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{12/02/2012}   Cold weather picnics

     Cheese, baguette, peanut crisps then pfeffernusse and coffee.  In sub-zero temperature with snow still on the beach at Dungeness.  Fantastic picnic!  My hands were so cold I could barely move, Becky’s nose was so red it matched her gloves and my lips and cheeks were so cold I could hardly talk or eat.  But it was wonderful!

This is not my first winter picnic and it most certainly won’t be my last.  About two years ago, Fiona and I also had a picnic on Dungeness beach, in fact it was 2nd January, the day before the snow came!  I also spent a week in Finnish Lapland where we ate most of our lunches outdoors, around about -10 to -15 degrees.  When living in Clapham, I also had a few Clapham Common winter picnics.

I used to hate packed lunches and picnics because I always had them as a child and I wanted to eat out as soon as I could.  Now, I love picnics, especially winter ones.  I have memories of sitting in my parents’ car, opening up a tatty box and clipping a tray/shelf in the door-window area.  A flask would be produced, the steaming contents of which, once in the orange plastic mugs, would completely fog up the windows.  Why didn’t we just brave the cold and eat outside?  Ah, rain!  We would munch away on our lunch, usually a wealth of food, on orange plastic plates.  I probably moaned about them at the time, but now they are memories I love.

One February or March in Seasalter, four of us sat on a picnic table outside my house on the beach and had a fry up.  Admittedly it was a warm day for the time of year, but it was still a wintery meal outdoors.  On another cold day, living in Clapham at that time, I baked jacket potatoes and cooked baked beans.  The latter were kept in a food flask and the potatoes in foil.  We sat on Clapham Common and ate them.  So good!  I once had my friend Paula visiting from the US and Julie from South Korea/Australia.  We went to France for a daytrip in early January, did the obligatory pain et fromage shop and had a bitterly cold standing-up (seriously so cold we couldn’t sit down on cold sand or rocks!) picnic on the beach.  I have a chimenea of the kind that can (and has up to now successfully been) be used in winter.  Friends with a dog came round (I have a cat) so the six of us cooked a hot lunch and hot drinks over quite some hours one extremely cold winter’s afternoon.  Fortunately we had the heat from the chimenea but it was good to eat warm food when it finally got cooked!

When I was 18 a friend and I were Interrailing.  We ate pretty much all our meals on a Trangia stove outside.  Not even at a campsite because we slept on overnight trains.  We once had – and I might need to be corrected – a “pasta ‘n’ sauce” cooked on the Trangia in torrential rain sitting under a fairly dense area of trees in a park.  Memorable.  Ruth, help me: where were we?

In Finnish Lapland, we had a few lunches cooked over a fire in a designated hut.  But a few we had over an open fire outside, surrounded by snow.  A bowl of warm food (usually reindeer stew) would then be handed out, along with a hot berry “juice”.  I loved it.  There is something so comforting about hugging your food bowl or mug and eating or drinking something warm enough to make you feel all “aahhhh, that’s good”.

My friend Fiona and I once met in Leigh-on-Sea for the most windswept picnic imaginable.  The drink we poured didn’t all go into the mugs, crisps went flying and we had to hold our food down on the plate to stop it blowing away.  While eating, sitting on a raised concrete area above the sea, also very cold, we realised – I am not kidding – a bride and groom had appeared and were having their photos taken with the sea (and, cringe, possibly us) behind them.

I don’t know exactly what it is that made yesterday’s picnic or the whole idea of winter picnics so memorable, but no matter how cold I get, it’s fun.  It’s doing something out of the ordinary, it’s being a bit cave girl, it’s laughing hysterically about pretty much falling off that bit of wood we found to sit on, it’s about hardly being able to eat or talk because it’s so cold, it’s about trying to do things with gloves or mittens when only hands can do the job; it’s about sharing a lot of laughs with a really good friend.  Go on, make my day, I hope at least one person reads this and soon after goes out and has a wintery picnic!

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