OUT TO LUNCH

Every summer, the British dream of alfresco living confronts the reality - sand, wasps, recalcitrant chicken legs and body parts. Memories are made of this

GLOBAL WARMING brings us all closer together. The summer months are hot, hotter, the hottest on record. We come tumbling out of our flats and houses, and take up temporary residence in the streets and fields, breathing in fresh particulates. And all of a sudden our tastes, our vanities, our blemishes, hidden except to families at home and colleagues at work, are on full display. For some of us this is a terrible thing.

How the teenage years can distort our perceptions! As children we explored the outdoors quite happily, ran on the sands and swam in cold waters in the days before mass foreign travel, before the world heated up. Then came the social agoraphobia associated with being outside where people are, and with your family. Like a knife, puberty whittles at our egos, honing them into sharp little sticks of self-consciousness. At that age we are characters in Frasier, horribly attuned to the naffness of it all, agonised by our own involuntary association with vulgarity. It is all so disgusting. Everything is best kept secret, behind closed doors.

But no such luck. The 13-year-old's plaintive and half- serious offer to look after the house while parents and siblings head for that campsite near Paignton, or that guest-house just outside Hastings, is always turned down. So here we are on the beach, all skinny ribs, luminous white flesh and untimely erections. Dad's jollity is forced, your little sister a pain, and your mother a lumpy sandwich-making machine. Look at us all, seeking the one hour of sun on a pebbly, jellyfish-strewn beach in North Wales, forced to pee in the sea (Concentrate! Is there some kind of decompression chamber at the end, that will not open underwater? At last!) and change, red-faced, beneath a postage-stamp towel. "Oh go on!" says Mum, "nobody's looking!" You are away from your friends. Back in London something exciting may be going on; something involving dark rooms, joss-sticks, cider and fumbling. And everybody's bloody looking.

Then there's the food! Sand has blown into every sandwich and every bag of crisps, and now forms a wet ring around the bottle-tops. If at the age of 100 you cannot remember any other taste, you will always be able to summon up the unique flavour of sand. As you will the sight of food on the floor, of cafes with processed peas ground into the carpet, of the drying, sticky splodge of dropped ice-creams.

Off to the beauty spot, in that small, quarrelsome car, for the family picnic. You unload the fold-away tables that won't, and the collapsible chairs that will. You sit in your family square, with the other terrible families in theirs, and begin your battle with the wasps. Here they come, those stripy aliens: wasps in the jam, in the sugar, tickling your lips with their black and yellow feelers. Half the family are wasp-stoics ("Don't wave your arms like that, it just infuriates them") and the other half are wasp-flailers ("Go away! Get it away from me!"). It is always the flailers' fault when stoics get stung.

Sand, wasps and erections. Three reasons why I think it is those still on the threshold of adulthood (i.e. under 40), who will see Martin Parr's photographs as somehow cruel, and satirical. They are reminders of painful times. But those who have passed, irrevocably, through the gateway of middle age could well view them differently. For us they may rather appear to be affectionate chronicles of the exterior pleasures of grown-upness. The capped teeth are not repugnant, because - by now - we all have them, and the unreliable display of over-colourful clothing is not (as it is in adolescence or courtship) to be taken too seriously. We have found our mates, and do not need to try too hard to please others.

So you will find us cosmopolitan bourgeois at weddings, seeking out a good table in the bridal dress marquee, from which to sup our salmon and champagne, dolled up in white tuxedos and silly hats. We are to be discovered on the lawns at Glyndebourne, pulling china out of Wind-in-the-Willows hampers like Ratty and Mole, worrying about grass-stains and waiting to be summoned to Simone Boccanegra.

Our more showy country cousins, the sporty ones, strut their stuff at the great calendar events. In blazers (Blazers? Have you worn a blazer since school? Can you pass that shop called Blazer without shuddering?) at Henley for the regatta, recalling strokes pulled on water ... and on land. There is no terrible self-consciousness here, merely a quiet satisfaction with rank attained and life still being lived. That explains the Kennel Club tie, the elaborate crest, the violently green hat and the large cigar. More Pimms?

The younger folk gather at Badminton, where their parents are the judges. But it isn't just the horses that are on trial. Genetic testing is going on, evidence is being gathered about suitable partners, using the sense of smell to locate the correct pheromones, and sight to compare sunglasses and thus assess wealth and social standing. Sex too, is vicariously on offer at the hunt. Young ladies with red lips and strong thighs and riding crops seek Reynard's bloody brush. If I were only 10 years younger, says the Master of the Hunt.

Quieter, gentler, less sweaty times at the village fete. One big tent houses the displays. Tom Forrest's marrow can be compared with Bert Fry's. Little cards with tart comments adorn the bowls of summer flowers ("Very nice, but the category does state red, rather than pink blooms"). The raffle wins you the fluffy dinosaur, the tombola nets you the bottle of wine that you yourself donated in the first place. Oh, and there goes that lady artist from Cedar Cottage, her red hair escaping from her garish scarf, like the wispy tentacles of a weird sea-creature. She sells her odd watercolours from the table next to the WI cake stall. You could have scones and tea in the tea-tent, but just a fast car-ride down the M40 will take you to the land of pavement cafes and mobile phones.

And it is food, of course, that is the great leveller. Treacherous outdoor food. Food that slides off the paper plate, that leaves sauce tracks down your chin and spots the pleats on your trousers. Hey, it was all going fine until you encountered that bacon sandwich with the impossible rind, resistingly unravelling, like heavy-duty elastic. The more you pulled, the more there was, until you were tugging at a metre and a half of unsightly gristle. All in front of that fabulous girl with the tomboy haircut and athletic legs, who will now forever see you as the bacon-fat guy. Only in the photos after the event does the elegant Lady Pamela (about whom everything else is perfect) see that she smiled at everyone with a nice bit of half-masticated bread between her teeth.

That is the condition humaine. Outside we must saw at slices of meat with plastic knives. Or else we are to be found, our little, stiff, harmless chicken legs on our laps, beside the tomato and the little bulse of wrapped ham sandwiches. A poignant metaphor for the comfortable harmlessness of middle-aged sexuality. After even that has passed, Granny sits contentedly in a deck-chair on the beach, no more aware of teenagers and their concerns than they are of her bunions. It is all on view when the world is turned inside out. !

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits