Picnics to remember
Harking back to my last letter about the disastrous shearers’ picnic lunch, do you do picnics in Auckland or has cafe society corrupted you? It is so easy, even in the country, to be corrupted by the convenient roadside coffee house. Gone are the days when I packed a picnic lunch for a long road journey. How much easier it is to stop at a country cafe and buy lunch.
I have even succumbed to the cafeteria at the ski field, but only on snowy days when it’s cosy to sit in the fuggy warmth munching a “bad for you” lunch – mince and cheese pie washed down with a Coke. Sunny ski days are different.
I drag out the old picnic hamper and pack a scrummy lunch, flasks of coffee and tea and a cold beer or two in the cool bag. I pack folding chairs and we sit at the back of the car and share lunch with friends.
On August 25 I always pack a very special ski lunch; it is Kit’s birthday. In the year of his death at Cave Creek we didn’t know how to cope with the day so we fled to the mountains. As we were leaving, a friend presented us with a box. “Just a little something to help you through the day,” she said. We opened the box at lunchtime and packed inside were the ingredients for a perfect picnic, along with a bottle of wine, flowers and a note. “Thinking of you. Love, your friends.” It was a thoughtful gift. It suggested that we could celebrate Kit’s birthday as well as grieve for his passing.
If it is sunny on the 25th we will carry our picnic to the top of the Porters ski field, take off our skis and walk to a sheltered spot overlooking a glacial lake glittering ice-cold on the valley floor. We will sit in the sun, unpack the picnic delicacies, open the champagne and celebrate Kit’s short, special life.
Yes, we do picnics in Auckland and we will, when we next have a picnic, think of Kit and celebrate his life. But it won’t be with champagne. More likely it will be drinking out of a beer bottle for some and out of a Tommee Tippee mug for others.
Our picnics aren’t on mountain tops. They’re usually beside the sea and we don’t feed just family members. We feed the entire avian population of the Waitemata. Our food is usually sandwiches – my daughter-in-law specialises in creative sandwiches – fruit, maybe even tiny packets of raisins and a yoghurt. Gone are the days when I used to make elaborate picnics with little pastries and summer pudding.
I’ve always liked picnics. When I was a child my mother made bacon and egg pies for picnics. Now, on Sundays, we often take crackers and cheese and olives on our exploratory walks in parks and reserves in our new city. We always have a New Year’s picnic, with ball games, swims, ham off the bone, warm tomatoes and soft bread and end by lazing with magazines while picking delicious chocolates out of a box.
The hardest thing about leaving Wellington was breaking the 24-year tradition of Sunday walks with Jane. That’s a lot of walks! For the last one we took the best deli olives and cheeses, wine and a thermos of coffee. I made a fruit cake and my backpack included glasses and linen napkins. Unfortunately it rained – well, poured – and we huddled on a bench under a macrocarpa, eating and drinking regardless.
A passing runner was so astonished at the sight that he slipped on the muddy track. We offered wine but he refused.
Picnics are good for commemoration and celebration. There’s no rush. You can take the whole afternoon. And on your winter picnic you will be able to watch the sun set over the mountains. I will think of you on that day.