In part two of their 'divorcey-moon', John and Michael sample Swiss specialities - and look forward to a happier future
Published 13 July 2008 News Review 782nd article
Continuing our buddy-buddy "forget your wife's alimony demands" tour John Cleese and I set out for Lucerne. He drove. I navigated. I mentioned I wanted to see the Norwegian fjords, in a boat just for me. "It's a question of - can you afjord it?" said John.
We lunched at the hotel St Wendelin in Greppen on Lake Lucerne. Marvellous fresh fera fish from the lake. Idyllic view of meadows, little chalets, the lake and mountains. When I came out John was in the car.
"As you're the driver you should open the door for me," I said. "I did open the door, that's how I got into the car," responded John.
As the manager showed us to our rooms at the Grand Hotel National in Lucerne John observed, "Travelling with Michael Winner is exactly like travelling with my wife Alyce Faye. They're both neurotics, control freaks, horrible map readers and they never stop talking. The only thing is Michael's funnier and he's got money."
"So has Alyce, thanks to you," I replied.
We dined at the hotel Schiff overlooking Lucerne's famous, medieval, wooden bridge. John ordered a horse meat steak. "Do you have cat and dog?" he asked. When told "No" he said, "I'll have to go to a Chinese restaurant for that. You don't have human being, do you?"
He took a bite and observed, "This horse steak has a slightly high-pitched, sour taste." I tried some and agreed. John switched to beef. He also ate a pizza, half my enormous home-made pork sausage and downed three beers.
John revealed he'd turned down a CBE and a peerage offered to him by Paddy Ashdown when leader of the Liberal Democrats. He commented, "Alyce said to people, 'He only turned it down because he knew I wanted it'."
At Spiez John became extremely annoyed because he couldn't get money from a machine on his Mastercard. His PA Melanie and his assistant Garry discovered it was stopped because he never used it in Europe. Mastercard thought it had been stolen.
"Do they expect me to give them an itinerary when I go abroad!" exploded John. Then to Melanie on the phone, "Cancel the card. I'll use traveller's cheques. In the old days the British went around with gold sovereigns."
As we lunched by the lake, John was on to Garry again. I took the phone. "Garry, she threw a real hissy-fit this morning," I reported, "stamped her little feet, you should have seen it. Nada, nada. She's out of control."
"Tell him he's an old tart," advised Garry. "You're an old tart, John," I said.
We arrived at the marvellous Gstaad Palace hotel. One of my total favourites. John addressed its concierge. "You must be careful of Michael Winner. He can be very difficult," he advised. The concierge mouthed the words "I know".
We breakfasted on the terrace overlooking stunning mountains, some still topped by gleaming snow. Then John got into a debate with the concierge about when the entrance hall became the lobby.
The concierge said, "It's like Fawlty Towers."
"But not as well organised," responded John.
Over dinner John took my tape and dictated, "I'm very glad we did this trip because I haven't enjoyed abusing someone so much for a long time."
The next day we drove to Gruyeres.
At the Fleur de Lys restaurant John observed, "I'm going to take a terrible, terrible risk and have fondue because I can't digest cows' milk. Maybe it's safer in Switzerland because they don't inject all the crap they do in America."
We also ordered a meat charbonnade. They put a charcoal grill on the table next to John. He laid strips of steak on the grill. They were vastly overcooked. Brilliant comic actor he may be, but if John Cleese offers himself up as a cook-housekeeper, forget it.
During the meal John told me he'd bought two mugs in Lewes, East Sussex.
One said "I haven't spoken to my wife for 18 months" and in small letters underneath, "I didn't like to interrupt her". The second one read, "I married Miss Right. I just didn't realise her first name was Always." There's no question, I thought, this marriage situation is not surprisingly weighing on his mind.
Then my fiancee, the lovely Geraldine, arrived. She'd been at her son's wedding in Paris. We took a day trip to Thun - pronounced Tune.
John said, "I wish we could get Michael to do a little song, because it would be the first time in his life he'd ever sung in Thun."
Our final destination was the elegant hotel Baur au Lac in Zurich. I can thoroughly recommend it. John was joined by a lovely young American girl, Veronica Smiley, vice-president of marketing for a magazine company. Together they would continue the trip. They went on to Vaduz, Lake Como and Bergamo.
"How shall I explain her presence?"
I asked. "Say John's developed a passion for Mahjong and Smiley has flown in from Chicago to coach him," advised John.
At dinner John rejected the Puligny-Montrachet wine whispering to me, "I only sent it back to impress my girlfriend, actually it was fine." Then he upset Geraldine by eating some of her cod, stating, "It's boring."
Geraldine said, "It's not." Veronica said she didn't eat rosti and transferred hers to John's plate. She added, "Rosti are called hash browns in America." She's quite right.
I asked Veronica, "Do you not like your veal?"
John said, "It's boring."
"He's in an 'everything is boring mood'," I announced. John thought his Alaskan cod was boring, but with the sauce it was very good.
John told us, "Veal should be banned, not because the process is so painful to the animals, but because the result is so boring."
He added he'd enjoyed our experience together so much we should do it again. To summarise he took my tape recorder and dictated into it, "There were more beautiful things to look at per mile on this trip than anywhere else I've been in Europe."
I think he meant me.
During the men's final at Wimbledon the camera rested on a white-haired, portly gentleman. "Is that Michael Winner?" asked the commentator. "Surely not!" I screamed at my TV. There's only one place MW would be on an overcast, blustery Sunday afternoon and that's feet up, in front of the telly after a large roast dinner. Not sitting out in the cold with all and sundry.
Steve Reddish, Essex
We thought Michael Winner wrote a column about restaurants and hotels, not a character assassination of a soon-to-be-ex-wife of a close friend. In all the time that she was married to John Cleese, Alyce Faye Cleese was concerned and caring of Michael Winner, even to the extent that at her son's wedding, which was just after Mr Winner's heart bypass, she was more worried about him than the bride and groom. Obviously no good deed goes unpunished! We, her close friends, are disgusted at these attacks on Alyce, which she does not deserve. Divorce is difficult enough without your so-called friends attacking you in public. Shame on you, Mr Winner!
Jane Kerner, Dominique Lubar, Ute Kath, Christine Schell, Francois Gilles and Tomasz Starzewski
Like your friend John Cleese I have three divorces under my belt. I've made a career of donating houses to grumpy women. But I'm still smiling!
Juilan Bray, Peterborough
So Michael went with John Cleese on his honeymoon. Quelle horreur! Little wonder it all ended in tears. I wonder who Michael will take on his honeymoon to make up the party?
Don Roberts, Cheshire
So you and John Cleese studied law. Lawyers deal with the crooked, the unfaithful, the incompetent and the greedy. They believe everyone is like this and then metamorphose into similarly flawed creatures. Lucky you and John didn't practise.
Huw Beynon, Llandello
On hearing Michael intends to leave his house to the nation, and in anticipation of vast crowds of sightseers, I sought planning permission to site a superior hot dog van on Melbury Road. Sadly, however, albeit in the nicest possible way, the council told me to sod off!
David Lowe, Sunderland
Upon seeing you resplendent in last week's colour photo my four-year-old son asked, "Who's that old granny?"
Marc Cox, Wolverhampton