Monday, June 13, 2005

Picnic in Sparta

Picnic aftermath
Originally uploaded by Chocolate Sandwich.
Got out of town at the weekend - all the way to Craster in Northumberland. Craster has kippers, a castle and a pub - what more do you need from a daytrip destination? In the pub the night before, Maude and I had arranged to have a picnic with our old friends, Archie and Leap. It had been Maude's idea and the enthusiasm for it from our friends was heartening - Archie's last words on the subject were 'looking forward to it immensely!'.

Archie and Leap share a pretty cottage on the road to Craster, so we arranged to collect them and their hamper en route. Leap had assured us that her larder was crammed with picnic fare and that she would gather it all together in time for our arrival. She too was excited and recounted various stories of glorious days spent picnicking around the Borders as a child. Her mother, Summer, took every opportunity to take Leap into nature - walking, collecting berries, bathing in homemade bathing suits. Archie once told me that his first encounter with Summer was memorable - as she was gardening, naked, at the time.

Arriving at the cottage on the morning of the picnic, we hugged Archie and Leap and joked that we hadn't seen them for 'ages'. As we laughed, Maude glanced around the kitchen discreetly. She was obviously hoping to catch a glimpse of Leap's hamper - keen to see the efforts of such a seasoned picnicker. Leap is a vegan (once introduced by Maude's father as a 'severe vegetarian') and tends to buy unusual fruit, rare chutney and delicious cheese. Late morning sunshine poured in through the kitchen window, bathing the room in light and anointing the day as a perfect opportunity to picnic. The room, however, showed no signs of recent activity - only the remnants of the previous evening's supper could be seen. I smiled at Maude, sensing her anxiety. 'It's probably in the hall, dear. We just didn't notice it on the way in.'

Archie then began to shuffle around the house, collecting cricket stumps, choosing music for the journey and gathering small change as he went. At this point, Leap was not visible.

'She's probably looking for napkins, a tablecloth..that sort of thing.'

Maude's face had acquired a look of worried suspicion. She smiled politely, nonetheless.

'Why don't we make some room in the car.' she said, regaining her enthusiasm. I told Archie that we would wait for them outside and left him to his last minute preparations.

Maude whistled happily and repacked the car boot, shifting our hamper to one side and creating a buffer in the centre with the picnic blanket. The sun began to blaze, I kissed Maude's cheek and we looked up together to trace the path of a jet through the cloudless sky.

When our eyes returned to ground level Archie and Leap were stood before us with their 'picnic'.

Apparently, Leap had overestimated the amount of fresh food left in her larder and the chain on Archie's bicycle had come off as he set off for the grocer's. Their contribution to the daytrip consisted of two apples and a flask of green tea. I wordlessly spread the picnic blanket out across the empty half of the car boot floor and placed the 'picnic' on it. The apples and flask looked like small children in a kingsized bed. Maude maintained an air of dignified disappointment for the rest of the day.

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