In church and at home as well it was said that stealing and cheating was a sin. But that, I interpreted in a flexible manner. Everybody around me nicked some stuff one or the other way. My friends were not afraid of shoplifting. My grandfather brought masonry stuff home from his job. His dock worker friends took home or brought to the pub stuff like bananas, fruit tins, watches and radios etc from the ships they worked on. I grew up listening to a lot of stories where robbing and stealing happened almost all the time during the war. So for me, stealing and cheating looked to be a sin which you were allowed to commit, as long as you did not get caught. If you got caught then of course, it was another story.
Before I was 14, life was very much restricted because of lack of money in my pockets. There were so many things I wanted but could not get. So that I wanted to get as soon as possible a job was not only because I wanted to get away from the school but also to get the money to do what I wanted. It was not that I did not get pocket money but it was just enough to take the tram to the other town and to buy movie ticket every Sunday but to get back home, I had to walk, let alone that I had money left to buy a Coca cola bottle at the cinema.
In the years, I found some creative ways to let ends meet.
On the 1st of May, members of the socialist party went from door to door selling their red paper flower to contribute to the socialist party fund. I saw an opportunity there. I took some metal thread from my grandfather’s workshop. Asked the butcher next door, if he could give me some red sheets of paper in which he packed the meat. At home I cut the paper into a flower, similar to the flower from the socialist party and then connected it to the metal thread. Then I went from door to door to sell my flowers under the pretext that I was coming from the socialist party. Quite a lot of doors slammed on my face because the color of my flower was more butcher’s red than the socialist red but anyway, I sold them all. Even the butcher bought one.
Also the time around Christmas was good to make some money. Catholic youth organizations sold Christmas decorations door to door like advent wreaths and Christmas logs. I was a member of one of the youth organization and Sundays before Christmas, I sold Christmas logs, just like everybody else. But during the weeks days I went by myself to the woods where a lot of young silver birch trees grew. Out of one tree I could get around 10 basic logs, it depended little bit on the thickness and the height of the tree I cut. At home, I nailed some holly leaves with red berries on it, put a candle and sprayed it with silver powder. My Christmas logs were not so fancy like the ones I sold on Sundays but anyways, people liked to buy from a boy who stood there in his Chiro uniform. So the Christmas sale went well.
Then there was this traditional New Year singing and the three kings. Normally children visited every shop in the village, teachers and the priests to sing for them a new year song and in return we used to got sweets, biscuits, toffees, chocolates or fruits from the shops and the teachers and the priest were giving half or 1 franc, rarely 5 francs.
After I did my New Year round just like everybody else, I went on my own to the other side of the village where the wealthy lived in bungalows and villas. Their front yards and doors were well decorated with Christmas bulbs and colorful lighting which I found pleasant to see. I went ringing the door bells and when they opened their doors I started singing New Year songs. This made me more money than they could believe at home. Of course that I went there on the other side of the village which nobody else did, made me again the shame of the family but I did not care.
With the 3 kings it was different story, we children were getting only money then, no goodies. We had to dress up and have a star. The more efforts we took to make ourselves up and beautify our star, the more money they were giving. But we had to be with 3. Luckily I had two friends who were very much willing and who had an uncle who made us up very well. My friends even made a shiny, revolving star. Even when we were not looking like kings because we were wearing our grandmother’s gowns and improvised bed sheets, we made good amount of money even when we had to divide it in 3.
Of course after the year end celebrations, business went down. There was only one event where I could make some cash with a little cheating. That was the yearly school tombola. We were getting lottery tickets from the teachers which we had to sell to parents and family to benefit the school. It was promised that the one who sold the most tickets would get a prize. So I started selling tickets door to door in and around the village, in hope of winning the prize. By pure co incidence I found a trick to make here a little bit money on the side. To explain how the trick worked is a bit complex but I can say that every ten tickets I sold, I kept the cash of one to myself. I won the prize and this was one of the biggest disappointments of my life. They presented me with a real leather football. I almost got tears in my eyes. I hated football and everything that had to do it.
Part of the money I made this way went to buy goodies like chewing gums, sweets and soft drinks. But most of it I invested in good quality paper, Caran d’Ache color pencils, water color cakes, brushes and sketch books. Because that was the time when I was not doing anything in school but at home, I was very creative busy.