My young child-hood was a happy one. My father was a engineer in the metal industry, and worked at the local steel factory that was called ‘La Fabrique de Fer’ (literal for ‘The Iron Factory’). My mother did not have a job and was taking care of me and my two brothers, both older than I, Patrick and Philippe.
We lived in a very nice house provided by the company of my father. Being an engineer at that time was highly respected, and not only did we have the house, but also the car, and one full time house employee that slept on the premises (that used to be called in France at the time ‘La Bonne à Tout Faire’), and a gardener.
In the late 60s, ‘La Fabrique de Fer’, small metal company had to shut down and we moved to Metz in Lorraine on the East of France in 1967, where all the metal industry was concentrated.
Metz was a very nice town, unjustly qualified of ‘dark’ and ‘boring’ by the rest of France, certainly due to the amount of military people that resided there. It is a fact that there was a lot of barracks, and still is today. I even spent my military service there, and programmed AMOS in a small room in a barrack!
In Metz, we lived in a very posh and large apartment on ‘Boulevard Clemenceau’, the place were all the high families of the town lived.
Of course included in my father’s job advantages as well was a company car, usually a Citroen… I still remember the Citroen GS and it’s pneumatic suspensions that raised the car each time you started the engine, a fascinating property for me.
I learned later that he had a very high rank as an engineer justifying all this.
Metz was also the home of ‘AMOS La Bière de Metz’, the local beer that beard the name of the product of my life! Talk about destiny! The brewery was very close from the school I attended, “L’école Sainte Thérèse”. I remember the awful smell in the whole area when their were brewing batches of bier. It was renown for being a bad beer, and the brewery closed in the eighties.
Christmas was, as for every kid, very special to me. And in Lorraine we had the extra advantage of having Saint Nicolas, the celebration of the the ‘real’ Santa Claus in the east of France. It happened on the first Sunday of December, Saint Nicolas visited our house and left many toys for us spread all around the living room floor. I remember the exaltation of the Saturday evening before the event, where my brother and I discussed of the toys that we would get, and even had a peak at the living room in the middle of the night. Without getting caught of course.
After opening the toys, we always made a basket for the donkey of Saint Nicolas with carrots, potatoes and sugar and left it in the living room on Sunday evening. The next day we always found the basket on the floor and some of the vegetable mysteriously eaten.
And we also had Christmas presents too! Like every kid. December was such a great month! My father having lost all his family, we did Christmas with the family of my mother, rotating each year the location.
Christmas was the occasion for me to meet my cousin Eric. Eric was older than me by 3 month only and we went along very well, a very ‘technical’ kid like me. As soon as we saw each other we disappeared and went into our own games and stuff.
The best Christmas were at our place in Metz or at my uncle “Dédé”. Eric and I always embarked in adventures different each time.
One highlight was the funny ‘torture’ of my hamster Gabuzo.
Like many kids I had a ‘hamster’ period. My first one was the best, a female, much more fun than the males I had after her. Eric and I decided to create a special maze for her.
It started on the top of my cabinet by a rude slide to my desk in a cotton ball. Once arrived on the desk, we built of maze of closed tubes in cardboard with various challenges for the poor animal and indicators of its progression. The center piece was a crank-driven conveyor belt made in Fisher Technics with a transparent ceiling. As soon as Gabuzo entered this (nice and fun) torture chamber, we started to turn the crank trying to keep the animal in the center of the device.
Note: I will find a better way of scanning such drawings in the future.
But we were laughing so hard at the time that it was almost impossible to achieve and always ended by the hamster jumping at high speed to the end or start of the conveyor belt.
The goal of all this construction was of course to have a lot of fun, but mostly to prepare it for a show to the entire family. Unfortunately the demo did work that well, Gabuzo being a little tired of the process. But we had so much fun it is still a subject of conversation between my cousin and I.
Another year, for new year’s eve at my cousin’s house, we built a complete ‘incredible machine’ in the whole basement out of the stuff that was available there. Staring by rolling a marble on the top of a shelve and ending with a ‘happy new year’ cardboard appearing after 1 minute of impossible things triggering each other. And it worked!
This kind of machine is common today and is called a Rube Goldberg Machine and can be found easily on Facebook and Youtube, but remember we were in 1972!
Example of such a fantastic machine, by OK Go.
Another one of my favorite place for Christmas was the house of my uncle “Dédé”. He was a pharmacist and we used to sleep in the top of his big and old house in Saints du Nord, a small village where he was the local pharmacist.
We were sleeping in an isolated room in the top of the house.
Eric and I started to invent trap-driven courses in the dark in this room, and played the whole day setting an incredible mess.
One of the two stayed outside of the room while the other was preparing the course. Pillows falling, dead ends, things to find, even water… a whole new course each time. Once ready, light were turned off and the one on the outside came in crawling and awaiting all the traps while the other was listening and laughing. Here too, incredible fun and memories. Talking about memories, one that will remain forever was how anger my uncle was when he discovered the state of the bedroom, alerted by the constant laugh and our disappearance for the whole day!
Eric is now following a successful career in the petroleum industry. Meeting him is always a great pleasure.
I could carry on for pages and pages exposing all the crazy things my cousin Eric and I did during the family reunions, but I will stop. I realize that, contrary to what I said in the previous post, I did not talk about the holidays on the French Riviera, sorry for that, a blog has this advantage of freedom for the writer. I will try to limit myself to two pages each time so that it does not become a ‘task’ instead of a pleasure.
Thank you for reading! See you next week.