Friday, August 18, 2006

The Ultimate Picnic

I'm off to the Oval tomorrow to see the third day of the final Test (England v Pakistan). Very excited. As a sporting arena, I think the Oval is up there with its more famous rival, Lord's.

But of course, for me, going to the cricket it all about the picnic. I've spent the day preparing - mentally and physically - for the epic of snacking that a day at the Test match truly is. It could be especially interesting this time, because I don't think the weather will be that good, and if the players go off for the rain, there is nothing else to do but sit there, huddled under an umbrella, eating. It's my kind of sport.

It's also the sort of event that breaks down conventional 'meal times'. Though the players have a strictly regimented timetable - breaks at lunch and tea that only change for, guess what, the weather - I've always found that by the time I get to the ground and find my seat, I'm hungry. So it's important to have depth and breadth in the picnic bag snack stock. You need selection that covers every size of nibble, and also every point in the spectrum from sweet to savoury.

I've known inexperienced cricket snackers try to conquer this problem through volume - they just take loads and loads of stuff. But the poor fools fail. Remember: whatever you take has to be contained in a bag that fits comfortably under your seat. There's not much legroom, so even less bagroom. (The weight of the bag isn't such a problem - you've only got to get it there, because on the way home it'll be a lot lighter.)

Once you know what to take, a problem that's just as pressing is knowing how and when to eat it all. It's a careful balance. You're going to have to go between sweet and savoury several times throughout the day. Don't scoff your iced bun before you've considered what crackers are available. Or even cheese.

I like to do this by setting myself two or three bedrocks of the snacking day (can you 'set' 'bedrocks'?). A couple of items are to designated set roles that are utterly immutable - regardless even of the weather. For example - ham sandwich at lunch (1pm); iced bun when the cricketers go off for tea (3.40pm); sausage at real tea time (5pm), followed by an apple and a chocolate cupcake. This way, the day has a structure, and I don't get lost in an overwhelming deluge of snack choices. The rest I play by ear.

I have one final piece of advice. Never forget that there will always be one thing you won't be able to take with you. At some point, you will have to get up and go and buy it from one of the stalls behind the stand - an ice-cream.


James Casey said...

Oh my goodness, Joe, you couldn't have picked a better day to go to the Oval, bearing in mind what's happening even as I type...

Joe said...

I was there on the Saturday, and the stuff went down on the Sunday. I'm glad I was there to see a full day's cricket, and I'm also glad I was at home to watch on TV the events of Sunday - I don't think any of the spectators had a clue what was going on. If they had, I don't think they would have booed the Pakistan side.