Betty couldn't make it as she'd sprained her ankle the previous day and was not particularly mobile. This left me, my mum and her husband, and my sister and hers. I cadged a lift as I do not drink and drive.
My brother-in-law asked us what we wanted to drink. I was not quick enough to get the drinks in. I never am. Two of them went to the bar and the rest of us were greeted by the Harvester Greeter. Yes, they had a table for five. We were shown to it.
There were all ages in the restaurant, from babies to old women. Children were running around, in high spirits. There was a lot of chatter. I honed in on a kid who had a "Chelsea F.C." top draped over his chair. And the old woman with the half of lager, her middle aged son with a pint of coke. He must have driven the family there, sacrificing booze for kindness.
I picked up the menu. It wasn't the menu I'd seen online, the pdf I'd downloaded to my desktop. This was the good value "Earlybird" menu to be ordered before 6 p.m. I imagined birds waking up at 5 p.m. saying to themselves, "Bloody hell, I'm up early".
I didn't want to seem a cheapskate so I picked up the main menu, as did the others. I'd already decided on the soup to start and chicken & mash as my main course. Apparently you can't go wrong with chicken & mash no matter what day of the week or time of day it is.
The waitress came to our table. Nobody wanted a starter so I kept schtum about the soup. They were all going to scavenge from the free salad cart and eat their spoils as a starter. This is the Harvester unwritten custom. You do not have a starter, ever. You scavenge from the free salad cart.
I have trouble with raw and vinegary food. So after ordering our main courses the others went up to the cart and I was left nursing my glass of red wine.
They ate their salads. On the table ahead of me the old woman sent her lamb shoulder back to the kitchen. Was it underdone? Not enough gravy? I never did find out. Her son seemed happy enough with his mountain of food and his second pint of coke.
We spoke about what was on telly and about the Christine Bleakley/Frank Lampard affair. Then our main courses arrived. Two well-done sirloin steaks, one with jacket potato, one with chips. One salmon steak with buttered baby potatoes. One gammon steak topped with a fried egg and accompanied by chips. Oh, and my chicken & mash. Everybody had a baby's handful of tinned garden peas. And there was a bowl of onion rings to share.
We got stuck in and we were good girls and boys, eating most of our meat and fish and all of our peas. The leftover steak and salmon was wrapped in a serviette for the dog for later.
"Did you enjoy your meal?" said the waitress.
"Yes, thank you," we said.
"Would you like to see the dessert menu?"
I really didn't fancy a dessert. The others did and I watched them demolish profiteroles and all kinds of ice cream. A rather overweight family arrived and my mum said "Oh, well. There goes the rest of the food."
And then it was over. We left the bright Harvester lights, its motorway service station ambience, goodbye to the new arrivals, the old woman with three quarters of a lamb shoulder in her belly, her satiated son grinning into his half-full pint of coke. We said farewell and made a wish that this would not be our last time in such a convivial family atmosphere.
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