This pastoral tableau, established to demonstrate the various pleasures of dining al fresco by substituting adults for children, is typical of the 1970s-era utopianism envisioned as an extension of William Blake’s timeless homage to England’s place in the pantheon of places clearly touched by the hand, if not the stylist employed by, God.
Behold, for example, the spread itself: the wholesome bounty of fruit alongside what look like fried chicken legs, a quiche, and cake. Each child has his or her own giant can of Coca-Cola, which, because it is pre-1984, is as close to wholesome as a soda can get, being made of actual cane sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup.
How civilized are their accoutrements: the yellow-check cloth, the knives and forks, the wicker picnic basket itself, open like a shall disgorging its riches. No ants threaten to intrude upon the diner’s peace, though the ducks might.
Note too, the way gender roles have been firmly established for our young actors: the girls demurely managing the food upon that domestic square, while the boys carve out their own space upon the bank, where they angle for fish to prove their mastery over nature, and perhaps to justify this jaunt into the wilds of a manicured lawn.
Oh, how soon all this will change: the girls, drawn into strange and mystical moods and shapes by raging hormones, will slouch and moon, turning inevitably towards the incessant cat fighting that will dominate the rest of their teenage years. The boys, however, will not budge an inch — content to sit in the quiet company of their own kind upon the banks of some river, their rods cast into the waters dangling bait and hopes and dreams.
While the bows of burning gold shall rest in their hands hung with hooks, arrows of desire shall strike the girl’s hearts. The girls shall dream of spears while the boys imagine the chariots of fire they shall one day drive. Till they have built Jerusalem in England’s green & pleasant land, they will have to be content with a picnic, and afterwards, plenty of calamine lotion to soothe the sun’s wounds.
Freezer Feast: Cooking For and From the Freezer, Caroline Rennie, 1973