I decided to call this post the Highway to Heaven because, seriously, I drove on a road and stopped at a service station so fine that it was heavenly. Not that I believe in heaven. But I do believe in service stations.
I never used to. For years, I have had no faith whatsoever in service stations. You’re hungry, but you’re healthy, so come the motorway, you know that you’re not going to be able to fulfil your obligations to your healthy lifestyle while dining in a service station. ‘Healthy’ and ‘service station food’ were two concepts that just did not marry.
But here I am, writing a glowing and unrequested review of a SERVICE STATION. You know what I mean by service station don’t you? Not sure what people call them – the hamlet of MacDonald’s, Esso, Costa Coffee and misery that you find dotted along the country’s motorways. Where all you can eat is crisps and pepperoni and burgers and grease and fat and self loathing.
A few have an M&S. That’s fun, you can have sushi, if you don’t mind your sushi prepackaged. M&S tapped into the market of previously not catered for healthy types who also go on journeys. But even M&S pales into insignificance if you’re lucky enough to find yourself on the M5 near Gloucester, where there is a service station that goes by the name of… Gloucester Services.
Over on the Gloucester Services website, which is as farmy and homey and delightful as the actual experience of pulling off the motorway and being in the service station (am I saying service station too much?) the team explain their origins. Back in 1972, Cumbrian farmers John and Babs (alright, they call her Barbara, but I love the service station so much I presume it’s okay to call her Babs) set up Tebay Services when the new M6 cut through the Lune Gorge.
It all went swimmingly up in Cumbria so last year a new service station was opened, a sister station, if you will, in Glos pots.
And here it is – ain’t no Costa here, baby. Ain’t no MacDonald’s. Just the best pulled pork wrap I have ever had, and the best chicken and tomato pizza my husband has ever had. And he eats a lot of pizza.
I ran around taking pictures and squealing excitedly while my embarrassed husband shirked off into a corner and tried to remain incognito. He gets embarrassed easily. All I have to do is shriek or squeal in public and he starts acting like I’ve just flashed my boobs at strangers. Which I hardly ever do.
There were fresh flowers – even in the loos. There was an array of fresh food on offer, so much so that I couldn’t decide what I wanted and just stared at all the sweet goodness for ages while knowing I was supposed to be celebrating the fact I could eat healthily at a service station.
There was a butchers. Yes, that’s right, an actual butchers, with fresh meat. At a service station! Other diners and I exchanged smiley glances – we all knew we were pretty special. We hadn’t driven onwards to the next service station, miserable and fat as it would have made us. We hadn’t stopped at the one before. We were at this one, the fancy pants one, and we were damn smug about it.
There were giant tree trunk chandeliers, pumpkins aplenty, and even though we only went in for a bite to eat, I was compelled to buy these treats:
I bought stickers too. Really pretty stickers. I love stickers. And I bought origami, for my origami-mad nephew – at a service station! In Gloucester!
Ok, calm down Willis. Back on the road, I was busy congratulating us on the fact we happened to be going somewhere that caused us to visit a service station with flowers in the bogs, and Gaz was busy ignoring me. He thinks I don’t notice when he turns the volume up on the radio, but I do. Hey, when I’ve had a coffee I don’t care who’s listening, I’ll just talk to myself. As I was in this instance. And many instances. Talk like no-one’s listening – isn’t that a saying? Talk like no-one’s listening… and you shall inherit the Earth. Yes, I think that’s it.
Then I saw a sign to the next service station. The familiarly depressing logos for Costa and MacDonald’s were on display. Costa? MacDonalds? No thanks suckers! I shall now be driving to London via Gloucester. To Wales via Gloucester. To the gym via Gloucester. You get my drift, it was pretty, pretty, pretty good.