Downton Abbey returned to the British airwaves last night.  Episode 3.1 was, in my not-so-humble opinion, rather interesting and I liked it.  Yes, even Shirley MacLaine.

The episode begins in 1920, just before Mary and Matthew’s wedding.  The household is in a tizzy getting ready, but Robert is called away to London to speak with the people who oversee his investments.  It appears that he made some very bad decisions during the war, and invested a huge amount of money in a railroad company that is now about to go bankrupt.  As a result, he’s lost most of his and Cora’s money.  He tells Cora and Mary (who, of course, tells Matthew), but nobody else in the household knows anything. It should be interesting to see how Robert and Cora manage without all that money going forward.  I wonder if Martha will do something for them.  Edith needs to marry Sir Anthony soon so that they won’t need to continue supporting her anymore.  And how will Violet react to there being no money?  That should be interesting, to say the least!

So Mary and Matthew do manage to get married.  Obviously, it won’t go completely smoothly (otherwise they could end the entire thing now!), but they’ve at least crossed one hurdle.  I am looking forward to seeing what happens with Mr. Swire’s money.

Shallowness alert — how Bates manages to look adorable even in his prison uni is beyond me, but he does.  And poor Anna — all those ideas for how to get him out.  My heart really goes out to her.  Bates’s cellmate is rather creepy, and, of course, I think something will happen because of this.

Another plot element that could be interesting is seeing O’Brien and Thomas’s relationship fade away.  She has Alfred (her nephew, who’s been hired as a footman) to focus on now, and you can see that Thomas is more than slightly resentful.  I honestly don’t think he’s smart enough to plot on his own, so this could definitely be interesting going forward.

Sibyl and Branson, er, Tom come over from Dublin.  At first, nobody knows who sent the money, but then we find out it’s Violet.  It’s rather fitting, but also somewhat surprising.

As an aside, here is the press pack from ITV.  I see that Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond) will appear in the series.  I’d heard that she might have left the show.

OK.  That’s my take.  What about yours?

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I know it’s been a while, but I’ve actually used my “time off” productively.  I’ve read a slew of books — more books than I have in a while, and that can only be a Good Thing.

First off, I finally got to re-start (and then finish) The Cello Suites by Eric Siblin.  It’s outstanding.  Siblin is a former rock writer for the Montréal Gazette who, when he discovered Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, became obsessed with them.  He traveled the world to learn more about Bach, the Suites themselves and Pablo Casals, who found a copy in a tiny music shop in Barcelona in the late 19th century and gave them back to the world.  Bach has long been my favorite composer and, while I prefer his orchestral work to these Suites, the book is a great read.  Here is an interview with Silbin at Harper’s that includes some clips of Casals playing the Suites.

Next up was R.A. Dickey’s memoir, Wherever I Wind Up.  Dickey is the sole knuckleballer left in the major leagues, but that’s only a small part of who he is as a person.  He had a rather awful childhood, and it affected him until he was able to get help facing the demons.  I love him as a Met, and have a lot of respect for him as a man since I learned more about him.  And, speaking of the Mets, they are looking so much better than anyone (including yours truly) could have predicted.  As of right now, they are 5 games over .500 and are only 2 games back of the division-leading Nationals.  As of right now, life is good, and I am actually looking forward to seeing them play the Rays next month.  Hopefully the good times will continue and they won’t embarrass the Blue-and-Orange faithful who are going to convene at the Trop next month.

Then there was Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon.  I’m not sure why they call her “Lady”Almina, considering she was not the daughter of a Duke, an Earl or a Marquess, but the mistake was not just for the North American market.  The title of this book is the same in the UK, which truly boggles my mind.  Anyway, once I forgot the title, I could get interested in the book.  I liked it.  Almina Wombwell was a Countess of Carnarvon at the turn of the last century.  She was the illegitimate daughter of Marie Wombwell and Alfred Rothschild.  Her mother was married, but everyone knew that she and Rothschild were “an item” and that Almina was their daughter.  He was officially her godfather, but he left her his entire estate, and also gave her the enormous dowry that enabled her to marry the Earl.  This particular Earl of Carnarvon was avid Egyptologist and played a role in discovering King Tut’s tomb.  So, why is the title Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey?  Because Highclere Castle, which plays Downton Abbey in the series, is the ancestral home of the Earls of Carnarvon.

As a follow-up to this, I read through Jessica Fellowes’s book The World of Downton Abbey.  This book talks about the series Downton Abbey but in terms of what would have happened to the characters in real life.  For example, what were a footman’s duties?  What uniform did a housemaid wear?  Etc.  I already knew a lot of the material covered, but for those who don’t, I think the book is worth reading.

I’ve mentioned before that Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God is one of my comfort reads. Before it went into storage, I read it at least once a year.  Unfortunately for me, I’ve only been able to read it once (via interlibrary loan) since I moved here.  I’ll have to see about buying a paperback to tide me over until I can get my original copy back in my hands.  Winner’s latest, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis is a completely different experience.  It’s more about re-finding God than finding Him in the first place.  Since Girl Meets God, Winner has gotten married, lost her mother, gotten divorced and lost her way spiritually.  She’s now an ordained priest in the Episcopal church and a professor at the Duke Divinity School, and her mid-faith crisis was especially discombobulating.  Most people of faith have gone through a period when they aren’t sure God is really there, including priests and professors of divinity.  This book is not quite a memoir, and not a self-help book either.  It didn’t affect me as much as Girl Meets God, but I do think I will read it again at some point to see what else I can get out of it.

In an example of perfect timing, just as I was ready to start Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U, I learned that the library was ready to lend me a copy of Natural Woman, Carole King’s memoir.  In short, I loved it.  I have been a fan of King’s music for decades, and could hardly wait to read her story.  OK, so she glosses over a few things, but not the things I cared about.  She doesn’t go into detail about how she and Gerry Goffin “had to get married” while she was a 17-year-old student at Queens College.  All I cared about was learning about how and why they created the music.  It’s always been about the music for me.  As for the music, I also downloaded Carole King’s Legendary Demos from iTunes.  I’d never heard her sing some of these songs before (such as “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” or “Crying in the Rain”), and it’s a real treat to be able to hear the writer’s take on songs that other artists turned into classics.

There is, however, a book that has more personal details about King’s life, and I took that out of the library as I was returning Natural Woman.  This one is Girls Like Us, by Sheila Weller.  It deals with 3 of the great women singer-songwriters of our era: Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon.  It contains more intimate details of these women’s lives than does Natural Woman, but it doesn’t appear to be unauthorized, so I imagine that the stories are all true.  I’m only about 1/4 of the way through, and am finding it thoroughly engrossing.

I’m still waiting for the library to tell me that Victoria Thompson’s latest, Murder on Fifth Avenue, is ready for me to pick up.  I’ll report back when I’m done with it.

Another thing I want to do is to get back to stitching.  There are times when stitching helps me clear my mind of work-related stress; it’s nice to be able to put aside the craziness I deal with every day and to spend my time concentrating on creating something beautiful.  I’m also looking into buying my own place, and have been scouring various websites and newspaper articles to see what’s out there that answers my 2 basic questions: 1) can I afford it and 2) is the neighborhood safe?

Downton Abbey paper dolls!

I cannot take credit for finding these.  A fellow denizen of the Republic of Pemberley called my attention to them.  I have two words: Bloody.  Brilliant.

Something else that is brilliant is Vulture’s episode-by-episode synopsis of the series.  Check it out — it’s not quite as funny as the one from the Telegraph, but it’s still highly entertaining.  Here is their take on the Christmas special.  I only need to add one thing — the author of DA is not “Sir Fellowes,” he’s “LORD Fellowes.”  One never uses “Sir” with a surname.  NEVER.  These people need to be added to the ever-growing list of writers who desperately need to check out Debrett’s.  The information is out there — USE IT.

But I digress.  Anyone in North America who has wanted to watch DA has now seen it in its entirety.  Even I, who have problems with the way PBS treats the material, could not resist watching it last night (despite the fact that I own the Region 2 DVDs), and Matthew’s proposal was as beautiful as I’d remembered. *sigh*