... picnics. Yes, now that summer's ended and the spitting's started - of the pluvial kind, mind you - let's talk about those (sometimes) gross lawn reunions where bodily fluids like saliva are shared in the open air.
A picnic, when well organised, is an enlightening experience. It heightens the sense of being at one with nature, it enhances our community spirit. For that to happen, the ideal number in attendance should be... two. Yes, you and your partner only. Or a friend instead of your boyf/girlf. OK, OK, bring the kids along if you have any and if you must, but don't tell me I didn't warn you. Because when you run out of juice/fizzy drinks and all you're left with is an unopened pot of hummus and a bunch of carrot sticks, you'll realise it was a bad idea to tell them to tag along.
Picnics are supposed to be fun-packed activities where you run into people you last saw when you were totally focused on putting chewing gum in their hair, or slapping (accidentally?) a piece of paper on their back reading: 'I'm an under-achiever and proud of it'. And don't you even dare to acknowledge either misdemeanor. C'mon, you don't want to spoil the party, do you? These open-air outings have become a step of the growing-up ritual. Just after the gap year and getting legless. Picnics fall somewhere between you landing your first job and moving out of the parental home. In fact, picnics could be considered a training course in order to learn how to organise your own wedding. An entry level qualification, if you wish, equivalent to a GSCE.
But they do fail, don't they, picnics? Why, though? I can think of two elements: personality and nature.
Let's go to the human factor first. The most obvious example is the scrounger. This is the individual you see more often in large outdoor congregations and who doesn't bring anything to the party. Yup. He/she (let's settle for 'he', shall we? This situation is more common in blokes) arrives surreptitiously, usually he is a very popular person, and after greeting everyone, including Auntie Carol whom he never visits despite living five minutes away from her house, sits down to munch. And does he munch! Put away the salami! Cover the barbecued chicken wings! Don't dare to bring out the Cloudy Lemonade. The scrounger works like a locust, he strips the picnic of food. But unlike the short-horned grasshopper, he does it subtly, without you noticing. By the time you've finished eating your salad (he rarely touches it, which is strange as most scroungers are omnivorous), you notice that there aren't any Kettle Chips left. Any further enquiry will be fruitless. The scrounger will give you that sad-Jack-Russell look and you will end up blaming Auntie Carol.
Nature's influence on picnics comes in various forms. The first one is the weather. You watch the weather forecast a week before the excursion, looking for encouraging signs. If you're a man, you can't wait to break into that new vest you bought for a song at Brixton market. Especially since you started going to the gym. If you're a woman, you're looking forward to wearing that nice summer dress you were given a couple of years ago and that has since lain in the bottom of your drawer. If you're a child, all you care about is trying your new catapult. Preferably by hurling small stones at your cousin's bottom. And then the day arrives and whilst you are laying all the various jars, pots, plates and the like, the temperature, initially a sweltering 30 degrees Celsius, drops to minus five. Or it rains, all of sudden. Rain accompanied by the wind, a northeasterly wind. Coming all the way from Russia. And you blame climate change, the coalition, your partner, Putin, God. But your picnic's ruined. That's the awful truth. Your vest is just that, a vest, with no sleeves. And the summer dress is a flimsy piece of material, insufficient to shield you from mother nature. Only your child is happy. But his cousin is not; he can't walk properly.
The second natural influence can be summed up in one word: wasps. Loads of them. Millions of them. At some point you think that your companions have mutated into wasps, in the same way Jeff Goldblum became a fly. Solution? Shoo them away. Oh no, they'll sting you. How about staying quiet until they go? Haha, what do you think they are? Bears? Swatting them is a good option, but in most picnics nowadays you'll get an animal activist who will try at first to reason out with you that that is not a good idea, what with wasps being insects with feelings and emotional problems of the Woody Allen variety. But if you don't stop, expect our animal lover to report you to your local RSPCA branch. So, there's your picnic gone out of the window.
Conclusion, then. Picnics: heavenly summer outdoor excursions or self-delusional human activities? Your verdict.
Next Post, 'Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music', to be published on 26th September at 10am (GMT)