Travels with my stepfather: A long lunch in Cherbourg

Meandering happily along the quay, we decided to start searching for somewhere to have lunch.  My stepfather, henceforth known as SF, had lived in France for many years (mostly in Paris, and with Dylan Thomas, but that’s another story), and had an encyclopaedic memory for all the little bistros and havens of his youth.  But the intervening years had dealt him some tough cards, including the advancement of muscular dystrophy, and some venues had considerably more challenges than used to be the case.

The Cafe du Paris stands proudly waterside as it ever did.  But with one small problem: the dining room is upstairs.  My teenage self starts to mull over my rather basic French for dealing with the problem.  But SF is no shy and retiring violet.  He heads to the foot of the stairs, and calls up to a deserted dining room.  It’s 11.30, and no one is ready to dine yet.

A waiter appears and a discussion ensues.  The Maitre D’ flies down the stairs, and warmly embraces SF.  It seems they have some history…one that I understand involves duck shooting.  I am not sure whether I am more horrified at the thought of French hunting, or the prospect of my SF (who at one point during his one and only driving lesson accomplished an 18 point turn on the pavement) being let loose with a weapon. 

After a lengthly exchange in what can only be called franglais, a call upstairs is made, and four waiters appear, bearing a stout chair with arms.  SF is seated, and with a little grunting, his improvised sedan chair is hauled up the stairs to the empty restaurant. 

We were seated.  Aperitifs were served.  There was an assiette of seafood, fish I didn’t recognise.  A salad course.  Creamy Normandy pork with cider.  Dessert.  Cheese arrived on a magnificent chariot, with dried fruit and bread.  A digestif?  I was treated to a few sips of Calvados.

All around the customer numbers and noise ebbed and flowed, as the restaurant worked its way through the lunchtime service.  The chariot was restocked.  Items were crossed off the menu as the kitchen ran low on stocks.  And at four o’clock we were once again escorted to street level and set loose with much hugging and fond farwells.

As I waited with SF for my mum to fetch the car, a group of tourists wandered round the corner.  SF leaned on my arm, after a long hard day of dining.  Papa Tourist drew himself up to his full height and snorted.  “Disgusting, those young French girls with old men.  Shouldn’t be allowed.”