On Picnic Panic

Psychiatrists, phrenologists, and other brain doctors have identified a common mind-malaise known as picnic panic. This distressing condition afflicts picnickers who fly into a panic when picnicking. It can be terribly, terribly debilitating, and ruins many an otherwise splendid bucolic picnicking idyll.

Consider the following case study. Ned B_____, a hale and hearty moustachioed jolly type of fellow, fond of rowing boats and bird slaughter, was exactly the type of person you might find attending a picnic in the 1930s. And attend several picnics he did. At each one, however, he fell victim to picnic panic, the panic increasing in severity to the point where, at his final picnic, he ran screaming into a nearby forest and was found, weeks later, a gibbering maniac beyond all hope of redemption. He was confined to an Asylum for the Hopelessly Bewildered until 1963.

Upon his release, Ned B_____ was found accommodation in a dilapidated seaside resort, far from the field where once he had picnicked. A carer was appointed, a retired aviatrix named Mavis Handbasin, a very sensible woman with impeccable references. Among other responsibilities, she was charged with ensuring that Ned B_____ never consumed a single crumb of food nor slurp of drink when out of doors. It was thought, with good reason, that if ever he did so traumatic memories of picnics past might well up in his brain, and lead to further calamity. For this reason, too, he was kept away from all kinds of rugs and blankets, even when indoors.

For several years, all was well. Ned B______ passed his days happily enough, in standard dilapidated seaside resort fashion. He was even known to chuckle occasionally, at some amusement or other. He began a stamp collection, and adopted a pudding-basin hairstyle. He often dreamed of slaughtering seagulls, but they were only dreams. It was not thought advisable to allow him a firearm.

In the summer of 1968, however, during the third phase of the Tet Offensive, disaster struck. That good woman Mavis Handbasin arrived one morning at Ned B______’s squalid seafront boarding house to find him gone. On the wall of his kitchenette, scrawled in bright red crayon the colour of blood, were the letters PICN, followed by a long mad vertical line trailing off, down towards the wainscot. It had almost certainly been intended as a second letter I. Mavis Handbasin intuited the ghost of a final letter C, and her head began to spin. Somehow, something had inserted the idea of picnics into Ned B______’s poor shattered brain. She must find him before he did himself a mischief, or caused mayhem and havoc.

She found him soon enough. There he was, upon the pebbly beach, just yards from his door. He was sat upon a raincoat he had spread out upon the pebbles, in imitation of a picnic blanket in a field. He was eating a sausage. As she approached, Mavis Handbasin saw that his eyes were glazed and his countenance stuck in a rictus of terror. His pudding-basin haircut was in a state of the utmost dishevelment. His flesh was the colour of curd. Miss Handbasin was neither a psychiatrist nor a phrenologist nor any kind of brain doctor, but she had been awarded a certificate of attendance at the module of a training course designed to teach amateurs to recognise the telltale signs of picnic panic. Looking at Ned B______, on the beach with a sausage on that summer’s day, she thought she had never in her life seen a more vivid exemplum of the malady.

And as she looked, the once hale and hearty moustachioed jolly fellow, now reduced to a wreck, swallowed the last bit of sausage. He began to flap his arms, desperately, his head uptilted, mad eyes gazing at the sky. His carer knew all too well what this meant. Panicked by his impromptu picnic, Ned B______’s wild brain told him to flee, and he was trying to flee by flying. He was turning into a seagull.

She took from its sling her Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, cocked it, aimed, and shot him dead.

Such is the instructive case of Ned B______. It is important to note, however, that not all authorities agree that death by sniper’s bullet is the inevitable outcome in every case of picnic panic. Mistakes were made in this case, not least allowing Ned B______ simultaneous access to a beach, a raincoat, and a sausage. One, or even two, of those he could have coped with, if carefully monitored. It was the combination of all three that proved  fatal.

Source : “The Terrifically Exciting Doings Of Mavis Handbasin”, Episode 43, in Miss Blossom Partridge’s Weekly Digest, Vol. XXXIII, No. 7. No author is given, and it is thought the “doings” are a thinly-disguised autobiography penned by Mavis Handbasin herself, from her attic room in an Asylum for the Hopelessly Bewildered perched on a hillside on the outskirts of Pointy Town. Visitors report that Miss Handbasin enjoys weekly picnics, in all weathers, and has never shown the slightest sign of picnic panic.

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