Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Dark Angel

It's a very British thing to share "a nice cup of tea" with someone. It usually puts the world to rights, even if only briefly. Unless you happen to be Alexander Litvinkenko or in any way related to Mary Ann Cotton, in which case "a nice cup of tea" is seriously bad news.

Mary Ann Cotton was Britain's first female serial killer. Dark Angel told her rather far-fetched seeming story. But hailing from County Durham, she really existed. Using a teapot full of arsenic, when not scrubbing away bed bugs, Mary Ann murdered her way through at least three husbands, one lover, her mother, best friend, and possibly several of her children, and a few of other people's too. Her husbands all had life insurance policies, which were readily paid out to our evil, hyperfertile, softspoken Mackem. (Not that she got wealthy from their deaths - she remained poor and debt-ridden.) It seems that people so commonly died of typhoid or gastric fever in those days that it took a very long time for the claims departments to get suspicious about all these painful deaths by vomiting. In fact they never did - she was eventually found out by a pharmacist. Mary Ann gets life insurance money for her dead children too, although the implication on ITV is that none of them were killed deliberately. The reality is more blurred.

If the TV series is to be believed, an awful lot of her children died before she discovered arsenic. Mary Ann's life was stuck in one long miserable cycle of pregnancy, birth and bereavement. Her first husband (and in fact every subsequent husband), as far as she was concerned, was a useless tosser. Particularly after she discovers sex with local bad boy Joe Nattrass. She moves on from town to town, job to job, husband to husband, but Nattrass remains a constant provider of pleasure and entertainment. (Until she bumps him off too.) I will never be able to look at the pier in Saltburn again. Let's not think about what might happen underneath the boardwalk, but last summer, the railings above had been brilliantly yarnbombed.

Yarnbombing, and the view towards Mary Ann's family home

The other main location shoot for Dark Angel was none other than our park at the end of our street. Filming was done over a few days in August 2015. Stupidly, I didn't take any pictures. We had our usual route to the reading cafe and play area blocked by television trucks, lighting rigs, bossy women with clipboards, and people in Victorian costume pushing prams and carrying parasols.

We love our park. Built by Joseph Rowntree as a memorial to his factory workers who fell in the First World War, the park opened in 1921. Only having a small, damp north-facing yard, we use it as our garden. And we don't have to mow its lawns, prune its trees or weed its flower beds. Although given government austerity, that time may yet come. It might be ankle deep in goose poo and flood regularly, but on a regular day, the park a haven of green and tranquility. (The goose poo was all too apparent on Dark Angel.) It has fun climbing frames and a zip wire, play sculptures, a woodland walk, a library cafe, model boating and wildlife ponds, waterfowl, islands of coot nests and abandoned goose eggs, a mosaic maze, bowling greens, weeping willows, tennis courts and rose pergolas. It hosts regular events like cycling festivals, sponsored walks, forest schools, and an annual birthday party where the queues for facepainting stretch for miles. The other day, a thousand KitKats were strung from the aforementioned pergolas. It's the sort of magical thing that happens there. Rowntree Park has many people who care for it, and one resident park keeper, who sails around in a dinghy when the flood waters rise. It opens late in summer, but closes far too early in winter. Last winter, after storms Desmond and Eva, the park was full of water for several weeks, and badly damaged. It's made a miraculous recovery, thanks to a lot of hard work by the city council and local residents.

Chocolate bombing

The same pergolas in flood

As well as Rowntree Park and lovely Saltburn On Sea, filming for Dark Angel also took place at Holy Trinity Church on Goodramgate, the Beamish Museum and a house on a familiar looking street that I can't quite identify but it must be round here. Cotton was hanged in the old prison yard of the Castle Museum in York . The teapot ended up in the River Ouse just opposite our house.

Dark Angel was silly, sexed up, contrived, tended to state the bleedin' obvious ("Keep back, lass, arsenic is POISONOUS!"), but nonetheless an entertaining yarn for a wintry Monday night.

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