As we return to Nonatus House for Season 7 of Call the Midwife, it is the bone chilling winter of 1963, and we are on the cusp of the swinging 60’s that London defined. If the Beatles aren’t in the air already, they soon will be, and it’s just a year before Michael Apted’s groundbreaking documentary series begins running on British telly. If we move much further into the 60’s, maybe the nuns of Nonatus House will cross paths with Sister Bertrille. (Hey, it could happen!)
But now for us, in this winter of our own discontent, when the world is going cuckoo all around us, it is rather reassuring to return to this place where kindness always triumphs in the end. Here are the THIRTEEN essentials of Call the Midwife, Season 7, episode 1. Watch the first episode now or on THIRTEEN Explore apps.
13. Cold Temps, Warm Heart
As we begin it is not long past where last season’s Christmas episode left off. Newlyweds Nurse Barbara and Reverend Tom are still off on their honeymoon, missing all the fun of rolling blackouts and frozen milk on the doorstep. But even in the teeth chattering cold, our OB/GYN Superheroes are still going out on their rounds around Poplar wearing capes. Not a warm puffa jacket in sight! Brrrr…
With the sound of The Chiffons’ He’s So Fine wafting over the radios we quickly establish that we have met the 60’s in earnest. Shelagh, however, is not too thrilled with these newfagled tunes and their slang, which sounds a lot like, ‘those kids and their music!’ She and Patrick now have to commute to Poplar from their home in the suburbs, kids in tow, and they are getting an au pair.
12. I Sing The Power Cut Electric
Kind Sister Julienne always wants to include Sister Monica Joan in their work so she feels useful. This week Sister Monica Joan’s assigned task is to scan the daily newspaper for the power blackout schedules to let everyone know when they’ll lose electricity, so they can (hopefully) schedule around it. Not sure how they can schedule water breaks and labor, but OK. Sister Monica Joan compares all the numbers on the charts to necromancy, which is (essentially) witchcraft and is about communicating with the dead to predict the future. Not sure how she got that out of the schedule, but OK. Unfortunately she makes a simple mistake (likely because she can no longer read the paper without her deftly concealed magnifying glass) and becomes hysterical thinking everyone sees her error as a sign of her “derangement.”
True History: Cold Snap. The winter of 1962-63 still holds the record for being the coldest ever on record, with January the coldest month since 1814. Most of the United Kingdom was under a freezing fog. How cold was it? So cold that the sea froze to four miles out at Dunkirk, ice on the Thames outside London was so thick people were skating on it, and it is noted in history that on January 22, 1963, at Oxford, a car even drove across it. The Thames did not freeze over in central London however, due in part to the hot water discharged from the Battersea thermal Power Station – which is now the Tate Modern. In February 1963 there was a 36-hour blizzard with gale force winds that caused snow to drift up to 20 feet high, and it did not thaw until March when temperatures suddenly shot up to 62 degrees and the snow finally melted. There is always hope!
11. Baby You Can Drive My Car
Sister Winifred gets a notice from the DMV; the date has been set for her driving test. It’s in two weeks and she is completely panic stricken – and she’ll have to practice for it in the snow! Yikes! With Fred drafted to help coach her, poor Reggie is but a hostage in the back seat, pressing his nose against the glass in fear as she grinds the clutch and lurches across the courtyard and into traffic (we assume). Despite all Sister Winifred’s tears and fears, and inability to shift or maneuver, she will survive. The transmission may not be so lucky. One suspects that what was left of it jumped out and ran in the opposite direction back on the High Street.
10. Sister Act
Patsy and Nurse Buzbee have sent a postcard from the edge of the earth; they are off traveling the world till who knows when, so Sister Julienne has called the mother ship for backup. And with that we get some permanent diversity to our group in the addition of newly minted midwife, Nurse Lucille Anderson, a Jamaican immigrant who just graduated from nursing school. The welcome wagon eagerly awaits her arrival around the dinner table, (including a cake that Sister Monica Joan is impatient to dive into), but Lucille is late; in fact she is days late. It has gotten to the point she must be reported missing to the local police precinct with what little info they have on her. She finally turns up late at night, in a blizzard, with no bags and a skinned knee from falling on the slippery pavement, having had to disembark from a train stalled between stations in the countryside for 18 hours, and then walk the rest of the way with just a flashlight during the blackout (nowadays that would be a reality show). But at least she’s finally here – and in short order she faints and is put to bed with a bladder infection.
9. Book Report
Nurse Anderson makes a great first impression on Sister Monica Joan when she compliments the Sister on her extensive library, and mentions that she used to be a librarian back home in Jamaica. She even finishes the poem Sister Monica Joan quotes, impressing the sister with her knowledge of John Keats. But that positivity evaporates in an instant the moment Nurse Anderson makes a friendly offer to introduce the Dewey Decimal System to organize Sister Monica Joan’s discombobulated pile of books, upsetting the natural order of things now organized by vibrations and feelings. No numbers need apply; you are dismissed, thank you very much. Good day.
FYI: “Much have I travelled in the worlds of gold, And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been, Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold..” This John Keats verse quoted by Sister Monica Joan and Nurse Anderson is from the sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.”
8. Sweet Tart
And speaking of “He’s So Fine,” Trixie’s relationship with Dentist Charming, Christopher, is moving along swimmingly, and so is her relationship with his daughter. The only hiccup is little Alexandra who, when Trixie offers to do a little girl bonding over manicures, says her mummy told her, “only tarts paint their nails.” Trixie mentions this to Christopher, but says she doesn’t think Alexandra even understands what it means. She was only repeating what her mum said. Christopher says his ex-wife is just bitter, but even so, Trixie wants to repair her image. After this visit she will be sending Alexandra back to her mother with tea cakes instead of hot pink fingernails.
He doesn’t think her a tart either, but for his part, Christopher proposes a skiing holiday in Switzerland, just the two of them, where they can stay in a hotel; a place where they can close the door, shut out the world and get busy. It’s got to happen sooner or later, and he hopes not later. Trixie dodges, and when she relays this quandry to Val, Trixie tells her she tries to change the subject but Christopher keeps bringing it up. She wants Valerie, to know that, assumptions to the contrary, she is not that kind of girl or, at least, hasn’t been up till now. Val looks surprised. As do we. Another lesson on not judging a book by its Dewey Decimal number.
7. She Works Hard for the Money
Nadine is one of the exotic girls, stripping for the so-called gentlemen of West London, but she’s got a secret that’s getting harder to hide. Her attempts to perform while covering her baby bump behind her fur coat makes her look like Gypsy the first time Mama Rose pushed her out on the stage, and the natives are getting restless, heckling her to take it off. They want more than just a hint of stocking, and when she doesn’t give it, she’s fired – without her owed wages – and told she can only come back if she gets rid of the baby. She retreats back “home” to Poplar, where she grew up, even though she’s got no family and is all on her own. She turns up at the Nonatus clinic where she is offered prenatal care with no moral judgment of her situation. Trixie lets her know there are concerns with her pregnancy because her blood is R- which could cause problems for the baby if it inherits a positive blood group from its father, but Nadine doesn’t even know the father’s name let alone blood type. Thankfully this R- problem shouldn’t cause as issue for a first pregnancy and this is Nadine first baby. She shares that she feels she may as well not even name the baby since she is planning to give it up for adoption, and the name will be changed anyway. She asks for leaflets on adoption.
6. Bass Ackwards
Later, during her labor, Nadine tells Trixie of a previous pregnancy she’s gotten rid of. It turns out she misunderstood the R- warning; it is her first baby, but not her first pregnancy. We can see that Trixie knows what this means, but pro that she is, she doesn’t panic (Sister Winifred, take note!)
I think we all know people who go through life tushie first, don’t we? I know I am acquainted with several myself. Nadine’s baby is starting out that way. We’ve seen this before on Call the Midwife: a breech delivery where they let the baby hang there momentarily, and I don’t know about you, but I find it insanely scary to watch because it looks like there’s no way the baby could possibly escape it without a serious neck injury. Thankfully the procedure works. It’s a girl! At first Nadine is afraid to hold her but Trixie assures her that she is brave enough to do it. Either Trixie’s assurance or holding her daughterleads Nadine to decide to keep her. All’s well that ends well – but not so fast: There is still the matter of the R- blood group issue. They are transferred to Dr. Turner’s little hospital and it’s a waiting game to see if the baby develops complications.
5. Gotta Dance
At the hospital Nadine strikes up a conversation with Nurse Val about her Auntie’s dance studio, Madame Edith’s. Turns out Nadine learned to dance at Madame Edith’s and loved it. Small world! In between delivering babies Nurse Valerie is teaching dance there. Auntie has upped sticks and retired, the studio is up for sale, and Val is keeping it going, one shuffle ball change at a time until a new owner can be found. Val then notices that then baby looks jaundiced. It has to have the transfusion.
As Nadine waits for her baby’s procedure to finish, she tells Trixie she has decided to keep her baby, and name her Elizabeth, reasoning that with a name like Elizabeth, she can do a lot. Yeah, she can run the Kingdom and Commonwealth! (And by the way, why is it still called a Kingdom, even though a Queen is in charge? Shouldn’t it be a Queendom?) Anyway, Nadine can do a lot, too; she sells the fur coat and buys the dance studio, only returning to the strip club to (confidently) get what she’s owed before she leaves that life behind. And that is how Poplar’s first Pole Dancing Club for Girls began. Sweet.
4. The Minyanaires
In this episode we finally get to see a bit of the old East End that has been missing so far. London’s East End had a very large Jewish population whose history is largely ignored on TV shows that depict the area. In Episode 1 we meet Arnold and Ruth Gelin. If you grew up in a place like I did, you could tell right away, from their unmistakable accents, that they are immigrants who escaped the Holocaust.
Mrs. Gelin has bowel cancer that has metastasized to her lungs and liver. She is minimizing her pain to Dr. Turner, but coughing up blood cannot be hidden. Neither can the results from the tests she had a St. Cuthbert’s. There is nothing else to be done. It’s just a matter of time. And if that weren’t bad enough, their neighborhood is being torn down – which they are in denial about as well.
The Gelins have caring adult children: a daughter close by who wants them to come live with her, and a son (a doctor!) in Florida who calls his mother regularly, but the Gelins want to stay put. They own their home so think they are safe from the demolition, but they are not. It seems they just ignored the eminent domain letters. Now it is a race against time for Ruth to be able to pass away in peace in their home of 30 years as the buildings are being demolished around them. As Mr. Gelin looks out the window at the trucks pulling up and young men with sledge hammers piling out, one wonders if it reminded him of the Germany he escaped.
3. Goodnight Nurse
Nurse Crane is the Gelins’ hospice nurse, and she talks her way past the demolition street closure in a manner that just might have made the strapping, young construction worker guarding the barricade pee his pants. I’d say, if you are in a situation where you want to hospice at home but the city is trying to knock down your building, Nurse Crane is who you want on your side. She could chase even the most tenacious real estate developer up a tree. And by appealing to the constable who shows up to evict them, she halts the demolition in its tracks.
2. I Say It Now
With his wife in her final days, Arnold busies himself compulsively baking bread and strudel to distract himself from what he cannot face. If you didn’t cry when Arnold said his last goodbyes to his wife, making sure to say now all the things he might have forgotten to say before, you are made of stone ground wheat. After Ruth’s passing, a Minyan stands in front of their house, with the Chazan leading prayers.
Before he goes off to live with his daughter in Hendon (a suburb of northwest London with a large Jewish population), Mr. Gelin brings Nurse Crane a strudel, the last thing he was able to bake in his kitchen before it was torn down. She goes to the police station to give half to the Constable. Is her gesture a thank you, a peace offering, or a bit of flirtation? Might she become the second Nonatus nurse to marry a Bobby? Hmmm… One supposes we’ll have to stay tuned to find out!
1. Do-lang, do-lang, do-lang…
When Nadine tells Trixie about her love for her new baby, Trixie sighs, some people spend their whole life waiting for a love like that. Nadine responds that some people are scared of it. This makes the lightbulb go on over Trixie’s head. She is not going to run scared from love anymore. She takes this conversation to heart, and tells Christopher they should “go sketching with Annabelle Portsmouth” after all. While we are not quite sure that taking love life advice from an ex-stripper who was just up the duff by some guy whose name she doesn’t know is the best plan of action, we will hope for the best. #TeamTrixtopher
Bonus: Baby Bump. Helen George, who plays Nurse Trixie, was pregnant during the filming of Season 7, and the crew had to keep coming up with different ways to hide the bump. This created a kind of “Where’s Waldo?” effect on social media when the show aired in the UK. Fans took to twitter to post all the ways they spotted the bump being camouflaged. In September Helen gave birth to a baby girl named Ivy Wren. And the baby’s dad? He is none other than Jack Ashton, who plays Reverend Tom who (on the show) is married to Nurse Barbara. That sounds more like a plot from EastEnders than Call the Midwife!
What did you think Nonatuns? Join the conversation in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #MidwifePBS.