Thursday, January 31, 2013

Best Inspector Morse Episodes

Inspector Morse is paradoxically both the best of all of the popular British detective series and also the hardest to recommend to friends.

It is one of the hardest to recommend for quite a few reasons.  The outfits and hair styles are dated (and not charmingly so). The video and sound quality is poor by today's standards (if practically 4K compared to the Hickson Miss Marples).   The stories take their time to unfold.   So Foyle's War might instead be for those wanting something with gravitas and historic weight, and Midsomer Murders to those wanting something lighter.

Nonetheless Morse is, well, Morse.  Or more specifically, Morse is John Thaw.  Inspector Morse is no ensemble show (although the supporting regulars are serviceable and Lewis is as affable as ever).  Instead, Thaw turns in one wonderful performance after the next.  (He owns the role, unlike his far-too-smiley Kavanagh performances, which may in fact be more aligned with his off-screen personality.)

If there is a candidate for best supporting actor in the series, it would be Oxford itself.  The architecture and culture permeate every scene.  And the writing, in plots and characters. demands re-watching .  One also  appreciates the music and Morse's flat (so the combination of the two is near perfection.)

Here are some favorite episodes (or characters or scenes or...):
  • Last Seen Wearing - Morse's best line, "We ought to be able to arrest him for his taste",  after surveying a suspect's flat.  The headmaster gives a nearly-comedic dramatic performance (and in one scene in a very nice Irish Fisherman's sweater).
  • Last Bus to Woodstock - Oxford politics; pub murder; an old Volvo; and perhaps Morse's best withering glance.
  • Ghost in the Machine -  A supremely snobbish and delightful performance by Patricia Hodge;  a discussion of appropriateness of school ties worn as belts; and Morse's commentary on the distastefulness of social envy. This might be a good "first episode" to watch.
  • Deceived by Flight - Simply marvelous cricket scenes with equally marvelous cricket clothing.
  • Driven to Distraction - A love of the Mark 2; creepy; Morse on the edge.
  • Happy Families - Two dreadful grown sons (one of whom is played by Martin Clunes, Doc Martin)  with the most enviable knitwear.  And a moat. 
  • The Day of the Devil -  By far the creepiest of all, complete with church pipe organs, vicars and the underground of Oxford.
  • Twilight of the Gods -  Sir John Gielgud using Oxford England and Oxford Mississippi in the same sentence; and the always wonderful Robert Hardy.
  • Death Is Now My Neighbour - Richard Briers (Hector Naismith MacDonald from Monarch of the Glen), Roger Allam (who would later be in Endeavor), and Maggie Steed more than make up for Holley Chant's American accent. Oxford politics and the reveal of Morse's first name.
And my honorable mentions are:
  • The Last Enemy -  Good Guernsey in the opening scene; impressive Master's quarters; and bespoke clues.
  • The Infernal Serpent - Terrible topic but stars the wonderful Geoffrey Palmer  (Lionel from As Time Goes By).
  • The Sins of the Fathers - Morse solving a crime at a brewery. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reader Questions - Men's Clothing, Wool Sweater Softening

Bills Khakis; Leather Man Belts; Brooks Brother's Shirts; J. Press Navy Blazer and Tweed Jacket (

1.  I have been following your blog for some months now from my soon-to-be-ending exile abroad, and I truly appreciate the cornucopia of information you provide to your readers on so many subjects: clothing, skiing, sailing, village life, all accompanied by gorgeous photography. The reason I am writing this post is that I am in a quandary about my wardrobe. Due to my career, I've lived abroad for some 20 years now, but I’ll soon be returning to the States. In my official capacity, I've worn mostly suits to the office (no “work casual”) and for evening hours and weekends, I've managed to keep enough men’s preppy essentials to kit me out over time. The problem I am having is that since I've been away, I really have no idea how to do preppy “business casual” in America. I’ll be consulting with physicians and academics, and so suits, at least for everyday wear, are out. I must look “professional,” but at this point in my 40s, I’m not sure anymore what “professional” means. I've seen colleagues in jeans, tee shirts, khakis (creased) and wool trousers, kempt and unkempt; in short, anything seems to go. I feel as if I've crawled out from a cave and now must navigate this strange, new world back home. How does one strike the right balance these days between looking professional at the office in an environment of “business casual”? (P.S. Thank you for any thoughts you may have in this direction.)

2.    Having both of my parents, as Princeton graduates, and while living in CT my whole life, I have been exposed to a lot of "ivy" culture and style as well. I've studied your blog like its my religion, and I have to say, I think it's amazing. I've taken many bots of advice from it and have incorporated them into my own style although I often come to the curiosity of if I am dressing a bit to old for my age. My style resembles my father more and more each day. Haha. I was wondering, being seventeen, are there things I should keep in mind when shopping preppy, things I should avoid, or look for? I see my friends wearing more Polo Ralph Lauren and Vineyard Vines. I sometimes think my taste far exceeds the years that I have! Is it inappropriate for someone of my age cherishing my Quoddy mocs and my Brooks Brothers chinos? Or are there things I should think about being a preppy male teen, as I do feel like I dress a little older than my age sometimes.

3. Thanks so much for the thorough review on Norwegian sweaters. Although I have enjoyed LL Bean sweaters for years I have never owned one of these - until this week. Which brings up my question: I found one of the original 80% wool 20% nylon sweaters at a thrift store - it is the charcoal version with teal and purple stitching. It was beautiful, looked new, and the LL Bean label sealed the deal. But when I tried to wear it I found it to be very rough - like coarse steel wool. I was wearing it over a cotton tee shirt and, when I took off the sweater, the tee had quite a few gray fibers stuck to it. My guess is the sweater was never washed - since I live in the AZ desert, it may well have been lying in a drawer for 25-30 years (judging by the colors). So my question is: Did you find that single, or even multiple, washings were necessary to soften the original sweaters to remove loose fibers and/or make the sweaters more comfortable to wear? Just for reference, I don't have a problem wearing other wool sweaters - even Shetland wool - over a tee, or lambs wool/merino/cashmere on bare skin. But the Norwegian was prickly even through the tee. Thanks for any help you can offer - the geekier the better.

4. What are thoughts on Vineyard Vines?  Tommy Hilfiger? J. Crew?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Blended Fruit Drink

This is the time of year when one can most miss the farmer's markets and farm stands.  And although there are an increasing number of winter markets, almost all food now comes from the supermarket.  One good option is a blended fruit drink.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Classic Prep School Books

What are the classic prep school books?

Classic Prep School Books From the Comments:
  • The Deptford Trilogy and The Cornish Trilogy by Robertson Davies 
  • Peter the Great by Robert  Massie
  • Our Vanishing Landscape and anything else by Eric Sloane
  • The Silver Horn by Gordon Grand.
  • The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells
  • Virgil's Aeneid.  (My old Latin instructor would be proud...though not too proud. I don't think Oxbridge-types ever get proud.)
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Red and the Black by Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle )
  • Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
  • Complete the Louisa May Alcott series by reading the additional books Little Men, Jo's Boys, etc. and as an antithesis, look up The Little Colonel series. 
  • Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead
  • The "Little House" series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Misty of Chincoteague
  • Everything by Jane Austen
  • Everything by O Henry, 
  • Everything by Edgar Allen Poe ( who dropped out of UVA and still experienced literary success) 
  • Everything by The Bronte sisters. 
  • On the Beach 
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith 
  •  A Separate Peace
  • The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden
  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh 
  • A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr
  • Anything by Agatha Christie 
  • P.D. James
  • Barbara Vine
  • The Rector of Justin by Louis Auchincloss
  • The Man in "The Gray Flannel Suit", by Sloan Wilson
  • John Irving's The World According to Garp
  • The Class by Eric Segal.
  • P. G. Wodehouse books are classic brit humor; especially the Jeeves and Blandings series.
  • The Mandelbaum translation of Ovid's Metamorphosis
  • Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose
  • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  • Robert Frost.  And stop at Robert's grave in the Old Bennington Cemetary when in the vicinity.
  • Poe
  • The Little Prince. In French.
  • Catcher in the Rye
  • Anything by Auchincloss
  • Anything by Fitzgerald
  • Novels by Louis Auchincloss
  • The works of Henry James.
  • John McPhee
  • William Faulkner
Books about Preppies
  • Cheerful Money by Tad Friend, 
  • The Big House by George Howe Colt
  • Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead  and Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton are both hilarious, on-target sendups of Prep and should definitely grace your Boat n' Tote bag.
Books on Topics of Interest to Preppies
  • The Greatest Sailing Stories Ever Told. The editor is Christopher Caswell.
  • Albion's Seed, for a greater understanding of the social history of New England.
  • Stephen King, CS Lewis, and GK Chesterton
  • Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
  • The Spoils of Time trilogy by Penny Vincenzi
  • John LeCarre.  Watch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy three times, then read the book
  • Simone de Beauvoir, Tous les hommes sont mortels
  • Gone with the Wind

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Seeds and Seed Money

This is the time of year...
...for farmers (and the rest of us) to think about seeds.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Winter View of Winnipesaukee

 It has been bitter cold in New Hampshire this week.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

MGs and The Owls Head Transportation Museum

Many people's favorite cars have come from Morris Garage.

One of the best places to get an MG fix is The Owls Head Transportation Museum in the coastal Maine town of Owls Head, not too far from Camden.