Magazine article The Spectator

Dejeuner Sur L'herbe

Magazine article The Spectator

Dejeuner Sur L'herbe

Article excerpt

A few weeks ago, on one of London's rare sunny Saturday afternoons, my son arrived at our front door wanting to borrow the family cool bag as he was packing a picnic and heading over to Battersea Park with his girlfriend.

Being an incurable romantic, I immediately proffered proper glasses, linen napkins -- even one of my vintage white embroidered tablecloths -- much to the disdain of my relaxed and practical son who laughed at what he felt was my nostalgic nonsense, departing quite happily with the bag, some ice packs and a rather battered old tartan rug.

I found this a rather wasted opportunity.

To me, there is nothing less appealing than plastic glasses and paper plates -- I like the whole nine yards of Edwardian splendour in the grass, albeit while eating seriously tasty finger food. Indeed, King Edward VII himself was particularly fond of picnics, apparently having his chauffeur pull up by the road-side in Norfolk to allow HRH and Mrs Keppel the opportunity to relax across a fully dressed table groaning with poached quail, ham, lobster salad and hard-boiled eggs, presumably to the amazement of any locals pottering by on their horse and cart.

Not that the King's outdoor eating was, in the true sense, a picnic. The food might have been unpacked from hampers, but for picnic purists, the real McCoy has got to be a feast laid out on a rug on the ground, rather than seated at a table laid up in the manner of a fête champêtre.

The real problem with picnics is of course transporting it all. Other than for those peculiar people who enjoy eating in today's crowded car parks -- whether at Royal Ascot or in a lay-by off the A40 -- outdoor eating is best done as far away from urban life as you can get, which means everything has to be as portable as possible. Squabbling over carrying cushions and chairs rather defeats the object, which is to relax. My own idea of picnic heaven is a good, old-fashioned basket (easier to carry than a hamper) filled with fruit, cheese, honey-roasted chicken legs, a decent fruit cake and scotch eggs made to my grandmother's recipe. As most of us are now used to lugging around a handbag the size of a small suitcase, carrying a picnic basket is a breeze -- you just have to leave the handbag behind.

In reality, getting away from urban life is pretty hard, so picnics in the park or on the beach (or even in the back garden) are often as good as it gets. …

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