“Heroic Survivors of the Picnic.” is Gwen Raverat’s bittersweet memory of a miserable picnic. It’s the next-to-last anecdote in her memoir Period Piece: A Cambridge Childhood. I think she means to suggest that life was no picnic, but that she has no remorse. Despite the cold wind, rain, nettles, ants and many other miseries including sugared tea, which everyone hated, the family endured. Her Uncle Frank’s joke about the tea fell flat: “It’s not the sugar I mind, but the Folly of it.” Raverat admits, “The was half a joke, but as his words the hopelessness and the hollowness of a world where everything goes wrong, came flooding over us; and we cut our losses and made all possible haste to get . . . home to a good fire.”
Considerably happier is “The Boat Picnic,” a bit of fun at the expense of Edwardian prudery. Rowing to a picnic on the Cam, the picnickers had to pass young boys swimming naked. Innocent? Not here. Raverat recalls “The Gentlemen were set to the oars-and each Lady unfurled a parasol, and like an ostrich, buried her head in it, and gazed earnestly into its silky depths, until the crisis was past, and the river decent again.”
Though Raverat is sharp about people and places and even the weather, she’s hazy about food and drink.
Featured Image: According to Raverat her Aunt Ida was the only picnicker smiling. I dare you to find her.
See: Gwen Raverat. Period Piece: A Cambridge Childhood. London: Faber & Faber, 1952