Monday, 2 August 2010

Picnic blankets and Dancing Queens

One thing you simply cannot fault the British for is their determination to enjoy their pathetic summers. Regardless of the neverending drizzle, the constant cloud-cover and the sunshine which is only remarkable by its absence, they plough on with their outdoor activities on a mission to see the summer through. And give the impression that they are enjoying themselves as much as people in places where quality sunburn is a potential achievement.
Here in London we indulge in numerous outdoor activities in the summer months. We have chilly picnics in our lovely green parks. We drink outside our bars and pubs, cluttering up the pavements whilst the insides of such hostelries remain empty. Under umbrellas we watch open-air theatre and dance in the dirt at gigs and urban festivals.

Areas of the city host entire summer schedules of al fresco frolics, like the Earls Court Festival which closed last week, with an event which truly put the camp back in camping. On a Friday evening, after a week which seemed like it would never end, weary workers clutching well-earned bottles of wine, cushions and picnics filed into Nevern Square's central gardens behind the Earls Court Road. They scouted prime spots and laid down their blankets and set up their folding chairs in front of a vast blank screen. Every kind of picnic emerged, from the instant supermarket variety to the home-cooked, tupperware feast laid out on pop-up tables and benches. Clutching our own clinking bags, our own little group plumped for an optimal spot near the screen and waited for the action to start.

Once the evening truly began to fall, and dusk settled over the square the huge screen lit up. Lights in the huge houses around the square backlit residents watching both the picnicking audience and, after it was dark enough, the out-door screening of "Mamma Mia", the summery feel-good film based on the music of ABBA. As we pulled our cardigans closer about ourselves and huddled together for communal warmth under threatening clouds, a cast of tanned and far more skimpily-clad lovelies frivoled on a sun-drenched island. They sang, they danced, they dressed up and shoe-horned somewhat unlikely Swedish pop lyrics into the preparation of a Greek wedding.
Amanda Seyfried demanded to know whether the Scandinavian adventurer was her father and the square finally fell silent. But not for long. "Yes!" squeaked a tiny voice who knew the film too well, shattering the atmosphere and provoking uncontrollable giggles across the picnic rugs. Meryl Streep agonised and warbled away on her cliff-top, finally dashing up the mountainside leaving Pierce Brosnan looking surprised, and as if he were trying to remember the lyrics to his next number. The world's gayest picnic behind us went wild, and tossed their zebra-print cushions in the air.

By the time the closing strains of "Waterloo" rent the air the rugs and stools were abandoned as the now well-lubricated audience took to their feet to boogie away with the film's cast. Whilst we giggled over the last of our Pimms, one middle-aged woman swayed towards our camp and bemoaned our lack of dancing, imploring us to "give our souls to the music". We nervously laughed her away, yet after a week of giving our souls to work and study there could be no better way to spend a Friday night...

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