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 them...as '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...