Monday, February 18, 2013

Downton Deliberations - Season Three Christmas Special

Downton Deliberations – Season Three Christmas Special

Following on from episode 8, where the men seem to be all on a level playing field, this episode is set at Duneagle Castle, in the Scottish Highlands for a 10-day summer sojourn. 

The theme of this final episode is one of everyone showing their true colours. All of the spots on all of the leopards come clearly into focus, preparing us for what portends to be a gripping fourth season.
There is some tension evident between Thomas and James with the new assignments as James as 1st footman and Thomas as Under butler. At the Thirsk Country Fair, the Downton team unfairly wins tug of war; James gets drunk and is accosted by the sore losers on his way home; but it is Thomas who comes to his aide and gets badly beaten himself. As it turns out, he had been following James with the hope of taking advantage of his drunken state. James visits the recovering Thomas and they end up as friends after a civil chat and their cards are finally laid on the table.

Tom remains at Downton instead of going to Duneagle, as he doesn’t know the Flintshires. Tom’s feelings for his Irish roots are strained with the flirtations of the new maid, Edna. He does manage to resist her inappropriate advances, showing he does know right from wrong, and bodes well for the future of Downton. 

Even the cameo roles such as Mr. Moseley and Mrs. Patmore's suitor, Tufton, show the very real characters that are part of any society.

Lord Flintshire (Shrimpie) and Robert commiserate about the former's unhappiness. “How little we have in common”, referring to his hopeless marriage. He goes on to confide he will be losing his estate. In a momentary glance we can see Robert reflect on how his own life might have turned out had he not been rescued. In the end Robert has restored himself in his own mind as the real head of the family, which of course he has been all along, having sorting out Alfred's phone call to the police, staffing issues between James and Thomas, and nodding to Tom that perhaps the new ideas of managing Downton are worth a try.  

Carson flexes his muscle a bit reasserting his position as boss while the family is away, but feels undermined. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” We get a glimpse into Carson's paternal side as he holds baby Sybil. The continuity of devotion through the generations is reassuring.

One of Matthew's finest lines before the fateful car crash, “Don’t dislike him before you know him. That’s a hallmark of our parents’ generation, and I forbid it.” Matthew delivers this to Mary, who gives birth to their son – the next generation and heir to Downton. The ever-cold Mary sees it as her duty.

How do you see the next season unfolding. I can see multiple seasons and hope there will be many.

The Etiquette Guy

Wow, what an episode!
Things certainly are changing in Yorkshire! 
When did Clarkson go from rolling his eyes at Isobel to wanting to propose?  Did we miss an episode along the way?
I find Edith’s attitude about her beau quite bold and modern (to quote everyone’s favourite Downton villain) and I think she might be the only one of the three Crawley girls who ends up happy.
The Rose storyline is a big unnerving.  Will she come to Downton and make a mockery of the place?  I do hope Season 4 isn’t all about her antics. 
The character of the episode was Shrimpy’s gun room.  Can we take a moment to admire his collection?  It’s quite impressive!
How did Matthew end up as an officer in the British Army but can’t shoot a deer?  Why did it seem like he had never held a gun in his life?
There seems to be quite a lot of repetition of storylines and script; Tom kissing the maid, the Gunga Din line.  I hope this isn’t a sign Fellowes is losing his imagination.

It’s nice to see Anna and Bates finally happy!  The picnic and Ball scenes were magical to say the least.
I loved the scene between Mrs Hughes and Tom, it’s nice that he has someone to talk to about his grief and steer him in the right direction.
I do hope Tom will finally find some peace in his life and turn over a new leaf.  He only wants to be love and his loneliness and anger are ruining his life. 
A new baby is always such a joy, Mary and Matthew could’ve been so happy.  The moment Robert was talking about change and uncertainty over the footage of Matthew driving down the road I knew it wouldn’t end well.  It’s a shame Matthew had to be killed off but at least he left an heir.  My prediction is Tom and Mary will join forces to run the estate until the baby is old enough to take over. 
It has been quite a journey this season and a delight to work with Jay to bring Downton Deliberations to the blogisphere each week!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mom and Pop Etiquette

I have noticed a lot of comments recently about making excuses for one’s unruly and rude children. Discussions and questions about this topic have always puzzled us on this seemingly inescapable reality. Nothing could be simpler to understand and we need not search far for the answer to this mystery. And, I have mentioned this on numerous occasions in various blog posts and news articles – including here in this column.

In its simplest form the fact is that children learn mostly from their parents. They watch and they listen and then they mimic. The rub comes from parents who either have bad manners themselves or who are “too busy” to be responsible. Perhaps they should have thought about this before bringing children into the world. The task of raising children is enormous and not to be taken lightly. Parenting means being in a relationship with your child for a lifetime. There is no divorce proceeding if the relationship is not what you thought it was going to be. As the saying goes, anyone can make a baby, but raising a child is quite another matter.

There are other ways in which children learn their behaviors and develop social skills. Schools are the most obvious and most influential source. After all, the majority of a child’s waking hours are usually spent at school rather than at home. Teachers have an enormous influence on children. This realization is one very real reason why parents would do themselves and their children a great service by being involved in their children’s schools. It needs to be a priority, and not shoved aside as inconvenient or the ever so easy not enough time excuse. If one looks at this investment of time as one does a bank account, my advice is to be sure to keep a healthy balance.

Extracurricular activities such as sports, scouts, or arts groups are another great source where children develop skills in civil behavior, self-confidence, and communication skills. These activities, although ancillary to schooling and at-home experiences, they should not be considered substitutions for good parenting. Children may come home on some days with more questions than answers and it is the responsibility of their parents to guide them through this morass of confusion.

Making friends and connecting with other children is foremost in the minds of children. This is a basic human need and continues throughout our lives. Learning to do this skillfully from the very start is critical to developing a healthy position in society in general and in their communities specifically. Parents need to make the time to guide children through this complicated maze. Setting a good example at home is the most successful way to being a good guide. Where coaches on the hockey field may explain the rules of the game and basic sportsmanship, the parents demonstrate how these important values play out off the ice, so to speak.

We too often forget or do not consider to begin with that the children we raise today are tomorrow’s parents and community leaders. This is clearly proven with the increase of such behaviors as bullying and making poor choices, which are both dangerous, and in many cases, illegal. Turning a blind eye to children who exhibit inappropriate behaviors is a real disservice to them and quite frankly, to all of us.

The old Mom and Pop etiquette of encouraging children to excel in ways where they naturally resonate is a fine place to begin. Engaging in this process with them helps them to build healthy confidence in themselves and in those of us who are parents or guardians. Tuning in to children’s fears and frustrations and listening to them can also make it possible to guide children to make good decisions. And showing them just exactly how The Golden Rule works can serve as a great piece of instruction for navigating life’s challenges.

Make family dinners a priority. Here children should learn good table manners, respectful communication skills, and camaraderie. Using these tools repeatedly enable children to succeed in the world. Without them, they are at a great disadvantage. Parents hold this incredible power in their hands. When people ask me about making excuses for their children or wondering where these behaviors were learned, my answer is always simple. Become aware of and take full responsibility for your own behaviour and your children will follow suit. This dynamic will happen no matter whether your actions are appropriate or not – make sure they reflect the values you want to pass on to the next generation.   

Monday, February 11, 2013

Downton Deliberations - Season 3 Episode 7

In this, the penultimate episode to this exciting third season, the big news of course is that Bates is free! 

But the men at the center of the action this week are Thomas and Robert. Thomas’ role at Downton may be changing. The seemingly evil Thomas is clearly struggling with his sexuality and his loneliness. In his attempt to curry favour with James,

Robert is still twisted about his lesser role at Downton. Although he delivers a very short but cordial greeting to Bates, is preoccupied with facing Matthew, Tom, and Edith’s non-traditional challenges. Robert challenges Matthew’s suggestions for updating Downton.

Frank talk brings tempers forward. Mr. Jarvis – 'the old broom' – steps aside, resigning after 40 years of service. “I wish you luck with your sweeping.”

Thomas gives James some unsolicited advice on getting ahead of Alfred. When James tries to trip up Alfred, Carson sees what's going on and advises James, “Don’t waste a chance once it is given."  Being dressed down in public was as humiliating then as it is today. Thomas puts a gentle move on James. Noticed by the nosy Miss O’Brien, she lies, stirring up the pot, telling Thomas that Alfred says he thinks James may like Thomas. His strong visceral attraction to James gets the better of him. He makes his move; Alfred catches him, and the tensions rise.

Miss O’Brien puts Alfred in the spot of having to fess up to Carson. Alfred explains what he saw to Carson. Carson replies, “The world can be shocking place, Alfred. You are a man now, and must learn to take it on the chin.” Carson then speaks to Thomas harshly but with a bit of compassion. Thomas admits his feelings for James to Carson and comes clean that James is innocentCarson remarks to Mrs. Hughes, “Human nature is a funny business, isn’t it?” 

Tom’s role at Downton is reconsidered. Tom puts his "diamond in the rough" visiting brother in his place, finally gaining some favor with Carson. Despite Robert's stupidly rude comments about Catholic Church services, Tom quickly changes his mind, assuring him it is Sybil's wish as the reason the child is to be christened as Catholic. Tom shows he has no tolerance for being bullied by the likes of the aristocracy, nor does he allow them disrespect, especially Lady Grantham.

Parallel to charting a new course for Downton, Matthew is trying to chart a new course for Mary and him to start a family; however, he is downtrodden about his potential virility challenges. Matthew explains to Mary that she must believe in him and his ideas for Downton, winning her over convincingly - to my view for the first time!

Let's see what next week brings. Thomas is bound to a central figure - wouldn't you agree?

The Etiquette Guy

Finally!  Bates & Anna are reunited as he is released from prison.  Perhaps now their storyline can get back on track and they can have a real honeymoon.  How sweet was their drive to the Abbey?  Awww they are so happy!  I am sure it will be an adjustment for both of them but with Robert’s sage advice to bates to stay in bed and read some books, I am sure they will find their way.
Edith plans to make the journey to London so see about advancing her writing career.  Robert is not best pleased and is sure to make sure his opinion is known.  She meets Mr Gregson who takes her to lunch.  Could he be her next suitor?  
Ethel is being treated very poorly in the village and even though she is working hard to change the course of her life, she doesn’t seem to be able to shake the stigma of her past.  Isobel feels one much stand up to bullies but in the end a solution is found.  

Oh Thomas.  When will you learn?  Of course Jimmy was going to lose his mind when he found you trying to kiss him in the middle of the night!  When will this boy learn?
Tom has decided Baby Sybil will be baptized in the Catholic church in Ripon and asks Mary to be the godmother.  His brother, a ‘rough diamond’ will be the godfather.  A lovely moment between Tom and Mary as she tells him she likes diamonds.  I can imagine Mary, Sybil, Matthew and Tom would’ve been great friends has things turned out differently.  When Kieran arrives we get a glimpse into the life Tom came from.  Rough diamond is an understatement!  He promptly installs himself in the servants’ hall and Tom has to order him upstairs.  At dinner, Tom’s plan to live above his brother’s garage with the baby goes down like a lead balloon and the conversation carries to the subject of the christening.  Fortunately Robert agrees to be there but only after comparing mass to a gymnastics event.

Robert and Matthew meet with the estate manager and it doesn’t go well.  Matthew’s ideas are too progressive for the other men and the estate manager resigns, leaving them at loggerheads and without someone to run the show.  Fortunately Violet, always the puppet master, suggests Tom.  All the pieces are falling into place!

Cora and Robert have obviously made up and she suggests he leave downstairs issues to Carson.  Thomas is still an uncertainty now that Mr Bates is back.  There is no doubt Robert will have Bates as his valet again, where will this leave Thomas?  He has been up and down this ladder so many times in the last three seasons, it’s hard to keep up with where he ranks in the house!  Cora also insists Tom be allowed to stay as long as he wants.  There is no way this grandmamma is going to be parted from her daughter’s baby.

In the end the christening is a family affair and Robert isn’t recruited by the Papists.  A series of lovely photos are taken and we know they will all stay together at Downton.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Telephone and Email Etiquette

With the introduction of so much new technology over the past two decades comes a whole new set of etiquette guidelines. Thankfully in the case of both telephone calls and emails, the etiquette is still based on age-old traditional guidelines. The important point to remember in either of these forms of communication is the need to connect with other people. Effective communication can only happen if both parties understand one another clearly.

When using a cellphone, smartphone, or the good old Princess push-button the same rules apply.

1.     Answer the phone with a smile on your face.
2.     If on a business call, be sure you are dressed appropriately – yes, as though you were standing face-to-face. It helps get you in the right frame of mind.
3.     If possible stand, or at the very least sit up when speaking on the phone. This adds to a tone of confidence.
4.     Be mindful of the tone you use in delivering your words. Without the benefit of seeing one’s facial expressions and body language, tone plays a much larger part in the message.
5.     Use the other person’s name in a sentence to draw special emphasis to your point. Resist raising your voice.
6.     If you are phoning to have a long unscheduled conversation, be sure to show respect for the other person’s time by asking if this is a convenient time for a chat. If it is, wonderful; if it isn’t, reschedule. My advice is to always schedule important telephone calls.
7.     Resist making contact by telephone when in a highly charged emotional state, unless of course you are facing an emergency or deep grief. Personal calls are a time for expressing emotions; with business calls we should keep facts and feelings clearly separated and wait until we are calmer before we dial the number.
8.     When leaving a message, be sure to speak slowly, spelling your name clearly if necessary. Leave the date and time of your call and the purpose of your call. If you request a call back, leave a time when it will be convenient for you to take a return call.
9.     Maintain a civil level of discussion and do not hang up the phone without saying goodbye. Having mutual compassion for one another and for one’s self helps avoid bullying tactics during any connection.
10.  Wipe the telephone receiver or hand held device with an antibacterial agent.

When communicating via email, treat all correspondence as if you were writing a letter to be sent in the mail. The only difference is the length of time for delivery. 

Important points to remember are:
1.     For business correspondence, be sure to use a proper header – as would appear on formal letterhead.
2.     Be sure the salutations are appropriate. Avoid overfamiliarity in business communiqu├ęs.
3.     Spelling mistakes are avoidable and unforgivable. Don’t trust ‘spellcheck’!
4.     Ditto grammar mistakes. If you are weak in this area, find someone who knows proper usage and have him or her proofread every letter you plan to send.  
5.     The tone of your message should be appropriate. Remember that not only can the recipient not see your facial expression or body language; they cannot hear your voice inflections. Read your message out loud before hitting the ‘send’ button.
6.     There is no recalling an email once it is sent. None whatsoever!
7.     Answer all emails within 24 hours, when possible.
8.     If you receive correspondence via email, the sender is expecting a reply via email, unless stated otherwise in the message.
9.     It is acceptable to follow up on an email you suspect may have gone astray – in a junk or spam file by mistake. Wait 24 hours for such a follow-up.
10. If mailing to more than one person, double check your cc and bcc windows and avoid sharing others’ email addresses in error – very bad form!

These guidelines in no way cover every situation, but they are a good place to start. Making connections with others is a human need we all have. Let’s make sure the message we send is received with the understanding we intended. This is a good place to begin. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Downton Deliberations – Season 3 Episode 6

With all the grief having infiltrated the house, Cora lays it on thick and heavy with Robert. However, whether the men are still licking their wounds, having let their egos run amuck in the previous episode, or they are reestablishing their pecking order; there is a lot of chest puffing and postulating. If nothing they point to how much better and easier life would be were women of more equal stature. They usually bow to them in the end with gratitude anyways.

The subject of Tom leaving the estate comes up. He asserts he will be bringing up the baby as a Catholic. Caught unawares, Robert hadn’t even thought of that as a possibility. Robert shows how he’s losing control of many parts of his life; his arguments fall on a deaf ear, unsuccessfully with Mary; and only Violet can console him with her wisdom.

At dinner one evening, the Vicar gets into a shameful argument about the superiority in God’s eyes the Church of England has over the Catholic Church. Robert overstates his position on being anti-Catholic. Thankfully, before they disgrace themselves further, Cora chimes in, “Not everyone chooses their religion to satisfy Debretts”. 

But there also seems to be a pensive theme woven throughout this episode. Examples include Tom and Matthew discussing their futures ominously, Bates and Mr. Murray preparing to do battle with Mrs. Bates, or Carson flipping his wig on more than one occasion. Carson certainly is entrenched in his ways.

Robert’s mettle is really tested further when he bristles against Matthew and Tom when the conversation turns to the future running of Downton, implying past deficiencies. 

Robert barges in on Mrs. Crawley’s ladies’ luncheon, feeling their being in the presence of a prostitute has disgraced his family’s honor. Once again Cora steps in and quietly shares, “Robert often makes decisions based on values that have no relevance anymore”. His family rebuffs him unanimously, refusing to leave the luncheon. If that were not enough, Cora rebuffs him again that night when he asks to move back into “their” bedroom.

Mary points out that the world isn’t going his way, and that is what is bothering him. She helps Robert to come back to center, although he has still to make up with Cora.

News comes that Bates will be released from prison and Robert is truly grateful and happy. And then to boost his spirits a bit more, Dr. Clarkson, under prodding from Violet, explains that Sybil’s death was virtually inevitable, allowing Cora to quickly forgive Robert, leaving them weeping in one another’s arms.

I can’t wait to see what happens next week, with Bates presumably returning. No doubt some feathers will be ruffled. Please leave your comments below and start a conversation!

The Etiquette Guy

I still get chills when the music starts even though this season of Downton has taken a dramatic and sad turn.  We start with everyone returning from Sybil’s funeral and it’s easy to wonder if the family will ever recover.  Alan Leech’s acting is tremendous; he has transformed himself into the perfect picture of a grieving husband.

Violet seems to have aged a hundred years; I hope this wont get the best of her and leave us without the Dowager Countess next season.  In the meantime she has a meeting with Dr. Clarkson about Sybil’s death.  She convinces him to tell Cora and Robert that Sybil would’ve died regardless of who her doctor was in an attempt to save their marriage.  "Lie is so unmusical a word" is the line of the episode.

Robert is taking his grief out on Tom who wants to leave Downton with the baby, name her Sybil and christen her Catholic.  It’s almost more than Robert can stomach under the circumstances.  He goes so far as to invite the local vicar to dinner in an attempt to make Tom see the light.  It’s no surprise how that dinner went and the rest of the family stands up for Tom, even Violet.  Mary tells everyone that Sybil told her she wants the baby baptized Catholic, which seems to be the end of that argument. Eventually Mary talks Robert around, speaking of Sybil’s love for Tom. 

Matthew and Tom discuss the future of the estate when Matthew learns how much Tom knows about farming.  Given the bond between the two of them it wouldn’t be surprising to find Matthew convincing Tom to stay and help run the estate.

Cora asks if it’s ever really over when one loses a child.  I think it’s safe to say the answer is no.  The tension between her and Robert seems insurmountable even though Robert desperately wants back into their bedroom. Being American she is much more practical and just can’t bring herself to forgive Robert for being the reason Sybil died. 

Ethel is doing her best to learn how to be a housemaid and cook.  Of all of them she knows perhaps the most the grief Cora is facing.  It’s not quite the same thing but certainly Edith knows she will never see her child again too.  It’s interesting they way they have countered Edith and Cora in this episode, two women, from opposite ends of the class system, facing a life without their child.  In a brave move Ethel approaches Mrs. Patmore for some cooking lessons which, when is found out by Mr. Carson, just about causes him to spontaneously combust.  It seems any women going to Isobel’s house will be accused of frolicking with prostitutes.

Isobel invites the women for luncheon at Crawley House when Robert bursts in determined to take the women home – it seems Mr. Carson has told him that Ethel is working for Isobel.  The whole story comes out but Cora refuses to leave, stating she is glad to know Mrs. Patmore has a good heart for helping Ethel.  Robert storms out leaving the six women staring at the slammed door.  I think the times are changing!

Bates is still in prison…blah blah blah.  Seriously Fellowes, get on with it!  Anna is starting to crack under the pressure of waiting for Mr. Bates to be released from prison and no wonder, between the letters being held back from both of them and the world’s worst lawyer; he could be there until Season 10!  Thank goodness for the letter that came telling Anna that Mrs. Bartlett has decided to tell the truth – Mr. Bates will be released in a few weeks!  Let’s hope that’s in Downton time and not real time.

Downstairs there is a love triangle between – well it is a triangle?  Or a polygon?  Either way, it’s dull as dishwater compared to the Anna/Bates storyline of the first two seasons.

Daisy visits Mr Mason and it’s so lovely to see the two of them spending time together, each of them having the family they need.  He offers her the farm to run eventually, wanting her to come live with him and learn the trade. The look on Mrs Patmore’s face when Daisy tells her says it all.  Daisy would be missed.

Oh Thomas…it will end in tears.  Always chasing the unattainable.  I am almost feeling bad for him.

Cora and Robert agree to visit Violet and Dr Clarkson delivers the news – Sybil would likely not have lived under any circumstances and they are not to blame Dr. Tapsell.  Finally Cora can properly grieve with her husband and allows him to comfort her.

My favourite scene of this episode is Mary and Matthew in bed, he tells her he will love her until the last breath leaves his body.  I am happy they are finally together and married.