On the subject of picnics, my editor bragged that her fizz would have been chilled by Aldi, which apparently is a reusable plastic cup with a circular cover whose nucleus is designed with a hole through which a straw would protrude. But who would want to drink champagne from a straw? Not only is this a common habit, it sabotages the fulsome bubbly effect of a proper mouthful. The final nail in the coffin is, as an astute reader observed, the possible attack by a pelican on an equally possible streaker, whose appearance is not at all uncommon in a London park.
A more sophisticated reader commended the example of the Japanese who are fond of picnicking in spring to coincide with the ritual of “hanami” involving the annual viewing of the cherry blossoms, whose delectable petals only fasten to the branches for a few days. Each year hundreds of thousands of people gather to feast under the blossom in scenes evocative of the feeding of the 5,000, except that the disciplined Japanese sit in perfect formation with carefully prepared bento boxes instead of messy hampers. The Japanese cognoscenti inspect the seeds of the sacred blossoms in order to predict the rice harvest.
However, this kind of genteel and intellectual picnic is not for me. The Japanese seem to be able to eat and drink cross-legged and almost motionless, whereas I hate sitting Buddha-style on the ground, which invariably gives me pins and needles, and love instead to wriggle on the grass and be juvenile with much giggling and laughter. Let’s leave the more refined Japanese to do their own thing and not pretend the rest of us can understand it, especially if we rely on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, which tells the story of Cio-Cio San, a precocious 15-year-old girl determined to enter into a marriage of convenience in order to get an American passport. If Puccini had set his opera in England, the Home Office and Scotland Yard would have taken a distinctly adverse interest in the matter.
Finally on picnics, a rather macho correspondent proposed the following recipe: “Pillows of heather and wet dogs, a tomato ring, salmon baps, a slab of chocolate, Barbours, midges [and] a Highland drizzle.” Frankly, I cannot imagine a worse concatenation of ingredients, except for the dogs, either dry or hot. The midges alone would have infuriated me as I have found many a time in the butt of a grouse moor. The rest is a typical show-off of Scottish toughness and eccentricity, which, as far as I am concerned, the Scots can keep tucked up in their kilts and stuffed in their sporrans.
On nominalisation, I was glad to receive a correspondent’s concurrence with me on its ugly usage. I notice that the British millionaire Paul Sykes, who declared his support for Ukip, a fast emerging political party not dissimilar to the flashing popularity of the rightwing Tea Party in the US, boasted that he would campaign for Britain to leave the EU even “if it skints me”. This dreadful conversion of an adjective into a verb takes the problem to a new level and is a further reminder on our need to be vigilant with the English syntax. Slightly ironic that this alert should come from a Chinese man to a native Brit with nationalistic tendencies.
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I am a new fan of Twitter and am gutted that you are apparently not on Twitter. I am amused by the Reverend Richard Coles who tweets powerfully on the Stages of the Cross alongside the revelries of his dogs, his garden shed and, most recently, told me to rush outside in the middle of the night to watch the space station passing high above my home . . . why don’t you?
I don’t tweet because it doesn’t require a fountain pen which I love using. The Reverend Richard Coles is a shade too trendy for my Catholic taste and completing the Stations (not Stages) of the Cross ought to require a calm spiritual state of mind rather than a hurried sense of spontaneity that Twitter urges. My friends Peter and Ann Hutley, who have shown me more kindnesses than any other English couple since I first came to England as a boy, years ago made use of their estate to map out a mini pilgrimage of the Stations of the Cross. That is what I would regard as a proper modernisation of an important Catholic ceremony. Not with twits who tweet on Twitter twittering away.