Off to the Fair!

Memories of Bonfire Night (1950s)

Memories of Midsummer Picnics

Memories of Pancake Day
(Shrove Tuesday) 1950-ish

Memories of Easter Time

Memories of Christmas Past

Memories of Midsummer Picnics

To me, midsummer means a picnic. When I was a child, each year, the whole neighbourhood would get together and take the kids off across the fields to enjoy an outdoor feast and a chance for them to run around and let off steam. People wanted to get away and let it all hang out. Friends gathered to while away the hours, talk, play and eat, and in pleasant weather, they’d enjoy these activities in the countryside. Everyone brought th

eir own food contributions and, with one or sometimes two hampers per family, there was always ample quantity and variety. Everyone attended - children and teenagers, parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The women each had special dishes they would make for the annual event. The day before the picnic there would always be a flurry of activity and lots of delicious aromas to be inhaled deeply and eagerly. We kids would be packed off to bed early to get enough sleep, but our thoughts wandered through games, feasting and flying kites.

The great day would arrive, usually with a bright sun. Everyone was eager to get up and get going. Early in the morning we’d all meet in the car park of the local pub, burdened with bulging picnic baskets (containing enough food to feed the county), not to mention candles, blankets, bug spray, sunscreen, can openers, napkins, cups, plates, deck chairs, and a host of other stuff. Mr Thompson from the next street would arrive with his Land Rover and we’d load it up with all the heavy or bulky items to be transported to our destination about a mile or so away. The rest of us - mothers pushing prams, dads with toddlers on their shoulders, grandparents shuffling and children running, skipping, and jumping - set off with much chatter and cheering. Often, someone would start to sing - others would join in and soon we’d all be singing as we happily marched along.

The spot where we held out picnics was known locally as "Church Fields" - and that’s exactly what it was - open meadows and gentle hills surrounding an old Norman church. There was sunshine, shade, delightful cool breezes, and unspoiled grass. Home base was a tree-covered, cool grove. The trees provided both shade and protection. When we arrived some of the adults would set up deck chairs for the elderly, begin boiling water for tea on camp stoves, and spread blankets and table-cloths out on the ground and onto several conveniently situated large flat-topped rocks.

Other adults organized games, activities and races for the children - and anyone else who wanted to join in! The older boys would sometimes climb a sturdy tree and tie a rope around a branch for a swing. All morning there were games like Ring of Roses and Simon Says for the little ones, a candy scramble, games of Tag and Blind Man’s Buff, and races for different age groups - relay races, three legged races, egg and spoon races, sack races, and wheelbarrow races. There was always a line up for lemonade, home made ginger beer, and other cool drinks! We ran and played until it was time to eat. It was like a buffet - everyone shared, so of course, we all discovered old favourites and lots of new and interesting treats.

Everyone competed to bring the most unique items for the picnic lunch. The food was much, much, more than cold cuts and nibbles, though they were definitely included. There were sumptuous cooked hams, roast meats, fried chicken, raised meat pies and countless sandwiches and salads. For desserts, there were all kinds of pies and tarts, fruit and cream, trifle, rich cakes, and cream buns. Fresh fruit was always plentiful, mostly picked the day before from the orchard at the nearby farm.

After lunch, activities were less strenuous - the adults sat and knitted or talked and there might be games such as, croquet, horseshoes or cricket. Young girls would look for butterflies or birds’ nests and collect wild flowers whilst the boys would try to impress them by bravely venturing into rough or inaccessible areas to get a desired bloom. Later couples would stroll, arm in arm across the fields... There was nearly always a Scavenger Hunt. A letter would be picked out of a hat and each person (or couple) would attempt to find as many items as possible starting with the chosen letter.

There was no set "tea time". People just kept snacking throughout the afternoon. At about 6.00 p.m. Mr Thompson arrived with his Land Rover to take away the heavier items, which would be safely retrieved from his garage the next day. Families with young children or elderly relatives would leave around this time too. Towards the evening, someone would “miraculously” produce a guitar, harmonica, flute, or some other musical instrument. One year, we even had a violin and an accordion. That was the signal for the entertainment to begin. Anyone with musical or any other talent was welcome to ‘put on a show.’ It was a kind of impromptu variety concert with different people taking turns to play an instrument, recite poetry, sing, or render a comedy routine such as “Who’s on First.” Then we’d have a sing-song in which everyone joined in - clapping their hands, stamping their feet or even dancing if they couldn’t sing. We always finished by linking arms in a big circle and performing the "Okey-Cokey."

Then, each family began to pack up and make tracks for home. We kids, filled with delicious food, and tired from all the games and the playing we’d done trudged back the way we’d come - too tired to sing any more, but already looking forward to next year’s Midsummer Picnic.

So - if the sun shines on Midsummer Day, celebrate with an old-fashioned picnic. Nothing beats a summer day filled with fun for all - not to mention lying on the grass looking up at a clear blue sky with a pitcher of lemonade close by!

By Sylvia Richards 13th June 2010