2 Valognes boarding school

Years 66/67

The CM1 and the CM2 classes (4th and 5th grades) at the boys' school in Chef du Pont were held by Henri Lapouge, that is to say, dad.  It goes without saying I had been well prepared for my entry into sixth grade!

In September 64 I should have continued my studies in Sainte Mère Eglise, homeland of my dentist, a notorious butcher (God how I suffered!)

My parents decided otherwise: my independent nature made them think it was better to send me to boarding school. As always, they were right.

Valognes is 40 km from Chef du Pont, so a real boarding school it was.  A world in itself, a new horizon.

Dad drove me to the school door in his Citroën DS, very early on Monday morning (not a word was spoken on the way).  I will take the Micheline train on Saturday at two o'clock from Valognes station to return home. You already know that there is a station at Chef du Pont. I have an immoderate love for trains, a love unfulfilled until then, although my uncle Maurice, my father's brother, would give me, every time we saw each other, his copies of '' La vie du Rail '' He was head of the station in Versailles, at that time part of Seine-et-Oise. My future was well laid out:  the family expected me to be a train driver.

To say that I adjusted to boarding life is a euphemism: I loved it. And you will see why.

The beginnings are always a bit difficult, but when you learn the codes, residential school life is not without benefits.

In Valognes, classes went from 6th grade to the end of high school. There was a huge age gap between the entering rookie and the doubling high school senior.

To be really safe, one needed a godfather.

I found one in the person of Melon. An eccentric character, very tall, four years my elder, endowed with a type of humor yet unknown to me, English humor.

My pass in Valognes was music. But I'm getting ahead ...
My  first trimester confirmed, if need be, my father’s efficiency as a teacher, my report card posted a general average of 18/20, with congratulations.

The autarkic life of High School interns included extra-curricular activities grouped under the name of clubs. Chess club, cinema club, music club etc.

Music club it will be.  To be living in the « Manche » region is nevertheless to be living in France:  one needs to register.

Sheets are passed with lists of names. The activities take place on Saturday afternoon, so I will have to take the evening train.

The music club was led by a supervisor. The most cowardly and unsympathetic supervisor around. He was the leader of the music club because Monsieur prided himself on being a singer. His repertoire: Yves Montand, les feuilles mortes se ramassen-tt-àà- la pêêlle…

The list.
- Lapouge! What do you play ?
- Drums
- Ah, Interesting!

I now see in the room a real golden drum set, shiny, much bigger than I could have imagined, almost threatening, very impressive at any rate, far from my laundry barrels.
At home, I used an enamelled sheet metal shade as a cymbal, just for looks because the sound was awful, far from the sound of Ringo's cymbals.  Here for the first time too, I saw a big and beautiful cymbal, obviously brand new.

- Show me what you can do!

I mount the stool. I forgot to tell you that I am an unconverted left-hander, a technical term often used by my Freinet Pedagogy-following parents.  I start hitting as I do at home, reversed, the left stick on the cymbal and the right stick on the snare when suddenly I hear a loud laugh and a '' Well, forget it!" which makes me blush with shame, and is certainly at the root of my recurring musical nightmares.

I dropped out of the music club and preferred to spend my Saturday afternoons at the dump trying to implode television sets with my sling.

Life sometimes throws surprises at you.

I hear that the first quarter ends with a ''sauterie''*.  A term that I now find inappropriate for designating a musical evening taking place in a mixed high school!

* “Sauterie” = party; “sauter” = french slang for having intercourse. Note from the translator.

The party is planned after an evening meal preceding Christmas holidays, in the girls’ dormitory wing, a usually forbidden place, though a very coveted one by senior high school repeaters !

Imagine a large classroom turned into a club, lights dimmed, the desk removed from the small platform where now sat the golden drum set and what I perceived as an electric guitar amplifier. My excitement was at its peak, the girls began to enter, all perfumed up and not dressed as usual. Mom never wore perfume.

I was growing red as a beetroot and was very much afraid it showed. I was not at the end of my troubles. Guys were starting to fuss around the instruments.  I recognized Yves Montand flanked by another supervisor who jumped on my drum seat and two guitarists, strangers to our small high school world.

I later learned that this band (without Yves Montand) occasionally performed outside the High School and played The Shadows’ repertoire.

For now, the band is playing mostly French songs, leading to the climax: Les feuilles mortes se ramassen-tt-àà- la pêêlle…

Suddenly, the drummer, for some unknown reason, leaves the stage (and a puzzled Yves Montand) ... I see the singer coming towards me, asking me to head for the drums. Luckily, the next piece is a slow one that I hasten to play, reversed.

Later I got a small smile of approval. I held my revenge and the protection of a supervisor, and not the least of them.

My newly found psychic balance (thanks to Yve’s smile) was disturbed by an unexpected consequence.  Girls behaved differently with me.  But it was thanks to Melon that 
I was hit by love at first sight.

6th grade was my year of physical growth.  I gained 1 cm per month, reaching 1m72 by the age of 13.

Melon, who had befriended me, was still half a head taller.  During one of our walks in the high school park, Melon revealed that one of the girls in his class fancied me. Jean, you can score!  Terror.  To back out, losing both face and my protector, was out of the question.  He fixes us up,  we have a date.

I saw her come from a distance, approaching, planting her eyes in mine: lightning and chills ran through my whole body, she was very pretty but just as scared as me ... I was paralysed by the novelty of physical emotion. A palpable embarrassment established itself between us, she quickly understands my immaturity.  I will not be the chosen one, He Who Takes The Risk,  defying the supervisors, to join her in the girls' dormitory.

Thursday was the mid-week break back then. The interns were allowed to go into the city for the afternoon, between two and six o'clock, only if the parents had signed the waiver.  Mine had signed,  but it was understood that I would go to the D.’s, acquaintances from the “Équipes Enseignantes” who lived in the city.  I hated almost everything about the D. family. The father, the mother, the two sons, their cat, their habits, their way of dressing, their way of talking, everything. Their second son, a year older than me, was a boy scout. Why doesn’t Jean go with him to fill his Thursday afternoons with "practical" and healthy activities?

The Boy Scouts? I just about hated it all.  All we did was ideologically tainted (stained). The young D. was a pigheaded, spoiled and temperamental prick.  And would you believe it,  my parents and the D.’s came up with the idea that I go on vacation with them and their son in the Luberon, where they had a summer residence. I had, according to the D.’s, a good influence on their darned son ... Imagine sharing a two-person tent with this jerk. The worst vacation of my life. Fortunately, I traveled alone for the return trip, by train from Avignon to Paris. I had asked my parents to travel on board the Mistral, they owed me that.

Later with the Scouts, I would raft down the Vire and participate in a three-day "forest survival" experience that would somewhat soften my resentment.  In my third year, the scout leader attempted to reassert control by organizing a "reminder of ideological fundamentals" trip, just the two of us, on the coast. That day the Scouts of France definitely lost me.

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