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The Scrivener: The Pick Which

...A honey and Vegemite sandwich was permitted but the line was drawn at baked beans with blackcurrant jam...

Lots of fun can still be had even when insufficient planning has gone into picnic preparations, as Brian Barratt revfeals.

It was not a picnic as much as a pick-which. We had too hastily packed what we thought we needed, without checking that everything was present and correct. When we eventually opened the boxes, we discovered that we didn't seem to have the right assortment of cutlery or plates or food. Without a fork, sandwiches with slippy sloppy slices of tomato were messy to make. A honey and Vegemite sandwich was permitted but the line was drawn at baked beans with blackcurrant jam.

A ban was placed on shooting straws by squeezing cardboard containers, emptied of fruit juice after much gurgling and slurping. Kim, aged 15, discovered a leech on her ankle, when removing grass seeds from her socks, and dashed off to the public toilet to check for leeches in other places.

The yellow robins came to watch us from their safe vantage points on low branches. The food-hunting rosellas did not take too kindly to cheese being thrown at them, rather than to them.

Afterwards, we wandered up the hill and along a graded footpath by the side of a low aqueduct. I suggested that this might be gnome territory and the gnarled tree trunks, with holes of various sizes and splits in their bases, might be gnome homes. We discovered a neglected housing area, where poorer gnomes could not afford to keep things in a state of good repair. There was also a rich gnome area, where they could even afford swimming pools and diving boards. It might not have been a very good idea to introduce trolls into the story. Andrew, aged 9, became enthusiastic at the prospect of trolls killing gnomes and throwing them into the water. Suddenly, we seemed to find rather a lot of forts and defence facilities to ward off attacking trolls.

We made our way gingerly down the rough timber and clay steps for Kim had already slipped once and hurt her hand to the tree fern gully. Perhaps we might all stay quiet and listen for elves in the stream as it chattered its way over the pebbles and rocks. After all, elves had music and entertainment just as trolls had fighting and war. Some of the arched and fallen trees provided theatres and music bowls, didn't they? Hmm, Andrew was not terribly impressed but he humoured me.

We lightly stroked the mossy tree-trunks, the overhanging branches, and the lichen covered rocks, feeling the different textures. Some were dry; others moist; others wet with tiny droplets of moisture which glistened in the narrow shafts of sunlight like so many jewels. Whatever Kim discovered, Andrew discovered first, but he did at least run his palm over the mosses and lichens without tearing out great lumps to kick around.

Then we saw a movement in the track just ahead. It was a lyre bird, scratching at the soil for his lunch. We stood very still even Andrew stood very still and watched until we were seen, and the bird retreated into the undergrowth. He immediately started scratching again, at a dead trunk, in a constant search for food. Then we espied his mate standing nearby. Odd, isn't it, that the male of the species has the fine tail feathers and is a bit of a show-off?

There were more holey trees, so we pointed out where the king and queen gnomes probably lived, and maybe even the queen-mother gnome, the queen-grandmother gnome and the prince-regent gnome. We were called to another world when we found a sign telling us that a particular tree was about 200 years old. Being able to see and touch things that are very old, even ancient, helps to bring the past into reality.
We looked, we saw, we heard, we listened, we discovered. A pick-which is so much better than a mere picnic, even without a baked beans and blackcurrant jam sandwich.

Copyright Brian Barratt 2012


To read more of Brian's always-tasty columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

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