The melodious delight of a Glyndebourne picnic

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
Click to follow
Summer, summer, summer: delicious season, methinks. The birds twittering in the clear blue skies as thickly buttered sandwiches are passed around; picnic hampers opened 'neath the shade of the ancient oak; the distinctive "thunk" of leather on willow while one sups on warm English beer and sausage rolls; a bottle or two of the bubbly stuff with perhaps a few nibbles at sundown; Ascot, Wimbledon, Henley - perfect locations all for a good tuck-in of strawberries with lashings of cream; messing about in boats laden with fine cuts of the most succulent meat and a case or two of Berry Bros' finest burgundy ... what other season is as fresh and sporty as our dear old English summer?

I was waxing lyrical on this very subject to my old friends and quaffing partners Lord Wyatt of Weevil and Lord Jenkins of Hillhead the other evening over a delightful pre-dinner snack of lobster, salmon, roast beef, mashed pots and parsnips. "In autumn, winter and spring, one is permitted to pig out on all sorts of naughty things," I argued. "But in summer one is drawn to lighter ingredients. Pass the brandy snaps Woodrow, there's a good fellow!"

Way and above all this, summer is for me a time for classical music. Like my old chum Bernard Levin, I simply adore the classics. Classical music in attractive locations with halfway-decent catering facilities: there is simply nothing to beat it.

Glyndebourne is my absolute favourite of all the festivals. This year, I took my charabanc to witness a splendid staging of Cosi fan tutti by our old friend Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. After a little smoked salmon supplied by the in-house caterers, topped up with a suitably dry yet refreshingly fruity Pouilly-Blanc-Fume, we eased our way into the auditorium. As the orchestra tuned up, all fingers and thumbs, I surprised my guests by producing a marvellous little box, lovingly be-ribboned by Messrs Fortnum and Mason, containing an extensive assortment of sweetmeats and gourmet delicacies, not least among them a creamy vol-au-vent of foie gras and caviare.

"You'll find these ones are awfully good," I observed to Levin, passing the box in his direction as the conductor came on to roars of applause. "Though you might prefer the petits fours of monkfish and crab with a rich marzipan coating."

"What?" he barked, for my words had been drowned out by the dreadful din of the orchestra getting under way on the overture.

"I said, YOU MIGHT PREFER THE MONKFISH AND CRAB WITH A RICH MARZIPAN COATING!!" I bellowed, but by this time one could barely hear oneself think, let alone ascertain what one's guests required by way of comestibles.

Looking down my row of guests, I noticed HRH Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was still unaware of the goodies on offer, so I nudged Bernard to pass the Fortnum and Mason box to his left.

"What?" he mouthed, for the music was still overwhelming all attempts at conversation.

"PASS IT TO YOUR LEFT!!" I yelled back.

By this time, a gentleman - presumably the aforementioned Cosi himself, though it may have been Fan or even Tutti - had arrived on-stage and was singing away at full pitch, increasing the general volume all the more. Bernard just sat there with the box on his lap, toying with this vol-au- vent or that, finally easing each one out of his mouth between thumb and forefinger. His tongue eventually came to land on a lightly smoked bassinet of Gruyere in puff-pastry with a hazelnut topping. Meanwhile, I could see that the Queen Mum was growing peckish by the way she kept sticking out her tongue and moving it this way and that.

"PASS IT TO YOUR LEFT!" I yelled again. But Bernard still could not hear me above the general hubbub. I realised there was nothing for it but to make myself known to the conductor. A short stomp down the aisle, and I was within arm's reach. "Forgive me, maestro!" I said, whipping away his baton and producing some welcome silence, "Some of us are trying to EAT!"

With that, the entire auditorium exploded with applause, and Arnold was once again the hero of the hour. I am confident that next year's Glyndebourne will include a decent number of evenings consisting purely of intervals. Ah, summer! If music be the food of love, make mine a lobster!