According to the American writer Alice Walker, 'Tea to the English is like a picnic indoors.' Is that a reflection of what she thinks we have for afternoon tea, or that our picnics are the same as that meal?
We are all year round picnickers, the contents of the basket depend on the time of year, of course. To give you an idea, we had one just after New Year, having gone to visit one of our favourite places along the North Norfolk Coast. It was a bitterly cold day, yet there were lots of people about. Twitchers visiting the nearby RSPB reserve could be seen tramping across the walkways on the marshes, huge telescopes around their necks. There were groups of people walking along the top of the shinglebank sea defences, which were breached quite spectacularly several years ago, a not-infrequent event it has to be said. There have been many times when the North Sea inundates the coastal village, and what in normal times is a coastal road with marshes and then the sea on one side, and housing on the other, just becomes part of the mighty sea. Luckily, the houses are built several metres above the road, so rarely get affected, but all are prepared whenever a strong wind is allied to a high tide. There were also many people in the town itself, and although the sun was valiantly shining, the wind was just too cold for it to have any effect.
So when we passed a bakery, with its doors open and the tempting, mouthwatering smell of fresh pasties wafted out into the narrow street, our tummies rumbled, and it took only the merest of glances being exchanged between us, before I was climbing the steps into the bakery and asking for 'two hot pasties, please.' We then beat a hasty retreat to the car, where we had a flask of coffee all ready and waiting, and a short drive to a favourite parking spot alongside the marshes, where we devoured the hot pasties, squirming at the very hot bit in the middle, getting covered in flaky crumbs of delicious pastry, but worth it for the really warm feeling inside.
Sometimes, in the winter we will collect hot pasties, sausage rolls or pies from bakeries as we pass them on a day out. Or we'll have hot tomato soup in the flask, and it has to be the one in a red tin, I'm sorry. Like their baked beans, to my mind, nobody does it better than Heinz. With that we'll have crusty rolls from a bakery, or freshly made sandwiches. Sometimes only a cone of chips from a chippy will do.. you know that feeling, right? In the summer of course, it could be sandwiches, fresh rolls, cheese and salads, fresh fruit and maybe a sticky willy (an iced bun in the shape of an eclair) if we feel like a real sugar fix.
The site can be one of many... alongside a river near the lockgates, the salt marshes, on a relatively high spot overlooking open countryside (where we often fly a kite as well!), near the sea, in the middle of the countryside, in woodlands.... all of them are places we have found over the years, rarely visited by others, at least not at the times we have gone. Maybe the odd walker passing by now and then, but none of them are places where you find children running around, screaming and spoiling the silence. The silence and solitude are treasured, not that we live in an incredibly noisy area, but it's never totally, totally silent... that silence which is deafening according to some people. Like it's never totally dark, there are the street lamps casting that awful orange glow so you never see the full beauty of the starry skies.
Picnics can be as elaborate or as simple as you like of course. There is one venue in this area that used to host outdoor classical music concerts, with fireworks, and the picnics there all came in proper baskets, with ice buckets for the wine or champers, real linen napkins and proper cutlery... though I always fancied unwrapping hot sausage sandwiches and opening the thermos of tomato soup, just to be different and see the looks on people's faces as they caught the whiff of sausages.
What seems to be important is that it is food you enjoy, eaten with people whose company you enjoy, in a place which brings mutual enjoyment.
Someone else once said that kissing a man with a beard is like going on a picnic.. you have to go through some bush to get there, but it's worth it in the end!