May 28, 2023

Claudia Winkleman on picnic blanket rules

There are a few problems with summer. You know the drill by now, but just to recap — bare feet, bright colours, lip gloss (a disgrace), grown-ups in dungarees (acceptable only when painting a ceiling), barbecues (all that standing around, applauding a man simply for turning a chipolata with a pair of tongs — no thanks).

But the worst of all? Picnics.

I blame Enid Blyton. I blame The Sound of Music. I blame Hanging Rock. The sun comes out and everyone immediately feels the need to get out. Now this would be fine at a table, with cutlery and plates. But no, that would be too straightforward. Instead we feel the urge to head back to the Fifties. Suddenly everyone in the house goes into a mad panic, shouting: "Do we have a skipping rope?" "Anyone know how to make coleslaw?" We scrabble around, looking for old, frayed towels to use as a rug. Someone mentions prawn kebabs.

Once the kitchen has been covered — and I do mean covered — with mayonnaise, an unbelievably heavy and unwieldy wicker basket is found, and we cram it full. On the way to the park someone realises they haven't taken their antihistamine and starts to sneeze.

And when we eventually find a little patch of scrubland, we have to find somewhere to sit. There's a single space left, between groups of friends. One has three toddlers (one of whom has just taken off his nappy). Another family has two dogs that are "quite a handful". But we don't mind; it's summer. So we arrange ourselves on the ground. We open the bamboo containers (I know, I know) and pass round wooden forks. "This is nice," someone lies, as greasy and gnarly drumsticks are handed out, and a crow pecks at our feet.

After a couple of hours — before we have unwrapped a cake that is somehow both raw and burnt (Ottolenghi exists for a reason, everyone) — flies have gathered. The cork is stuck halfway up the bottle neck, there isn't a recycling bin for miles and all that's left is a sweaty brie, which we hold in our hands and pretend to enjoy.

Finally, sunburnt and covered in itchy grass, we pack up. The basket is slippery with oil and sun cream. And when we get back to the house neither happy nor sated, the kitchen looks like we’ve been burgled. So we wipe all the surfaces. We wash the basket. No one has had fun.

Until, that is, I do it all again, this time with the chicest picnic blanket I’ve ever seen, and I do the picnic my way.

This does not involve "picnic food". Picnics don't need you to make a Scotch egg from scratch. They don't need you to steam a whole side of salmon. And they definitely don't require a basket.

All they need is some Twiglets and this mystical, magical blanket. Which you can roll up under your arm and casually lay out; comes in any colour or tartan, with any name or group of names embroidered on it; and is made of wool that is unbleached and non-allergic so you won't be all scratchy after lying on it. If you have a few, you won't even have to lie on anyone else's Twiglets. See you in the