THE rain was beating down, the children were busy with their social lives and there was a parking space right outside Mr Chow's Chinese restaurant in Parkgate.
How often in the last 13 years had my husband and I dreamed of a lazy Sunday, just the two of us, and now we had one a feeling of melancholy had rolled in like a fog. Lunch was needed to lift the mood.
'Where is everyone?' I asked as we parked and peered across at the mist-shrouded Welsh coastline.
'Spending the day with their families,' said my husband.
Before you could say 'Deng yi deng' or even 'wait a moment', we'd jumped out of the car and into the restaurant, knowing that a nostalgic Chinese banquet was just what we needed.
'I'll have to ask for the table back at 7pm,' said the nice, but precise, English waiter.
And looking around we suddenly realised where everyone was - they were sitting in Mr Chow's. Only they'd managed to bring their children with them.
'I'm not sure I can eat to a deadline,' I said turning page after page of Chinese delicacy. Familiar words kept leaping out to greet me: hot and sour, ginger and spring onion, egg fried, Tsing Tao... and the surroundings touched a nerve too: red, black and gold, parasols, bamboo. I felt a shiver of happy memories.
In a peripatetic - and low flying - career, my husband and I both spent time working in the Far East and managed to sample all sorts of familiar Chinese food - and some not so familiar. At Mr Chow's, neither deep fried locust nor muntjac tendons were on the menu, but it was still easy to conjure up some of the most memorable meals we'd ever had.
'I'll have the hot and sour soup (£3),' I said quickly, before P beat me to it.
'And I'll have crab meat and sweetcorn (£3),' he said, quick as a flash.
'Followed by a quarter of crispy duck with pancakes (£8),' I countered. 'And don't say 'do we have to have the crispy duck', because yes, actually, we do.'
'OK, in that case, we also have to have the shredded pork with chilli (£9) and the jumbo king prawns with spicy Szechuan sauce (£12).'
'And we can't not have the steamed sea bass with ginger and spring onion (£11.50),' I added. 'Oh, and one steamed rice and one egg fried rice please.'
We realised that we couldn't possible eat any more before 7pm, so we stopped ordering any more memories.
As a general rule, I don't drink alcohol with Chinese food. Instead I tend to knock back a couple of pots of green tea. But P hesitated over his choice.
'Go on, have a Tsing Tao beer,' I suggested, before I realised that perhaps this was one Chinese memory he didn't want to recall. As I remember, his headaches were blamed on the water used in the brewing process. Nothing to do with the number of cans consumed, then?
'Tiger beer,' he said firmly, 'Just for a change.' Mr Chow's has been in Parkgate for as long as I can remember and growing up in Wirral, that's quite a long time.
I'm sure the management has changed a few times over the years, but on the evidence of the soup, the quality of the food hasn't changed at all.
It had a consomme-like consistency but was packed with good ingredients. I spotted chicken, prawn, bean curd, chilli, mushroom, egg white and beansprouts - although there could have been one or two others. My only quibble was, I didn't feel a kick as the 'hot' touched the back of the throat.
The crab meat and sweetcorn soup was also very good and had that authentic, almost wobbly consistency that Chinese soups have.
The quarter of crispy duck came with the usual steamed pancakes, plum sauce, shredded cucumber and spring onion.
In Beijing - home of the Peking Duck - they leave the fat on the bird, almost as a delicacy, so there's nothing 'crispy' about it. I have heard that the secret is to steam the duck first to get rid of the fat, before frying it in spices. Whatever they do at Mr Chow's, it tastes much better than the Chinese version.
The restaurant was getting fuller and the clock was ticking closer to 7pm. No-one had left the restaurant since we'd arrived. Everyone was having too good a time, including the toddler in his highchair at the next table.
He was slurping at his soup like an ancient mandarin at a banquet and when his grandma rolled her eyes to heaven and said 'terrible twos' I had to tell her that he was the best behaved two-year-old I'd ever seen work his way through a five-course meal without the help of a Disney video.
Our main courses arrived, looking extremely decorative on their oval dishes.
I loved the sea bass, P loved the pork, but unfortunately we were both disappointed with the prawns.
They were certainly 'jumbo', but the spicy Szechuan sauce was not, in my opinion, spicy enough.
But to give Mr Chow's due credit, there was a welcome lack of flavour enhancer used in all of the dishes we ordered. In the past, having spent two years eating Chinese food three times a week, I became familiar with the unwelcome effects mono-sodium glutamate can have. In my case, a sort of tight pincer sensation at the temples as if I'm being delivered with forceps 40 years too late.
I knocked back my tenth cup of tea and sighed with contentment. Who said the sense of smell leads to the most evocative of memories? I'd say taste is pretty powerful too.
And then for old times' sake, I said what I always say when P and I have a Chinese meal together: 'It's your fault we ordered too much.'
And then for old, old times' sake he does what he always does - and finishes every last bit.
Location: Mr Chow's, The Parade, Parkgate, CH64 6RW.
Telephone: 0151 336 2385. Open Sunday to Thursday 5.30pm to 11pm; Friday and Saturday 5.30 until midnight.
Price: We paid £50 for two beers, two pots of tea and too much food.
Best thing: The quality of the ingredients.
Worst thing: Too much caution is exercised when it comes to anything hot or spicy.
Would suit: Oriental lovers, or possibly lovers of Oriental food, with a wet Sunday afternoon to fill.