In the hotel dining room, the tables were decorated with lace tablecloths and single flowers in cut-glass vases, which made the room look like something out of the 1950s. A log fire was dying slowly in the fireplace, crackling occasionally. On one side of the room was an ancient carved timber sideboard and, on the other, double timber and glass doors led to the lounge bar.
Soon the food arrived. My steak (rare, pepper sauce) came on its own plate. There was no room for anything else, so the vegetables arrived on another. T. had ordered fish and chips: a huge beer-battered piece of fish lay over a bonfire of fries with salad and vegetables. The chef, who must have been no more than eighteen - might have been the apprentice - delivered the food himself. Enjoy your meals! he enthused. Then he pointed to the sideboard, on top of which sat a tarnished and dented silver tray bearing bottles and jars of sauces, relishes, jellies and condiments. Help yourselves! he said, and disappeared behind a swinging door.
We had rolled into Narrandera, a medium-sized town in New South Wales, at about 4.30 on a cold Friday afternoon after an easy day's drive with numerous stops for morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, snacks etc. I like taking my time. I'm a slow traveller.
We checked into our room and then went out for a walk to survey the food scene. All four pubs in the main street boasted the best home-cooked food in town. There was a pizza place and a Chinese cafe and a fish and chip shop. For dinner, we chose the last hotel in the main street, at the top of the hill at the south end of town. Near the river. I forget the name. Good choice. When I ordered my steak, the waitperson said, Well, you must be hungry then! In a country town, that's a good sign.
After dinner, we walked back to our hotel room, warm on the inside. It was frosty and the trees that lined the main street (Narrandera's slogan - 'Town of Trees') were festooned with strings of fairy lights. They glowed fuzzily yellow in the cold air. The beat of music could be heard from one of the other pubs, and in the distance, the distant boom of interstate trucks on the main highway. Where to tomorrow? Don't know. We'll decide in the morning.