Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Delights Of A Picnic

James Tissot
French Painter

Now that autumn is fully with us there is no longer any danger of having to find an excuse to turn down invitations to picnics. Gone are the days when tables and chairs were arranged in the shade of trees, if you were lucky, or in the full sun under an inadequate umbrella, if you were not. Sitting under trees in the garden brought you the added interest of bits of tree or a large variety of bugs falling down on you, while flying insects bit and stung you. Roasting in the sun is a particular pastime indulged in by the natives of these shores; at the first hint of a sunny day, Beloved will take off as many items of clothing as he can get away with, while still remaining decent, and spend all the hours of the day basking in the rarely glimpsed rays of the fireball in the sky. Siesta? Whatever for?

Picnicking close to home, in your own garden or the garden of a near neighbour will at least allow those squeamish souls who prefer to stay under cover during the hottest part of the day to find solace indoors; offering to do some washing up or freshen the salad bowl are accepted gladly and the prospect of a confidential gossip out of earshot of the party on the lawn will always find several takers.

Much, much worse is the summer picnic away from hearth and home, the kind of picnic which requires a general to organise and an army of foot soldiers to execute.

You set off in a convoy of cars, having spent the previous day assembling most of the food and drink to be taken. You get up early to cut sandwiches and make salads on the day.

The hour of departure arrives and you find that several parties are missing, aunt Edna and George and Kate are late; they finally turn up in a huff of bad temper; somebody got the time wrong and George spent half an hour searching for his favourite bottle opener.

However, you drive off and get there, only one car losing contact with the others; but, thanks to modern technology and mobile phones, which miraculously stayed on signal, this car is soon shepherded off the wrong turn and away from the motorway and back into the fold, delaying the start of proceedings by no more than a bearable forty-five minutes.

The picnic spot has been chosen in advance, an isolated clearing halfway up a hillside, reached by a bumpy track through a wood. When Dennis and Jacky first found the spot several years ago, they raved about it; the views were spectacular, they said, nobody ever went there and the air was fresh and clean.
Paradise, they said.

Dennis and Jacky are almost certain that the spot you finally arrive at is the one they chose all those years ago, but what is this? The view down the valley has turned into a huge new housing estate, partly ready and partly still being built; you have an uninterrupted view of JCBs, trench diggers and bulldozers, trundling up and down, as well as a camp site of caravans and pre-fabs to house the workers.

However, nobody complains; you assure each other that this couldn’t have been foreseen and that you won’t let this setback spoil your picnic. You spread blankets and cushions on the grass and bring out the picnic baskets, flasks, bottles, bowls and plastic utensils. Kevin and Mary have forgotten their share of the food; Mary admits it is sitting on the kitchen counter at home where she left it in full view, to make sure she wouldn’t leave it behind.  You all laugh gaily, say ‘typical Mary and Kevin’; assuring each other that there is enough for everybody even so.

Sitting on the ground is not easy, stones dig into your bottom and you need a hand to prop yourself up. You bite into a sandwich with a squishy filling, egg mayonnaise, say, and half the filling shoots out and slithers down your pretty top.

George, ever the gentleman, reaches over and wipes the goo off you with his napkin, upsetting the open bottle of red wine propped up precariously between you; the wine which does not end up in the bowl of limp lettuce lands in Aunt Edna’s lap. Aunt Edna is elderly and unable to get out of the way quickly enough, but she does manage to swing her knees sideways, tipping up the dish holding chicken drumsticks, which were deliciously crisp when you packed them, and causing them to roll off the blanket in all directions.

There are a few giggles at this, but the laughter is just a touch strained by now.

Tea and coffee are poured, both tepid, the tea badly stewed. Slices of fruit cake are handed out and eaten quickly, before the army of ants, which has suddenly appeared out of nowhere, can get to the loaf.

The men make a half-hearted attempt to lie back, Dennis, embarrassed at not having checked out the location before persuading the others to choose it for their summer picnic, even raises his arms and puts his hands under his head, saying ‘this is the life’, but his remark falls rather flat. Although they would all bite off their tongue rather than admit publicly that the picnic has been a bit of a disaster, each one of them secretly vows ‘never again’.

I think I’ll start practising my excuses for next year now.


  1. There aren't many things I'll make huge effort to avoid, but a planned picnic is one of these. I'm all for spur of the moment affairs, or lunch at a rest stop on the highway, but I shudder at the thought of being marooned on a hillside or in a field with a group of friends and family, no matter how congenial. The food is often questionable, there are no facilities (and I will be acutely aware of that all day!) and there is no escape until the whole thing is officially over. No thank you - no picnics for me. I'll dine in my own back yard.

  2. Very amusingly written. The only thing worse could have been to be at a beach with sand everywhere or to have been charged by a herd of cows.

  3. You've brought a giggle to my Saturday morning. I'm all for civilized outdoor eating - tables, chairs, and as Pondside says, handy facilities. The romance of the idyllic painting above is one to admire but never emulate.

  4. Not being one for organised picnics, I very much appreciated this. Spur of the moment or packed goodies to sustain a family day out, is more my thing.

  5. You make me think of the scene in Jane Austen -- maybe EMMA -- where they all go strawberrying and talking about the delights of out-of-doors and then it slowly goes down hill -- too hot, bugs, etc.

    Alas, picnics almost always are better in the imagination!

  6. And the angry wasps' nest within spitting distance doesn't even come into it! Loved this post again Friko, like I always do!

  7. You seem to know what you are talking about, Friko!

  8. Oh, funny. I can just see it. What you need are camp chairs and tables. they roll up nice and tidy and are easily carted around.

  9. You can come share my shady spot anytime, Like-Mind :)

    Aloha from Honolulu

    Comfort Spiral

  10. Ah Friko this is too funny! I hope this was a story of yours and not a non-fiction tale which you lived through. It reminded me of one of the reruns which I watch on TV on Saturday nights; a British sitcom called “Keeping up Appearances.” A couple of episodes have been about the main character, Hyacinth Bouquet (Bucket really) who has these horrid picnics –gets water on herself, or mud, etc. Maybe these are the British type of picnics? (I am being facetious.) I have not been to one for years thankfully. The last one being at a cabin on a lake a couple of miles away with trainees from work where we grilled hamburgers and almost burned down the cabin and the area around it. The hamburgers were well done, though, all black but done.

  11. Any large gathering of people from whom I can't escape after about 30 minutes gives me hives, even without the insects and pollen. A picnic on my own would be nice though.

  12. So, your experience of picnics hasn't been too good, then! I heard someone say once that the best place for a picnic is always 'just over that hill there'. That sums up the pain of looking for somewhere 'just right' to picnic. Conclusion: there isn't anywhere. Go home.

  13. I love picnics and the only thing that would turn me off is the lack of view and seeing a construction site. But, I must admit I just laughed and laughed at your post as my daughter's in-laws could have written this whenever we propose and 'outing.' You MUST come to my next picnic and entertain the guests. Thank you!

  14. I'm imagining you in a white dress with a big sash, a la 1905 . . . a la a Monet painting . . . with mayonnaise all down your front.
    I haven't been on that kind of a picnic in years.
    Thank the good lord.
    I'm delighted to dine outdoors but I prefer it to be at my house, at my own picnic table, in my own front yard.
    With a bathroom nearby.

  15. Oh Friko thank you so much for this, you had me giggling from start to finish. Just what I needed tonight.
    As it's spring here and summer coming up I must remember this when someone starts talking about a picnic!

  16. This is too funny. Thanks for my Sunday morning laugh.

    I've only ever been on picnics for two.. and enjoyed them immensely. I've also done the lunch in the park or back yard thing when my kidlets were little. I guess I'm not missing much. :)

  17. Hilarious post. Perhaps my favorite of many, many good lines and images is the paragraph from goo to drumsticks--a bit of farce worthy of Michael Frayn!

  18. Oh I so enjoyed that. Much better than a loud noisy ball with a lot of blada blada, blada, bla. LOL I am not one for balls in reality any more, but I hate to miss something just because I forgot. I thought it was in Oct. Oh well. Thanks for visiting ole gal.

  19. A funny and interesting post, Friko. The universal problem, I suspect, is that we always envision a picnic like that represented in the Tissot painting, whereas the reality inevitably falls short of that vision.

  20. I've never been on such a picnic and having read your descriptive post, I will avoid in the future.

  21. Oh this had me spluttering as I eat my late night dinner!!!
    You forgot the sudden shower of rain and the gusts of wind that throw the napkins and unpinned tablecloth down the hill.
    Oh and someone getting pissed and falling down....
    I'm with you. No picnics. No more.

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  23. Such a vivid description of a day that never ends! Years ago, when we were younger and much more agile, a friend of mine would envision wonderful picnics with about 30-50 people. As I recall, we had a blast, but as I said, we were much more agile then. The getting down on the blankets and juggling the food seemed much easier then.

    Great tale!

  24. And the accolades, much deserved, just keep
    rolling in, dear one. This tale is lovely and
    lethal, reminding me of some of the best
    stories told by Erma Bombeck. Being at the
    age now where a convenient bathroom is
    a necessity, most picnics are just not on
    the check list; save those in your own garden
    or neighbor's; well said. Like England, Washington
    state does not get an ungodly amount of
    sunniness, so people brave the sun's
    nasty radiation so that they can turn their
    pasty white skin into a nice shade of
    tan--but having had a cancerous mole
    removed from my back this year, secondary
    to a sunburn I suffered in Australia in 1977
    reminds me that the sun is not your
    friend; likewise wasps, ants, yellow jackets,
    mosquitos, ravens, sea gulls, and all
    the other critters who assume that
    picnickers are interlopers, and need to
    be dealt with.

  25. Thank God I never did picnics like this! Necessary ones - while shepherding schoolkids on day trips to odd places - were more my mark, and luckily, very basic, as a result! LOL. A dream of a post written from a non-English viewpoint!
    (I was too overcome with mirth when attempting the first comment! )

  26. I enjoyed this story about your picnic gone awry! I'm sure my husband would enjoy reading this as he has never been a fan of picnics unless they were in his own backyard, and even then he'd rather eat at the kitchen table inside the hosue in comfort :)
    I, meanwhile, am always romanticizing about how I'd like to picnic here and there with visions of a wicker basket full of delicious food and a bottle of good wine and a pleasant, bug free, atmosphere with a fabulous view. Very hard to find such an arrangement so such occasions are few and far between.

  27. Congratulations on the POTW! Your post had me giggling and it made me recall how I cannot possibly relax whenever someone tells me to imagine laying down in a sunshine-filled meadow. What about the creepy-crawlies, the flies, the bees, and the sunburn? LOL

  28. haha. what a fun read...and maybe a few memories stirred...smiles. congrats on the POTW over at hiary's

  29. Here from Hilary's with congratulations on your POTW--and several hearty laughs. This is too funny. Thank you!

  30. I am very fond of picnics. I think it is a wonderful way for friends and family to spend time together.I loved the painting on this post.

    Congratulations on your Posts of the Week nomination.

  31. Heh, heh. funny. Never been much of a picnicker myself. Too much bother for me. Eat first, walk in the park later. Or the other way around.

    Congratulations on your potw.

  32. I'm here via Hilary's, congratulations on the post of the week. This was a really fun read.

    One of the things that struck me was when you talked about the timid souls, not wanting to be out in the sun, that I always forget how much stronger the sun is out here, at a higher altitude. We have it drilled into our heads to try and avoid the noontime sun, and to never so much as get the mail without sunblock on.

    So then I remembered when I used to live at sea level, and how much different the sun felt. Your post caused a bit of sensory time-traveling.

    Neat trick, eh?


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