On The Feeding Of The Five Thousand

The other day I was leafing through a pile of back numbers of Modern Picnics magazine when I came upon an article that I thought would appeal to a Hooting Yard readership. I have therefore copied it out, painstakingly, for your edification and enlightenment. No author is given, though I suspect the hand of Modern Picnics editrix Poppy Nisbet, based on textual analysis and other arcane techniques best left under wraps. The article appeared in the November 1963 issue, and then again in July 1968.

It has lately become fashionable to have what is known as a “big picnic”, to which more people than you can shake a stick at are invited. The British picnic authorities have made an attempt to codify big picnics, and the appropriate number of picnickers has been set at five thousand. That does not include the organiser, or so-called “picnic host” or “big picnic host”, to whom the present article is addressed. We get letters all the time from persons who are keen to put on a big picnic but do not know quite how to go about it. Well, read on, and you will need have no fear of making a picnic fool of yourself!

The first thing you must do, before sending out your invitations, is to choose a good picnic location. Modern Picnics recommends a remote place, at which multitudes may gather, but do not forget that those multitudes must not number more than five thousand – nor, indeed, fewer than five thousand. Any other number and your picnic will not count as a proper “big picnic” and you will have some explaining to do to the authorities. The remote place may well be a desert place accessible only by boat. Do not worry that your five thousand guests will find it difficult to get there. The point about a big picnic is that the great multitude is so avid to attend that they will run thither on foot out of all the cities in order to attend. How this squares with your own boat travel is not something you need dwell on.

Clearly the most important preparation, as with all picnics, big or small, is the contents of the picnic hamper. This is where would-be big picnic hosts get themselves into a tizzy. It is not uncommon for ditsy-brained hosts to cover page after page of their picnic notebooks with sums, trying to calculate numbers of sausages, say, or cans of Squelcho!, necessary for five thousand people. Well, if that is what you have been doing, tear those pages to smithereens and cast them unto the winds. And throw your pencil away while you are at it. All you will need in your hamper is five loaves and two fishes.

Let us attend to the loaves first. Plain white sliced loaves with minimum nutritional value are the cheapest option, and may be the best bet if your multitude is drawn almost entirely from among the lower orders. On the other hand, you do not want any sniffy middle-class picnickers turning up their noses at your choice of loaf. Those kind of people will insist on brown bread packed with grains and seeds they have never actually heard of before. They may even prefer the loaves to be unsliced. With five thousand people to please, you should opt for a middle way, some sort of mid-price browny-whitey loaf. It doesn’t much matter whether it is ready sliced or not, as you are going to be crumbling the whole lot into crumb-sized crumbs in any case.

That is the next step in your preparations, and I trust you will not need to scribble any sums in your picnic notebook in order to make the calculations. Anyway, if you are following the instructions carefully you will have torn up the notebook and thrown your pencil away. You have five loaves and five thousand picnickers. You therefore need to disintegrate each loaf into a thousand crumbs. Try to make the crumbs of roughly equal size, or the sniffy middle-class people will start preaching about “fairness” and the lower orders will get into fist-fights. Such shenanigans can ruin the jolly atmosphere of your picnic.

Things are a little bit more complicated when it comes to the fishes. Remember you only have two. Though there is a myriad of different fishes in the sea you could choose, here at Modern Picnics we would recommend a dab and a blenny. If you do not know what they are, or what they look like, go to the library and consult an encyclopaedia, or just ask the most helpful of your local fishmongers. That fine fellow should also be able to advise you regarding purchase of an incredibly sharp fish-slicing knife. You will need one of these items, its blade gleaming in the sunlight, in order to cut up the dab and the blenny. As with the loaves, I am hoping you can use mental arithmetic to work out the numbers. You are going to have to chop each of the fishes into two-and-a-half thousand bits. That is why you need a very sharp slicer. Working methodically, starting at the fishhead end, make a series of lateral cuts, then, holding the resulting slices of dab or blenny together, follow with a series of lengthwise cuts. You should end up with a collection of more or less cuboid fish fragments. Count them. If they number under two-and-a-half thousand, use the incredibly sharp fishmonger-recommended knife to cleave each cube in twain. Continue this process until you have the required number, then, if that was the dab, repeat with the blenny, or, if the blenny, the dab.

I spoke earlier of the picnic hamper. Actually, you should have two hampers with you at the remote desert place accessible by boat. Into one hamper, toss the breadcrumbs, and into the other, the fish-fragments. There should be room enough in each hamper for you to add paper plates. When the multitudes arrive, panting and ravenous and overexcited, simply place on each paper plate a breadcrumb and a speck of chopped-up dab or blenny, and voila! the success of your big picnic is assured.

In the next issue of Modern Picnics we will look at several ways of turning water into wine, some of which are legal (-ish).

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