Pit stops II: The Perfect Picnic

So far this one has eluded me.

1960 Knepp Monarch picnic cooler: www.etsy.com
1960 Knepp Monarch picnic cooler: http://www.etsy.com

Perhaps it has eluded others too. I think it’s because there are so many factors in question. It is unlikely they all are in alignment. The perfect picnic is a phenomenon quite well suited to motor travel. The car can hold a lot of things necessary for “dejeuner sur l´herbe”. You can peruse a lot of places at your leisure too whereas cyclists tend to

Land Rover, the vehicle sponsor for the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event and the U.S. Equestrian Foundation, rented a set of six tailgating spots, which were outfitted with chairs, sun unbrellas and gourmet food arranged in the back of six Range Rover and Land Rover vehicles. The company was using the space as hospitality for Land Rover owners and customers Saturday. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com
Land Rover, the vehicle sponsor for the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event and the U.S. Equestrian Foundation, rented a set of six tailgating spots, which were outfitted with chairs, sun unbrellas and gourmet food arranged in the back of six Range Rover and Land Rover vehicles. The company was using the space as hospitality for Land Rover owners and customers Saturday. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

carry fewer things (walkers much less) and tend to be happy just to stop riding at any point. As a cyclist I have eaten in some really unsavoury locations and not minded too much.

I recall that the American mustard concern Grey Poupon ran an ad focusing on what they called a tailgate picnic. They imagined a Rolls-Royce tailgate and provided a recipe involving chicken breast and quite a lot of Grey Poupon whole-grain mustard. I didn’t get a hold of the Rolls but I did try the recipe. It was vile. Notice how Grey Poupon associated a good picnic with a good car.

1966 Chevrolet picnic sceneAs a motorist it hasn’t worked out for me. The locations haven’t provided the right degree of bucolic perfection while still constituting a place in nature. There seems always to be something missing from the always-huge inventory of things. And most certainly, the meteorological conditions are seldom what you want: mild and windless are my preferences. You need some sunshine too but also some shelter and shade. And, finally, the rest of the team need to agree that this, this is indeed the spot to stop.

At the core of the problem is the tension between spontaneity and organisation. For a really nice picnic you want to have all the things ready in advance. At the same time, to stop when the mood takes you adds a vital and important element to the pleasure of the whole enterprise. But planning a picnic has something of the futile pursuit of setting out to have a good time. One of the Mills (senior, I think) said that happiness was something that one felt while going about other goals. Pursuing happiness itself is a hiding to nothing. You are bound to be disappointed.

etsy.com
etsy.com

Nonetheless I have planned picnic stops and having written this I need to plan another very soon. As far the good ones have featured a nice place and bad food from convenience stores. While motoring across Ireland this summer (avoid) we stopped by a lake near Nenagh and while the food was alright the lack of a picnic table marred proceedings. The best recent one was entirely spontaneous: an uncannily warm October morning with absolutely no air movement and bright sunshine.

We had absolutely to take advantage of the conditions and so we raided a convenience store, drove off in a hurry and breakfasted by the undisturbed surface of the Limfjord in NW Denmark. What did we eat? Looking back, I regret it was not fresh bread, cheese and chilled champagne (driving). We ate rice pudding with fruit compote with plastic spoons and struggled to smear cream cheese on slices of ryebread. We lacked the plates, clothes and glassware and, most of all, the coffee and cake that was demanded. It was memorable, and possibly the best morning of the last five years. And imperfect. Achingly, annoyingly imperfect.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

5 thoughts on “Pit stops II: The Perfect Picnic”

  1. Menu notwithstanding, generally, Nature has too many tricks up its sleeve for the perfect open air picnic to be possible. Wasps, ants, wind, etc. And if Nature runs out of ideas, Society can always be relied on to come up with a sewage outlet that you didn’t notice when you parked, or that car full of dysfunctional kids that arrives as soon as you’ve laid out your blanket and food. So then you retreat into your car. An in-car picnic is a horribly clumsy affair which you really need a professionally valeting service to clear up after.

    In terms of the total experience coming together perfectly I recall one sunny picnic on a hillside in the Cévennes. Thematically, I’d been reading “Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes” by Robert Louis Stevenson. We were sitting on a rug, there was a slight flurry from the other side of the road and two people and a donkey walked past us and disappeared down a small path in their descent of the hill. After a couple of minutes we wondered if we had imagined it.

    The worst picnic was in a rainy lay-by in Switzerland. Sitting in my old Citroen, there was a tap on the window and a policeman wanting to know what we were doing there. Possibly the half- eaten baguette clenched in my hand would have given him a clue – but then he was uniformed division, not detective. Not satisfied, papers had to be produced and inspected accompanied by the incessant dripping of rain into my lap and my sorry baguette perched on the sloping dashboard threatening to deposit itself onto the carpet. This took a long time and satisfaction was greeted with no more than a cursory nod. The picnic, such as it was, was totally destroyed. If you’re reading this Simon, I hasten to point out this isn’t my normal experience of Swiss hospitality. Possibly he was attached to the 27th Canton – they do things differently there I believe.

  2. I like theme of the Corvette ad. It suggests a subtlety and breadth in the use of a sports car that is missing from the more polarised (and fantasy) image that sells sports cars these days. In practice, the couple, and the woman in particular, don’t seem very comfortable with the situation. Is there some simmering tension between them? “Heck, honey, relax. it’s a goddam green dress, the grass stains ain’t gonna show”. In any case, it’s apparent that the art director never went on a real picnic in his or her life.

  3. “You think I’m easy. You bring me out here in your sportscar and ply me with wine and food I don’t even know the name of and, just because I work for you, you imagine I’m going to …….. What do you take me for?”

    “Well, Bill, I take you for a failed football player who’s unlikely to find a well-paid job at another agency and who is about take off his expensive cream mohair jacket and do exactly what I tell him to do, OK?”

  4. “Helen, listen. You need to drive within the Corvette’s handling envelope. You did very well on the dry blacktop but I felt you were being too sudden in your steering inputs when we got to the gravel. We’ll have a bit of lunch and then we’ll re-try the last section again.”

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