Peter in 1963, aged 9
I was born in England in 1953. Both my parents were from County Cork but had emigrated to Sidcup in the south of England after the war. My dad was a GP and my mother acted as his secretary answering the phone and arranging appointments. So both of my parents were pretty busy and I spent a fair amount of time by myself.
Toys like Bayko and Meccano were great at keeping me occupied. They were tricky to use, with many small fiddly pieces that had to line up and fit precisely. If you didn’t follow the instructions exactly you would end up with an awful mess and frequently have to spend hours stripping the models back to where the mistake had been made to be able to go forward again. But the effort was well worth the time and the sense of satisfaction on completion was fantastic.
I think I got my first Bayko set when I was 8 or 9. You probably wouldn’t be able to sell a toy like it nowadays because the metal rods used to form the structure would now be considered dangerous for a child. I do remember giving myself some nasty scrapes in the early days from the sharp ends of the rods but I quickly learned how to avoid injury and I avoided poking an eye out!
A Bayko model under construction
The completed model
I suppose too, that through Bayko and Meccano I learned patience, attention to detail and the need to plan ahead ensuring that the right components were available when needed. Perhaps most important of all I learned the ability to analyse why a model was not working out correctly and what remedial action was needed to correct the error. Training which has stood me in good stead in later life as a chartered civil engineer.
Unfortunately when I was 11 my father died suddenly and we had to leave our house which doubled up as a surgery. At this stage too I had started at boarding school at Ampleforth College in the north of England. My mother decided to return to Ireland and bought a house in Dublin after selling our Sidcup home. To make ends meet she returned to her pre-marriage profession of dress designer. I would stay at school during the term time and only return home over the school holidays.
In 1968 she remarried, this time to an Irish surgeon practicing in Nakuru in Kenya. So Africa became my home base – for holidays – until 1972. I loved Kenya. The climate was dependable, the wildlife superb and the people fascinating. I loved it so much that when I finished school I took a gap year and spent it teaching in a little bush school north of Nakuru. If I had worked at school half as hard as those kids I would never have had any trouble passing exams. I well remember in the evening, when it got dark, the kids would borrow my pressure lamp – the only one on the school compound – and gather their desks around its light to study for a couple of hours while the pile of dead insects that came in through the glassless windows piled up on their desks.
Since I had been through the UK educational system I decided to do my engineering degree in the UK. The other factor for choosing UK was that courses in Ireland were 4 years while those in UK were only
3 years. As my mother and myself would have to fund the course the shorter option was economically attractive. So I ended up at Sheffield University which I thoroughly enjoyed though I soon realised that the huge scope of engineering packed into three years required a huge workload on the part of the student.
But, I got my degree and was recruited by a South African construction company who were prepared to pay for my passage out to South Africa. However I was not happy in apartheid South Africa and after a couple of months I got a transfer to a little land locked independent kingdom called Swaziland ( It is now called Eswatini ). I loved it. It was a small mountainous country with pleasant people, ruled by an autocratic but wise king and best of all, no apartheid.
Road building in Swaziland
After three and a half years I returned to Ireland and got myself a job with a firm of consulting engineers (Arup). The company was relaxed but hard working and fostered independence of its staff. The work was varied and I was involved with hospital design and acted as resident engineer at Phoenix Park for the Pope’s visit in 1979.
After two years I got itchy feet again and with my new wife I got a transfer to one of our sister practices in Papua New Guinea.That was interesting! The climate was very hot and very humid and the mosquitos horrendous. But the New Guineans were lovely and the work, though challenging, was varied and stimulating. After having two children born out in New Guinea we decided it was time to come home and show them off to the grandparents, and so we returned to Ireland in 1983 and to the Arup Dublin office.
Peter, his daughter, and next door neighbours in Papua New Guinea
Since then most of my working career has been here in Dublin either on the construction of the Financial Services Centre or up in the Guinness Brewery assisting them with all the never ending developments there.
During 1994 I did get a short secondment from Arup to Oxfam and went out to what was then Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) to help put water supplies into the refugee camps for the Rwanda refugees following on from the genocide. Interesting work, very challenging and sometimes downright scary!
Oxfam Water Treatment Works – Zaire
My three children (one born back here in Ireland after our return from PNG) were never interested in my Bayko or Meccano sets. For them they loved Lego which gave them hours of fun. I can understand why
in that Lego is so versitile; you can build airplanes, houses, ships etc and the components fit together simply and snugly. Bayko and Meccano were definitely more fiddly and perhaps not quite so realistic. However, all of them provide a good early grounding and discipline in construction and planning.
Donated by Peter to the Museum of Childhood Ireland, April 2023.