Is it worth it? More tea, wicker?

A picnic in the park is one of life's simple pleasures. And if Gadsby & Son flog you one of their hampers, it's likely to be one of the priciest too

PAYING ANY amount of money to transport sandwiches in the wicker equivalent of a Delsey suitcase is madness. And parting with pounds 1099 for the Balmoral Balloons hamper by Gadsby & Son could be said to be more than a little eccentric. But then this is about style not sanity. And style has no use for price limits.

Hampers, like hatboxes and trunks, are unwieldy bits of material culture whose main purpose seems to be to slow you down. Trailing the Gadsby hamper around the countryside will certainly slow your step, being heavy enough to give you a slipped disc or two. This is assuming that you are attempting to carry it yourself, which would imply a certain naivete about the historical point of a hamper.

Lesser known Marxist theory holds that picnic hampers were introduced to stop the proletariat from revolting, busy as they were staggering under half a ton of oppressive wicker whimsy. "Hampers were meant for the days when chauffeurs carried them from the car to the picnic spot," says Fiona MacPherson, editor of Harpers & Queen magazine. "There's no floating across a meadow with them."

I defy anyone to float anywhere with the Gadsby hamper. Its weight sportingly adheres to the historical divide between carriers and consumers, and it's reassuring to see that no one was a spoilsport and put a set of wheels on it.

But then, that just wouldn't be British, and this hamper is patriotic in all respects, including its being handcrafted by a small father and son company in the country. This creaking treasure chest holds a bone china tea set, plates and a full set of heavy cutlery with which to sprain a wrist whilst spearing a strawberry. Lead crystal glasses complete the ensemble. Even the interior is opulent in red leather, complementing the red tartan rugs and the lids of the large, "outdoor appetite" sized plastic food containers. It's part of a confident "style over content" strategy, like other national institutions like good breeding and nostalgia.

In contrast, heaven knows what partisan picnickers of yesteryear would have made of the Woolworth's Fruitware hamper (pounds 14.99). This compact hamper may be cheaper and more convenient but it's a wannabe, a democratic diffusion, a nod to tradition that sadly fails to convince. Plastic plates and mugs just do not belong in picnic culture.

Of course, if nature had wanted us to hold state banquets in the middle of the field then cows would wear dinner jackets, trumpet the Woolies picknickers defiantly, attacking chicken drumsticks with bendy, plastic cutlery.

However, in an adjoining field, a Gadsby owner is adjusting the bow tie of a well bred fresian and considering pounds 1099 money well spent. If only to keep the sense that full effort will always mean full victory in a very British kind of style war.

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