Turns out the week just gone was ‘National Picnic Week.’
I didn’t have a picnic.
But it’s ok, because that was just a marketing gimmick and there’s plenty of time for picnicking and, unusually for the UK, there’s plenty of good weather in which to do it.
Which is all good because I bloody love a picnic. The next one I have planned is July 4th. It’s ‘Hampers and Champers’ at my son’s school.
Hampers and Champers says it all about the kind of picnics that will be going on. Every year we attend this event, at which the students entertain us with music from the various concert bands and music groups, and every year I get picnic envy.
I’m really good at picnics now, but it just seems that I glance across the sea of rugs and dogs and Krug champagne bottles and spot something I wish was part of my set up.
It might be a designer deck chair or some funky Emma Bridgewater plates or a cheerful rug. Occasionally I spot somebody who’s actually had their picnic assembled by outside caterers and I am thrown into a well of longing for the hedge fund manager I failed to snare.
It wasn’t always thus.
When I was little, picnics were much more rudimentary. An anaemic, flabby chicken drumstick wrapped in tin foil, a hard boiled egg and a Thermos of tea, or failing that, a jug of (powdered) orange juice, was the order of the day in our house.
I think it was much the same for many families I knew growing up. My husband also recalls the boiled egg, only his came with a pot of mayonnaise. We weren’t at the mayonnaise stage in our house. We knew only salad cream…
It was only when I read the Famous Five books that I got my first inkling there were other options. Ginger beer! Ham! Reclining on mounds of bracken to eat fruit cake and apples!
Things changed for us on the picnic front when I found myself at a super-posh girls’ school which hosted ‘Exhibition Weekend’ at the end of every summer term.
Parents were invited to view the art, poetry, drama and science experiments they’d been spending their hard earned on. Their reward? To exhibit their own masterpieces: the picnics they’d brought to accompany the series of unfortunate events known as athletics where (mostly) resentful girls staggered round the 1500m or flopped over the high jump. What fun!
Picture the scene. We bring out an old rug which had spent most of its life in our Triumph Herald before it shuffled off its drive shaft and passed over into the great breaker’s yard in the sky. We lay out a load of mismatched melamine accrued from Guide Camp and break out the chicken drumsticks.
By the start line for the 110m hurdles, one family is laying a table with fresh cut flowers and a silver cutlery set. Parasols are going up, checked picnic rugs are going down. To our left there is taramasalata. To our right, hummus. We are trapped in a battle zone of Greek dips.
The middle classes are dining al fresco.
And this is how I know I have joined them. A year later, we were doing it their way. With deck chairs and a hamper from Fortnum and Mason (a gift to my mother at Christmas from a client). Inside the hamper was matching crockery, proper cutlery and hummus. (Yes, we’d picked a side and I think we can all safely say it was the winning one. Whatever happened to taramasalata?!)
Recklessly, we drank Bucks Fizz. And boy, did it make the athletics go in a blur.
And we found we loved to picnic.
We have picnicked at all sorts of outdoor events. Henley, Ascot, jazz concerts, garden opera, music gigs, Shakespeare in the Park, you name it, we’re there.
We’re there with our bespoke picnic pie, our Italian cured meats and our chilled champagne poured into actual glass flutes pretending that this picture of spontaneity didn’t take a week to plan and prepare.
It feels like we’re in a magazine photo shoot.
For a couple of hours we have a perfect picnic and a perfect life.
And then I tip tomato salsa down my front and it starts to rain…