When Small Is Beautiful

By Bernie Bell

Peedie Breeks has closed.  The Council plan to demolish the premises, and gave the Nursery warning to close.  At the time, I didn’t see why Peedie Breeks couldn’t be offered to move to part of the old Balfour Hospital premises.  It turns out that OIC have plans for that site, too.  There have been a lot of words said about providing child care for people with young children, but, meanwhile, what are they  to do, right now?

On the day that Peedie Breeks closed,  OIC announced that they are going to spend 1.5 million on a new ‘Early learning and childcare facility’. Fine, sounds promising, but – what do the parents of small children do for child care, in between?  Why not let Peedie Breeks stay where they are, until the new ‘facility’ is ready? If they need to demolish to re-build, why not let them use the old Balfour premises, for now?   Why closure, leaving parents in a quandary?

I’m told that good child-minders are hard enough to find on Orkney already – they are there, there just aren’t enough of them!

This got me thinking, once again, about the inner workings and machinations of OIC, and it also got me remembering going to nursery myself – though it was a long time ago – another world.

My Dad worked, first at a foundry, then having contracted pneumonia three times,  he decide to look for alternative work. How come pneumonia three times?  There weren’t facilities in the foundry for the workers to have a shower and change of clothes, back then. They worked in the heat of the foundry, getting very sweaty.  A strong memory of my Dad is his working man’s sweat – a good memory – we humans used to rely a lot on the familiarity of smells.  Then, they headed home in what they were wearing – whatever the weather. Result – pneumonia.

He then worked as a bus driver, which was much better for his health.  My parents took in lodgers to help to make ends meet.  I was the youngest of five children, and was a bit of a surprise – the last twinkle in my Daddy’s eye – turning up seven years after my next eldest sister.  So, Mum had enough to do at home, and, from the ages of 3 to 5, I went to a local nursery – St. Pat’s.  I have clear and good  memories of it.  I liked it . We had swings and a slide to play on outside.  Inside, a Nature Table, which I loved, and a Wendy House. I even remember the food being good!

There was one boy, Michael Corrigan, who was picking on the other kids, so me and my friend Isobel cornered him in the Wendy House and told him that, if he picked on the other kids, we’d pick on him!  That sorted him.

The was another little boy, Thomas Stenazdak (spelling?) who used to poo and pee outside.  At first, the nuns couldn’t work out why as, otherwise, he was a well-behaved child.  So, one of them went to see his parents.  It turned out that they hadn’t been in England long, had come from a small cottage in the back of beyond in Poland, and Thomas hadn’t yet got used to using a toilet. They frightened him  – the sudden noise of the flushing.  He got used to it, eventually, but not before getting the nick-name of Dirty Thomas – that’s what kids do, I’m afraid.

One of the nuns sat us all down and explained, and showed us a map, and pictures of where Thomas had come from, and we understood. We also then understood why we didn’t know what Thomas was saying. We’d thought it was part to his general oddness.  It was part of his general difference.  For all I know, he’s now a prominent member of society, and would be mortified at this tale, but, he’s not all that likely to read it!

Nursery also prepared us for school. By the time I went to school, at age 5, I could read a bit.  It took a while for me to write legibly.  I could write, I knew what the marks were saying, but other people, didn’t!  Some things don’t change much.

St. Pat’s wasn’t an ‘Early learning and childcare facility’. It didn’t cost 1.5 million to build.  It was small, friendly, and a bit jumbly, with people who took the time to explain things to us – it was a good preparation for what was ahead.

The new ‘facility’ might be marvellous, and I might just be being a stick-in-the-mud, but, I have two questions….

One – what are the parents supposed to do while it’s being built?

Two – why have such a peremptory approach to the folk at Peedie Breeks, who have supplied the needs of the community so well for so long?

Meanwhile, I’m remembering St. Pat’s Nursery, and the Nature Table, and I’m thinking of the potential difference between  a place called Peedie Breeks, and a place referred to as an  ‘Early learning and childcare facility’.

And, as always – why this mania for building, and, where  do they get the money from?

Bernie Bell as a child

Me ready to face the world