Is there anything more delightfully British than when, upon the arrival of temperatures over 12 degrees, the nation floods the public areas of the land to picnic en mass? Whether you fire up the rusty gimp-legged barbecue in the garden, pack yourself a luxury wicker hamper and head to the seaside or just take a bucket of fried chicken with you to a tramp encrusted park bench, dining al fresco is something we all love and now we are entering the picnic season, why not liven up the proceedings with a good old game of PFPT Picnic Bingo!
The rules are simple, print out this list and for every one of these scenarios you encounter, you smear or splodge a dollop of burger grease or ketchup on it (you can then later sell it as a work of art or a £70.00 main course in a top restaurant). The first to smear dollops all over their sheet shouts something rude and everybody drinks Pimms. Got it? Ok, let’s play!
You approach a vast expanse of open grassland or sandy beach, not another soul for as far as the eye can see. You settle down to your secluded and possibly romantic al fresco feast when out of nowhere springs an ear piercingly jubilant family with all kinds of noise and motion inducing paraphernalia including bats, balls, dogs and toddlers. They survey the 5 miles of flat, open, perfectly inviting expanse and, after much careful consideration, decide that the ideal spot to settle would be 2.4 meters from your little nest of (former) solitude.
As you lie back trying to blank out the sound of 4 children arguing over who can scream the loudest at a butterfly, you become startlingly aware of the sound of continuous heavy footfall 2 inches from your head. Apparently, the spot you have chosen in this achingly vast open plateau is exactly the spot everyone else deems to be the only suitable footpath leading to everywhere they could possibly wish to travail. You can try moving 2 miles in any direction but within 5 minutes, you’ll be cosying up with the couple who have a penchant for humping in public like 2 dogs in a pub car park. Or The Kardashians.
The Embrace of Nature
As Stella Gibbons wrote in Cold Comfort Farm, “Mother Nature is all very well in her place but she must not be allowed to make things untidy”. The very essence of the picnic is that one must try to embrace nature and all its bounteous glory, unfortunately, nature’s returning embrace isn’t always so enjoyable. No sooner have you set out you bone china crockery (or bucket of fried chicken wings) than a swarm of wasps, flies, ants, tics and every other scuttling, flying, biting bug in the area takes this as an open invitation to have your cheese and cucumber sandwiches as a starter before really going to town on your ankles.
If the swarms of midges and ants-quite-literally-in-your-pants weren’t enough, for some inexplicable reason, you open an air tight container, previously only exposed to the sterile environment of your kitchen and hermetically sealed before transportation, to discover four teaspoons of sand and a clump of mown grass clippings are waiting there among your hard boiled eggs and fondant fancies.
When nature isn’t invading your food and stealing your corpuscles, it’s attacking from beneath. You selected your little picnic patch based upon the fact it was the most luxuriant patch of grass or sand, seemingly free of dog eggs and damp patches and so you’ve spread out your blanket and settled down, only for a pebble or a twig to welcome your bottom with an unceremonious prod from beneath the rug. You remove the offending article and nestle your posterior back down, only to find there’s now a boulder and a tree branch in its place.
The Battle of The Barbecue Alphas
If your picnic takes the form of some sort of barbecue, there will be a battle. It’s a fact that all men are born with The Barbecue Gene, which predisposes them to congregate around hot metal grills, prodding meat until it is suitably burnt on the outside and still bleating in the middle. In spite of the fact they may consider cooking to be “women’s work”, prodding meat over naked flames in the great outdoors is considered as manly as scratching their testicles and shouting at televised sports. The trouble is, only one man may hold the tongs and this man is then crowned Alpha Barbecue Male. He who gains control of the grill, gains control of the world and all others must bow to his sausage dropping superiority.
All the men gathering around the barbecue are not merely there to drink warm beer and inhale the scent of smoked botulism, they are in fact waiting, like savage hyenas, for the tongs to be dropped or set aside while the Alpha tends to a child’s grazed knee or struggles to open a jar of dissenting mustard. The air is electric, the hands lightning quick and lo, a new Alpha is born and the pecking order is shuffled. This scenario alone results in around 673 tong related deaths each Summer.
Money, Money, Money
As far as picnics go, you’re not one to overdo things. It is, after all, a packed lunch with a few trimmings, consumed under a cloud of wasps and, well, clouds. So why is it then, that what is ostensibly a curly cheese sandwich, a packet of salt ‘n’ vinegar crisps and a warm Capri Sun pouch has cost you more than a black market kidney transplant and a hand picked orphan?! It was just a few sandwiches, but when you get home you’ll find someone at your door ready to repossess your house and your first born child. Ok, so you added a few dips and a cheese board, and there were 7 types of beast thrown on the grill and 12 types of salad along with a fully stocked drinks trolley, but really it was just a few sandwiches?!
When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (and Everything Else)
Even if you are not attending a barbecue, or if you’re at a barbecue and lack the Barbecue Gene, you needn’t miss out on that unique aroma of delicious house fire. If anyone within a 5 mile radius of you is having an open fire-prepped stomach bug, you will find yourself, regardless of the wind direction, in the direct path of the thick plume of charcoal and burger fat fuelled smoke. It is THE smell of Summer and a joy forever. No seriously, forever. You can wash your hair and your clothes all you like but just one encounter with a barbecue will ensure you smell like a smoker’s lung until Christmas.
The Circus Performers
You’ve settled down on your kitsch checked blanket to enjoy the peace and sophisticated tranquility of one of England’s fine parks or coasts, when suddenly your senses are assaulted by what appears to be the rejects of some 3rd rate travelling circus, each with their own uniquely annoying intrusive skill.
Roll up! Roll up! Behold, The Amazing Men Who Lack All Ball Skills! Marvel as they violently kick their ball into the face and plate of every picnic and litter the place with insincere apologies before gracing your presence with yet another exhilarating face-ball.
Come on folks, come see The Amazing Deadly Frisbee Team, who throw their Frisbee with all the skill of a catapult made of jam! Enjoy the whizz of a plastic disc merely missing your head as it sails by to knock over your bottle of wine.
Here, for your enjoyment is the tinny sound of a full blast mobile phone, playing all your favourite half-heard tunes while a close-eyed earnest hippy battles it on his sticker festooned guitar, accompanying The Dreadlocked Girl Who Can Not Twirl! See how she flings her diabolo, batons and juggling balls in the air, scattering them with graceless panache, demanding the attention of all who came to relax. She’s cool you know, she learnt these ball dropping skills on her “gap yah” in “Injah“, look at her, LOOK AT HER.
Man’s New BFF
You don’t own a dog, you don’t want a dog. Open up your cooler bag of sausage rolls and roast beef sandwiches and suddenly you have a dog. Not just one, you have a whole pack of intolerably friendly and nasally curious dogs, whose owners have decided the rest of the world can babysit while they push out a few zeds in the sunshine. You wilfully hold a labrador off the scotch eggs with one hand, pull a poodle back from the houmous with the other, all while a spaniel comically races through the centre of the picnic, leaving with a baguette and a tub of honey mustard glazed chicken in its mouth.
When they aren’t shoving their noses in your individual jam tarts, these delightful four legged chums are supplying the air with the un-nerving aroma of excrement that seems to haunt you. Did you really check the area carefully before you sat down? Really?
The Call of Nature
You’re miles from home, possibly miles from civilisation and almost certainly facing a 2 hour queue for the nearest public loo, behind everyone else who’s rushed out to enjoy the 2 days of Summer. You have also spent 3 hours packing your body full of food and drink – What could possibly go wrong? Now your options are to traipse cross country to the nearest WC and waste valuable picnicking time in a queue for a flooded bucket in the corner of a pub who ran out of loo roll in 1987, or you can use a bush.
There is nothing dignified about squatting behind a bush to relieve oneself of ones ablutions, but hey, we’re being at one with nature here and if it’s good enough for boy scouts and bears! There really is nothing wrong with popping behind an obliging shrub to answer your bladder’s urgent call, but please, for the love of all that is decorous, when you pop back there and drop trou, just check that there isn’t another picnic on the other side.
Did I hear someone shout something rude? Do we have a winner? Then pass the Pimms and pack up the soggy sausage rolls, let’s go to the pub.
“When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (and Everything Else)” would be me.
Staying home is so much easier and nicer and cheaper and…
I find that pubs serve adequate food and beverages to avoid all domestic chores AND picnic mishaps. Problem solved!
I would agree with that.
In my part of the world the barbecue alphas wear vests and have excessively bushy armpit hair, strands of which worm their way into the meat. As always, been a splendid read.
In this part of the world, we have women who sound startlingly similar.
I was a little bit heartbroken reading this considering down here in the Southern Hemisphere we’re just starting the cold weather. But then you noted rain, and I remembered you were from England and I felt at peace again.
No matter where you are, you can forever take solace in the thought that there will always be a British man trying to cook 3rd rate horse meat in the rain.
I love picnics, and can throw a nice one together in little time. I usually enjoy them at an outdoor concert, so there’s no chance of frisbees and footballs. Bush squatting is also not so likely, thanks to our poisonous spiders. I don’t even need to put up with the grilling, as where I live, the hillsides are basically kindling all primed and ready to catch a spark all the excruciatingly hot Summer (as a Brit the heat may sound nice, but live here and you’ll huddle with the locals in the thin sliver of shade afforded by a streetlamp post waiting to cross the street). It’s the cleaning up that really drains my life. My bag ends up smelling a bit rancid because by the time I get home I can’t be bothered to tackle the chore for a few days. No. I just have my lunches outdoors on a daily basis and that basically fulfills my basic picnicking needs, with no requirement I listen to the thumpa-thumpa of some lowrider’s trunkful of bass speakers.
You had me voting for a pub at the bare bum biting spiders.