Both had read a couple of my books to prepare for my questions.  I made sure to include some with Evil or Dirty Belgians.

We drank "American tea"  -- "A happy medium dear....not as strong as British tea, not colored hot water as is drunk in Holland" and had scones and Madeira cake.  The Madeira cake was buttery yet dry.....if you could imagine shortbread crossed with cake, that would be it.  Properly made tea -- loose leaf, in a proper pot, in Spode teacups, with milk and sugar.

Regarding tying hair back with "a handy bootlace" "a bit of twine" "a handy ribbon":
British Betty (BB) "I should like to send your Betty a packet of proper hair elastics.  We did have those readily available from any proper chemist when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s."
Dutch Betty (DB) "I thought my English wasn't as good as it should be when I read those bits, why on earth would anyone do that?"

Regarding all the faithful retainers who stay with the heroine or the heroine's family when said family can't afford them:  
BB:  I don't think Americans would ever understand how it would be more important to keep paying the faithful retainers' salaries than to pay for university for strapping young heroines.  It is a moral obligation; I would consider it quite despicable to abandon retainers.
DB:  The Dutch don't quite get that, either.  Or at least those in my income bracket don't.

Regarding the convenient exchange programs between Dutch and English hospitals:  
BB: We do relate better to the Dutch than other Europeans, but I have only seen these exchanges in NATO hospitals.
DB:  I've never seen a British nurse in a Dutch hospital.

Regarding the NHS:
BB:  One should strive to be a private patient in Britain.  

Regarding nurses' uniforms:
BB: Some still wear sister's caps, which Americans always think look like nun's headgear.  Most wear scrubs.  None wear cuffs anymore.

Since BB had read Roses Have Thorns, I asked how the servants knew Sarah was from "the other side of the baize door":
BB:  The accent.  Sarah would have had a posh accent.  The servants would not have.
Me:  What does a posh accent sound like?
BB:  I have a posh accent.  Don't you watch Downton Abbey?
Me:  No.
BB:  You should.  Listen to the different accents.  You can even hear them in old reruns of Upstairs/Downstairs.
DB:  I watch Downton Abbey, and I haven't noticed different accents.
BB:  My dear DB, you are becoming downright American!

The ladies were, I thought, sufficiently warmed up to hit them up with my real question:  what about the Belgians?

BB:  Oh, dear, not until we've had some sherry.
DB:  Did you get it at the British Exchange?  I can't find decent sherry here.
(Note to self:  Time to take advantage of my military ID and shop at the British Exchange.  Wonderful sherry!  Once I find the Exchange, I'll pick up an extra bottle for BvdB)

Me:  So, about the Belgians...
BB:  Not until our second glasses.

Me:  We are midway through third glasses.  Can I ask you about the Belgians now?

This is the point in the conversation where both ladies insisted I not use their names.  They do not want to be quoted saying anything that might not be complimentary about a NATO ally.  "We have to be nice to the Belgian wives at NATO teas, you know."

DB:  You've been to Belgium, haven't you?  What did you observe?
Me:  Well, we only went to Bastogne, which was pretty much a WWII museum and tourist town catering to Americans.  But it looked a lot like Holland, and they even spoke Dutch.
DB:  (Gasps)
BB:  My dear, they speak Flemish in Belgium.
Me:  What is the difference between Flemish and Dutch?
DB: (Snorts and coughs) BB, do you have any gin?

(Gin and tonics served.  I'm allergic to juniper, so was able to stick to sherry.  I think G&T tastes like sugared petrol, glad to have developed the juniper allergy.)

DB: (Drains a good third of her G&T)  Flemish is a dialect of Dutch which can be unpleasant to the Dutch ear.  Unless you are in northern Belgium, near the Dutch border, where the Belgians speak proper Dutch.
Me:  But I could understand Flemish just as well as Dutch.
DB:  You speak Dutch?
Me:  No, but I speak German, and anyone who can speak both German and English can understand enough Dutch to survive.
DB:  (Drinking deeply) BB, could I please have a refill?  Back to your comment....I presume you couldn't hear the difference in the Dutch and Flemish accents?
Me:  No
DB:  Far more marked than the difference between posh English and servant English.  I don't find Flemish attractive.
BB:  I confess I have trouble telling them apart as well.
DB:  But if you were in Bastogne, you would not have heard proper Dutch.  That is Walloon country.  Most of the people would be speaking French.
Me:  My husband speaks French, but he couldn't understand Belgian French.  Most of the Belgians spoke Flemish to me when they realized I could sort of understand them, even though they could speak English.  

BB:  I think we have to address the dirty, shifty, untrustworthy Belgians who mistreat animals and women depicted in the World of Betty.  Her Belgians are just a step up from Travelers.
Me:  Travelers are Gypsies, yes?
BB:  (Also gulping gin)  Dear heavens, Betty is talking about Irish Travelers!  There aren't many gypsies left, Hitler wiped most of them out.
Me: Oh, my.  It was not pleasant flying to Dublin from London with an American passport and an Irish last name.
BB:  I imagine not.  You would be pegged as an American IRA supporter by security.
Me:  I got the "suspected terrorist" screening.
DB:  Back to the Belgians.  Did you not notice how dirty Belgium was?
Me:  Dirty?
DB:  They don't sweep their streets and sidewalks or wash their windows, particularly down south, not like we do in Holland.
Me:  Oh, like we had to do when we lived in Germany?  (We had to sweep the sidewalk and street in front of our house every Saturday, and wash the windows weekly, or our German neighbors would politely tell us to do it.)
DB:  Yes.  The Belgians take after the French that way.
Me:  The French are also dirty?
DB:  You've been to Paris? You see the litter and the dirt and the grime during the day?  It's only magical at night when you can't see the filth.
Me:  Well, Paris was NOT as clean as Germany, Holland, or Britain.
DB:  It even smells bad.
Me:  Well, yes.
DB:  Europe is becoming Americanized; the people are adopting American hygiene standards, so these distinctions are becoming more and more blurred.  The EU is causing even more European homogenization.  In your Betty's youth, there would have been a marked difference between Dutch and English hygiene and Belgian and French hygiene.  The French were kind of smelly, which they disguised with fabulous perfume, and their hygiene standards were dismissed as unimportant in comparison to their contributions to culture.  The Belgians were just like the French, but without the culture.  That is probably what your Betty perceived.
Me:  That sounds like her Belgians.
DB:  But Belgian chocolate is spectacular.
BB:  Better than Swiss chocolate!
Me:  Do they sell Belgian chocolate at the British Exchange?

By this point, I had lost count of the glasses of sherry I'd tossed off, and DB had fallen asleep on BB's couch after her third or fourth G&T.  It was time for the big guns:
Me:  So, why would Betty have considered America "the place where only vulgar characters relocate".
BB:  Because compared to Brits, you Americans are rather coarse and vulgar.  Oh dear, I could have put that better, it must be the gin talking.

I thought it prudent to stumble home at this point.  So glad I walked!