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.