PARENTS

Let's Have A Family Picnic. An Annual Gathering For Extended Family

14/08/2014 17:02 | Updated 20 May 2015

Food on blanket in grass

Every year, the extended family of my mum and her four sisters gather for an annual family picnic. This year will be the 30th time we have met in this way.

Sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and many more of us who are related to each other in all kind of weird and sometimes complicated formations gather to meet and greet in the mid weekend of the Wimbledon Tennis championships.

And as we chink glasses and pass the potato salad, you'll hear snippets of all manner of conversations float across the summer breeze. The threads are endless, funny, mean, loving – and always interesting.

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"What a lovely new baby/where's your sister/why weren't you here last year/she's put on weight/that beard really doesn't suit Pete/why weren't we invited to the christening?"

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One of my aunts started the ball rolling for this annual gathering when she remarked to a sister of mine that as an extended group we only ever gathered for weddings and funerals – and even then not all attended.

So they came up with the brainwave of finding a free venue where we would all meet once a year, come rain or shine. The date was set as the last Sunday in June – and never changes.

I absolutely love it. In these busy times of hectic work and family lives, non-stop social media and that feeling that we are always on a hamster wheel, the family picnic is a day to leave the phones at home and take up real conversation with real people.

People start drifting in from midday – there are always the early birds (those with the younger children) and there are always the late arrivals (reluctant teenagers, those with elderly parents who need extra time and help to make the trip).

There will be family members flinging their arms around everyone and greeting each other with raucous laughing and teasing, and there will be the quieter ones who initially wish they were anywhere but here, but who will suddenly be first to sign up for rounders.

Ah, rounders – now that is a fiercely fought annual battle. We have different variations of teams over the afternoon: kids versus adults/males versus females/under 35s versus over 35s/'real' family versus 'outsiders and out-laws' – you name a team formation and we'll take respective sides.

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Often my own children come home and say "now, who was that person on fourth base who caught me out, and how am I related to them again?"

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When I was younger, I wasn't a great fan of the family picnic – at the inaugural meeting I was an awkward 17-year-old, and being the youngest daughter of the youngest sister many of my cousins were older than me and therefore not people I had much to say to.

But now, as a 47-year-old mum of three (with a reluctant 17-year-old who says there's no way he's coming this year) I can see the value of it, and as I get older the age gap matters less.

Spending time with people from all generations, listening to their stories, sharing food and company and memories is a unique opportunity that lots of people are not so lucky to have.

In a further poignant move this year we are dedicating a bench in the park to my mum and her sisters – my mum died last autumn, so this is the first picnic where none of the original Fehily girls will be there.

So go on, why not start your own family tradition picnic? It's actually incredibly easy to organise – contact family members by email, or letter for the older ones, put details in Christmas cards, post it on Facebook and all other social media you are signed up to (yes, it does have its uses) and set the ball rolling.

Pick an open space, sort of in the geographical middle for all families, where you can pitch up and set the date as a non-moveable feast. That way everyone knows the date year on year, and has no excuse for missing it.

Include in the invite a request for people to bring balls, frisbees, a rounders bat and other toys for younger family members. We also found an open space with nearby public loos, always useful when you have older people with you.

Bring your own family food, but be ready to share – everyone else's picnic food is always better than your own.

And just for good measure, here's a great family friendly cake that tastes perfect in the open air. Bon appétit – happy family picnic!

Plum streusel cake

Process 4oz/110g each of butter, caster sugar and self-raising flour with two large eggs.

Spread in the base of a lined 8in/20cm round tin.

Halve 1lb/450g plums and press into the mix, sideways on, like spokes in a cartwheel.

Rub 1oz/30g butter into 2oz/60g self-raising flour, then stir in 2oz/60g demerara sugar and scatter over the plums.

Bake for an hour or so at 180C/ 350F/Gas 4 until deep gold and cooked through.

Cool in the tin, and eat with cream.

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