Previously on Call the Midwife: Jenny departed to become a cancer nurse, and Cynthia departed to start nun training. Trixie revealed a depressing past that included a father who had a terrible nervous breakdown, and then she started dating Tom, better known as Curate Cutie.
Patsy attends a birth, stumbling into bed just as Trixie’s getting ready for the day. An emergency is called in and Trixie races out, not even stopping to finish putting on her eyeliner or take the curlers out of her hair. She gets a lift from the milkman and is dropped off near the docks, where some woman is just about to give birth in the back of a car. Trixie gamely climbs in and the woman apologetically says she was sick on the seat. Trixie brightly says it’s no big deal, takes off her cardigan, and conducts a quick exam. The baby’s well on its way and arrives just a few minutes later. It’s a girl. The mother cradles her and declares she’s going to be a blondie. ‘Blondes have more fun,’ she coos. ‘Isn’t that right, nurse?’ Trixie realizes she’s just put her knee right in the puddle of sick and responds with a slightly tight smile.
She returns to Nonnatus, where everyone’s at breakfast and Sister MJ’s stressing out because they have the new midwife arriving that day and there’s no cake. No cake! Whatever shall they do? Everyone congratulates Trixie, because a car birth may just be a first for Nonnatus. Evangelina complains about women trying to get to hospital for deliveries and waves away Winifred’s offer of streaky bacon. Chummy exposits that she’s going to be acting matron at the mother and baby home for a while, which is good for the family because there’s a flat that goes with the job, meaning Freddie can live in the countryside for a while and give those lungs of his a rest. It means Noakes will be occasionally staying at Nonnatus when he has night shifts.
Post-breakfast, Chummy tries to leave, but she’s really no good with a manual transmission, so Noakes hands her the baby and offers to at least get her out of the busy neighbourhood. The midwives, Winifred, and Julienne wave her off.
Back inside, Julienne finds MJ scrubbing the floor and asks what she’s up to. MJ says she’s just keeping herself busy. Julienne reassures her she doesn’t need to do manual labour, but MJ says that such labour toughened her up, before moving onto a ‘kids today’-type wail in which she sniffs that the young people won’t be tempered the way the members of the older generation were. Even the mother house has an electric carpet sweeper now! She worries that the new arrival will be lazy. Julinne reminds MJ that the new girl isn’t coming from the mother house. MJ remembers going for tea at a London hotel with her mother when she was young, and watching people go through the revolving door and thinking it seemed at the time like the whole world was whirling through it, no face the same, or particularly distinct. Julienne gently agrees that it’s hard to see familiar faces replaced by others, but soon those others will be familiar too.
Our new midwife cycles through the neighbourhood, looking a bit distressed, and asks a man tending a fruit stall for directions to Nonnatus. He gives them, along with some bananas for the sisters.
It’s clinic day. Someone starts battering at the door and Winifred goes to open it, admitting a young boy wheeling a pram. Bernadette fussily says they don’t allow prams in the hall because too many of them were tracking in dog dirt. The kid indignantly says the pram’s wheels are clean, and anyway, he’s worried someone might steal the firewood underneath. Bernadette allows it just this once. The boy is there for milk and orange juice vouchers, acting on behalf of his mother, who’s working. His name’s Gary Teegan, the baby is Coral, and he has two other sisters, Marcy and Jaquetta.
The new girl arrives at Nonnatus just in time for some kids to bang into her bike, setting her suitcase askew. She props the bike against the wall and rings the bell. The door’s opened by MJ and the new girl introduces herself as Barbara Gilbert. MJ tells her everyone’s at the clinic and MJ isn’t allowed to entertain strangers. Also, there’s no cake. They really need to start warning new arrivals about what to expect with MJ. Also, if everyone’s gone, who’s manning the phone at Nonnatus? Surely they haven’t entrusted MJ with it, not after that time she got confused and hung up on a laboring mother and couldn’t remember the woman’s name. Barbara practically begs to be allowed in, and then her bike tips over, bursting open the suitcase and spilling her clothes into the street. Two dogs come running over and one steals a bra and starts running around with it, pursued by Barbara. MJ retreats into Nonnatus and returns with a bucket of water, which she upends over the dog. It drops the bra, and Barbara thanks MJ for her help.
At the clinic, Bernadette tells Trixie that Coral’s mother hasn’t brought her to clinic for months, and she’s pretty sure the baby has impetigo. Trixie takes over, handing Gary the milk tokens and a bottle of rosehip syrup in lieu of orange juice. Gary tells her they don’t have a basket for the milkman to put the bottles in and Trixie nicely says that if he puts the tokens out the milkman will know what to do. He starts checking out a table of free samples and Trixie sneaks a peek at the baby, who has a rash around her face. Trixie asks the boy to stick around so the doctor can have a look, but as soon as she goes, he rushes out, passing MJ and Barbara on the way.
MJ brings Barbara to Julienne, who introduces herself, and MJ goes to make some tea.
Bernadette’s giving a talk about formula feeding and sterilizing bottles. One rather anxious sounding woman raises her hand and says she’s been reading Dr Spock, who says that breastmilk should be a baby’s only form of nourishment, because it’s best and breastfeeding will help mothers and babies bond. Does that imply that women who don’t breastfeed are less attached to their babies? Because I know mothers (and an adoptive dad) who bottle feed and I can assure you they love their kids just as much as I love mine. Bernadette essentially says the same thing, but Anxious Mum, Mrs Wimbish, goes on that Evangelina always told her breast is best, she said so with the woman’s first, second, and third pregnancy. And apparently all that advice was for naught, because the poor woman lost all three babies. Yikes! She thinks this baby is her last chance, so she wants to get it right. And off of that, we get to see MJ stealing the biscuit off of Barbara’s saucer. Wow, talk about mood whiplash.
Gary collects wood, tossing it underneath the pram, which pretty much looks like the same one Nancy pulled out of the rubbish in the Christmas episode. Neither of these kids looks like they have a close acquaintance with a washcloth. While he’s collecting wood, a fairly trashy looking woman passes by and calls out to him. It’s his mother, off to work. She offers up fishcakes when she gets back, calls him her little soldier, and tells him the key’s on a string at their flat. He heads home with the baby.
At the Turners’, Bernadette and Turner talk about Mrs W, whose babies all died before six months. Ugh, that’s just too awful to even contemplate. Turner says that her stress over the feeding is really just an outlet for all her other (completely understandable) anxieties. Bernadette thinks her emphasis on breastfeeding upset the other mothers, and while breastmilk is, generally, ideal, breastfeeding isn’t great for a lot of women. It’s hard, and for some women downright agonizingly painful. Timothy pipes up that breastmilk does offer infants significant protection against infections, information he’s apparently gleaned from the Lancet, which, like most preteen boys, he’s taken to reading for fun. He’s a little bit too ideal sometimes, isn’t he?
Julienne takes Barbara to her room, apologizing if it smells a little damp. Barbara doesn’t mind, since the home she grew up in with her clergyman father had both wet and dry rot. How is that even possible? Julienne warns her that they’ll occasionally have a policeman staying with them, so she might want to wear a dressing gown if she has to go to the bathroom at night. Barbara goes into her room and finds a note from Trixie and Patsy, inviting her to a little party in their room that night.
Pajama party! Trixie mixes some Cinzano Bianco with rosehip syrup and reassures Barbara, who clearly doesn’t drink at all, that Bianco’s barely even alcohol. They toast and drink up.
Baby Coral wails in her pram, dressed in absolutely filthy clothes, while young Gary dumps a bit of rosehip syrup into a baby bottle and slaps a nipple on the top. At this point, considering the emphasis Bernadette had just put on the importance of sterilizing bottles, I seriously thought we were going to have a ‘deathly ill baby’ situation because of this.
Trixie puts on a Billy Fury record, telling Barbara this is just for her, because he, like Babs, is from Liverpool. Trixie mentions Curate Cutie, complaining a bit that his time’s taken up quite a lot with parishioners’ needs. She mentions that she hasn’t seen him in five days and he needs to step it up a bit or risk the whole relationship fizzling out, leaving Trixie on the shelf. Barbara, looking a bit peaky, insists that won’t happen, because Trixie’s too nice for that. Trixie playfully says that poor Patsy hasn’t got a chap at all and Patsy laughs. And then Barbara starts to get sick. The girls get her to the bathroom and Patsy offers to be the official hair-holder for the evening.
The next day, Fred finds Trixie poking around in the shed, looking for a milk crate. Fred locates it and hands it over. She smiles happily.
Meanwhile, inside, Patsy spins a tale about Barbara getting sick off some gross crisps she ate on the train. Julienne offers up a bottle of milk of magnesia, only to realize Evangelina’s drunk it dry. What the heck did she put it back for? Did she think nobody would notice?
Barbara splashes some water on her face in the bathroom and groans at her reflection before popping a mint.
Trixie tries to drop off the milk crate at the address she has for Gary. She runs into the milkman who gave her a ride at the top of the episode and asks if he knows anything about the family who lives at the address. He doesn’t, because there’s no family there, the place is boarded up. They’ve certainly never ordered milk. Trixie looks concerned.
On her way back to Nonnatus, she runs into Tom and asks for a favour.
Later, she runs through a register of some kind, while Fred gives Barbara a midwife bike and waves her off. At some point, Barbara tries to remove some tools from the sterilizer, under the watchful eye of Evangelina, only to spill them all over the floor. Whomp whaaaaa.
Gary hits up the clinic for the milk tokens and receives them from Barbara. Patsy notices the kid’s lack of hygiene and says that’ll hopefully be a thing of the past, since the new council housing will actually have indoor bathrooms. Barbara shrugs that the only house in the place she grew up in with indoor plumbing was hers, so she didn’t even notice the reek. Trixie comes by and sees that Gary’s been there already. She points out a note she put on the list that she was to be called when he appeared and rushes out to find him, but he’s already gone.
She goes to meet Tom by the waterfront and gives him a scotch egg, which he’s immensely grateful for. He tells her he looked all over Poplar for Gary, but there are no Teemans registered anywhere, not even the school. Trixie stresses that they can’t let these kids slip through the cracks, saying that Gary was putting on such a brave face, and it reminded her of herself when she was young, Plus, that baby needs tending.
Gary arrives home, where the poor baby is wailing pathetically. He goes to get the key, but when he pulls the string through the letterbox there’s no key there. He calls through the letterbox that he’ll think of something, and then slumps onto the ground to figure this out.
Julienne summons Evangelina to her office and tells her that she’s sending Barbara and Evangelina to the maternity home for a few days. She’s mostly doing this because she’s worried about Evangelina’s health. She’s been off her food and dosing herself with milk of magnesia. Evangelina insists she’s just fine, but Julienne tells her to make an appointment with the doctor. Evangelina takes this really personally and whirls out.
She obediently goes to the maternity home, giving Barbara a little bit of attitude about stupid things, like the way her gabardine was flapping. Got to vent your spleen on someone, I guess.
The milkman visits Gary’s building and Gary meets him with the milk tokens. He’s clearly not figured out a way to get back into the flat. He collects the milk and calls through the letterbox for one of his little sisters to fetch a cup. She does so, and after he takes a quick swig of milk himself, he tells her to hold the cup up to the letterbox so he can pour the milk through. It doesn’t go well, most of the milk spills down the door on both sides. Hold up, if there are kids capable of fetching things inside, why doesn’t he ask one of them to pop the missing key through the letterbox? Or did the mother take the key with her? Why would she do that? Is she nuts or completely stupid?
Mrs W, accompanied by her husband, shows up at Turner’s surgery, in labour and panicking, because she’s only seven months along and apparently her other babies came early too, and we know what happened with them. Bernadette goes to fetch Turner, who examines her, puts her to bed, and notes that the contractions seem to have stopped. He tells her to stay put and they’ll keep her under observation and transfer her to the London if necessary. She looks to Bernadette for reassurance, but there’s not much she can give just now.
Gary goes into a shop and, while the proprietor’s busy with a customer, sneaks a couple of packets of biscuits. The owner sees him and chases him down, finally cornering him and yelling.
Barbara brings a really terrible looking lunch to Mrs W and they share a laugh over it, but then Mrs W’s waters break.
The shop owner delivers Gary to the police station, where the desk is, thankfully, being manned by Noakes. Owner angrily slaps down the biscuits and says the kid robbed his shop. Noakes checks them out and says, ‘rich tea? You must have been starving.’ Heh.
Mrs W is in the delivery room, where Evangelina and Turner are suiting up. Barbara comes in and says she’s called for the Flying Squad to tell them a 33-week baby is on its way. Turner thinks the baby may arrive before they do, and Barbara goes to fetch extra heaters while Mrs W looks well and truly panicked. Evangelina reassures her and talks her through the delivery, all calm and confidence, which is just what this woman needs. A baby girl is born and handed off to Turner, who calls for a mucus extractor. Mrs W gets anxious again, asking if everything’s all right. Evangelina says nothing. They just wait, as the silence gets heavier, and then, finally, the baby wails and everyone smiles. She’s taken to see her mother and the Flying Squad—a doctor and some orderlies with an incubator—finally arrives. The baby is whisked into the incubator and Evangelina calls Barbara over to help out while she gets Mrs W stitched up.
Noakes brings Gary some tea and gently asks him what’s up. Gary says the biscuits were for his sisters, because they get hungry faster than he does and can’t wait for their mum to come home. Noakes asks where their mother is and Gary says she ‘goes out’. For how long? Only a night. Or two, sometimes. ‘It’s like she says, everyone has to have something that makes them happy,’ Gary says. Wow. Wow. Look, I know sometimes babies come unbidden, but if you truly don’t want them, then give them up so they have a chance at a decent life with someone who does. Jesus. Don’t just abandon them so you can go party. People like that disgust and sicken me. Noakes approaches the boy, who yells at him not to come near, because he knows how bad he smells and is ashamed of it. Noakes reassures him it’s all right. Gary says it isn’t all right, and Noakes wouldn’t say that if he knew. ‘Knew what?’ Noakes asks.
Mrs W asks where her baby is and Barbara tells her she’s being tended to in the premature baby ward. Mrs W says she keeps hearing her cry, over and over in her head, and she just has to cling to that.
Noakes and a couple of policemen crowbar the door to Gary’s apartment and walk through the absolutely fetid place. It’s beyond disgusting—filthy, mould all over the walls, flies buzzing. They find two little girls huddled on the floor in one room and the baby in her pram. Gary comes in and reassures his frightened sisters, who wail that they’re hungry. He heartbreakingly takes his jacket off and wraps them in it. They go over to the pram and Noakes goes and picks up the crying baby, gently shushing her. He tells one of the other officers to arrest the mother for neglect as soon as she comes crawling back.
The children are taken to Turner’s surgery, where Bernadette tries to get Jaquetta to show her what’s in the brown paper bag she’s clutching as if her life depended on it. Jaquetta refuses to give it up. Turner checks out the baby, noting that she’s severely dehydrated. Bernadette reports that there are bruises on Jaquetta’s shoulder that suggest someone shook her, both the girls have fleas, and there’s a cigarette burn on Marcy. Hey, policeman back at the flat, if that hellspawn of a mother happens to ricochet off a few walls on her way to the squad car, I don’t think anybody would mind. Turner undoes the baby’s nappy and is horrified by what he sees, telling Bernadette they need an ambulance, because the baby will need intravenous antibiotics and possibly skin grafts. Skin grafts? Holy shit, has this poor baby’s nappy never been changed in her entire life? Gah!
Bernadette rings Nonnatus and gets Trixie. She tells her they have a neglect and cruelty case and they need a pair of nurses and the cleansing station. Trixie is horrified to hear about this.
MJ insists on accompanying her, sorrowfully telling Trixie that once the cleansing stations were always out, ridding the wretched of the filth that encrusted them, and she was there and didn’t shirk from this horrible duty. She, rather touchingly, says this won’t shock her, and it’s work she can actually do. Trixie nods, understanding. MJ has so little purpose now, and she so clearly wants to lend a hand wherever she can.
Gary’s and his sisters’ injuries are photographed from all angles. The boy is absolutely covered in bruises. Trixie can’t even bear to look. MJ entertains the little girls charmingly and manages to persuade Jaquetta to let go of the paper bag. It contains Bisto, meat-flavoured gravy powder. MJ shows it to Trixie, who kneels beside the girls and gently asks if they’ve been eating that. Jaquetta says she was hungry and Trixie tries really hard not to burst into tears as she forces a smile and nods.
The kids are taken to the cleansing station, which is a pretty bleak looking basement room where they’re to be bathed and deloused. Trixie paints a glamorous picture of the Vidal Sassoon salon that charms the kids, and soon Gary’s happily splashing about in perhaps the only bath he’s ever had. Bernadette and Trixie work on the girls’ hair, getting rid of the fleas. Bernadette says the nits are pretty hard to get out and MJ starts sharpening a razor to shave their heads, like they used to do in the old days. Gary, alarmed, objects, saying that people will think they’re poor and pity them. Trixie agrees, saying they just need to take a little extra time and attention to detail.
Much later, the kids are all put to bed at Nonnatus. Once they’re tucked up, Trixie pours herself a drink in her room, looking exhausted.
Turner brings his equally exhausted wife some tea or cocoa in bed and they talk about how much love there is in their house, and how little of it there is in others, sometimes. Bernadette admits that she misses midwifery and nursing. He’s not surprised. She says she knows she can’t really go back to that, because she can’t go out in the middle of the night to deliver babies (why not? Chummy does.), but she misses that feeling of making things better. He seems to have an idea.
Evangelina finds MJ in the kitchen toasting crumpets in the middle of the night. She snipes at MJ a bit as she refreshes her hot water bottle, but MJ’s not so out of it she doesn’t notice that Evangelina’s in pain. She earnestly says that water will not help this, and if she doesn’t do something, she won’t be able to work anymore. She urges Evangelina to consult a doctor.
Barbara goes to check Mrs W’s blood pressure. Mrs W notes that her milk’s come in, and now she’s leaking all over. Barbara offers Epsom salts to dry it up but Mrs W doesn’t want to dry up, this is her baby’s milk. Barbara gets the idea to let Mrs W express her milk every three hours and Barbara will ferry it over to the hospital so the baby can be fed on it. Wow, that’s dedication, Barbara. Barbara takes the idea to Evangelina, who, surprisingly, isn’t in favour, mostly because she thinks it’ll take nurses away from their local duties, but Barbara says she can get there and back in half an hour, and she’ll take on the job herself. Evangelina’s not up for a fight and gives in, wondering where Barbara gets her energy from.
Gary and his sisters (not the baby, though) are waiting in a car outside Nonnatus. MJ goes out to see them, notes their glum faces, and gets them laughing again by encouraging the kids to beep the horn. Trixie watches through the window while agitatedly packing up some clothes for the kids. Tom tells her they’ve found a good short-term foster home where the kids will get to stay together. He urges her to come say goodbye to the kids but she can’t bring herself to do so. He sympathetically says they all have to deal with cases from time to time that hit a bit close to home, and she gets all snappy that they aren’t a case, they’re children. Trixie, ease up, you know what he meant. She tears up, saying that Gary was playing the cheeky chappie just like Trixie used to play Shirley Temple for her broken down father when she was young. Trixie, I realize this situation is tough for you, but there’s emphasizing and then there’s making it all about you, and you’re starting to move perilously into the second camp. I love you, don’t do that.
She goes on to say that he doesn’t know what it’s like to be constantly putting on a show while all the time wishing that someone in charge would take a closer look and say ‘is something wrong, kid?’ Well, first off, someone kind of did say that—you all noticed that the baby needed some sort of treatment and, had she received a closer examination at the clinic that one day, the whole sad story probably would have spilled out right then. Gary actively ran from help. But maybe they all should have pushed a bit harder. I can’t help but wonder: didn’t anyone at the clinic notice that the baby hadn’t been changed in so long she actually needed skin grafts? That nappy would have absolutely stunk to high heaven, and that, along with the fact that she hadn’t been brought around by her mother in months, and that the kids were very clearly filthy, really should have rung some serious alarm bells the moment they walked into the clinic. It wasn’t that busy a day, someone should have stepped up and stayed with Gary until the doctor could see little Coral. Maybe Trixie knows that and now she’s feeling extra guilty.
Tom sincerely says he wishes he could take all that unhappiness away from her, which is really sweet. She starts to pull herself together and tells him that talking about it with him reminds her that she survived it, but others might not if they don’t do something and pay more attention.
Mrs W pumps and Barbara delivers. The newborn is fed mummy’s milk. Barbara’s clearly getting tired, but she keeps going, and Evangelina seems to be gaining a new respect for the girl.
Gary’s mother finally drags her ass home and is greeted by the sight of police officers and a photographer in her flat, taking pictures of the hellhole. She smokes and stomps around, more annoyed than anything else, and finally bitches at Noakes for not telling her where her kids are. Without looking at her, he tells her they’re no concern of hers anymore. She says she was out working and, when asked, reveals she works at a bar in Notting Hill. And, what, it takes you a day and a half to commute? Yeah, maybe she was working, some of the time, but she was gone for at least three days here, so where the hell was she? And this isn’t the first time she’s been gone so long, according to her son, so what’s her deal? She goes on to say that the hours are good when you’ve got kids, because when she’s home she’s home all day. Until you’re not home for three frigging days, lady! Jesus! Noakes directs a policeman to take her to the station, but before she goes she tells him the place is a mess because her water was cut off (the place has way more wrong with it than no water, and I can’t help but notice that she seems fairly clean, so where’s she showering?) and she’s on a list to be rehoused, but the council is dragging its feet. She tells Noakes she wanted to have her tubes tied, but the doctor refused. So, see another doctor, maybe? National Health, lady, it’s not like you have to pay for it. Noakes informs her she’s under arrest and she angrily says she didn’t ask for any of this. ‘And neither did your children,’ he tells her, just as angrily. She whimpers that they did their best. Excuse me? I don’t think you know what that means, woman. Your best is not leaving your kids to wallow in filth with no food and only a 10-year-old to look after them for frigging days. And look, I’m not some judgy prude, but if you’re going to go sleeping with unreliable men (and hey, if that’s your thing, fine) then maybe get some birth control? The pill was only just coming out in the States and probably wasn’t in Britain yet, but there were other, fairly reliable, methods. If you were really doing your best you’d have taken better precautions. You’d have made sure your children at least had food to eat while you went wandering off wherever. You’d have looked into the social services at your disposal (and we know there were plenty, because we’ve heard them mentioned numerous times on this very show). You wouldn’t have used your kids as punching bags and ashtrays. You were not doing your best. Go ahead and lock her up.
Tom presents Trixie with a cherry-topped meringue, because he knows she loves them. Aww. She asks if he wants her to eat it now and he asks her to save it, because he has a much better gift: his grandmother’s wedding ring. EEEEEE! Tom adorably proposes and Trixie is quite taken aback, while I squeal and do a happy dance, because yay! I really like these two together! Nearly as much as Chummy and Noakes! Tears in her eyes, Trixie happily accepts. The ring is lovely. They laugh and kiss. I squeal again.
Evangelina steels herself and makes her way into Turner’s surgery, where Bernadette has taken over the role of medical secretary. Not nursing, but it helps get the good work done. Evangelina requests an appointment with a female doctor. She’s having ‘woman’s problems’.
Mrs W and her husband go to see their baby and finally get to hold her. Barbara looks on, smiling happily.
Gary and his sisters board a ship, and JVO tells us that Coral was adopted, while the other three were shipped to Australia as part of the Child Migrants Programme. ‘They were promised a life of sunshine and blue skies and endless opportunity. The truth was otherwise, and the only consolation is that hope made them happy, for a while.’
Wait, what? What the hell, show? Yeah, turns out that the kids sent overseas in that programme faced a seriously bleak future. Siblings were separated and children were either sent to institutions, where many were neglected and never received a proper education, or placed with farmers or foster parents who basically treated them like disposable slaves. They were subjected to all sorts of abuse (physical, sexual, you name it) and often denied food, love, and basic care. So, essentially, these three innocent children were just sent back to their old life, just in a hotter climate. But hey—they had hope for a little while, so we can be happy about that, right? Right? Yeesh. Thanks for totally bringing us all down there, CTM. I know you try not to pull your punches, but couldn’t you have given these three the teensiest bit of happiness?
Trixie has apparently left the meringue for MJ to find. MJ is over the moon to have it. Meanwhile, Trixie and Tom share their news with the others. Smiles all around?
Wow, that episode went all over the place, didn’t it? Mood whiplash left and right. I feel tired now.
Depressing though that was, there were some bright spots. Trixie and Tom 4eva! Plus, it’s always nice to see Noakes doing his job, and doing it well, and I quite like Barbara (I find that, the more new characters we meet, the more I dislike that sanctimonious little prig, Jenny. I don’t miss her even the teensiest bit.) So, what’s up with Evangelina? And will acting as a secretary be enough for Bernadette? Only time (and the rest of the season) shall tell.