As I write, tabloid newspapers are full of headlines about a forthcoming heatwave. Newcastle is set to “boast scorching temperatures”with “a maximum of 21C cited”. Oh. So it’s… a warmwave? It’s five days of room temperature. Still, it’s an improvement on the current week’s weather, which is thunder and lightning and all things frightening.
Twenty degrees is, at least, just about, picnic weather. And, boy, it’s been a while. I understand the visceral reaction some people have to the word “picnic”. It can summon up the thought of a lot of faff; easy-to-lose bits and pieces, or perhaps Enduring Love (and nobody can argue that a hot-air balloon accident or a stalker sounds like fun).
But a perfectly pulled-off picnic is a glorious day out, or even just a great afternoon. There is a hierarchy of effort: carefully crafted culinary creations neatly packed inside a hamper; bottles of prosecco; a cheeseboard; folding chairs taken to a beauty spot; actual cutlery. Or there’s the picnic on the hoof, when the clouds part, the weather is suddenly good and everyone snaps into gear: the dash to the supermarket for pre-mixed tinnies, rattling around in a carrier bag; a barbecue in a tray; a couple of old blankets arranged in the local park.
One of my favourite things about picnics is the opportunity they provide to sneak in some kind of sporting activity. No picnic is complete, in my opinion, without a game of rounders or croquet or Frisbee-throwing, or even just a football kickabout with the mandatory jumpers for goalposts. The kind of gentle, amiable competition that even those who spent every week in school faking notes to get out of PE can enjoy with a group of pals.
There is one downside: when picnics are rained off. Otherwise, it is just lolling about, twiddling grass between one’s fingers, peering at friends over the rim of your sunglasses, snoozing, perhaps a spot of reading before the games begin. And, at the end, the satisfying feeling of being a good citizen, by collecting all rubbish. Well, it isn’t rubbish: it’s the evidence of a jolly good time.