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.