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With Sister Frances away taking much-deserved rest and recuperation in Chichester, a new nun has arrived at Nonnatus House. Like Mother Mildred, Sister Veronica worked at the order’s orphanage in Hong Kong, and is a powerful presence. She quickly annoys Fred by quibbling about every bicycle he offers her for transport around Poplar, but endears herself to Sister Monica Joan with her singing during prayer services.
Fred is feeling adrift, as the authorities have decided to disband the Civil Defense Corps. He won’t have a uniformed role for the first time in decades—but he’ll have more time to do chores for Violet. Unfortunately, the discounted paint the Buckles acquired turns out to be too vibrant for their store—and for Cyril, even for free—so he passes it on to Nonnatus House, where Sister Monica Joan takes an interest. Monica Joan decides to paint some of the chapel, but Sister Julienne gets paint on her clothes and orders the paint to be put outside for someone else to take.
It ends up in the hands of dockworkers like Wally Pickard. The Member of Parliament Enoch Powell has just made his infamous anti-immigrant “Rivers of Blood” speech, and although he has been sacked from the government as a result, the dockworkers are going on strike to support him with the slogan “Back Britain, not Black Britain.” When Cyril sees the distinctively colored paint on their signs, he confronts Fred, who’s upset by the whole thing.
Further upset comes when one of the supporters of the strike accidentally hits a South Asian girl with his car outside the Buckle store. Cyril and Fred rush to her aid and send her to the hospital. The incident leads Fred to become a crossing guard: he’ll still have a uniform and some purpose.
Wally Pickard is a leader of the strike, but his wife Greta seems to have avoided internalizing his racial animosity. She likes and welcomes Lucille into her home to check on her health during her fifth pregnancy. Wally is often out of work, so she has picked up an extra job and can’t rest during her pregnancy. She also has varicose veins and won’t wear her support hose, leading to an infection—but Lucille convinces her that the hose are preventative. And her daughter has an abscess that needs attending to by a dentist, but the family can’t afford one.
Sister Veronica proves helpful in the last respect. She fills out loads of paperwork to get the Pickards various free things, and even fibs slightly to get the daughter into the dentist immediately. But Wally doesn’t want his children to have free lunches—he thinks it will invite scorn.
The Pickards also receive some support from a kindly neighbor, who gives them a curry. Greta, afraid of the spices in it, gives it to Lucille, who takes it home and shares it with Cyril.
Lucille and Cyril are trying to get pregnant, but their lack of success is not the source of an absence Lucille has recently been feeling: she misses Jamaica, especially after receiving photos from her sister’s wedding. She’s never even met her sister’s husband, and her sister hasn’t met Cyril. Lucille calls in sick the next day, too overwhelmed by depression to get out of bed.
Olive Macketts physically can’t get out of bed. She has an excruciating form of terminal cancer and is slowly dying at home, not wanting to stay in the hospital. The pain is so great that her landlord, Jessie Parris, calls Dr. Turner to administer morphine.
Nancy attends to Olive and becomes friendly with both her and Jessie, who works hard to make Olive comfortable, putting prisms in the window to shed rainbow light on the room and leaving the window open so that Olive can hear the sounds of the place where she was born. Olive can’t move without help and refuses to use a bedpan, but when Nancy tries to help her to the toilet Jessie rushes in and takes over.
Jessie later explains to Nancy that she and Olive met decades ago in a women’s civilian organization, then both became teachers. They have lived together for some 25 years, hiding in plain sight as a couple. Jessie refuses to allow Olive to die in the hospital. Lesbianism isn’t illegal, but attitudes can be a stronger deterrent than laws. And since Jessie isn’t Olive’s next-of-kin, she wouldn’t be able to be by her side as she died in the hospital.
As Olive declines, Trixie and Nancy switch out attending her at nearly all hours. She finally dies with Jessie lying next to her in bed. Nancy arrives to give Jessie a hug, while Trixie helps put the uniform of the civilian organization on Olive. Miss Higgins suggests that Jessie list her relation to Olive on her death form as “present at death”—there’s nothing more intimate than that.
Trixie and Matthew are further familiarizing themselves with each other as they (really, Trixie) plan their wedding. They’re meeting all the special people in each other’s lives—including the parents of Matthew’s late wife, Fiona. Trixie is anxious about the meeting, but it’s important to Matthew, and goes well.
Sister Veronica’s introduction to Poplar is going over less well. She tells Sister Julienne that she needs the order to buy her a car for transport, instead of using an old bike, because she’s missing part of a lung. Julienne writes to Mother Mildred, who warns her that Veronica has a “propensity for tactical falsehoods.” She doesn’t have any health problems. Julienne scolds her, telling her she will have to use a bicycle unless she can secure funding for something else.
So Veronica goes to Matthew, the benefactor of Nonnatus House, and regales him with health problems to get him to buy her a scooter.
Lucille’s problems are less easily solved. She wants to go home to Jamaica, she tells Nurse Crane and Cyril. Enoch Powell’s speech further upsets Lucille, and Nurse Crane takes over her calls one day to let Lucille rest.
But when Greta Pickard goes into labor, Lucille goes to the clinic to attend to her, since she likes the stretched-thin mother. While Greta’s husband leads the strike in support of Powell, Lucille supports Greta in her labor. But when a South Asian woman is rushed into a private room ahead of Greta because she’s farther along in her labor, even though she arrived at the clinic later, Greta begins slapping Lucille’s hands away and ranting that Powell is right: immigrants should be second in Britain, excepting Lucille, of course.
Lucille snaps at Greta and walks away. Luckily, Sister Veronica is there to finish delivering Greta’s daughter, whom Greta names Marie—a name that has been in the family ever since they came to England from France a couple centuries ago. When a baby cries that night, the South Asian woman cries in a bed near Greta’s, and Greta kindly accompanies her to go see their babies together. Back at home, Greta again accepts a curry from her neighbor, with a smile.
Lucille tells Sister Julienne that she is not well, and gets a sick leave. She again tells Cyril that she wants to go home, but he explains that she can’t: they have jobs, they’re saving for a house, they’re trying for a baby.