Kew Gardens and the Hive: bees, plants & people

I last visited the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew more than 30 years ago, and all I remember of it is being on the raised iron walkway in the palmhouse with a thundering, vomit-inducing headache (I’m not prone to them, which is why it’s stuck in my memory). The long gap between visits isn’t related and I’ve often thought “Must go back to Kew”, but as with all places relatively nearby time whizzes by and visits go unmade. However,  this summer I finally made the plan, took the day off, arrived early at the station and headed for Kew Gardens, a UNESCO World heritage site and globally important centre of scientific research.

The weather was perfect for me (and the bees): sunny and HOT – very welcome after weeks of cloud and rain. I’d met one of my dearest friends at Liverpool Street station and we took the tube out of central London. Kew itself is an affluent village-atmosphere district with its mixture of quaint, pretty buildings and low-rise blocks of 1930s-style flats. Although the hum of London permeates everything and the constant drone of overhead aircraft is tedious, first impressions were of a calm and attractive part of town. A 10/15-minute walk brought us to the Garden’s perimeter wall; once through the entrance, the city’s grime melted away and a magnificent, expansive green space opened up. One picnic later (in view of Kew Palace), we went in search of plants.

First up the Boardwalk border, just coming into its high summer colours:

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Just behind one of the borders is the Hive, an installation celebrating and investigating the role of bees and it sits within the treeline just off the boardwalk. It’s an intriguing man-made construction among all the greenery. A pathway led towards this mysterious object, up through a wildflower meadow that’s humming with bees. The whole structure is connected to real-time bee activity – it’s a multi-sensory experience for humans to connect with the amazing activity of bees. You’d perhaps think that a metal structure  would seem heavy and incongruous against the plants and trees, but it’s light and delicate, and quite beautiful.

From the Kew website (

The Hive is the design of UK based artist Wolfgang Buttress. It was originally created as the centrepiece of the UK Pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo. It is constructed from around 170,000 parts including thousands of pieces of aluminium, which catch the changing sunlight. There are 1,000 LED lights dotted around its core which glow and fade, while a unique soundtrack hums in response to the activity of real bees in a beehive behind the scenes at Kew“.

Entering the Hive challenged my vertigo even though it’s not especially high up. But it’s constructed from glass and metal so although it feels solid, you can see through the ‘walls’ and (much more unsettling) the floor. But the experience is well worth that shot of fear. The complex honeycomb structure of a beehive is visible through the glass floor but the circle at the centre of the floor is clear revealing the ground below and if you stand on it, you’ll look up through the opening in the roof. It was fascinating to watch people’s reactions. While lots of people peered down into this ‘hole’ the adults seemed to avoid walking over it, although one could plainly see it was safe. Some children skirted around the edge, avoiding stepping into the clear section but a couple danced on it and others laid down on their bellies peering below. I didn’t see any child laying on their back looking up at the sky. The elevation of the Hive means the views over trees into the city  are spectacular.

The heat of the day brought out the fragrance of nearby flowering lime trees, making the Hive smell of honey. LED lights gently glowed in reaction to activity from beehives, and an electronic soundtrack, also connected to bee activity, faded in and out. There’s a lot going on but it doesn’t feel hectic, just alive.

You can walk underneath the Hive too, which gives a very different perspective:

The Hive is open until November 2017.


Moving on to the Princess of Wales Conservatory for the desert plants:


Into the Waterlily House

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And the Palm House:

And finally the inevitable… (gluten free and all)


And then by way of farewell at the Embankment, a perfect finale:




The price of LOVE: Garbo & Gilbert do Tolstoy


directed by Edmund Goulding, starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, 1927


MGM's twist on G & G being 'in Love' helped sell the film.

MGM’s twist on the two stars being ‘in Love’ helped sell the film.

If you’re trying to impress your date with the magic of silent film, then LOVE might not be quite the right choice, despite its promising title. It’s not the best example of the ‘golden age’ of silent film and was of interest to 1920s movie-goers principally because the two stars, Greta Garbo and John Gilbert were, at the time, in love – a double entendre that MGM turned into a slogan for the film. Love is Edmund Goulding’s version of Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina, the turbulence of her life being echoed in the emotional dramas played off screen by G & G. It didn’t end well for the hard-drinking Gilbert: Garbo refused to marry him. After struggling to make the transition to sound films, he suffered a fatal heart attack nine years later.

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In February, at London’s glorious Royal Festival Hall on a chilly end-of-winter night, Love launched the UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature, led by the British Council Frank Strobel conducted the resident, and brilliant, Philharmonia Orchestra for the world premiere of Aphrodite Raickopoulou’s new symphonic score, written especially for the Russian virtuoso Vadim Repin, whose tone and sensitivity with the violin was remarkable. According to the RFH website Yehudi Menuhin described him as ‘the best violinist I have ever heard’.

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A Night In Victorian And Edwardian London

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Early reality film was all about capturing movement: people, vehicles and animals doing something or going somewhere. If the object was static the camera moved – it would be loaded onto a boat, car, tram or train to film ships, buildings, views and panoramas (link). Nothing stayed still, least of all a city. London as a spectacle and a novelty was a big deal in Victorian visual media, which celebrated the capital in illustrations, literature, phonographs, engravings and magic lantern slides. By the time film came along in 1895, people everywhere wanted to see what the biggest city in the world really looked like.

Recently, the British Film Institute (BFI) staged A Night In Victorian And Edwardian London, a programme of short films (projected on actual film) about London, shot between 1895 and 1910; it was a captivating 100 minutes, enjoyed enormously by the full house in Screen 1. The BFI’s silent film curator Bryony Dixon introduced the programme and as she said, ‘chatted’ along, telling us where and when each film was made (if known). It felt like we had our own ‘barker’; Bryony’s knowledge and brilliantly dry wit was highly entertaining and informative. But we were a much better behaved audience than she could have expected in 1910… Neil Brand provided the piano accompaniment, an unexpected treat, and his light-touch improvised playing added sparkle to the moving images.

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Cambridge Film Festival 2014

If it's good enough for Buster Keaton...

If it’s good enough for Buster Keaton…

The 34th Cambridge Film Festival (CFF) is done for another year and it’s been a cracking festival, which is especially heartening given the uncertain future of its home, Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, seriously threatened by an earlier ludicrous ruling from the Competition Commission (so who’s still here huh Comp Comm? It’s US!) The situation is still not finally resolved but the story is best read here:

Moving the festival dates by just a week to the end of August/beginning of September has definitely worked – box office receipts are up 30% on last year and I didn’t have to work every day – the two don’t necessarily go together I hasten to add. In a year of brilliant films (so many that my developing Top 10 list has exploded), CFF added quite a few more to that list. As expected the Gerhard Lamprecht films were utterly gorgeous (here’s my introduction to this prolific German director for Take One:, and the digital restoration of Le Jour Se Leve (Marcel Carne) was spectacular. From the first two days, two films have stayed with me: Tamar van den Dop’s Supernova and Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves more than exceeded expectations. To those I’d add Cherry Tobacco (directed by Katrin Maimik and Andres Maimik) and Pawel Pawlikowski‘s Ida, both films with leading girls in their first films. Disappointments were few: Wong Kar-Wai’s Grand Master, the surprise film, was devoid of any narrative or interest. It looked amazing but couldn’t hold my attention. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last film A Most Wanted Man just didn’t get going, although PSH was on top form – either the story itself is too thin or the screenplay has been cut too much. Regrets? I have a few: The Japanese Dog, Stations of The Cross, Violet, and Beloved Sisters. They go on the to-watch list. So here we go:


Supernova (Belgium, 2014) is a fairy tale with a hint of the Wild West but set in rural Holland. Meis is 15/16 years old; she lives at the frontier of adolescence, death and deep water with her family in a battered solitary house on a sharp bend in the road. Over the years several cars have hit the house and this seems to be a metaphor for their life: nothing much happens for most of the time then an explosion of activity, excitement and danger. It’s a tale of bursting sexuality, of pushing the boundaries – and then being scared by what might happen. Meis is reading one of her mum’s erotic fiction books, the storyline becoming so entangled with the film’s narrative that it’s impossible to know whether she is experiencing certain events or is fantasising. The entire focus isn’t on Meis, however. Her dad has been disabled in a car crash and can’t (or won’t) work, Mum is overworked, resentful and furious about their life; Granny has dementia, is mute and constantly shakes her head; Grandad has recently drowned himself, which turns out to be the defining element of Meis’ life so far. Director Tamar van den Dop, who also plays Mum, has a steady hand, likes the close-up, and isn’t afraid to delve deep into how (some) families work. The cinematography is beautiful, precise, fluid; in conjunction with the impressive soundscape, the film creates a sympathetic picture of growing up. Supernova is a languid, slow-paced film that effectively explores family life, with all the usual excitement, loneliness, boredom, grief and yet still being able to look forward.

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (France, 2014). A bizarre mockumentary (horrible word I know) about an apparently real event in the life of one of France’s most famous and revered writers. Michel plays himself. Inexplicably, he is kidnapped by a gang of burly thugs, who turn out to be complete softies at heart. Their entire family is involved in ‘looking after’ Michel throughout his incarceration – but he calls the shots. He loves a bottle of wine, a pack of ciggies and the company of a girl in his bed. It’s very funny, constantly surprising and baffling – we have no idea what the truth might be but it’s a very entertaining ride. The director, Guillame Nicloux, took part in a good-natured bi-lingual Q&A afterwards, in which he revealed that none of the participants are actors and that he was trying to offer a ‘pot-pouri of [Michel]s emotions, other than the usual media portrayal of him’.


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World War II In Colour: The Redoubtable Miss Rosie Newman

We seem to remember the past in black and white, especially the 1930s and ’40s, but the work of Miss Rosie Newman, a British woman who happened to be a talented amateur film maker, allows us a wonderful opportunity to see what the 1940s really looked like – blue skies, sunny streets, the different tones of military kit, nursing uniforms, blooming flowers and neat gardens, vibrant shop windows, different skin colours. Being filmed in the 1940s was very much a novelty, especially if it was a woman behind the camera, some people couldn’t take their eyes off her. This novelty, combined with her impressive social connections and a determination to film wherever she could has left us with a terrific colour documentary about the war, Britain at War In Colour.

So who was Rosie Newman?

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2013 film round up: fashionably late


2013 was a satisfyingly good film year!

It’s been a hectic end of 2013/start of 2014 so my screen roundup has taken a back seat for a few weeks. Now though (before it really is too late) I’m knuckling down to thinking about what a very good film year it was. For the first time I managed to watch 100 films in a year: a drop in the celluloid ocean compared to some of my film friends but it’s pretty big for me. Cambridge Film Festival in September was hugely enjoyable, meeting lots of lovely new people, seeing many unexpectedly good (and a few bad) films and writing some reviews for Take One. I started a blog,, where I post about film, theatre, books and anything else that catches my eye. The most-viewed posts are A Bit Of A Yarn: Knitting For The Cinephile and It’s A Stitch Up! (do have a look, click on titles), which are explorations of the connections between film and knitting and sewing. It’s a surprisingly fruitful thread, if you’ll pardon the pun.

2013’s films started for me with The Angels’ Share at the community cinema I help run; it went down very well and surprised many of the audience, some of whom hadn’t expected to be so brilliantly entertained. 2013 was a big year for community cinema generally, as it seems to have made a small mark on the BFI Film Forever plan, with promises of potential funding and support to develop the network. Organising a community cinema is huge fun, very rewarding and a lot of work. We’ve managed to achieve near or complete sellouts throughout the year, with just a tiny autumn dip in attendances, and we’ve been delighted to hear positive responses to A Separation, Les Diaboliques and The Spirit of ’45, amongst others. Our new line is offering (sold out) film classes thanks to a BFI/Cambridgeshire Film Consortium pilot scheme; so far we’ve enjoyed Hitchcock’s Women, Introduction to film, Millions Like Us: Home Front cinema and Close Readings of 10 films.

In September, the Competition Commission announced its bizarre and ill-informed decision that Cineworld, the Picturehouse chain owners, must divest themselves of three cinemas, most likely Picturehouses, in Aberdeen, Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge. This soaked up many hours of thinking, emailing and discussing and the outcome remains uncertain, despite a high profile media campaign that was even debated in the House of Lords. So we enter 2014 not knowing if the Arts Picturehouse, so important to Cambridge culture, will survive the year; meanwhile 2014’s programme forges optimistically ahead. The Movie Evangelist’s blog is the best place to find out the ins and outs of this shambles.

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Rounding up 2013

What a year it’s been! My 2013 has been filled with film, theatre, books and travel. In this post I’ll look back on theatre, books and travel; film is a weighty subject all on its own and will be covered in my next post – coming soon! I missed the hottest British summer month since…. the last one – when was it? I was in New Zealand. It was winter. But it was a brilliant trip to see my lovely daughter (now thankfully returned to the UK). We stayed in Auckland and basked in the city’s glittering winter sun, breathed the clean, sharp air.


Flying into Auckland, quite excited at this point!


The city from Battery Park.

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It’s a stitch up!


Start ’em young, it’ll pay off big time! Love that little face…

While I was researching my knitting in film blog post, A Bit Of A Yarn: Knitting For The Cinephile, I had to steer my attention away from sewing and darning – this was a topic that deserved its own space. Just as knitting has been used to convey messages about the characters, I wondered if sewing fulfilled a similar function – and if it did what was the message? A film itself is ‘stitched’ together at the editing stage, so it could be said that film and stitching are soul mates. Both activities transform something unfinished into a tangible object, whatever its cultural value may be. Given that costume is so important to any film, it’s interesting to consider sewing scenes in cinema. There isn’t room to think about costume in its own right here, so I’ll save that, along with tailoring and craftsmen, for another day.

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Cambridge Film Festival 2013: Reviewing Dead Cat (UK, directed by Stefan Georgiou)


Dead Cat is a funny, engaging and thoughtful film about being 30-something and realising what is important: it’s a kind of a coming of age film for adults. Relationships of all sorts are at the heart of this very British film – friendships, love and romance, families. It was one of my top three films at this year’s Cambridge Film Festival and I strongly recommend it to anyone. As well as watching Dead Cat on the small and big screen I spoke to director Stefan Georgiou about his debut feature.

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A bit of a yarn: knitting for the cinephile


I love knitting. There I’ve said it. I don’t care if it’s cool or not. I love wool (and fabric, and embroidery thread), I love creating something lovely/useful/individual out of a not-very-exciting-looking pile of wool. If that creation can be specifically for someone else, then I’m happy. My gran taught me to knit on yellow plastic needles when I was six years old and I’ve knitted for most of my life. I wish she had taught me to crochet though as I just can’t get interested now. I’ve made countless cardis and baby clothes, several Shetland shawls, lots of Arans, one Gansey (which was nearly too much even for my patience). It’s a slow, painstaking procedure that is immensely satisfying. It allows space to think, or to switch off from thinking, to be creative, to play with colour and texture. And you get something warm to wear at the end.

Why all this gushing about wool? Well it’s a movie connection: last week the community cinema I help organise showed Les Diaboliques (1955, directed by Henri-Georges Couzet) and not far into the film, there was the supercool Simone Signoret knitting! Oh yes she was, with her wool tucked under her arm like anyone’s mum might, or sitting curled up in the corner knitting away while she plotted murder, sparks flying off the needles as her fingers sped along the rows.  Was it just something for her to do (unlikely – she could smoke with equal style), or does her character Nicole’s knitting represent something more calculated and mysterious?

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Picture Post: Springtime in Cambridge

It’s often the way that when you live near a tourist destination you tend not to visit those places yourself. I’ve lived near Cambridge for a long time but I’ve never done the College tours, the open top bus nor the ghost walk, I’ve only been on a punt once and that was last year. Oh, I’ve seen the spring bulbs along the Backs, but it’s a pitiful effort when we’re talking about one of the world’s loveliest cities. Much as I love Cambridge, for me it’s been a place of work or retail rather than a leisure choice, except for the Arts Picturehouse, the best cinema in the region. So I started a new regime – to get along to some of the city sights that I have so far neglected.

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Anti-Corbyn plots & the myth of the un-electable left

Road To Somewhere Else

By Daniel Margrain


Corbyn speaking at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival and Rally in 2015


In 1978, the Australian social scientist, Alex Carey, pointed out that the twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: “the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” The corporations that now dominate much of the domestic and global economies recognize the need to manipulate the public through media propaganda by manufacturing their consent in order to defend their interests against the forces of democracy. This is largely achieved as a result of coordinated mass campaigns that combine sophisticated public relations techniques.

The result is the media underplay, or even ignore, the economic and ideological motivations that drive the social policy decisions and strategies of governments’. Sharon Beder outlines the reasoning behind the coordinated political…

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Ey up love! York in Spring


Spring brings out the travel-bug in me so this year I headed for York. I hadn’t been there for many years so it felt like a whole new experience. Continue reading

The Crimson Field Episode 6, the finale

The Crimson Field has reached its end.

Did all those storylines get tidied up? No, even more themes are introduced: the brother of one of the orderlies is admitted with a self-inflicted burn. It’s not enough for a ‘Blighty one’ so the orderly breaks the lad’s leg with his bare hands. Nasty.

Who falls for whom? Joan and Anton meet again, he’s arrested, then proposes to her; it can’t work out well. Tom hears the truth about Kitty’s past, he’s not phased. They snog.

Rosalie has become a real nurse.

Who dies? Nice Roland’s soldier son, that’s who.

How many boxes of tissues were needed? None here but forests-full elsewhere no doubt.

Will there be a series two? (Think bears and forest here). Sister Quayle (with her shiny new Red Cross medal)  is going to continue being the bane of Matron’s life in the next series with her scheming and cake stealing; Roland may or may not stay in charge of the hospital; young Flora is starting to grow up. With three years of the war left (it’s October 1915), there is the possibility of several more series.

Pantomime baddie Sister Quayle will continue to cause problems for Matron Carter.

Pantomime baddie Sister Quayle will continue to cause problems for Matron Carter.

The major theme for the final episode is Joan’s crime of ‘consorting with the enemy’. The tagline for this show is ‘The hospital is thrown into disarray’ when an enquiry panel is hastily convened to decide whether she should be court martialled. Actually the ‘disarray’ is quite tame. But there’s a useful sentence or two about the hardships endured by Germans in Britain especially after the Lusitania was sunk in May 1915. I believe it was immensely difficult to speak up for the accused against military law as it stood in these cases. I’ve just read William Broderick’s gripping novel A Whispered Name, which deals with courts martial and seems to me to be a well-considered examination of the ordeal. So I don’t know how realistic this scene is (someone will hopefully enlighten me), but given the previous gaffs in the series, I’d like someone to verify.

I must just re-iterate how quiet it is on the Front! Will I be back for more? Maybe….

Sweet natured Colonel Brett rushes to defend Sister Joan Livesey as she is accused of aiding the enemy.

Sweet natured Colonel Brett rushes to defend Sister Joan Livesey as she is accused of aiding the enemy.


I thought I’d end this blog series with a selection of press reviews of The Crimson Field and a big thank you to everyone who has read each post:

‘It’s hard to conjure a real sense of fear for any of the characters, encased as they are in a world of starched linen and complicated love lives, separated entirely from the squalor and degradation of trench warfare’. Rose Buchanan in The Independent 4th May 2014. Read more at

‘Six million people watched the first episode. It’s possible that if it continues to win high ratings the BBC will be able to claim it as a success, but as one of the marquee productions of the Corporation’s year-long commemoration of the start of the First World War, it feels lacking in realism and gravitas. I expected better’. Chris Harvey in The Telegraph 13th April 2014. Read more at

‘Every now and then a programme reminds why telly is so great and The Crimson Field, as part of the BBC’s World War One centenary programming, has done just that and surprised me in just how good it’s been’. Kate Bellamy Metro Blog, 5th May 2014. Read more

I had been promised an ‘explosive’ episode of The Crimson Field from a couple of correspondents on social media, after I felt that this drama series had been a slow burner so far. This week there was a plethora of story strands to deal with, from the turmoil and uprising in Ireland to self-inflicted wounds of presumed cowards. WG_Sherborne in the Western Gazette, 21 April 2014.

‘There was a little bit of gore, but not enough to deter a mainstream audience. When a patient died, for instance, the camera cut to the nurse’s face as we heard him breathe his last. You need a stronger stomach to watch Call The Midwife, frankly. Realism was missing in another way, too, one that wasn’t obvious at first: it’s too quiet. There were men screaming, and orderlies shouting, and lorries rumbling, but there were no guns. So close to the front, the noise of artillery ought to have been constant. The big howitzers could be heard across the Channel in London when the wind was blowing in our direction’. Christopher Stevens in The Daily Mail, 7 April 2014.
Read more:

And finally…

‘If you are interested in a more warts-and-all view of field hospitals you could do well to look to The Backwash of War by Ellen La Motte. As Ellen herself wrote, ‘there are many people to tell you of the noble side, the heroic side, the exalted side of war. I want to tell you of what I have seen, the other side, the backwash. They are both true.’ Ellen was an American nurse who volunteered and served in a French field hospital ten miles behind the Belgian lines.  Her series of sketches were published initially in the Atlantic Monthly and later as a collection. They were banned at the time because of the effect they were considered to have on public morale, and they make harrowing reading’. The National Archives’ blog post by Sally Hughes. 28 April 2014. Read the blog at



The Crimson Field Episode 5

‘New woman’ Sister Joan is desperate to know the fate of her fiance. Image: BBC/Nick Wall.

Sister Joan’s (Suranne Jones) dangerous secret was revealed last week by Flora and then ruthlessly exploited by pantomime baddie Sister Quayle. It was announced to an assembly that Joan was engaged (ring spotted on chain round neck) , which forced her to make up a tale about her fiancé being in the British Army, when actually he’s a German. In my programme notes I had written ‘Interesting strand?’ Too hopeful! It sadly descended into an unbelievable plot involving what looked like resistance fighters as Joan desperately tries to make contact with her man. It’s basically a spy theme that might end up in Joan being shot as a traitor. What are the chances in the last episode?

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Joan is arrested and charged with a capital offence.

At last the focus turns to Matron Carter (Hermione Norris); she has been simmering away in the background doing good here and there and putting up with Sister Quayle’s jealousy over the promotion. This week’s incoming wounded introduces Colonel Ballard, an imperious, brusquely spoken officer from the Punjabi Rifles. They have a brief verbal spat, in Punjabi: ‘Well well well, she speaks Punjabi’ he sneers. Another strand, this time it’s the colonials! OK writers and producers give us a treat: please explore the empire line, as it were. It appears that Matron grew up in the Punjab and comes from a well-heeled family. That’s it really.


Matron Carter meets Colonel Ballard from the Punjabi Rifles.

This week we have our first splash of mud! It rains during this episode, quite a lot it seems as muddy puddles finally get their day in the spotlight. Posh, aloof Rosie Barratt is outed as a Rt. Hon. when a package addressed to her is spied on the post trolley. However, for whatever reason, (reader, there must be one, it is a constructed narrative after all) she trips in a muddy puddle and her glowing white apron becomes sullied. Nothing is made of this.

It’s all so QUIET as Bjork might say; there are few sounds of battle, which is odd when you consider that the rumblings of explosions could be heard frequently across the Channel in Kent and mentioned in various diaries, for example the Reverend Andrew Clarke, writing from Essex on July 1 1916: ‘All this morning the Flanders (as it is supposed) guns have been booming forth, making [the] house quiver at times and shaking window sashes. At 10am they made almost an uninterrupted roll of sound, like a long roll of distant thunder’. Now that is terrifying and feels real.

Flora (the prissy one with a gay brother) decides to raise morale by organising a concert party. I wonder if  in reality the YMCA might have done this as they were set up in pretty every location in the various theatres of war. Who can tell me more? But it gave the cast a good excuse to have a singalong, maybe to raise their morale as much as ours. Anyway, the last episode is next week and then I can go back to being a Sunday-night-drama avoider.


Let’s just remind ourselves of the real women involved in nursing behind the lines.

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Nurses at New Zealand Stationary Hospital, Wisques, France,, 1918. Image: New Zealand Archives, Reference: IA76 H905.