MY husband has a theory as to why I am such a loyal companion to my girlfriends.
According to him, it's not my wonderful ability to empathise, or my tendency to give good advice - even when they don't ask. Apparently it's because I never finish a sentence.
And I suppose he's right. If I don't finish what I'm going to say, I know I've got to make an effort to meet up again and pick up the conversation where I left off.
Sarah and I started meeting ten years ago over coffee, progressing to wine when our four children had given us a particularly stressful day, and we now meet up regularly for a meal out. Tonight it was the Castra Brasserie at the Dene Hotel in Hoole.
It takes an awful lot of organisation for two mums to meet at 7pm on a Friday night, but it's worth it. As an example of our dedication, a bit of background might help:
Pick up son and two friends from school, unload dishwasher, cook tea for three fussy eaters, nag them to get into football kit while doing ironing, pick up daughter and her friend staying night, cook husband's meal, take boys to football, wash hair and open door with no make-up on and one shoe missing.
My friend doesn't look as calm as usual. Her day was also frenetic. There's half a day's work followed by:
Visit mum in nursing home, pick up youngest son from school, cook tea for him and brother, pack bags in preparation for their weekend with ex-husband, vacuum lounge, ex is late so arrive hot and flushed having just got out of bath.
It's a wonder we start a sentence, never mind finish one..
'Haven't seen you for...' I say, as we look up at the Dene Hotel.
'Tired,' she replies and I realise she isn't making a comment on her well-being, but a statement regarding the outside of the hotel.
Window frames requiring a lick of paint and tatty plastic awnings do not make a good impression, which is a shame, because the Castra Brasserie is a very pleasant and airy room once inside, but plenty of visitors could be dissuaded from even crossing the threshold.
We'd chosen the Castra because we'd each received details of an offer: £25 for two people eating off the table d'hôte menu, including a bottle of wine.
'Oh, it's only available Monday to Thursday,' says Sarah and looking at the advert, she's right. But Steven, our pleasant waiter, offers it to us anyway. To confuse matters even further, there's also a two-for-one deal for holders of a Charisma card.
In the end, we opt for the à la carte.
From a choice of seven starters, I pick the grilled asparagus with Parma ham and peach salad (£4.75), which was cooked perfectly al dente.
The brilliant sun we'd had that day must have been on Sarah's mind too when she ordered the trio of chilled melon with kiwi and raspberry coulis (£3.95). The melon was arranged in a pyramid of balls, like one of those executive toys you see in trendy gadget shops, only much juicier.
Steven had not been able to tell us if our main courses came with vegetables (!), so we ordered a salad to go with the lightly grilled swordfish with avocado and lime salsa (£10.50) and the goat's cheese tartlet (£9.50).
We lifted our glasses and sipped the Sicilian red, agreeing that it was pretty wonderful for £11.95, or even £10.95, depending on whether you believed the menu or the bill.
'And how's your mum, is she...?'
'Oh you know, much the same.'
'Much the same' involved not being able to walk or talk. The high tech NHS had provided a sort of Ouija board for oaps, whereby the patient pushed a marker from one letter to another to spell the word required. 'I had a spare hour, so we got as far as 'I a-m t-h-i-n-k-i-n-g o-f t-a-k-i-n-g a t-r-i-p t-o...'
'Where was she thinking of going?'
'She didn't finish the sentence.'
We shook our heads and agreed that it would be terrible to be in that situation.
By this time, Steven had brought our main meals, our side salad and the bowl of vegetables we didn't think we were getting. We could only assume he was new to the job.
We were glad we had the vegetables, because the salad was pretty awful. The bowl was far too small and squashed with an unappetising mix of lettuce, tomato, yellow peppers and raw onion.We both agreed that the new potatoes, fine beans, broccoli and carrots were far superior.
My swordfish with avocado and lime salsa had a vital ingredient missing - the lime. The more I tasted the dense, firm fish, the more I was convinced that the pale golden liquid it was basking in was olive oil and there wasn't a whiff of citrus anywhere on the plate.
Sarah's goat's cheese tartlet came on a bed of lettuce, which was much springier and attractive than the side salad. The pastry was crisp and the filling firm and juicy, the ingredients easily distinguishable as tomato and aubergine.
After a brief hiatus we persuaded each other that desserts were required, although the choice was distinctly limited.
Just looking at the chocolate fudge cake and the profiteroles languishing on the plates was enough to predict exactly how they'd taste. There were no surprises and they did the job, but my choux pastry was soggy and the fudge cake took me back 15 years.
However, the silver pot of coffee was a nice touch and reminded us that we were in a hotel restaurant - in fact, we were probably the only non-residents eating that evening.
'I need to double check the special offers at the reception desk,' I said, gathering up my notebook and handbag.
And once again, everyone was pleasant and helpful. 'Our intention is to offer all sorts of deals to encourage diners; two-for-one, midweek specials, early bird offers, just keep an eye on the banner outside the hotel,' said the manager, and we duly sauntered out on to the Hoole Road.
I stood looking up at the hotel, my pen poised, but I didn't start the sentence, never mind finish it. I couldn't find a banner of any description - in fact there wasn't one.
If you want my advice, just give them a call.
Location: Castra Brasserie, Dene Hotel Hoole Road, Hoole. Tel: 01244 321165.
Price: Anyone's guess, but good value if you order from one of the special offer menus.
Best thing: Friendly, welcoming staff.
Worst thing: The exterior of the hotel.
Would suit: Tired mums needing comfort food.