A teatime meeting and stormy weather and the arrival back in the house is late. The sausages are cold, but cold sausages have a capacity to evoke happy memories. Cold sausages conjure childhood moments sitting in the back of the family car with my grandmother presiding over the sharing of the picnic.
My grandmother was a specialist at extracting good food from a raffia shopping bag. The bag seemed always to contain more than enough to satisfy our appetites, or perhaps it was just that one does not have a large appetite when one is seven years old. There would be sandwiches, and cold sausages, Scotch eggs, and home made fruit pie and great slabs of fruit cake wrapped in greaseproof paper. The age of plastic had not arrived; tea would be served in proper cups, milk came from a screw-topped bottle and sugar was carried in a jar. (My grandmother’s choice of menu became influential in adult years, when no picnic was complete without the sausages and eggs, supplemented by Melton Mowbray pork pies).
Sharing in those picnics was an experience of much greater intensity than most restaurant meals I have ever eaten. Perhaps there was a sense of something exotic in being able to choose where to eat, a sense of freedom in improvising a meal, but it was more a sense of the bond they created: there was something about sharing food with people in sometimes unlikely locations that gave the moment a special feeling. Even the dynamic of the meal differed from that at home, or in a restaurant or café; there was no hierarchy of seating, usual etiquette did not apply, and the meal usually depended on things being passed from person to person. At a picnic, there seemed an alteration in the usual social relationships, an equality, a sharing of an hour that might be unrepeatable.
The old-fashioned picnic is rare now. People still picnic, but is now it more a logistical operation with folding furniture and cool boxes and an accumulation of accessories, and little by way of home made edibles; tartan rugs and Thermos flasks are no longer common. The best thing about a picnic, though, remains unchanged – the location. Eating a meal as a breeze comes in off the sea, as cliffs roll away into a hazy horizon, as medieval sandstone buildings bask in warm sunshine, as each element of the landscape adds to the intensity of the taste, is an experience that lingers long years afterward.
The only thing better than cold sausages would have been cold sausages far from home, in a place where the telephone would not ring, during days that last forever.