Box clever

16Jan12

Sad news about the Little Chef, or ‘iconic roadside diner’ as the Sun has called it. I know this story is a few days old, and it’s not that I’m only able to write about it now, having dragged myself from my couch of grief. But I’m still a bit sad that it’s having to close so many outlets in order to survive. I hope the strategy works.

As must be clear, my interest stems not just from a love of the Jubilee Pancake (no. 55), although it is the finest iconic roadside diner dessert known to the known world. That cherry gloop, so interestingly viscous for a fruit that contains so very little pectin. Mmm. I can only assume it was extract of boiled hooves that got it to stick so satisfyingly, so unctuously, to the fluffy thickness of the pancake/duvet. The block of pure white ice cream I could leave but yum, that pancake.

My first ever paid job was working at the Little Chef, or Le P’tit Chef, as we liked to call it. My mate Lucy got me a job there, and we still reminisce from time to time. I was a waitress, barrel-shaped because the dose of glandular fever that stripped off the weight was still four years away. So there I would stand, in my triangular, polyester, zip-fronted tent, a little Plymouth Brethren-style scarf on my head, affixed with a plastic hairband, clumsily attempting to serve the famished pilgrims of the A303.

The waitresses’ pads were divided into a grid of numbered squares, which you would mark according to the order. On hearing a request for a still orange (no. 91) one would mark box number 91 with an oblique line. I assume this was because there was a good chance that neither the waitresses nor short-order chefs were the top-drawer readers or writers in their class, so the tick-the-box system was deemed the clearest.

However, this simple system found its nemesis in the barrel shape of a useless waitress in Chicklade. I could never remember all the numbers ā€“ though some have haphazardly stuck. Cod, haddock and plaice were 76, 77 and 78, though I never did get the running order straight. Oddly, that branch has some heavyweight alumni ā€“ Lucy is a recruitment consultant with her own business, Sam is something uber at the Haunch of Venison art gallery, and Hodgey, well, poor Hodgey was killed on his motorbike at the age of 19, but he used to discuss the global balance of power through the prism of the Dow Jones, with a disconcertingly thick Wiltshire accent. He should be running the bloody world now.

Memories. Anyway, God bless Le P’tit Chef, and may you feed generations more.

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