We are grateful to all who participated in our inaugural Picnic writing competition, the Brighton Argus for its pretty article advising local readers we were running it, and City Books of Hove for adjudicating. Originally, we planned one competition: 500 words from school-children; 1000 from adults, on two favourite picnic memories. One had to be local to Brighton and Hove, the other in another part of the United Kingdom, Ireland, on the continent or overseas.
In the event, we decided to split the competition, running the adult one in May to coincide with the Brighton Festival and postponing the children to the autumn term. So look out for the latter: the adjudicators will be City Books of Hove again and the winners will win book tokens just in time for Christmas. Keep an eye out for submission dates. We particularly encourage enquiries from parents and/or teachers.
And so to Picnic's inaugural writing competition . . .
The picnic memories sent in surpassed expectations and we cannot thank participants enough. We thank too City Books of Hove for their time. We are delighted to announce their results and congratulate Picnic's first winner and runner-up who win £100 and £50 in book tokens respectively. These are:
Kathleen Negus with Jam Tarts and Sardines
Alana Sinnen with Two Picnic Memories (runner-up)
The most thrilling aspects of this first result is one of our winners is in her eighties, the other her twenties. Kathleen Negus' story takes us from Brighton beach in 1948, before flashing back to the invasion of France in 1940. Alana Sinnen kicks off in St Ann's Well Gardens, Hove in 1989 and then takes her readers on a journey to Trinidad . . . This is just the sort of juxtaposition we hoped for, did not expect to find and can hardly contain our excitement that we did.
We congratulate Kathleen and Alana again, thank them for sharing their memories and hope you enjoy reading their picnic stories (see below) as much as we did.
Jam Tarts & Sardines
by Kathleen Negus
So many picnics to remember. I recall two in particlar. Just after the War - 1948 I think it was - my mother and I were invited to Brighton because 'the air would do us good'. We lived in smoggy London at the time. As an aspiring journalist, I thought a day out with my mum reduced my street-cred. I was persuaded to go when my father announced he would treat us to a special train journey.
We arrived at Victoria station on a sunny morning. The most beautiful train in the world awaited. It was called the Brighton Belle. We were all dressed up. So was everybody else. Little girls walked beside their parents wearing freshly ironed cotton dresses, white socks, sandals and straw hats. Some carried hoops or skipping ropes.
I could see small brass lamps alight under pink lampshades at each window of the train. There were five beautifully painted brown and cream shiny carriages with 'Pullman' written on them and in the centre a medallion outlined in gold with a name. We were ushered into 'Vera' by a very important looking conductor dressed in black with a hat to match.
An impeccably dressed waiter - my mother told me he was called a steward - showed us to where we were to have breakfast. Our table was elegantly dressed. On a thick white tablecloth a cream napkin was folded into the shape of a fan, each setting bathed in a soft pink light.
My mother gave our order: scrambled eggs on toast for me and a kipper for herself. With this a pot of tea. All delicious. Feeling rather grand, we watched the lovely countryside roll by. Exactly one hour later, we arrived in Brighton.
The station was very impressive, covered by a large glass roof. We walked to the forecourt and then down what seemed like a long hill, crossed a main road passed a clock tower and could see the sea. Soon, we were on the promenade, to our left the Palace Pier.
Excited, we spotted our friend holding a basket-ware suitcase, with a plaid rug folded over her other arm. My mother greeted her while I rushed to look over the railings. At long last, the beautiful sandy beach . . . What a disappointment: pebbles and stones right up to the water's edge.
The rug was spread out on the shingle. I waited impatiently to see what was in the picnic basket. First out was a little round Primus stove. Next, a bottle of mauve liquid labelled 'Mentholated Spirit'. Finally, a little tin teapot and some small Bakelite cups.
Our hostess soon got the stove going. When the flame was as she wanted it, she filled the teapot with water from a bottle and put it on to boil. Having satisfied herself all was as it should be, she brought out two tins.
The first had an old faded label reading 'Huntley and Palmer'. As she lifted the lid, I saw piles of dainty white sandwiches cut into tiny triangles with no crusts and filled with spam and mustard and cress. The second - a tall circular one - had lots of jam tarts.
Seeing such a spread, my mother held my eye. 'Rather different to a previous picnic we had, dear . . .', she remarked.
And so to my second picnic story.
I was born and brought up in Lille in the North of France. My father represented an English firm selling textile machinery to French mills. We enjoyed a happy family life - lots of picnics! - with wonderful holidays in England. A real treat every Christmas was a visit to Selfridges. The window displays were fairyland.
I was 14 when war was declared on 3 September 1939. This followed Hitler's invasion of Poland on 1 September. For the next 7 or 8 months nothing happened. Life went on as usual, although I do not remember us picnicking any more. The period was known as 'la drole de guerre' - the funny war.
We all felt safe because of the Maginot line which the Germans would never be able to cross. 'Maginot line' was the name given to a colossal system of fortifications which bordered the frontiers of the Northeast of France and the Rhine. Work started on it in 1929 and ended in 1936, swallowing up most of the French government's military budget. Hitler sent his army through Holland and Belgium and therefore bypassed it.
20 May 1940: A date in my life I will never forget. My mother, brother and I were enjoying our lunch. Liver and bacon on the menu. Suddenly, my father's car unexpectedly drove up to the house. He rushed in and said, 'Quick! All get in the car. The Germans are near. We must get away'.
I remember getting up from the table and snatching my precious stamp album which was lying in the hall. A few minutes later we were off, joining the massive exodus. We lived on a main road not far from the Belgian frontier and for days had watched the one-way non-stop traffic go past. I could not make out why some cars had mattresses on their rooftops, learning later this was a precaution against machine-gunning.
You may well wonder what this has to do with a picnic. A wonderful picnic, let me tell you.
We had been driving for hours and hours in very slow moving traffic. My father wanted to get to the coast to find a port and a ship sailing for England. The Germans were too near Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne: Dieppe was our next hope.
Dawn was coming up when we got to the outskirts of the town. As we drove down a little side road, my mother announced, 'We are going to have a picnic'. We parked by a beautiful cornfield, poppies in bloom on the verge and the sun rising.
She produced a tin of sardines which she handed ceremoniously to my father to open. In those days, sardines had a key on the lid which you turned to open the tin. Then, out came a round loaf of bread from under the seat of the car.
This was divided into four. Every drop of oil from the tin was slowly dribbled on to each piece of bread which was topped with succulent sardine. We were very hungry but ate slowly enjoying every morsel. A picnic never to be forgotten.
Jam Tarts on Brighton beach. Sardines in a French cornfield. Forever delicious.
Two Picnic Memories
by Alana Sinnen
The sun is glistening on the vibrant green grass that has a freshly mown smell. The white-feathered ducks wade in the clear water lake, content with their surroundings. The hard red-coloured tennis-courts are busy with players rallying in the ball game. This is my memory of my first picnic at St Ann's Well Gardens, Hove.
I was about four years old and went with my mum. I remember feeding the ducks some bread we had leftover from home, breaking it into small pieces so the ducks could digest it better. I loved seeing them float on the pond's surface, almost gliding like a figure-skater on ice. This fascinated me then. I remember eating our picnic near the tennis courts, watching people play their games and sweat uncontrollably because of the heat and physical exertion of the game. I enjoyed watching the players do their rallies, the sound of the tennis ball 'popping' as each player took their turn to hit the ball.
The actual picnic 'basket' (it wasn't a traditional wicker picnic basket, more like a /Waitrose/ plastic bag!) usually consisted of sandwiches made up of green crispy lettuce, margarine and sometimes coleslaw. I have always been a fussy eater so I probably would have picked out the lettuce and coleslaw. Children do not like vegetables! To drink, we would have Ribena or apple juice. To this day, I cannot stand orange juice.
My most memorable picnics have to be the ones I have in Trinidad with my maternal relatives. I have visited this exotic, beautiful Caribbean country eight times in my 23 year life. The river is where the picnic is held every time. To make sure we get a good picnic-spot at Caura River in North Trinidad, we always leave my grandma's house by 8.00 a.m. at the latest. This may sound easy for all the early birds out there, but believe me, it is a completely different matter when only one bathroom and at least eight people are involved!
The river picnic is made more enjoyable by getting as many people to go along as you can. Usually, there are about four or five car loads. The river is over the other side of a mountain and the journey is very long and slow along narrow, winding roads. We pass a couple of yellow sand beaches with turqoise-coloured sea-water on the way. The excitement for tourists in particular - i.e. my dad, my mum (it brings back her childhood memories) and myself - increases as we near the familiar sights before our final destination. Once we have driven past the two beaches and are going up a steep part of the road, we know we are nearly there.
And that is when you see it . . .
On the left are the car spaces, mostly filled up as everyone has the same idea to get there early for a good spot. On the right, the first thing you see is the rush of the waterfall and the long stream of the river calmly flowing along its path. There are many beaches and parasol-covered tables, all wooden, scattered along the side of the river. Many are already in use, but luckily we are able to get one and set about getting our picnic out of the car.
The picnic is a grand feast - bearing in mind that with at least five carloads of people, there are 25 hungry mouths to feed! All food is cooked on-location. You do not need a license to cook there, unlike over here in England. Unusual for the Asian culture, the men cook at the river, whereas the women cook at home. The feast includes lots of rice and roti, channa and aloo (chick peas and potato) to go with chicken and a fish broth. (Roti has a thicker texture than chapattis but is thinner than naan bread. It can be plain or filled with grounded split peas.)
Before all is eaten though, a splash in the river must be done. With calypso music blaring from one of my family member's car, I walk down the man-made muddied steps towards the river, bracing myself for the first dip into the water. As a child, I was often fooled into thinking that because the sun was shining so brightly and it was swelteringly hot, the water would be the same. But as I step in, I gasp at the ice coldness of the water and have to take a few quick breaths before I plunge the rest of my body in, head as well. A few seconds later, I emerge up to my shoulders and feel the freshness, as if my body has been cleansed. I am now immune to the coolness. The water is crystal clear and shallow. I can see right down to the bottom of the river.
After a while, the food is ready to eat and everyone eagerly gets out of the water for a feed. As I step out, I get an almost instant chill from the sudden change in temperature as I go into the warmth of the sun. I wrap myself quickly in a towel and make my way to the food. It is even hotter as I near the still boiling pots and rapidly make my way around with my paper plate. Then, some fizzy drink to wash it down. The food is very welcome to my growling stomach and I quickly eat it up.
We stay at the river until late afternoon, just before the sun goes down. We pack our things up and get back in the car having enjoyed a wonderful day on a river picnic.