Monday, November 7, 2016

The Founding Betties in Bath (and Lesser Environs)

 The Founding Betties returned from London and Paris (and just the smallest slice of Iceland comprising the tarmac and the terminal and some pretty swanky toilets) a couple of weeks ago and I have been meaning to post a little about our time there for you.

To begin with I must comment on a subject of intense interest: the weather. It was glorious in England. Our umbrellas came out for 30 seconds in Trafalgar Square before we popped under a colonnade. In Paris the rain was more like four good hours (and much colder). But if you consider that we were there for two weeks in October, this is astonishingly good luck.

Betty Keira is behind the camera.
Betty Debbie and her Mijnheer, Pledge Two
and Doting Aunt are in front of it.
Pledge Two and I landed and went straight to Bath to meet Betty Debbie and her Mijnheer. My favorite thing about Bath was seeing all the places Captain Wentworth had snogged or gazed with RDD-like intensity at Aramin--uh...I mean, Anne Elliot.

The scene of the snogging
Landing in Bath was lovely but there was all that jetlag to work out and the Marks & Spencer Cafe was just the place. Cheap, plain food that any Neels-ian heroine would recognize at once. Chicken and leek pie, jacket potatoes, massive mugs of hot chocolate...

No undies were purchased at this time.
My other favorite thing was Roland the Tour Guide Who Became Justifiably Agitated Over 70s Architecture.
In my head, Roland populates a small village with a really beautiful Norman church. His role is to pester everyone about funds to replace the roof or the bell and to offer one knowing comment to Araminta about her interest in the new doctor. Because he was so helpful, the RBD coughs up the money and the church is restored to its former glory just in time for the wedding.

We stayed in a cottage in a village called Midsomer Norton and the roads were shocking. I mean it. I could handle the driving on the left side of the road (not me driving, thank heavens. I was busy praying.) much better than roundabouts that looked nothing like roundabouts and roads going through small towns that just turned into one lane affairs. Dear England, you convinced me that I am not up for driving on your surfaces. Kudos to all who are.

From Bath we went to Chawton, last home of Jane Austen. The most precious things I took from that location are the belief that Jane was a genius, this gif of Pledge Two in the Regency dress-up clothes,
"Mr. Darcy is worth HOW many pounds per annum?"

..., and this view. I dare anyone not to think romantic thoughts while tucked in the little wilderness at the side of the house.
Lizzie discovered the yew hedge at her back.
Darcy's look told her he wasn't going to extricate her.
Indeed, he seemed intent on pressing her into it.

I was determined to purchase a Tatler and a Daily Mail while in England (not knowing yet that in London they hand out really basic newspapers morning and evening at the Metro) and was not disappointed. British tabloid/news writing is better than American writing hands down (The Great Betty would not be surprised to hear). It's dishy without being idiotic. The Tatler, in particular, was fantastic and I wish I had discovered a huge stack of back issues in the corner of a musty Oxfam shop to squirrel away in my luggage.
Louisa was asked by the photographer to "think of something serious".
So she tried to remember that time she almost poisoned the Twins.

More installments to follow...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cruise to a Medical Emergency

I was driving Pledge Five off to preschool this morning and was listening to the news on the radio about a man bleeding internally on a cruise ship off the coast of Washington State. The Coast Guard had to retrieve him* and deliver him safely to a hospital in Port Angeles.

Of course, I thought of my favorite nurse-aboard book, "Never While the Grass Grows" and the drama therein. It's not all handing out doses against sea-sickness and sunburn, fending off the drunken hands of boozy passengers. No. Sometimes an ectopic pregnancy is operated on whilst feelings of love are discovered.
"Love....exciting and new...We're semi-staffed....for emergency surgeries on you!"

Here's hoping that over the agonized yelps of a patient in peril, the medical crew of Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas had a little time to pitch some woo, as the kids say.

*The most interesting part of the radio broadcast (that the article doesn't even bother about) was when they talked about how the helicopter DOESN'T LAND on the cruise ship. It sends a rescue diver down with a basket and the diver (assuming he hasn't had to jump in the water for any dramatic reason) helps the person in the basket and away they go. If they asked me to do that I would just:  

"I'm fine internally bleeding."

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Happy Bettysday!

As I type, Bettysday commemorations are happening all over the globe with various of our Betties minding young children, curling up with a favorite book, partaking of tea or a lavish dessert tray.

My own celebrations are smaller this year. I folded a mountain of laundry and turned out several cupboards (the Mijnheer thought my backside was splendid as he saw me working, I am sure) and will take some flowers and chocolate to a friend who is celebrating her own birthday.

As I worked, I was watching the program Very British Problems and I leave it to our British Betties to tell me if it's accurate at all. A man was being interviewed and I had a full-on Dawning Realization. Well, not a full-on one. That's reserved for Mijnheer van Voorhees. But it was adjacent. It was Betty-idealization At First Sight.  

Meet Nigel Havers. Well, don't really meet him. The wiki article tells me he's a fan of, if you take my meaning. (We can't have everything, Betties!) But he is undeniably RBD material. Graying hair, broad shoulders, perfect accent. Check. Check. Check.

It's not much but it's my only gift to you. Let's raise a glass of tea, take a bite of scone and bless the day Betty was born!
"Darling girl, You've left me standing on this sidewalk for long enough.
Do let's go in so the net curtains will stop their infernal twitching."


Saturday, September 10, 2016

What's on TV?

TV does not figure prominently in The Canon. It feels like the only time we see them is at Professor Baron de Werd van den Platz ter Brant's ancestral pile. It's often tucked furtively away like a girlie mag in the small sitting room Araminta is expected to make her own in the coming weeks and months of her loveless marriage of convenience.

TV is something she might watch after wrestling with difficult Dutch verb conjugation, already consulted Mrs. Jolly about dinner menus and is waiting for her husband to come home. From a surgery? From driving to Belgium? From taking her sister, Nefarious Model, out?

The programs on offer never seem interesting. And I don't see the new baroness indulging in more exciting fare like my current TV obsession Stranger Things. (That is, as they say, another book. The only gorgons in Betty Neels novels are peppery night nurses.)  

(Actually, in the interest of honesty they share a bit more: Casseroles, a loveless marriage, bicycles, romantic yearning, working in a grocery store, teenaged hooligans, resourceful heroines, missing children, a plain best friend to the pretty one who really deserves a great love story...Oh my gosh, Betties. Oh my gosh.)

I digress. I was thinking of what might be enjoyed by the Baroness when she figures out the whole thing. Here is Betty Keira's Well-Bred Baroness Programming Guide:

Netflix has Martin Clunes: Heavy Horsepower. I really enjoyed it. The baroness needs to understand the massive Friesians on her new husband's country estate.

Singin' in the Rain. Oh. A musical. How diverting. (My 13-year-old was watching it last night and said of the meet-cute when Gene Kelly jumps from a tram into the passenger seat of Debbie Reynolds elderly car "That must be the best meeting in film." And then when Lena Lamont (a Veronica. Boo. Hiss.) comes to blackmail the owner of the studio into making Kathy dub ALL her films, she said, "Some people just want to watch the world burn.")    

Persuasion (1995). A tasteful remake of a well-loved classic sure to keep the baroness hopeful that her own wayward romance will find its own happy ending. In the mean time, Ciaran Hinds will not at all hurt the eyes.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi For the cooks in The Canon (Florina of The Great Lemonade Caper, Kate with her improbably small 100 pounds of seed money) they will appreciate the skill and beauty of a dish well-executed. For the nurses, they will recall that handsy houseman who tried to feed them on Asian food and then get familiar. Olivia wonders when her own husband will try to get familiar...

Antiques Roadshow UK Araminta, being tossed out of her ancestral home by an evil brother/step-mother/cousin with only her mother's old work basket and a papier mache table to show for her years of hard work tending a crotchety and ill man, will enjoy the idea that if things get really dire, maybe there's money in some of Mama's old things.

Hop to it Betties, we need a full complement of programming so that the baroness doesn't become so frustrated by her husband's continual absences that she is tempted to take off in her Loveless Mini to a hiding place so secret she already told him about it. (cough*The Blue Pool*cough) 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Covers That are Ballooney Tunes

Oh Harlequin. 

I got up this morning to get my kiddos off on the second day of school and turned on a video series Pledge Three likes called Good Mythical Morning. They were doing a bit called Judge a Book By It's Cover and found this stunning gem that, once seen, cannot be unseen:

The Duck Shack Agreement by Muriel Jensen. I have notes, as they say. First among them is that the appalling cover may in no way reflect on top notch content.  

The back sounds pretty standard: 
One plus one equals three...
It was a match made in heaven. Rachel Bennett and Brian Tate loved each other; he adored her young daughter. The Oregon coastline was an idyllic place to live, and Rachel's balloon delivery service was booming. What more could a person want?

The Duck Shack Agreement! It wasn't ominous--just a simple arrangement between two consenting adults. It was drawn up on the shore of a peaceful lake, with not a second thought in mind. That is until life became a little more complicated than expected...and the rules suddenly became a little harder to play by.

The mystery to me is who the agreement was drawn up with. Brian Tate? But they love each other so where's the conflict? Another man? Then why does Brian get a name and the hero doesn't? Why is a grown woman wearing a sweatshirt that says Ballooney Tunes?! (Just kidding. It was the 80s. Grown women wore that stuff all the time. Dark days... Dark days...)

The Betty question is: Which book cover or title is the greatest let-down? Or which one fails to fully convey the awesomeness of the content?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Language Lessons From Professor de Wit

I was cleaning with my family the other day in preparation for the first day of school and when we do that we listen to a Spanish-language ska album. (No, I don't really know why except that it makes me want to run away from home and join a band to become their dedicated sports whistle blower.)

Though I studied German in high school and college I have often wished (particularly since becoming Señora van Voorhees Dominguez) that I knew Spanish. My ability to sing along with the lyrics of this album is unparalleled however, so there's that.

"Cuando comienza a irse el sol
Y la cerveza ya se empieza a acabar
Yo me pregunto por qué
Por qué mi amor se fue
Tan solo me dejo, olvidado en el bar..."

I do wish I actually knew Spanish beyond the restaurant smattering one can't help but pick up and a phrase here and there. And, it got me thinking about Caroline of Caroline's Waterloo who bounces around on a horse for weeks to surprise her husband and so many of the other heroines learn Dutch verbs on the sly or even spring good dress sense on the unwitting men under the glow of a rose-shaded lamp. Even The Great Betty's husband must have been stunned when she told him that after all that time as a nurse, she was going to be a writer.

Is there something you wish you could learn that you haven't started yet? Anything your spouse or partner or friends would be particularly pleased by?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Great Mary Stewart

We love Mary Stewart. I can say, very definitively, that her Touch Not the Cat  (found among the Reader's Digest editions in my parents' library when I was in 6th or 7th grade and passionately recommended to all of my friends that year) began my fascination with Mary Stewart, Gothic mysteries and romance all in one fell swoop.

I found this wonderful interview with her on YouTube and thought you might enjoy. If you haven't encountered her before, she is a writer contemporary to The Great Betty though her books are more 'romantic suspense'. There are very few I haven't read and very few that I do not love whole-heartedly. (The Ivy Tree, I'm looking at you.)

When she describes living in a small town and having nothing else to do but read voraciously, I get a pang for what having cable has done to us. (kidding/not kidding)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Wait for Me! -- Fur

A continuing series of Neels-ian excerpts from the autobiography ("Wait for Me!") of Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire:

I thought carefully about what to wear (to the wedding) and decided on a midnight-blue velvet dress. The stuff, as always, came from John Lewis, and Gladys, my mother's retired maid who ran up our clothes, did her best. The dress was to have a fur collar made from an unknown creature with jaws that snapped on to its tail to fasten it. It had been given to me by an aunt and I thought it most glamourous. I proudly showed it to Nancy a few days before the wedding. "Oh," she said, "I see you've got a mouse's skin at last." Down went self-esteem once more and furs were 'mouse's skins' thereafter.

I reminds me of Rachel Downing's unfortunate rabbit scrap in "Off With the Old Love". 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wait for Me! -- Brighton

A continuing series of Neels-ian excerpts from the autobiography ("Wait for Me!") of Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire:

In 1932 our ordered life received a shock when after four years of marriage Diana left Bryan for Sir Oswald Mosley. Sir O had been a political figure since the age of twenty-one...Supremely confident that he himself had the answers to Britain's economic problems, he was about to launch the British Union of Fascists when he and Diana met.
Muv and Farve did not talk about Diana in front of us younger children; it was not the way then--any disagreeable subject was discussed privately...Sir O was married with three young children and had no intention of leaving his wife. My parents were dismayed when Diana openly became his mistress and were shocked that Bryan was named the guilty party in her divorce. Bryan went through the motions of spending a night with a prostitute in a Brighton hotel, which in those days was how many divorces were arranged, but Muv and Farve considered it dishonest. Bryan was miserable about the separation--nothing could have been further from his wishes--but Diana was a forceful character and had decided on her future.


Monday, August 22, 2016

Wait for Me! -- Illness

A continuing series of Neels-ian excerpts from the autobiography ("Wait for Me!") of Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire:

Decca had acute appendicitis while we were at the Old Mill Cottage and the operation was performed on the nursery table. I was jealous of all the attention paid her and when the stitches came out, she put them up for sale and I bought one for sixpence. 
Another difficult time was when Muv, aged fifty-seven, and not used to being unwell, got measles. She was dangerously ill but the only evidence of it was a sheet dipped in disinfectant every few hours and hung over her bedroom door. In spite of these precautions, I caught the disease...and although not as ill as my mother, I remember having to spend Christmas in bed.

I am channeling 'Damsel in Green' when I expect that the family pulled the old upright piano down the hall and gave her a concert of carols from there.

Tangential Mitfords

I got this email this week that was a fun read--well, it would have been fun if I weren't so wholly invested in nurses and nursing thanks to The Great Betty. ;) 

Hi, Betty Keira,
Only remotely Betty-related. :o)
Since you are reading Debo's Wait for Me!, I thought you might enjoy this little bit I found, yesterday.
Jessica Mitford remained in Washington where, the previous February, she had given birth to a second daughter (the first died in infancy). During her time in the maternity ward of Columbia Hospital she organised a "bedpan strike". Angered by the callous behaviour of overworked nurses, she persuaded the entire ward to wet their beds when a nurse failed to respond to the bell. The nurses came to heel.
Well written obituary in the Telegraph, IMHO.
Betty Anonymous

Overworked nurses coming to heel... (Here I grunt disapprovingly.) Below are a couple of excerpts from the obituary: 

His second son David, Jessica's father, married Sydney, daughter of "Tap" Bowles, the founder of Vanity Fair and The Lady. Of their children, Nancy, the eldest, won renown as a novelist; Pamela was devoted to riding and the country; Tom, the only boy, was killed in Burma in 1944; Diana married Sir Oswald Mosley; Unity fell in love with Hitler, shot herself on the declaration of the Second World War and died in 1948; and Deborah ("Debo"), the youngest, is the present Duchess of Devonshire.

I think it's interesting, and must happen to every family, that such obviously interesting people are summed up in single sentences. It is only one step away from the Spice Girls (Sporty Spice, Scary Spice, etc., etc.) 

Her writing career took off in 1960 with the publication of Hons and Rebels - at once a very funny book about English upper-class idiosyncrasy and a poignant account of her first marriage.
But it did not please everyone. "What surprised me," Evelyn Waugh wrote to Nancy Mitford, "was that she not only gives a nasty impression of the people against whom she has conceived grievances, but about those she presumably loves."

This is one of the things that keeps me coming back to Betty Neels. She's kind. Not every character is worth her kindness but they all get their chances and even some of the baddies get their own happy endings--if marrying an American could ever be termed 'happy'. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Selling an AGA

Confession time: I hate Mad Men. Well, maybe that's not quite accurate. I hardly watched any of it (despite being tremendously in love with the art direction of the show) mostly because (and, forgive me, those of you who loved it) every time I did, I got the impression that I was supposed to finish up an episode by clapping myself on the back for having the wisdom of being born for the present era rather than one in which Neanderthals roamed the earth. Your mileage may vary. In fact, given the show's success, your mileage most certainly does vary. And I'm happy to assume I'm the one not getting it.

But another confession: I read reviews of movies I haven't seen yet and of books I haven't read yet and of shows I just didn't like. (And don't get me started on reading one-star reviews on Goodreads which is where amateur writers really shine--passion and verve, it's all there.) It was in one of these critiques of Mad Men that mentioned David Ogilvy, sometimes called The Father of Advertising.

Betties, when an internet rabbit hole opens up at my very feet, what can I do but strap on the old parachute and jump? One of Ogilvy's most iconic sayings is "The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Don't insult her intelligence..." (Oh, if only ads had stuck to that maxim with variations on 'husband', 'daughter' and 'teenaged son'.) And here's an excerpt from his wiki article:

His studies were not successful, however, and he left Oxford for Paris in 1931 where he became an apprentice chef in the Hotel Majestic. After a year, he returned to Scotland and started selling AGA cooking stoves, door-to-door. His success at this marked him out to his employer, who asked him to write an instruction manual, The Theory and Practice of Selling the AGA Cooker, for the other salesmen. Thirty years later, Fortune magazine editors called it the finest sales instruction manual ever written.

"It can heat up beans and toast before you've finished
crying over your lost boyfriend and when a vast Dutch
doctor should happen by and look longingly at
you for food, the AGA will be your greatest support."

Did you catch that? An AGA salesman! I highly recommend reading through the whole manual--it really is that good. Here are some highlights:

  • Dress quietly and shave well. Do not wear a bowler hat.
  • The more she talks the better, and if you can make her laugh you are several points up…….
  •  Learn to recognize vegetarians on sight. It is painful indeed to gush over roasting and grilling to a drooping face which has not enjoyed the pleasure of a beefsteak for several years.
  • Casseroles and stews – luxuries where the gas or electricity bill has to be remembered – become the master passion of the AGA cook. Stock, ham, and porridge cook all night long and lose their terrors for the dyspeptic. Cure the world of stomach ache and heartburn – what a mission!…..
  • Doctors will admire your perspicacity if you tell them that….. if a case keeps them long after the normal hour for dinner they will get an unspoilt meal on their return to an AGA house….. There is no end to the special appeal AGA has for every conceivable class and profession. Think it out.
  •  A deadly serious demonstration is bound to fail. If you can’t make a lady laugh, you certainly cannot make her buy.

And finally, just because it is SO interesting, his wiki article also says:

Also during World War II David Ogilvy was a notable alumnus of the secret Camp X, located near the towns of Whitby and Oshawa in Ontario, Canada. According to an article on the: "It was there he mastered the power of propaganda before becoming king of Madison Avenue. Although Ogilvy was trained in sabotage and close combat, he was ultimately tasked with projects that included successfully ruining the reputation of businessmen who were supplying the Nazis with industrial materials."

Friday, August 19, 2016

Wait for Me! -- A Broken Engagement

A continuing series of Neels-ian excerpts from the autobiography ("Wait for Me!") of Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire:

A London wedding was planned. The dining room was filled with presents--in those days the merest acquaintence sent something--and an oyster-colored silk trousseau had been ordered. But as the day grew closer it became obvious that Togo would not go through with it. To Pam's disappointment, he broke off the engagement and the piles of presents had to be packed up and returned. My mother, who realized that Togo would not have made Pam happy, was relieved--better to make the break before than after the marriage.

Sounds like Pam is ripe for a job on the continent, looking after the niece and nephew of an acerbic professor.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wait for Me!-- Americans

A continuing series of Neels-ian excerpts from the autobiography ("Wait for Me!") of Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire:

Swinbrook was let to Sir Charles Hambro and Rutland Gate to Mrs. Warren Pearl, an American who annoyed my mother by painting everything, including the floors, green...

I will bet good money that Mrs. Pearl had an awful laugh and made her money in sewage pipes or something equally ill-bred. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wait for Me! -- Modern Art

A continuing series of Neels-ian excerpts from the autobiography ("Wait for Me!") of Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire:

In summer 1929 Tom took part in an art hoax at Diana and Bryan's London house in Buckingham Street. Two hundred people were invited to meet the self-taught 'artist', Bruno Hat, who came from somewhere in Germany. Brian Howard, the poet, and the artist John Banting produced a series of works on cork bathmats framed with rope--pictures of extraordinary ugliness, forerunners of the kind of thing we are asked to admire today. Evelyn Waugh wrote an introduction to the catalog, "An Approach to Hat", and the party was a great success...Bruno Hat was in poor health but managed to make an appearance. Pushed in a wheelchair and muffled in scarves, he wore a black mustache and tinted glasses. After uttering a few words of an unknown dialect in guttural growls he was unmasked as Tom, who stepped out of the chair, threw off the coat, mustache and specs, delighted with the success of the joke. (In 2009 one of Bruno Hat's pictures sold at auction for 18,000 pounds--I wish we had kept an outhouse full of them.)

I can just see Veronica showing up dressed to kill, having dragged her busy fiance from his copy of the latest Lancet. She would be dismayed to find that mousy girl from the village there, eyeing the art with nothing like the right attitude, and more dismayed to find out that her fiance drove her home.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Wait for Me! -- Harrods

A continuing series of Neels-ian excerpts from the autobiography ("Wait for Me!") of Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire:

Long after the war was over, my sisters and I used Harrods Bank as a meeting place. Conveniently situated on the ground floor (which is now all marble and make-up), the Bank had green leather chairs and sofas. Our dogs joined the Kensington ladies' Pekes and Poms in the Harrods underground kennels, while we sat above them, chatting and watching the world go by. Sometimes Muv and Aunt Weenie met us there and the real customers stared when we made too much noise. The Bank hosted a carol service every Christmas, where God, Aunt Weenie, Muv and mammon met. I cannot imagine such a performance in Cosmetics now, where supercilious girls sell ultra-packaged face creams.

A kennel? The rich are not like you and me... 

Wait for Me! --Ice Skating

A continuing series of Neels-ian excerpts from the autobiography ("Wait for Me!") of Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire:

Muv and Farve were already proficient skaters; waltzing and elementary figure skating came easily to them, as they did to me. The afternoons on the ice were sheer joy. I had learnt to skate on a family holiday in Pontresina in 1930...and I found an unlikely partner in the middle-aged Conservative statesman Sir Samuel Hoare. We skated together...

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Wait for Me!--Going to Church

A continuing series of Neels-ian excerpts from the autobiography ("Wait for Me!") of Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire:

We went to church of course, at St. Mary's, Swinbrook. Muv and Farve sat on the short pew at the back and we directly in front of them. The effigies of the Fettiplace family on the north wall near the alter fascinated us: six life-sized stone men lying on their sides, heads supported by their hands, elbows resting on stone pillows. John Piper described 'intelligent, wicked-looking former lords of the village, lying on slabs like proud sturgeon.'....
My parents made several contributions to the church, replacing the Victorian tiled floor with stone flags and installing oak pews. Farve had promised to give the pews should he ever have an unexpected windfall. This unlikely event came about in 1924 when he placed an ante-post bet at huge odds on Master Robert in the Grand National and the horse won...My father had originally wanted a horse's head carved on the end of each pew to record how the munificent gift had been paid for, but the Bishop refused. Farve thought this hypocritical of the Prince of the Church as he knew perfectly well where the money had come from.

Araminta's eyes wandered away from her regular perusal of the wicked-looking Fettiplace men and met the mocking expression of the vast Dutchman...

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Wait For Me! --Servants in Love

A continuing series of Neels-ian excerpts from the autobiography ("Wait for Me!") of Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire:

In most such households her position would have been held by a man, a butler, but because of my mother's bad experiences with drunken men in her father's pantry, she preferred a woman. After twelve years with us Mabel accepted a proposal of marriage from Mr. Woolven, a regular visitor who was in charge of preparing the inventory of whichever of our houses was, for reasons of economy, being let. He was probably the only eligible man Mabel ever met. When she told my father the glad news he was furious. "I would never have engaged you if I'd known you would leave at once," he stormed. Yet they remained friends and Mabel always came back in an emergency. I thought her home address the most romantic imaginable: Mabel Windsor, Peacock Cottage, Queen Camel. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

I'm Woman

I'm enjoying dipping into coverage of the Rio Olympics. Of course, my favorite events are those of women's gymnastics:
I Need a Spotter
Jumping On a Stick Hardly Wider Than My Cell-Phone Case
Springy Floor
Cartwheel Over the Obstruction.

This year I am rooting for a non-US athlete. I've seen her several times before. Indeed, if I was paying attention, I might have seen her anytime in the last SEVEN Olympics. Her name is Betty Oksana Chusovitina. Yes. I deem her an honorary Betty.

Photo: WikiCommons

She's 41 and still doing the splits. And, though I don't imagine that The Great Betty was doing piked saltos in her latter years, she was super into second acts.

So is Betty Oksana:

 “I really love the sport,” she said through a translator. “I love to give pleasure to the public. I love to come out and perform for the public and for the fans.”
Chusovitina had said in London that would be her last Games, and she smiled when she was reminded of that Sunday.
“I’m woman,” she said, answering in English when asked to explain the change of heart.
Switching back to Russian for a more serious answer, she said she had thought she was finished. But then she woke up the next morning.
“I felt that I could do more,” she said.   

Saturday, August 6, 2016

My Lady's Companion Quit

I had hired a lady's companion and didn't even know it. I have an internet home--we all kind of do. We bookmark a site or type out the beginnings of a URL out of sheer muscle memory and we check it daily, twice-daily, thrice-daily. Well, I have one and a large part of my enjoyment in it was a post put up every night by one of the bloggers. On it's face it was just a collection of links and a little commentary. You might even be able to say it was simple news aggregation.

But as I read it almost every night right before bedtime for years, I began to see that it was an art not unlike that found in The Canon by lady's companions--the ones who clip articles for peppery old ladies to read aloud. Those poor Aramintas seem to know by instinct how to mix reports of a prime minister's speech with an amusing clipping about a dog while lightly touching on new scientific breakthroughs and a society wedding. It's a talent, really.

Each evening as I was winding down I would get a selection like:

NASA turns urine into sports drink

The most awesome knot on the planet

The intelligence test Thomas Edison gave to potential employees

Elevator Weatherman Prank:

Coal Loses It's Grip in West Virginia

7 Foods that Have Led to War

And a host of heavier fare that would violate my long-held wish to paddle away from the Rocky Shoals of Political Discord.

Now after 8 years my lady's companion has retired (maybe she was snapped up by an RDD) and I have to go hunting up another one. And good ones are so hard to come by these days...

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

COMPUTERS IN NEELSDOM – Another Betty Myth – Busted

I do love it when Betties do my work for me. Betty Anonymous sent me this email and it's a fantastic illustration of how some of these tropes we associate with The Great Betty are not grounded in perfect evidence. Enjoy!: 

The topic came up in a comment in the facebook group, months ago: "I always know a later book when computers are mentioned, only in passing though"
Only in passing? Do we tend to remember only the times where the heroine has no idea how to work with a computer, and then continue to paint all the heroines with the same brush?
There are, in actual fact, FOUR heroines who do know a thing or two about computers.
I had read one of their stories, A Kiss for Julie, a couple of months earlier, so after reading that comment, I just had to go and investigate, and came up with three more computer knowledgeable Neels heroines.
— The Betty Computer Novel— ;o)Computers are mentioned 15 times in the novel. From the first chapter to the last, Julie Beckworth thumps away on the keyboard.
A bad start, reflected Julie, thumping the computer with unnecessary force.
Someone had brought her bag and computer up to the room; she unpacked what she would need and put the computer on the solid little table by the window. She still had half an hour's typing to do. The professor, being the man he was, would probably ask for it the moment he saw her in the morning.
AN IDEAL WIFE, © 1998, heroine: Louisa Howarth
Would she need her typewriter or computer? Surely he would have all that at his own practice? She supposed she would have to ask him. She dismissed these troublesome details from her head and picked up the phone; there were Sir James’s clinics and ward rounds to sort out at the various hospitals he visited.
MATILDA’S WEDDING, © 2000, heroine: Matilda Paige
When she had left school she had taken a course in shorthand and typing, learned how to use a computer and simple bookkeeping. She had never had the chance to use these skills, for her mother had needed her at home, but now, several years later, she was glad that she would be able to augment her father’s pension.
A CHRISTMAS ROMANCE, © 2001, heroine: Theodosia Chapman
She had no special qualifications; she could type and take shorthand, cope adequately with a word processor and a computer and could be relied upon, but none of these added up to much.
Computers are mentioned in, at least, 26 novels, mostly in passing.

My favourite passage:
There was nothing; at least, there was plenty of work for anyone who understood computers and the like and there were several pigpersons wanted, for pig breeding flourished in her part of the world.
Heart you Betty!
There was a computer, too, an electric typewriter and an answering machine all arranged on a smaller table under the two long windows. 'I have a secretary who comes three or four times a week and sees to my letters.' He flipped over the pile of correspondence on his desk. 'Let us go upstairs.'
His study was a comfortable room lined with bookshelves, with a fire burning in the small fireplace and a desk loaded with papers, a computer, telephone and reference books. He sat down behind it with a sigh of pleasure.
This was a small, comfortably furnished room, with rows of bookshelves, a massive desk, a chair behind it and two smaller ones each side of the small fireplace. Under the window was a table with a computer and a pile of papers and books.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Wait For Me!--Perilous Finances

Continuing the series from Deborah Mitford's memoir "Wait For Me!" which is chalk-full of Neels-ness. This one is about making do with not much:

"We all knew that if Muv had been in charge of our family finances everything might have been different. As it was, she had to juggle with what she was given and somehow remain solvent; intuition took her in the right direction and she never overspent. She was the one who put down roots and became part of the place where she lived, and it was she who bore the brunt of my father's extravagances and unlucky investments.
Muv told me that had she had to earn her living she would have been happy as the woman at the caisse in a Paris restaurant, usually a formidable female dressed in black who sat enclosed in a raised glass cage above the tables and collected the cash from the diners' bills. The nearest Muv go to her ambition was to be County Treasurer of the Oxfordshire Federation of Women's Institutes. When she was totting up at the end of the year, a few pence out caused her major anxiety and we knew to keep out of her way."

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Rocky Shoals of Political Dischord

As ever, we paddle away from them like mad. Enjoy this MadLibs to help you through the madness:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Wait For Me!--Nanny

"...hymn-singing and prayers at bedtime. Nanny's real name was Laura Dicks.  Her father was a blacksmith...How she got the nicknames 'Blor' or 'm'Hinket' I do not remember. In 1910, when my mother interviewed her, she was thirty-nine and not robust, and it seemed doubtful whether she could push the pram up the hill from Victoria Road to the park, laden with heavy toddlers...She arrived to stay for more than forty years.
Like my mother, Nanny was always there, unchanging, steady, dependable--the ideal background for a child...always scrupulously fair.
Her clothes were those of her profession: grey coat and skirt, black hat and shoes and, in the summer, a quiet cotton dress with a white collar.
She did not criticize us much, neither did she praise...We would have become impossibly pleased with ourselves had we been indulged with such a thing (self-esteem). As it was, our ups and downs were high and low enough, and Nanny sat on any ups.
Nanny's own holiday was the worst moment of the year...We never considered Blor's own life...she was so much part of the family that she was not consulted about moves or anything else that might affect her. She just came with us. Long after her role in the nursery was over, she remained a vital part of the household, washing, ironing, sewing and darning; just her being there meant the world to me and my sisters."

Deborah Mitford, "Wait For Me!"

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Wait For Me!--Cared For Clothes

This sounds awfully like some of the better mothers in The Canon:

"(Mother) like my father, she had blonde hair and blue eyes, and her fine, regular features were a softer version of his. Totally without vanity, she did not seem to care what she looked like in everyday life, but when dressed up for an occasion she outshone her contemporaries. She loved clothes but possessed few and must have one the same ones for years. I remember individual coats, skirts, and dresses and an occasional evening dress; they were always original and exactly right for her. She was selfless to a rare degree and lived for her husband, her children and her small circle of friends, many of them family. High on the list of people she minded about were those who worked for her. She belonged to a generation of women who were brought up to accept their husbands' decisions and to make the best of their circumstances. "For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer," were widely accepted conditions of marriage then."

--Deborah Mitford, "Wait For Me!"

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Wait For Me!--The Lady

I picked up Deborah Mitford (Cavendish), The Duchess of Devonshire's autobiography "Wait For Me!" last week and I am struck over and over again by the little touches of Neelsism throughout her story. Perhaps it is because the women covered a similar time period (1920-2014).
Here's a little bit from her wiki page:
She married Lord Andrew Cavendish, younger son of the 10th Duke of Devonshire, in 1941. When Cavendish's older brother, William, Marquess of Hartington, was killed in action in 1944, Cavendish became heir to the dukedom and began to use the courtesy title Marquess of Hartington. In 1950, on the death of his father, the Marquess of Hartington became the 11th Duke of Devonshire.[1]
The Duchess was the main public face of Chatsworth for many decades. She wrote several books about Chatsworth, and played a key role in the restoration of the house, the enhancement of the garden and the development of commercial activities such as Chatsworth Farm Shop (which is on a quite different scale from most farm shops, as it employs a hundred people); Chatsworth's other retail and catering operations; and assorted offshoots such as Chatsworth Food, which sells luxury foodstuffs carrying her signature; and Chatsworth Design, which sells image rights to items and designs from the Chatsworth collections. Recognising the commercial imperatives of running a stately home, she took a very active role and was known to man the Chatsworth House ticket office herself.

Manning the ticket office! 
Anyway, I thought it would be fun if I did a running series of posts here and there of portions of the book where the Neels-ishness spills over and has to be posted. Here's the first:
"Grandfather Bowles gave my father a job in the office of The Lady, the magazine he had founded in 1885 specifically for women and which is still famous today for its classified columns advertising for domestic and other help..."
She goes on to tell how her grandfather fell in love with his children's nanny (Tello) but that she had had an affair with a man which produced a child.
"Tello went out of the children's lives for some years after they returned to England. Then one day my mother was walking down Sloane Street when she saw, to her joy, Tello accompanied by four little boys in sailor suits. It transpired that the eldest was the son of the naval officr in Alexandria, but the next three were sired by Grandfather and were my mother's half-brothers. He had forgiven Tello her peccadillo, set her up in a house in London and made her editor of The Lady, a position she held for many years (including those when (Father) was managing director of the magazine). My mother always wondered why he had not married her but guessed it would have been because of the eldest boy. Tello and Muv (Mother) took up their friendship where they had left off..."

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Delightful Discovery

I received this email a short time ago and was delighted no end:

Hi, Betty Debbie, hi, Betty Keira,
Need an idea for a new post for the blog?
Did you know The Great Betty used the small town where her parents lived, where Betty and her husband Johannes sought shelter after they were bombed out of their new home in London, as the heroine’s home in one of her novels?
I was reading Betty Neels – the Author’s Own Story, that Betty Kelly uploaded for us on Facebook, and jotted down the name of the place where Betty’s parents lived. Actually, I typed it into a file, and days later found it Only By Chance—I had typed it into a list instead of below it...
Anyway, I checked if the place-name occurred in the Canon, and it does!
If you want to turn this into a post, go ahead. I would have done it myself, but, sadly, I am lacking any ideas that go beyond stating the bare facts. Of course, if you don't feel like doing anything other than stating the bare facts, that's fine. ;o)
Take care,
Betty Anonymous

The name of the village is Budleigh Salterton in Deveonshire. Betty Neels writes in her own history that her parents kept an open house during the war for "such of the family who needed a roof over their heads". 

The population was under 6,000 in the last census and it sits right on the ocean with two miles of pebble beach. I can imagine that La Neels, with her love of walking and fierce winds, tramped up and down it. 

If you chance to make your way into town, be sure to stop at The Cozy Tea Pot and walk the beach and think Betty-ish things.

Also, while leafing through Only By Chance I found this awesome paragraph which I want to paste into all the books in the Canon where our villainess gets an insufficient comeupance: "He said in a voice so coldly violent that she flinched, "Let me make myself plain. I would never, under any circumstances, want you for my wife." He added, "Nor have I given you any reason to suppose I would."


EDIT: Alas, Bettys, we always knew that The Great Betty cast a skeptical eye on "computer" and she was right--as she always is. Though I searched and searched for Budleigh Salterton in Only By Chance, I did not find it. (We were enjoying a family birthday celebration and I gave it up.) Anyway, dear Betty Annonymous tells me that it was The Gemel Ring (!) she meant me to see.
Here are her notes which (ALAS!) did not make it to me. I blame computer gremlins:
Betty Neels' Parents' Place of Residence
Charity Dawson’s Home in The Gemel Ring

She still had a few days of her holiday left; driving down to Budleigh Salterton beside a calmed and rested parent, she was thankful for them. She hadn't really wanted to go to Bremen; she would have preferred to have stayed at home,
It was nice to be home again, back in the unpretentious Edwardian house perched up on the hill behind the little town, with its large garden and only a glimpse between the trees of the neighbouring houses. Charity had been born there and had been brought up—with suitable intervals at boarding school—in its peace and comfort. She knew, now that she was older, that there wasn’t a great deal of money, but looking back, she couldn’t remember feeling anything but secure and well cared for, and although the house was a little bit shabby now, it still provided the same comfort.
She went up to her room, and instead of unpacking, hung out of the window which overlooked the side of the house where her father grew his roses; they were in full bloom now and their scent filled the evening air. For some reason which she couldn't guess at, she sighed, unpacked and went downstairs again to undertake the task of setting the supper table so that Lucy, who was more or less engaged to the doctor's son down the lane, could pay him a quick visit.
The remaining days of Charity's holiday went far too quickly, taken up as they were with the pleasurable occupation of discussing Lucy's still distant wedding, taking her mother to Exeter to shop, exercising the dogs and helping her father sort through the mass of papers he had spent years in collecting, with an eye to writing a book on military strategy during the last war.

The quiet peace of home was wonderful to her. No one questioned her decision to leave St Simon's, there was plenty of room in the house for her, Lucy was delighted to have her home for a while and her mother and father absorbed her into their lives as though she had never been away. She tramped for miles with the dogs, gardened with her father and drove her mother down toBudleigh Salterton to shop and visit her friends. Her days were healthily full; she should have bloomed.
Charity had been home two weeks or more when her father was stricken with a touch of lumbago just as the early potatoes needed digging. Lucy was useless with a spade, there was no question of her mother attempting such work. Charity, glad of something to do, put on a pair of old slacks and a cotton shirt which had seen better days, and repaired to the kitchen garden. It was the best part of her father's modest grounds, up on the hill behind the house, with a view of the sea through the trees and the great sweep of Woodbury Common at its back. Even early in the morning it was warm work but rewarding; she had several piles of potatoes to show for her labours when she heard footsteps coming along the path from the house.

Home looked just the same. It was autumn now, of course, and the garden was full of dahlias and chrysanthemums and late roses. The virginia creeper which rioted over the house was turning colour, presenting a welcoming and well-remembered picture.

mentions of Budleigh Salterton in THE GEMEL RING, © 197

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Filling Out the Canon

Over on the Facebook page, we are all having a good time sharing which scene in The Canon we'd like to be a fly on the wall of. My favorites is in The Hasty Marriage when Joyce walks into Reilof's gorgeous home and realizes that his net worth is like Godzilla smashing a tiny Japanese village and that her sister Laura has everything.

Other suggestions included:

A Match for Sister Maggy when the heroine refers to the puir wee professor and he's standing within earshot.

The dropped pineapple in Pineapple Girl.

Anytime a hero looks in appreciatively when a heroine is backing out of a linen closet.

When Radinck proposes to Caroline in Caroline's Waterloo.

All great suggestions. But that last one made me wish to see a scene that wasn't written. I'd like to be a fly on the wall of Radinck's stately home when he realizes that that awful British girl has changed his house somehow and that the hole where she ought to be is so big that there is nothing to do but go find her in London and ask her--she'd better not say no!--to marry him.

So, what are some scenes you wish were written and weren't?

(Lots of mine would be where the Veronicas get bawled out properly for their shenanigans!)