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Sep 03

Churchill and the sea-cuckoo

The following passage is simply too delightful not to share. It’s from “The Fringes of Power: 10 Downing Street Diaries, 1939-1955” (John Colville) (for the absurd lengths to which Americans will go to jazz something up, in the USA the book’s title is “The Fringes of Power: The Incredible Inside Story of Winston Churchill During WW II” (John Colville). A fascinating book.

It’s 1953, and Churchill, back in power, after an official visit to Paris, takes a break in the South of France at the villa of a friend…

A day or two later we had an outing… Churchill recalled something Mrs. Reggie Fellowes had told him. Daisy Fellowes was a wicked but attractive lady, French by origin, who, according to Clementine, tried to seduce Winston at the Ritz Hotel in Paris shortly after the Churchills were married. It was an unsuccessful effort and she had been forgiven, even by Clementine.

This notorious lady had recently been to a restaurant in the Italian resort of San Remo where she was shown a remarkable crustacean called a sea-cricket. The Prime Minister, always fascinated by birds, beasts and fishes, now suggested that we should dine at San Remo and examine this unusual creature.

Lord Beaverbook’s chef was given a night off and Sargeant Murray informed the French police of our intention. In pitch darkness and pouring rain we entered the two-door Fiat, Meg and I cramped uncomfortably behind and Churchill sitting in front beside Sergeant Murray, who acted as chauffeur as well as artistic adviser and detective. When our shabby little car emerged from the drive we found two shiny black limousines and a posse of police motorcyclists waiting to escort us. We set off at speed, but had not gone far before the window next to Churchill came adrift. Meg leant forward, the rain and cold night air crushing in upon her, and held it partially closed. A few minutes later we reached the Italian frontier where guards of honor, alerted that the famous British Prime Minister would be passing by, presented arms as this strange procession tore through the open barriers.

At San Remo the alleged abode of the sea-cricket proved to be a dark and ramshackle estaminet by the quay-side with bare wooden tables. It was empty, and the patron was astonished by the arrival of a large motorized police force and battered little Fiat from which emerged a figure whom he evidently recognized.

“Where,” asked Churchill, “is the sea-cuckoo?”

“Sea-cricket,” said Meg by way of explanation.

“I have come,” said Churchill, quite unabashed, “to see the sea-cuckoo.”

Round the estaminet stood glass tanks, which must normally have been replete with every kind of crustacean awaiting death for the gastronomic pleasures of customers. But an equinoctial gale had been raging for several days and even the most intrepid fisherman had declined to put to sea. So all that was visible in the tanks was one jaded langouste and a few prawns. San Remo was searched from east to west for a sea-cuckoo or cricket, and a disappointingly ugly crustacean was finally produced. We ate spaghetti and prosciuto con melone at the bare boards with a grumpy Prime Minister who should have learned by experience to disregard suggestions made by Mrs. Reggie Fellowes.

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11 comments

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  1. vic

    The sea-cuckoo, the bottom dwelling red fish is widespread in Nea Zealand and Australia and the smaller specie in Wales,but France?, no wonder they were not able to find one for Sir Winston Churchill. Being a soldier himself, that’s what the term he used to call the “red gurnnard”- the sea cuckoo.

  2. antonio walanglaban

    hi vic, churchill may have mixed the two up, because there is a sea-cricket – the cigale le mer: a furry lobster that makes a cricket like noise by rubbing parts of its anatomy together.

  3. Carl

    Indeed, the cigale de mer, known as “flat lobster” in English, is a delicacy in all of Europe. Nowadays, with commercial aquariums and fish pens that keep rare fish and crustaceans in fresh supply all year round, these gourmet delights are always available in select restaurants – for a price.

    In 1953, however, there may not have been the facilities now available. So inclement weather could have spoiled the day’s catch, so to speak. During those days, the English were considered as “barbarians” by the French when it came to appreciating gastronomy. So it would not be inconceivable for Sir Winston to have been quite misled about what to expect.

    I would not know how Churchill’s appetite for alcohol was affected by his age in 1953. But, given his legendary predilection for spirits, a good bottle of cognac would have appeased the old lion.

  4. julsitos

    does the sea-cuckoo look a lot like that old fart, Isagani??

    psst… the old fart won’t stop writing against gays. he just don’t know when to stop!!!! i hate his guts!!

    i hope you make another fable out of the old fart!

  5. manuelbuencamino

    julsitos,

    here’s a story for the old fart who says he cannot stand to see members of the same sex kissing mouth to mouth. My brother said the story is true. I changed the ending a little bit just for the old fart.

    An ex-marine, a loving husband and father, left his famiy when he found out he was gay. He moved in with his gay lover. After living with his gay lover for some months, the gay marine began to develop a taste for cross-dressing. That led his lover to break up with him. The gay marine now a transvestite eventually fell in love with another man who liked transvestites. (I don’t know if the new lover was straight or gay or or bi or gay with heterosexual tendencies or a lesbian trapped in a man’s body because he liked them with skirts, but I won’t get into that now). Anyway, the gay marine and his new lover decided to live together. And they did. Happily. Then one day the couple began to wonder if they might be happier if one of them became a real woman. The gay marine underwent a sex change operation. He and his lover moved to a new town where no one knew or even suspected that the marine was a transsexual. Everyone thought he was a woman, He joined the church ladies choir, the women’s bridge club etc. One day, he recieved a call from his ex-wife to invite him to his daughter’s graduation. His former wife and kids never resented or judged him for turnng gay. Anyway, he went to his old town and slept over at his former home. To make a long story short, he fell in love again with his former wife. So he moved in with her and they lived happily ever after… but not as man and wife. He and his wife decided to live together as lesbian lovers.

    So the question for Isagani Cruz is – how would he feel if he saw those two lesbians kissing? How would he feel if he saw the transsexual and her husband kissing? What pronoun would he use for the gay marine as he went through his identity changes?

    Bottom line is – live and let live.

  6. realistic

    MB, what a scary tale. Never mind ex-justice Cruz. Who cares what he thinks about gays and lesbians anymore. More important is, what would this ex-marine’s kids feel.

    If anything, if his/her/their kids have any gay/lesbian tendencies, they would surely be scared straight.

    mb, in addition to your writing talent, you surely have a knack for telling horror stories.

  7. tbl

    not sure if we can call it horror story. it is happening in every country, in almost all cultural groups. you can see them; read stories about homos, lesbians, cross dresers, and even transvertites in advanced countries. they were actually been accepted for a long time now.

    i am not one of them but i have relatives, friends and colleagues. no problem with me, not a horror story, i must say.

  8. realistic

    tbl, I’m not saying gay and lesbians are horror stories. mb’s tale however, with its twists and turns, to me anyway, is. Que barbaridad, as one of my kins might say.

  9. manuelbuencamino

    “que barbaridad” is what a busybody will say. Anong “pa que” mo is what I’ll say.

    The ex marine is happy, his ex wife now lesbiam lover is happy, their children are okay because hiis daughter even invited him to her graduation. So theonly problem comes from those who will not allow others their right to pursuit of happiness. Abd that’s why Isagani Cruz, for all of the good causes he espouses, is really a close-minded old fart at heart.

  10. vic

    Nothing can further than the truth that gays and lesbians are just like you and me with the only difference is their sexual preference. For more than a year during my physiotherapy (two years ago) I frequent a place, what we call a gay community in the city of Toronto where the clinic is located and you can see them living and like ordinary couples with pets and some with adapted children tagging along. In my Bus route I always had some passengers who appear like World Wrestling Federation stars who live in the community and don’t ever try to make some kind of Isagani Cruz remarks on them. They might not just sue you, instead use those muscles, worse show more what they really are. So far in my 30 years plus in this country, I never once read in our paper such garbage…

  11. realistic

    mb, siempre may pa que ang nakakakita o nakakaalam. E kung walang pa que ang kahit na sino e kanya kanya na lang tayo. Ex-justice cruz can also say, wala kang pa que.

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