Perfection is a state of mind. But you can find a picnic spot almost anywhereby Will Self / May 25, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
“A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread /and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness…” My father, so far as I know, was not much given to quoting from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, but whenever a picnic was proposed this hackneyed line would issue from his lips—with the inexorability of night following day, or ants converging on scattered crumbs. Frankly, if I were my dad I’d have avoided romanticising the al fresco eating experience. I suspect he saw himself, in his mind’s eye, as one of the sitters for Manet’s Le dejeuner sur l’herbe—obviously not the seated nude, or the bathing lovely, but more likely the bearded bohemian in the Turkish toque who’s lying back on the rug and discoursing, at length. My father loved to discourse—especially at length.
Like Manet, he also had a vision of the perfect picnic spot; and again, like the post-impressionist, Dad’s also involved bowers and pools and neatly-cropped sward. I know this because as we bowled along the highways and byways of Britain in our crap Austin, he would sing out: ‘There’s a perfect picnic spot!’ pointing towards some alder-fringed sinuous rill, beyond a field full of bullocks, that, once we’d unloaded all the gear and struggled across to it, invariably turned out to be hard against a sewage farm or a humming bypass. Never daunted, Dad would marshal us all again, and we’d embark once more on the quest.
In time “Peter’s perfect picnic spot” became just one of the coinages with which my mother—a markedly less romantic figure—would taunt my father; drawled in her New York accent it summed up all of my father’s risible folly, his dreaminess, his impracticality. I felt divided in my loyalties; I could appreciate my mother’s line of attack—what was the point in searching for ages for somewhere to eat a couple of ham sandwiches and munch an apple? But I also intuitively grasped what my father was aspiring to, which was nothing short of transcending his worka…