Bedtime Stories with R.A. Spratt

'The True History of Marie Curie' as told by Nanny Piggins

January 04, 2023 R.A. Spratt Season 5 Episode 17
'The True History of Marie Curie' as told by Nanny Piggins
Bedtime Stories with R.A. Spratt
More Info
Bedtime Stories with R.A. Spratt
'The True History of Marie Curie' as told by Nanny Piggins
Jan 04, 2023 Season 5 Episode 17
R.A. Spratt

After Samantha is suspended from school for throwing a slice of carrot cake at the school bully, Nanny Piggins tells the children the story of her distant cousin, the brilliant and alluring scientist - Marie Curie.

If you'd like to come to the launch of 'Friday Barnes 11, Last Chance' in Melbourne on January 28th 2023 here's the link...

If you'd like to come to the Sydney event for 'Friday Barnes 11, Last Chance' at the Better Read Than Dead Bookstore on February 4th 2023 here's the link...

Support the show at

Support the Show.

To purchase merchandise visit...

For information about live shows use this link...

To buy one of my books use this link...

Show Notes Transcript

After Samantha is suspended from school for throwing a slice of carrot cake at the school bully, Nanny Piggins tells the children the story of her distant cousin, the brilliant and alluring scientist - Marie Curie.

If you'd like to come to the launch of 'Friday Barnes 11, Last Chance' in Melbourne on January 28th 2023 here's the link...

If you'd like to come to the Sydney event for 'Friday Barnes 11, Last Chance' at the Better Read Than Dead Bookstore on February 4th 2023 here's the link...

Support the show at

Support the Show.

To purchase merchandise visit...

For information about live shows use this link...

To buy one of my books use this link...

‘The True History of Marie Curie,’ as told by Nanny Piggins


Nanny Piggins vibrated with righteous fury as she strode towards the headmaster’s office. She actually quite enjoyed confronting the headmaster. But the thing she enjoyed most about it was the drama. And there would be no drama if she didn’t get good and cross about the injustice of it all first. 

The headmaster’s assistant had rung and told her one of the children was going to be suspended. Nanny Piggins did not stay on the line long enough to even find out which one. She knew her children were as capable of mischief and mishap as any other child. But she also knew they were not the type of children to do anything suspension worthy. 

If one of them was being suspended an injustice was taking place. And she would not allow that to happen. She had put her extra dense chocolate mud cake in her handbag just in case she need to hit the headmaster of the head with it.

‘What is the meaning of this then!’ demanded Nanny Piggins as she kicked in the headmasters door.

‘Nanny Piggins,’ remonstrated the headmaster. ‘How many times must I ask you, please do not kick in my door. It’s always unlocked. There’s just no need.’

‘Door handles are unhygienic,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I only do it out of concern for public safety. What is this outrageous slander I hear about you suspending one of my boys.’

The headmaster looked confused, ‘What?’ he asked.

‘Um… it’s not one of the boys,’ said Samantha.

Nanny Piggins turned to see Samantha sitting quietly on a chair in the corner.

‘You!’ said Nanny Piggins. Samantha was generally speaking the quietest, shyest, most timid, best behaved child Nanny Piggins had ever met. The notion of her doing anything suspension worthy was brain boggling. ‘What did you do?’

‘She struck another student,’ said the headmaster.

‘Really?’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘What did they do?’

‘There’s no excuse for violence,’ said the Headmaster.

‘Hmm,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘You’ve clearly never met my brother Bramwell.’  She turned to Samantha. ‘Now tell me what happened.’

‘Barry Nichols said something that made me angry,’ said Samantha.

‘What did he say?’ asked Nanny Piggins. 

‘Well, I had a science test after lunch,’ said Samantha. ‘So I was studying my notes. Barry saw me doing it and said I shouldn’t bother because girls were bad at science.’

‘That statement is so utterly inaccurate it’s stupid,’ said Nanny Piggins.

‘That’s what I thought,’ said Samantha. ‘But I was so angry I couldn’t think of clever words like that. So I just said – that’s not true. What about Marie Curie? Then he said, ‘Marie who? I’ve never heard of her’. And I knew she’d won the nobel prize and done all sorts of amazing things in science but I was so upset I couldn’t think how to say all that in words so I just picked up the nearest thing and threw it at his face.’

‘What did you throw?’ asked Nanny Piggins.

‘A slice of cake,’ said Samantha.

‘Samantha Green!’ exclaimed Nanny Piggins. ‘How dare you?! The boy may be an ignoramus but that is no excuse to damage a slice of cake. Was it the red velvet cake I packed in your lunchbox. What a waste!’

‘Oh no, I ate that,’ said Samantha. ‘You’ve always taught us that the most important thing to do when you’re preparing for an exam is the carb loading.’

‘And the sugar loading,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Never forget the sugar loading. Sugar is vital for brain function. And if it doesn’t make your brain function better it will at least cheer you up when you do terribly in the exam.’

‘Yes, but I was sitting next to Margaret Wallace,’ explained Samantha. ‘And she had a slice of cake in her lunch. That’s what I threw.’

‘Margaret Wallace?’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But Nanny Anne is her nanny!’ 

Nanny Anne was Nanny Piggins nemesis. Nanny Piggins had many nemesis. Cake baking nemesises, cannon blasting nemesises, rodeo riding nemesises, ninja star throwing nemesises and many more. But Nanny Anne was her nannying nemesis. She was a nanny so perfectly perfect it was nauseating.

‘Yes,’ said Samantha. ‘I didn’t think it would hurt him. But I didn’t realise what sort of cake it was…’

‘Not!’ Nanny Piggins gasped in horror. ‘Not carrot cake!’

Samantha nodded.

‘That poor boy,’ said Nanny Piggins.

‘It had chunks of carrot so big it’s lucky he didn’t’ lose an eye,’ said the Headmaster.

‘Well then, why isn’t Nanny Anne being suspended?’ demanded Nanny Piggins. ‘She’s the one sending her children to school carrying dangerous weapons.’

‘Carrot cake is a perfectly healthy nutritious snack,’ argued the Headmaster.

‘If it can give a boy a black eye just think what it would have done to poor Margaret’s bowels!’ declared Nanny Piggins. ‘Samantha probably saved her life. Right, that’s it! I’m taking you home.’

‘But I’m sending her home,’ said the Headmaster, realising he wasn’t rapidly losing control of the situation. (Although really he hadn’t been in control since the moment Nanny Piggins had set trotter in his office.

‘You are not,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I won’t allow it. You have failed to protect Samantha from uncouth comments and vegetable infused dessert. And to make matters worse, you have failed to teach her the story of Marie Curie – the greatest female pig scientist the world has ever known.’

‘Marie Curie wasn’t a pig,’ protested the Headmaster.

‘Hah!’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘You’re just making matters worse by revealing the depths of your ignorance.’

‘I, Nanny Piggins, am suspending Samantha, Michael and Derrick from this institution until you can rectify the situation,’ declared Nanny Piggins.

‘Father won’t like that,’ said Samantha.

‘Oh yes, you’re probably right,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘What day of the week is it?’

‘Tuesday,’ said Samantha.

‘Is the ice cream shop open on Tuesday?’ asked Nanny Piggins.

‘Yes,’ said Samantha.

‘Alright, I’m suspending the children for the rest of the day as punishment,’ said Nanny Piggins.

‘But the boys didn’t do anything,’ said the headmaster.

‘I’m not punishing them,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I’m punishing you. Come along Samantha.’

‘You’re just going to take them to the ice cream shop for the rest of the day, aren’t you,’ accused the headmaster.

‘Yes, I am,’ said Nanny Piggins proudly. ‘We shall read the list of flavours and add up the spare change from the back of the sofa to make our purchases. So it will be a lesson in literacy and numeracy and therefore much more educational that what’s been going on in this school. Good day.

And that is how Nanny Piggins, Boris and the Green children came to be sitting in the ice cream parlour at 2pm on a school day. Boris had hurried down to join them when Nanny Piggins had rung and told him what was going on. Also, when she told him that the ice cream shop was serving honey crunch ice cream again.

After several triple scoop cones each, Nanny Piggins felt that Samantha had recovered enough for her to learn the real story of Marie Curie. And so she began…

‘The amazing thing about Marie Curie,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Was not just the brilliant things she discovered, or how they changed the world, it was that she had to overcome so much prejudice to do it.’

‘Sexism?’ asked Derrick.

‘And pigism,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Scientists have always been small-minded people. Which is ironic really because they have great big thoughts when they think about science. But in day to day real life they’re as simple minded as cavemen. Actually that’s not fair. Cave men painted rock art so they were creative cultural souls. No, scientists are as simple minded as the rock, cave men painted on.

‘That’s a big call Nanny Piggins,’ said Derrick.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I know it sounds dreadfully judgemental and perhaps a bit cruel. But the subject of Marie Curie’s mistreatment is a sensitive subject for me, because she was…

‘A dear relative?’ guessed Michael.

‘Why yes,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘How did you know?’

‘She was fabulously talented and brilliant,’ said Michael. ‘So I just had a wild guess.’

‘Yes,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘She was also mysteriously attractive to men. Brilliance and extreme attractiveness is a burden we Pigginses have endured throughout countless generations. Poor Cleopatra Piggins barely had time to run Eygpt she was so busy being loved by world leaders.’

‘You’re confusing me Sarah,’ said Boris. ‘Could you please start at the beginning.’

‘Yes, of course my dear,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I apologise. I don’t know what came over me. Post modernist deconstructed story structure makes me quite angry myself.’

Boris hugged his sister and she began her tale.

‘It all started in 1867 when a little baby called Maria Sklowdowska Piggins was born,’ began Nanny Piggins.

‘I thought she was called Marie Curie?’ said Michael.

‘That was her married surname,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘She wasn’t born married. Although with a surname that hard to spell and pronounce I’m sure she started planning to as soon as her kindergarten teacher made her try to write it out.

‘Now Poland is an absolutely marvellous country,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘It has beautiful country side, delicious food and wonderful people. But the problem with Poland is it has dreadful neighbours. Austria, Germany and Russia throughout history have always been rushing back and forth across their country conquering. Wars wars wars – throughout their history. And the actual Polish people rarely won any of them. As a result it was not the happiest or most affluent of countries. 

In fact, in 1867 the part of Poland that Marie lived in was actually controlled by Russia. And the Russian government didn’t like for Polish people to be too Polish, which was a problem because they were Polish. This created a lot of tension. 

The Russians weren’t big on women, or anyone interested in Polish nationalist politics, getting tertiary educations either. But the Polish people were determined to learn so they set up a Flying University. 

‘Where they taught people to fly?’ asked Michael. ‘Out of cannons, just like you?’ 

‘No, although that would be a tremendously good idea,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Imagine a university that taught it’s students cannon blasting skills. That would be so much more useful than an arts degree. But that’s not what the Flying University was. It was a secret university. Where students and teachers met in secret locations at secret times so Polish students could keep learning during the Russian occupation.

Marie was one of their students and she learned a lot through this flying university. But if she was going to become a scientist, she really needed to get a proper degree from a non-secret university. So it made sense for her to seek an education in another country. And at that time the finest University in Europe for science was the Sorbonne in Paris. 

‘Now Marie also had a very smart sister, called Bronislawa  and the two sister made a deal,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Marie would work for three years as a nanny, to pay for her sister to leave Poland and go to University and study medicine. When her sister graduated, she would work to pay for Marie to go to University.’

‘And that’s what she did?’ asked Michael.

‘Yes,’ said Nanny Piggins.

‘So the greatest woman scientist of all time worked for three years as a nanny!’ exclaimed Derrick.

‘You know you don’t need to qualify that statement with the word ‘woman’,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Marie Curie was the greatest scientist of her age. In fact a lot of other ages as well. There was no one else alive at that time who was as brilliant as her. Except for Albert Einstein. But what did Einstein come up with – a bunch of ideas and equations… Tremendously boring stuff. Marie found actual things – radation which made actual things – x-ray machines and nuclear bombs. Which is actually not something we put in her pro column but you get my point.’

‘Still it’s amazing to thing that such a brilliant mind had to work for three years taking care of children,’ said Derrick.

‘I don’t know why that shocks you,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I take care of children. And I am brilliant.’

This may seem immodest but Nanny Piggins was only telling the truth.

‘Some would say that taking care of children is the most important job of all,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Certainly more important that what politicians get up to. They just get together, where fancy suits and yell at each other. Any nincompoop can do that. Raising a child is a very challenging task. The amount of cake that needs to be baked alone is not a work load an ordinary person could handle.

Anyway, Marie spent three years working as a nanny, and after that time she got her chance to go to the a proper non-flying university. As you can imagine, she’d been really looking forward to it. She had so many ideas and ambitions. She couldn’t wait to get started. But she was a bit taken aback when she got there to discover that everyone in France spoke French.

‘Surely she realised that before she got there?’ said Samantha.

‘I think she knew on some level,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘She would have known a lot of French because all educated young ladies did in those days. But I think when you actually get to France and hear French people talking French, it’s always a bit of a shock. French spoken by French people doesn’t sound the way it looks written down. They seem to swallow their consonents as if they were chocolate covered. Anyway, Marie had to give herself a crash course in French before she could follow what was going on in her science lectures.’

And when she could figure out what they were saying, she soon came to realise they were talking a lot about how they didn’t want a woman to be there.  And there was only one woman there, so they clearly meant her. So even thought Marie had earned 2 degrees in 2 years while studying in her second language and had some cracking ideas she wanted to research, they didn’t want to give her a lab. 

Now, around this time a man called Pierre Curie fell desperately in love with her. He was a respected scientist himself. And because he was a man people would listen to him. So he persuaded a friend to let Marie use an old shed for her research. And in that shed she made her first breakthroughs. 

‘My teacher told us that Marie Curie was so practical that when she got married, she bought herself a navy blue wedding dress,’ said Samantha. ‘So she could wear it in the lab when she was working.’

‘Yes, I’ve heard that story too,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But you must remember that she was a Piggins, so it could also be that the reverse was true. That she had a wedding dress so fabulous and flattering that she decided to wear it to work every day so she could look impossibly glamorous while revolutionizing the world of science.’

‘Marie was interested in the energy that was emitted from some minerals,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘She described them as having ‘rays’ as in the sun’s ‘rays’. And that’ show she came up with the word ‘radioactivity’ to describe what she was observing. 

Pierre abandoned his own work in crystals to help her in her research. 

She discovered a new element that had these radioactive properties and she named it Polonium after her home country Poland. Later she discovered Radium which she again named after the word ray and radioactivity.

These radioactive materials soon proved to be useful. Marie observed that they could be used to treat cancer. And it was discovered that they could be used to make x-rays, which has been invaluable to me. 

The number of times doctors have tried to convince me that I must have broken a bone because I landed so hard after being fired out of a cannon.n Only for me to prove them wrong when the x-ray results come back. It’s very hard to break a bone when you eat as much chocolate as I do, because the levels in my diet are off the charts.  

This was all so astonishing in 1903 they had to give Marie’s work the Nobel Prize for physics. The Nobel Prize committee tried to just give it to Pierre and another one of their male colleagues. 

‘What rotters,’ said Boris.

‘But eventually someone pointed out that to be such big meany pants would be unscientific, and they let her share it with them,’ said Nanny Piggins. And so Marie Curie became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize. 

Then – brace yourself for this bit Boris. You may need a box of tissues and some recuperative honeycomb ice cream – in 1906, Pierre was hit by a horse drawn cart and died.

‘That’s terrible,’ wailed Boris.

‘Quick Derrick,’ urged Nanny Piggins. You’d better get Boris another ice cream.

‘A triple scoop?’ asked Derrick.

‘No,’ said Nanny piggins. ‘You’d better just lift the whole tub out of the freezer and let Boris stick in his head in it. It’ll help him process his emotions while I tell the rest of the story.’

After Derrick had done just this, Nanny Piggins continued. 

‘Marie was devasted. Pierre had been a lovely husband and they had two lovely daughters. But then she had another brilliant idea.’

‘About science?’ asked Michael.

‘No, about child care,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘She got her father-in-law to mind the girls while she went back to work being a scientific genius. And 5 years later, the Nobel committee realised that the really had to give her another Nobel Prize. This time for chemistry for discovering two new elements on the periodic table. That there was no doubt, they really did have to give it to her.’

‘Hurray!’ said Samantha.

‘Except this time, the Nobel Prize Committee wrote to her and said they didn’t want her to attend the ceremony,’ said Nanny Piggins.

‘They didn’t want to share the cake?’ guessed Boris.

‘No,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘This time they were horrified because she had a boyfriend, so they asked her not to come to the awards ceremony and accept the award in person because they thought she was so disgraceful.’

‘They thought it was disgraceful that she had a boyfriend?’ asked Michael. ‘But her husband had been dead for five years.’

‘The problem wasn’t so much the boyfriend,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But that fact that the boyfriend was married, to somone else.’

‘Oh,’ said Michael.

‘Yes, messy hair was not her only character flaw, I’m afraid,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But there was no denying she was a brilliant scientist. So Marie said Piffle to that, or Piffle sais quois as they say in French. And went anyway. Although she didn’t comb her hair, which is the only thing that the Piggins family is a little shamed about about her.’

But Marie didn’t really care what anybody thought about her. When world war one broke out, Marie realised that x-rays would be enormously helpful to surgeons operating on wounded soldiers so she found vans and made portable radiography machines, and trained women in how to use them. She and her daughter Irene travelled about the frontline giving soldiers x-rays.

Imagine how that must have been for the soldiers. One minute you’re lying in a hospital bed feeling sorry for yourself because you’ve got a bullet in your leg. The next minute, a double Nobel Laurette and her daughter (who incidentally went on to win a Nobel Prize herself in 1935) just turn up in a van, and say they’re going to use radiation to look at the inside of your leg so they can tell the surgeon where the bullet is. They were like superheros. With terribly messy hair, but if you’re a brilliant genius you’re allowed to have one flaw.

Tragically Marie died of cancer at the age of 66. Which doctors believe she most likely contracted because of all the x-rays she’d given during the first world war. In those days people didn’t realise how dangerous radiation could be. She probably should have been wearing a lead line wedding dress to work every day.

‘That’s very sad,’ said Samantha.

‘Yes,’ agreed Nanny Piggins. ‘But she had an astonishing, brilliant life that changed the world, so we shouldn’t feel too bad.’

‘But didn’t the isolation of radioactive materials lead the development of nuclear weapons?’ asked Derrick. ‘That’s bad.’

‘Yes, that’s really really bad,’ agreed Nanny Piggins. ‘I don’t understand humans at all. Why you’d want to take an energy source and use it to make weapons when you could be using it to bake cake is beyond me. If the leaders of the world would just drop cake on their enemies I’m convinced there would be less war.’

And if a cake hits your house it does less damage,’ agreed Boris.

‘Exactly and so that is the story of my cousin Marie Curie Piggins – brilliant scientist and terrible hair stylist. The end. Time for Bed.

Podcasts we love