Wednesday, February 20, 2013

One can't be expected to know how to properly behave in all social situations.  You might address your questions about sticky social or personal problems to someone like Miss Manners, but really, why settle for a poor substitute when there is a higher authority?  In the lovely little book How the Queen Can Make You Happy, author Mary Killen looks to her majesty for lessons on how we can all live happier, more fulfilled lives.

During her more than 60 years on the throne, the Queen has had to perform enough public duties to take the tarnish off anyone's crown.  Even today, she has more than 370 public engagements every year and receives over 50,000 official guests at Buckingham Palace.  She also has a stack of official papers to read every day.  Yet throughout it all, she maintains an air of dignity and contentment.  How can this (now elderly) lady maintain such a full schedule and do it so well?  By looking at the actions of her majesty, as well as what little information has leaked out from acquaintances about her personal life, the author gives us a glimpse into what makes this remarkable lady perform her duties so graciously year after year in the public eye.

The advice is divided into such subjects as Compartmentalization, Frugality, Rising Above Things and Mystique.  In the chapter on Compartmentalization, the author recalls the Queen's absolute attention to duty, no matter what else might be going on at the time.  The ability to focus on the job at hand, without worrying about past or future problems, is something the Queen has been able to perfect to a remarkable degree.  The author points out that on the day her sister, Princess Margaret, passed away, the Queen continued with her official duties (although she did change to a black frock to mark the somber occasion).  We also learn that the secret to the Queen's vitality is her regular dining habits, as well as a dedication to walking and riding, no matter what the weather.  Sticking to a regular schedule, whether that involves eating, vacationing or entertaining, keeps you from having to worry about details.

Of course, a great deal is also mentioned about the public nature of the Queen's life, something most of us (thankfully) never have to worry about.  Great attention has been paid to ensure that the Queen will not be caught out in unfortunate situations.  For instance, she eats very little at public occasions (refusing samples when touring food establishments, something I would find very difficult!), has weights or linings sewn into her dresses to thwart inopportune gusts of wind and doesn't sit at formal functions.  She also has famously refused to give personal interviews or public opinions on subjects, so that her viewpoints and biases have remained mysterious.  This has helped to maintain the admiration of the public for her quiet, noble presence (a lesson her relatives unfortunately haven't always mastered!).

The Queen is happy because her life is very structured, she finds contentment in her service to others and she can concentrate her efforts on being in the moment and making each person feel important and valued.  The advice in this book can help all of us to have a more dignified, content outlook, which will surely help us rule our own "palaces" more gracefully.

The book also contains black and white photos between chapters of the Queen appearing on the stamps of various commonwealth countries throughout the years.  I really enjoyed reading the book, and learning some of the personal anecdotes about the Queen, her marriage and Prince Phillip (who comes across as a very sympathetic figure, something that hasn't happened a lot recently!).

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of How the Queen Can Make You Happy from Independent Publisher's Group in exchange for this review

Final Verdict for How the Queen Can Make You Happy Four Gherkins, for being a helpful look at how to achieve a regal happiness in your own life

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


We take a lot of things for granted in our day-to-day lives without stopping to consider how things came to be.  Our legal system is surely complex and has its flaws, but learning how some of the conventions that are still used today came into being is fascinating.  The series Garrow's Law: The Complete Collection  takes a look a a legal trailblazer, William Garrow, and the difficulties he faced in reforming a system that was biased decidedly NOT in favor of the defendant.

William Garrow, portrayed by Andrew Buchan, was born in 1760 and was educated at his father's school.  He bitterly recalls being mocked by classmates because he didn't pay fees to attend the school.  This perhaps explains his compassionate views toward those who were not born into the upper classes.  He eventually came to the notice of Thomas Southouse (played here by the delightfully sympathetic Alun Armstrong), an attorney in London, and began attending trials at the Old Bailey to learn the ins and outs of the English legal system.  Garrow becomes a barrister, with Southouse "instructing" him as an attorney, meaning that Southouse had the power to steer cases to Garrow. 

At the time, a courtroom wasn't a very just or equitable place.  Once people were arrested, often on very flimsy evidence or so that "thief-takers" could obtain a reward for arresting someone, they were not allowed to mount much of a defense.  The defense counsel could not see the indictment against his client, visit the prisoner in Newgate, or see the depositions that might have been sworn against the client.  During the trial itself, the jury could not be addressed and no opening or closing speeches could be made.  It was pretty much a given that once arrested, you would be found guilty.

Garrow is credited with making many advances in the criminal legal system.  He is generally regarded as the founder of the "adversarial system" we are familiar with today, with both the prosecution and the defense given equal rights to evidence, the ability to call and examine witnesses, and the ability to present their cases to the jury.  Garrow is also famous for advocating the idea that a defendant was "innocent until proven guilty," thereby shifting the burden in the trial to the prosecution to prove guilt.  He is also portrayed as being impulsive, hot headed, and stubborn, often getting himself into trouble both in and out of the courtroom and making plenty of enemies among the powerful people of the day.

In addition to being drawn into cases featuring a variety of controversial issues of the day (slave ships, "the colonies," infanticide, homosexuality, etc.), Garrow must face a number of personal problems throughout the series.  He becomes infatuated with the lovely and intelligent (but married) Lady Sarah Hill.  They are drawn together by their shared sense of justice, but Lady Sarah's husband, the suspicious MP Sir Arthur Hill, believes that there is more to their relationship than an interest in the law.  After Sarah refuses to use her friendship with Garrow to find out inside information about an upcoming case, Sir Arthur decides to take a most severe revenge:  he throws Sarah out of the house, forbids her to see their infant son, and takes public legal action against Garrow.  These personal legal problems take up a great deal of Garrow's time and attention.

The cases that are shown are drawn from Old Bailey archives of actual cases.  It is really eye-opening to see how the legal system used to work, and how you could be arrested and hanged for such minor "crimes" as stealing a letter or being involved in a same-sex relationship.  Garrow's dedication to the rights of the accused revolutionized our legal system and ensured that everyone gets an opportunity at a defense.

This 3 DVD set contains all three series of the program.  There are also some fascinating extra features, including a behind the scenes look at how complex it is to make a series such as this. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Garrow's Law: The Complete Collection from Acorn Media in exchange for this review

Final Verdict for Garrow's Law: The Complete Collection Four Gherkins, for being a fascinating look at an early legal pioneer



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Since I work in a library and love London, I was excited to see this intriguing paperback on the "new books" shelf at my local library.  Killer Librarian by Mary Lou Kirwin looked to be right up my alley.  It's the story of a midwestern librarian who fulfills a lifelong dream of travelling to London, but of course, nothing goes smoothly and there are some unexpected dead bodies along the way.

Unfortunately, things get off to a bad start right away for our intrepid librarian, Karen Nash.  She had booked the trip to London with her boyfriend of several years, the less-than-thrilling plumber Dave.  As a list-making librarian (hmm, this is starting to sound familiar . . .) Karen had planned out what they would do during the vacation and even booked some tickets ahead of time.  While waiting by the door with her packed suitcases for Dave to pick her up and take her to the airport, she receives an unexpected phone call.  It's Dave saying their relationship is not working out and he's breaking up with her.  Stunned, Karen has the option of calling off the trip, or going on her own.  Since the tickets are booked and she's already packed, she decides to go alone.  Imagine her shock, when, having been upgraded to first class, she sees none other than Dave board the airplane with a trashy-looking young blond in tow.  She hunkers down so he won't see her.

After arriving in London, Karen checks in at the B&B she had researched online and booked.  It is small and run by a charming Englishman, Caldwell Perkins. She is delighted to see that the B&B is loaded with books, with each room having a good selection.  There are a few other guests in also staying, most of them there to attend the Chelsea Flower Show.

Depressed after her recent relationship troubles and having sampled a little too much British ale, Karen pours our her heart to a mysterious stranger at the pub.  She confides in him about the awful Dave, his trampy new girlfriend, and how she thinks she might kill him.  She also helpfully fills him in on where the disgusting lovebirds are staying.  Later, she finds out that the stranger has somewhat unsavory connections and might just possibly be on the way to carry out her dark wishes.  Once she sobers up, she is horrified and decides she must warn Dave.  I must confess I never really understood that part.  It doesn't seem to me that you should go around confessing to having taken out a hit on someone, accidental or not!

Anyway, aside from that pesky problem, Karen soon discovers one of her fellow guests dead at the B&B, and even though the police seem to think the death is natural or accidental, Karen is suspicious.  She is also becoming increasingly interested in her bookish B&B landlord, Caldwell, but then a pesky stylish Frenchwoman turns up who seems awfully chummy with him.

Throw in lots of London sight-seeing, and poor Karen was kept exceedingly busy on her short trip.  She even manages to work in a visit to the book mecca of Hay-on-Wye (although, another quibble, 3 people went in Caldwell's Smart car, so I can't imagine how that worked out).

Still, this book is a fun blend of books and London, two of my favorite things, so I couldn't help but enjoy it.  It's a nice escape where the bad guys get what's coming to them, and the good are rewarded.  Can't ask for more than that!

Final verdict for Killer Librarian Three Gherkins, for being a fun trip to London with a lucky librarian


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

. . . that is the sort of thing they like.  Or so says Miss Jean Brodie, teacher of impressionable girls in the novel by Muriel Spark.  This DVD 7 episode adaptation of the series from 1978 stars Geraldine McEwan as the feisty, unorthodox teacher in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The story begins with Miss Brodie wearily instructing students at an all girls' school in Newcastle in the year 1930.  She has become increasingly disenchanted with her position, which she sees as a "custodial" one, keeping the girls busy until they are old enough to marry and become housewives, but not really being expected to actually teach them much. Fellow teachers whisper that her contract is not going to be renewed for the next year.  Her boyfriend, George Jenkins, accompanies her to cultural evenings, but can barely keep his eyes open during the "entertainment."  So Miss Brodie is thrilled when a friend tells her about an open position at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh.  As a native of Edinburgh, the idea of returning, and to a city of culture and learning, is almost too much to hope for.

After meeting the kindly headmistress and having a short interview, Miss Brodie is offered the position.  She seems more than willing to continue a long-distance relationship with George, but he is not so eager.  Miss Brodie arrives at her school and immediately makes an enemy of the dour Miss Gaunt, a fellow teacher who feels her Founder's Day speech to the students was "too theatrical". 

Miss Brodie throws herself into her new job, attempting to introduce her students to things that might not necessarily fit into the curriculum, such as art, philosophy and a great deal of personal narrative about her own life.  Her students quickly fall under her spell, especially her two favorite students, Sandy and Jenny, who are often taken on outings and invited to tea.

In fact, nearly as much screen time is given to Sandy and Jenny and their escapades as is given to Miss Brodie.  The girls are curious, especially about sex and how pregnancy occurs, and are determined to publish a thinly-veiled fictional account of Miss Brodie and her lost love, who died during the first World War. 

Something which was rather odd was Miss Brodie's fascination with Mussolini.  She had lived in Italy as the governess to a diplomatic family, and loved everything about the country, but it still seemed a bit odd that she should so fully embrace him and regale her students with admiring tales of how he was a modern day Caesar.  This attitude is questioned only by the Italian father of one of her students.  Other than that, her Mussolini poster is proudly displayed in her classroom next to famous artworks.  Of course, Miss Gaunt objects to the posters in general, but then again, she objects to pretty much everything!

I found the story to be charming, even if I did wonder what Miss Brodie's girls were actually learning.  Before she would launch into an extended personal narrative, she would instruct her students to open their "arithmetic books against intruders."  The DVD also includes a short feature on the author Muriel Spark and how she based the character of Miss Brodie on a teacher she herself had as a student at an Edinburgh girls' school. 

All in all, this is an enjoyable look at an inspiring, if somewhat unusual teacher who wanted to ignite her students' love of learning and open them up to a world of possibilities.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie from Acorn Media in exchange for this review.

Final Verdict for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Three Gherkins, for being a fond look at an inspirational teacher and her pupils


Friday, February 8, 2013

The popular writer P.G. Wodehouse is mostly known for his stories featuring the valet Jeeves, who must constantly rescue his employer, the hapless Bertie Wooster, from numerous entanglements.  In the newly released Wodehouse Playhouse: The Complete Collection, we see the dramatization of some of the other characters created by the prolific author.  This set contains 20 episodes on a 6 DVDs.  These episodes were originally broadcast on PBS between 1975-1978 and feature the husband and wife acting team of John Alderton and Pauline Collins.

The stories on these DVDs are not related in the sense of an on-going story.  However, the same names appear frequently.  There are many characters named "Mulliner" for instance, based on a series of stories featuring a Mr. Mulliner who regaled pub customers with tales of his relatives.

The first series features a brief introduction before each episode by P.G. Wodehouse himself (very elderly at the time).  He seems to be having a good time talking about his characters and the troubles they get into!  The second series features a voice over introduction.  I was a bit disappointed that the versatile Pauline Collins didn't appear in the final season.

The episodes feature many humorous situations, comic mix-ups, and mistaken identities. In one episode, two men are discussing their romantic entanglements in a gentlemen's club, but cannot just sip their drinks -- they must always perform some unusual action beforehand.  It's never mentioned or acknowledged, which makes the situation even funnier.  There are also many amusing lines which pop up from time to time.

My favorite episode, which seems so timely for today, was "Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court."  This story concerned two poets who live in a city and are mutually repulsed by all things involving guns, hunting and animal cruelty (as they perceive it). They go to visit the male poet's family, and are at first appalled at the blood lust displayed by his relatives, but slowly become enthusiastic hunters (of all sorts of creatures!).
The set also contains bonus material in the form of photo galleries, a P.G. Wodehouse biography and an insert with background information about the stories and characters. I didn't realize that Wodehouse became an American citizen after World War II because of the mistaken belief in Britain that he had collaborated with the Nazis during the war. 

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of Wodehouse Playhouse: The Complete Collection from Acorn Media in exchange for my review
Final Verdict for Wodehouse Playhouse: The Complete Collection: Four Gherkins, for being a hilarious look at the work of a humorous icon

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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