WASHINGTON -- Imagine how tiresome it would be to have, at Christmas, a houseguest of whom your spouse disapproves and who you have met only twice before, the first time 23 years ago (annoyingly, your guest does not remember the meeting), the second time four months ago, for a few hours, out of town, on business. Imagine that the houseguest invites himself to your home, stays almost three weeks and one morning early on during his stay he summons your butler (you don't have one? pity) and issues the following ukase:
``Now, Fields, we had a lovely dinner last night but I have a few orders for you. We want to leave here as friends, right? So I need you to listen. One, I don't like talking outside my quarters; two, I hate whistling in the corridors; and three, I must have a tumbler of sherry in my room before breakfast, a couple of glasses of scotch and soda before lunch and French champagne and 90-year old brandy before I go to sleep at night.''
Furthermore, this Guest from Hell declares that for breakfast he requires hot ``eggs, bacon or ham and toast'' and ``two kinds of cold meats with English mustard and two kinds of fruit plus a tumbler of sherry.'' You would be forgiven for asking your guest if he had been born in a palace.
He who so firmly addressed President Franklin Roosevelt's butler Alonzo Fields 64 Christmases ago was, in fact, born in Blenheim Palace, England's gift to the first Duke of Marlborough. And if no whistling and lots of sherry and whisky would help the duke's great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson, Winston Churchill, function, stop whistling and pour liberally. There is a war to win.
The story of this December 1941 visit is told by two Canadians, David Bercuson and Holger Herwig, in an entertaining book with an idiotic subtitle, ``One Christmas in Washington: The Secret Meeting Between Roosevelt and Churchill that Changed the World.'' Secret meeting? It was about as secret as a circus, featuring a press conference with FDR and a speech to a joint session of Congress in which Churchill said:
``I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way round, I might have got here on my own.'' But the meeting did change the world by constructing the machinery of cooperation that led to the defeat of the Axis.