A PICNIC – ENGLISH STYLE

The Year 1985 stays in my memory for two principal reasons; The Awful Summer and the picnic in Windsor Great Park.

Caroline had recently returned from her University gap-year in Spain and seemed to have scattered invitations around for newly made Spanish friends to visit her in the UK. The first one to turn up was a girl called Diane who arrived at Gatwick Airport in July, met by Caroline, and brought home to stay with us. She is a slight, blondish young woman studying medicine and a friend of Olga. She looks frail but, I guessed, as tough as old boots beneath an exterior of demure compliance. The invitation had been jointly made by Caroline and her fellow University chum, Richard, also a Spanish gap year student. After some time it turned out that Richard was having second thoughts about the matter after getting home and Caroline was on the phone egging him on to do the decent thing and collect Diane. Richard’s resistance was eventually broken down and he turned up the next day to stay with us.

A phone call from Bordeaux revealed that two more Spanish invitees were on their way by car and could someone meet them at Dover. Ursula and I convinced Caroline to counter propose for them to drive up the A20 from Dover to Sidcup where I would meet them. In spite of this apparent agreement, some days later two Spanish young men knocked on our front door. They looked tired. Welcome Nacho and Angel . Their story was disjointed. They had got to Beckenham about a mile from our house, locked themselves out of the car, smashed a window to retrieve the key and then walked to Dunbar Avenue by asking for directions. Angel was tall and quite dynamic but somewhat disorientated; nacho quieter, composed and ready for anything that came his way.

Ursula quickly rustled up some food for them. Richard and Diane had gone to London and so after eating, tired as they were, the two said they would like to go to London as well and off they went with Caroline picking up their car on the way back. After some days mostly visiting London Caroline suggested we all have a picnic and would organise this with another Spanish gap year student called Phillipa who lived at Virginia Waters. The venue for this was at Windsor Park on a Sunday.

Julie and Andrew were coming to stay with us on that Sunday and Julie said she would like to join the picnic party. There were already seven people staying at Dunbar Avenue and this would ease when Richard said he and Diane would be leaving for his father’s house in Gloucester on Sunday after the picnic. Caroline had asked Cliff and Lynn along to the picnic and also Cliff’s friend, Ben, who would be visiting them that day.

Ursula and I were to meet Julie and Andrew at Euston Station and drive direct to Windsor; The others would call at Cliff and Lynn’ place from where all would drive to Windsor where we would meet up. Caroline had worked hard preparing the picnic food which we distributed in the cars when U and I set off for Euston. The train from Crewe was late and we had some refreshments before starting off for the rendez-vous which was for 1130 hrs. at a pub called the Thatched Tavern in Cheapside, a village some miles from Windsor. We were the first to arrive and found the pub only opened at mid-day. We were not allowed to wait inside and as it had started to rain quite heavily and there was no other nearby shelter we sat in the car while it dripped outside.

At 12 o’clock we went into an empty pub and ordered drinks sitting for some time until a girl appeared and introduced herself as Phillipa. Another long wait before the rest of the party arrived less Cliff and Lynn and Ben. Ben had not arrived so they stayed on waiting. Meanwhile the pub had been filling up with customers at a steady rate, mostly prosperous looking people, and the hub-bub was deafening with service at the bar becoming a battle field. We were wondering about this and learned that due to the present licencing laws the pub would close again at 1400 hrs. Making hay whilst the sun shone. Just before closing time Cliff and Lynn arrived saying Ben had failed to turn up.

The party was now complete and assembled outside in the diminishing rain we set off in the cars for Windsor Great Park. In the Park the rain actually stopped and leading, I immediately drew up close to a great oak tree and, with everyone looking dubious started to stake out an area for the picnic. The ground was very damp so we put down rugs and covers; there was an assortment of umbrellas and a couple of folding chairs for the faint-hearted. Raindrops dripped from the leaves and both Nacho and Angel thought this amazing saying that in Madrid there had been no real rain for about two years. Perhaps this observation was made to politely give the impression that we were lucky to have so much rain in England, even to the extent of being able to have a picnic in the rain. Maybe thinking that this was the normal.

The food that Caroline had prepared was abundant and tasty and with the baby Andrew as an interest the damp and dreary weather was not really a consideration and the wine we had brought along helped to create an enjoyable atmosphere so that when a shaft of watery sunshine emerged from the lowering clouds the group became positively animated.

With the picnic over and everything cleared away we drove in convoy to Windsor and some of the party went to look over the Castle while others, including Ursula and myself sat outside on benches and , believe it or believe it not, soaked up the sunshine that had appeared. By the time we came together as a group this sun had disappeared and we trooped upstairs to a tea house for tea with scones and jam and cream and marvel about the English weather.

Against my wishes one of the Spanish boys paid the Bill of £15. It later turned out that Cliff’s friend Ben had been unable to find their flat which more or less sums up the the whole episode.

August 1995