“In Poplar they call it arriving ass-first.” – Call the Midwife 1 x 02

Nurse Lee opens the episode by telling us that she believes night time is for women, to which I say, NOOOO! She’s bicycling through a dark, deserted alley in the East End looking very serene, and 5 minutes into the show I’m having a panic attack. Luckily for everyone involved, nothing untoward happens. (Although I guess she can use that glass enema they can’t seem to stop talking about as a weapon if anything were to happen.) It’s just to show us that midwives are typically called upon in the dead of night, when the city is asleep.

In this episode we meet two new characters. The first one is Mary, a stupid little child who’s resorted to selling herself on the street, and I know I should feel sorry for her, but I don’t. To be fair, it was only after I rewatched this episode that I realized why she’s stupid (or “not sharp in the head”). As Father Joe put it, some people are so unfortunate that they don’t even know the difference between love and abuse. Maybe it’s the actress I have a problem with. Her Mary is just not easy to like.

She meets Nurse Lee when she asks for help changing a 5-pound note, and Nurse Lee takes her under her wing, even bringing her home to the convent for a few days. For all her high and mighty ways, Nurse Lee is surprisingly non-judgmental about Mary’s circumstances. She helps her find a place in a home for unwed mothers, to be looked after by Father Joe.

The second new character is Nurse Camilla Fortescue Cholmeley-Browne, whom I love. She speaks like the upper-class gentlemen in the fox hunt scene in Mary Poppins, that whole “view halloooo” vibe. Though the way she says mater is the limit for me. She also shares that she went to the Royal School of Needlework, which totally validates my beloved Chalet School books! (One of the characters there dreams of going to a school of needlework, which I thought was a stretch at first, but apparently it’s true.) Poor Chummy, as she prefers to be called, rubs Sister Evangelina the wrong way because Sister Evangelina is a reverse snob, it turns out. From her name alone, we know that Chummy is rich, and she does share with the other nurses that she grew up with an ayah in India where her father was posted. Oh, he was also knighted and Chummy is pals with Princess Margaret. Sister Evangelina also does not like the fact that Chummy’s ultimate goal is to serve in Africa, because as Sister Evangelina astutely points out, why go all the way to another continent when her own community needs her?

Chummy also does not know how to ride a bike! Horror of horrors, because that’s the midwife’s only mode of transportation around the city. Nurse Franklin and Nurse Miller teach her, and she tries her hardest, but it just doesn’t work. One of the children in particular bullies her for it, but Chummy perseveres. I can completely relate with Chummy on this matter because I too do not know how to ride a bike. I figure, I have no plans of becoming a midwife or joining the Amazing Race, so I’m good.

Chummy does prove herself to Sister Evangelina and the community. At the clinic, she shows that even though she’s a klutz (upending a doctor’s tray full of instruments while assisting in a check-up), she has some stellar bedside manners, reassuring a mother-to-be who almost breaks down because of her troublesome pregnancy. Dr. Turner is duly impressed, and gives her encouragement to continue nursing.

Her other shining moment is when she’s called to a delivery that turns out to be a breech birth. She tries a ballsy move which involves letting the baby hang while its head is still in the birth canal while turning her in a circle to ease the shoulders out! Poor mother! Aarrghh. Chummy somehow delivers the baby safely, which not only impresses Dr. Turner (again), but also earns the respect of Sister Evangelina. The baby’s brother Jack turns out to be Chummy’s bully, who made fun of her for not knowing how to ride a bike. But after saving his mother and sister’s life, Chummy earns his loyalty forever.

Chummy must be really thankful she’s not good on a bike, because it’s her clumsiness on two wheels that leads to her meet-cute with PC Noakes. Yiih!

Mary’s ending is not so happy though. Her baby is taken away from her, to be adopted by a more suitable family. Oh Father Joe, just when I thought I liked you. Okay, also to be fair to Father Joe, it turns out that Mary is only 15 and therefore not an adult herself. So Father Joe is really between a rock and a hard place here. He has to make the tough decisions and maybe there was never a chance for a happy ending in the first place. Sigh.

Other thoughts:

One other thing that’s impressive about this show – apart from the acting, the stories, and dialogue – is the inventive use of angles and shots. You get a feel for the messiness of births, but you never see anything you’re not supposed to!

Still going strong on the music, this episode’s featured songs are the lovely “You Belong To Me”, “Embraceable You”, and “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing”. We don’t see much of Sister Julienne, though she has a brief moment of some really gentle comedy at the beginning. After Sister Evangelina sarcastically remarks that they’re so short-staffed they need an octopus, Sister Julienne calmly replies that she will contact the aquarium. Heh.