“Well . . . we’ve done it again . . .”

It was always my intention when writing this blog to do a sort of summary post once I’d finished the series. Now I find I’m a year out from recapping the final episode and still haven’t done it.

It’s easy to get swallowed up by nostalgia when valorizing a decades-old TV program. (As a lifelong Doctor Who fan, I know this too well.) That Clarissa and Jennifer themselves seemed like throwbacks to an earlier time (characters out of Wodehouse or Saki, perhaps), and that on the show they constantly referenced the past, usually comparing it favorably to the present, compounds this problem.

They are both gone now. People sometimes say the two of them seemed like best friends, but as my wife once pointed out that isn’t the case. What Clarissa and Jennifer seemed like is semi-strangers who discover they have such similar sensibilities and values that they can’t help getting along. Both believed in having fun, being curious about things, and making the most out of what life deals you. They believed in quality, tradition, and most of all propriety; they felt there truly were right and wrong ways to do practically everything – and they told you what they were. Neither one gave much of a shit if you agreed or not.

They had differences, and those differences maybe prevented them from being real friends. But what does that matter, when their similarities were so great? Watching the show, it’s clear it didn’t matter to them.

Their conversations are amazing, because unlike a lot of obnoxious people who are “natural performers,” they actually listened to each other’s opinions and stories rather than just planning what they were going to say next. For the most part, anyway. In truth, each seemed surprised at times to have found such an engaging companion to talk to.

As for their recipes, well, a lot of people roll their eyes at them, of course, but I’m surprised how many work well. Quite a few – Jennifer’s fish pie or lettuces with peas, Clarissa’s walnut-garlic chicken or Yorkshire gingerbread – have made it into the permanent repertoire in our house. And as for those that haven’t turned out (ahem, chocolate “pye”), certainly it was fun giving them a whirl as well. I feel the most important things I know about cooking I learned from the ladies – make do with what you have on hand, don’t fixate on exact measurements, cooking times, etc., use the best local ingredients you can find. These principles apply no matter what you’re cooking.

I would like to thank the readers of this blog – you have delighted me again and again with your feedback. I apologize for any sloppiness or hastiness in my writing, and I sincerely thank those of you who sent corrections! I know some of the links now point to dead ends – perhaps someday I’ll get around to updating them.

Also of course my two lovely daughters, and most of all my beautiful wife for putting up with what is without question an odd obsession for a husband and father to have. That they shared the project with me made it even more fun.

Not much more to say, is there? Only, your very good health! And cue the closing theme, please.

WK

Mr & Mrs WK

Mr. (r.) and Mrs. WK.

 

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One thought on ““Well . . . we’ve done it again . . .”

  1. Will, it’s been quite the ride, and I’ve enjoyed every moment with you. The ladies were some of my favorites, and it was indeed because they were so gloriously old-fashioned. But they were wonderful in other ways, too. As a kid, I always felt like their oddities gave me permission to be weird. Jennifer’s penchant for bursting into song, say, or Clarissa’s fondness for antique kitchen gadgets. Both of them lived life in their own way. Neither of them succeeded at conventional paths for success, and they proved that not succeeding conventionally was OK, and indeed that going outside convention led to a far more interesting life.

    The similarities are what I focus on more. Both were Catholics, from aristocratic families who basically disowned them, and had to make their own way in the world. Both had family connections to the Far East, and had lived there as children; both had some Scottish ancestry, alcoholism, problematic relationships with their mothers, and fathers who were veterans of World War 1. Neither of them married or had children. In Clarissa’s case it’s quite clear why; her understandable desire to lead her own independent life and not to repeat cycles of marital dysfunction and alcoholic violence embedded in her family history. Why Jennifer avoided family life is a little bit more perplexing to me. According to her brother in that documentary, she had many suitors after the war. I mean yes, she had little schooling, made a piecemeal living, and her parents kicked her out after age 20, but she was still a rich girl with good social connections. She might, at that point, conceivably have said to a beau, “Oh Alistair, Mummy and Daddy are so horrible, and I can’t bear it here. Let’s elope, and then live in your summer house at Biarritz.” Anyway, I’m glad Jennifer made the choices she did. They gave her a fascinating, if hard, life and brought her to our TV screens.

    There are still some mysteries that I will probably ponder for a while. Why was young Jennifer so tolerant of her gay male friends in Taormina, but older Jennifer cheered when hearing nonmarital sex described as sin and called the Ugandan Ambassador a “complete animal”? Was Clarissa exaggerating all those tales of her wild 1960s trysts? Where’s the “house in Baghdad” that Saddam Hussein supposedly deeded to Arthur Dickson-Wright? I purchased one of Clarissa’s books for myself this last Christmas, her History of English Food. It was published in 2011.. the last book she wrote before her death. It’s almost spooky, like she knew what was about to happen, because the book has a very “magnum opus” feel and in the last chapter, she discusses her health problems and writes down a menu for her last meal. I’m still hunting for the source for “there’s not a man, on my ottoman..”

    Personally, my best takeaway from the Ladies is to enjoy the good things in life, while I can get them. I’d much rather have a short life filled with cream and butter than a long life filled with iceberg lettuce.

    Liked by 1 person

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