This is the story of my life so far: 67 years and counting.
Prequel: A Brief History of my Family in France
A Day in the Life of a School Boy in France in the 1950s
I spent a little more than two years at the elementary school Émile Zola in 1957-1959.
At this time, in France, you would go to school on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, morning and afternoon, then on Saturdays in the morning only.
We had learned that in England they had what we called "le week end anglais" (the English week-end) and we were telling ourselves that the English people were lazy, while secretly wishing that we could stop going to school on Saturdays.
I will now describe a typical school day. For some of you, it may look like completely different from what you experienced in your childhood.
Before Going to School
At 7:30, we were waken up. We dressed up and made our bed. For us boys, we always had short pants, not long ones. In fact, I did not wear long pants before I was 14 years old.
One of us went to buy bread and milk: up to five loafs of bread and up to six litres of raw milk. We had several aluminium containers to buy the milk.
Then we had breakfast in the dining room: a bowl of hot milk with sugar and instant coffee/chicory of the brand Ricoré, four slices of bread, two with butter and two with jam. We would always use bread from the day before using the fresh bread. At least that was the rule, and from time to time, we did not observe it.
In the dining room, there was a grandfather clock, with Roman numbers for each hour. We had nicknamed the 8:20 time "la petite fille" (the little girl): the two golden hands were the hair, the VI was the mouth and the two holes for the cranks were the eyes. And 8:23, when the long hand was almost on the right eye, was "la petite fille pleure" (the little girl cries).
At the "la petite fille" time (8:20), if you had not finished breakfast, you needed to hurry. At the "la petite fille pleure" time (8:23), if you were still in the dining room, chances were that you will be late for school.
School was starting at 8:30. You needed to be in the schoolyard at least 2 minutes before. Although the school was only 150m from our house, 5 minutes was just enough to get your schoolbag (no backpack then), your coat and to get there.
In the Classroom
A school desk was called "un pupitre". A "pupitre" also designates a music stand. The word has the same etymology as "pulpit" in English. In fact, it was a combined "pupitre-banc" (desk-bench) similar to this one:
The two small white containers were filled with ink. We were not using fountain pens or ball pens to write. We had dip pens, with nibs. You needed ink to be able to write.
The brand of the nibs that we used was "Plumes Sergent Major".
Two "Sergent Major" nibs
We had to provide the nibs and the ink. The brand of the ink we were using was "Waterman". There were two major colours: Bleue (blue) and Bleu-Noir (blue-black).
Waterman Ink Blue-Black
The blue-black ink was blue when you were writing, but became black when it was dry.
Of course, we needed a blotter.
School was from 8:30 to 12:00 and from 13:30 to 16:30, with one recess in the morning and one in the afternoon.
There was a cafeteria in the school, but we did not eat there at lunch, except when Mary, my mother, was at the hospital for the birth on one of my siblings. Instead, we came back to the house, had lunch all together in the dining room, and went back to school at 13:30.
Continue to Part 9
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