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Clare Hastings ponders the joys – and woes – of the traditional British picnic

Shall I start off with a confession? I am not really a great lover of a picnic – or maybe I am not a great lover of some picnics. Picnics fall into a myriad of categories, and that's before you start on the styling side – are we going functional or stylish? Cool bag or picnic basket? Thermos of ice cubes or frozen bag? Plastic forks or the real McCoy? It's a minefield; a constant battle between the romanticised idea in your head and what will actually mean you can comfortably eat and enjoy your crustless cucumber sandwiches. 

Picnics are so loved that they've been immortalised in art. Manet's Le Déjuener sur L'Herbe depicts a sunny scene with fresh white linens and a cake. The reality is a bit less comfortable. Yes, you're ostensibly there to lap up the sunshine, but there's also the formidable forces of nature to contend with. Rain. Wind. Ants. Wasps. 

That said, a good picnic is one of life's simple pleasures. And not all picnics are made equal. From emergency picnics to posher affairs, here all all the different kinds of picnics you might encounter. 

The instant picnic

Pick up a pre-pack at the local supermarket en route to anywhere outside. This kind of picnic encompasses an office lunch, or a last minute 'see you there' sort of thing. You could add transport to this list too, as I have seen everything from a hummus dips with carrots to a curry consumed between tube stations.

The children's picnic

Ultimate British picnic | Children's picnic

The most important things to pack are flannels, wet wipes, games, water, suncream, hats, insect repellent. Food is reduced to a small footnote – crisps will probably be the main meal. 

The concert picnic 

A slight separation here. Are you going to Glyndebourne in which case see below for posher picnics, or a festival ( remember those?), in which case you can suck it and see which van provides the best boxed feast.

The posh concert picnic 

The British picnic | posh picnic

These involve John Lewis or Oka wicker hampers complete with prosecco or Pimms. Real glasses are de rigueur or fantastically classy plastic ones. These will cost you more than crystal. As with crystal do not put them in the dishwasher or they will go cloudy.  

The picnic en rustic

Romantic picnics, white tablecloths, real napkins, homemade quiches, cushions, rugs etc etc. You will need a large vehicle for this sort of outing as the whole point is that you may be outdoors, but suffering is not an option unless you are the one organising it.

The foodie's picnic

Instant barbecues for example. Remember to take them away with you and don't put the hot ashes into any sort of nylon or plastic bag. Even in lockdown you are allowed to cook things other than sausages.

The theatre picnic

I only mention these as the last time I went to the theatre the couple in the next seats had a full on meal. Gin and tonics via a rather pretty tin thermos, slices of lemons for garnish, sandwiches and oranges for pudding. It was the last that did for me, the smell completely removing any engagement with the stage at all. If we are now going to social distance between seats there will be extra room for even more elaborate fare.

The cheat's picnic

The British picnic | The Indytute's Italian picnic

Ignore all the above and order one of The Indytute's Italian picnics, no prep or thought required. You might be picnicking in Finsbury Park or Barnes, but you can still get a taste of the Med with our wondrous hamper of courgette carpaccio, antipasti, focaccia and limoncello posset. Possibly the only kind of picnic I find acceptable.

FURTHER READING: You've got your picnic, now where to eat it? Try our list of secret London picnic spots

(main image: nvainio)

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