If you live in Ireland, embarking on a picnic is a manifestation of the triumph of optimism over experience.
Despite the reality of picnics past - the disappointing food (the soggy quiches, the crisps that have disintegrated into bags of flavoured crumbs during transport, the strawberries that looked inviting when packed and yet are so slimy on arrival that nobody wants to eat them); the wasps; other people and their dogs invading our secret spots - as soon as summer rolls around, we want to try again.
And so we root out the picnic paraphernalia from under the stairs and start to make plans to head off for a bucolic excursion, or one to the beach, or local park.
It's as if we don't remember what it was like the last time. Or the time before that.
And that's before we even mention the weather.
There's a tendency to wear rose-tinted spectacles when we conjure up an image of the perfect picnic - dreaming of tartan rugs placed artfully in meadows of wildflowers, drinking rosé or champagne while little girls in broderie anglaise make crowns of daisies for our heads.
But the reality is often very different.
This year more than ever, everyone wants to picnic - it's one of the only sociable ways to meet up with friends and family and remain properly distanced. But the days of pot-luck sharing with people outside our own households are behind us, so picnics have to change. How can the pragmatic picnicker make a success of it, in spite of the odds being stacked against them? Is it possible to put past picnic failures behind us and put on a perfect picnic, even in Ireland?
In the introduction to The Picnic Cookbook, a must-have for dedicated picnickers, Laura Mason refers to the "curious tension, evident in all the best picnics: a mixture of spontaneity and good planning".
These are wise words from a seasoned pro that we would all do well to heed.
When it comes to food, we might not want quite the full menu envisaged by Mrs Beeton in her 1861 Book of Household Management - cold cuts and meat pies, lobsters, salad, stewed fruit, pastry, a large Christmas pudding (sorry?), fruit, cheese, bread, butter and three types of cake, not to mention ale, ginger beer, soda water, lemonade, sherry, claret, champagne and brandy - but a selection of some of those items would be delightful.
Chef Gareth 'Gaz' Smith of Michael's in Mount Merrion is an inveterate picnicker, and he reckons that he has figured out how to make a picnic work, even in the face of adversity.
"I love eating out of doors," he says, "and we [wife Rita, and children Gabi and Felix] do it all the time as a family. But if the weather is dodgy, we just stay in the back garden. It makes it much less stressful."
Gaz's default picnic is "loads of good bread, charcuterie and cheese, with a bunch of grapes, a bottle of wine for the adults and one of juice for the kids. It takes one quick stop at the right shop and you can eat everything with your fingers - bingo, instant picnic. It enables us to be spontaneous."
For a recent fishing trip, though, he planned ahead.
"I stole the idea from Barry [Stephens] at 147 Deli on Parnell Street, who makes some of the best sandwiches in Dublin," says Gaz. "It was a Philly cheese steak sandwich that I made out of one big loaf with the middle scooped out. I filled it with hot beef, Gruyère cheese, caramelised onions and Ballymaloe relish. I wrapped it in foil and a few hours later, when I opened it to cut it into four pieces, it was still warm and juicy and really tasty."
Other recommendations include home-made Scotch eggs ("if you have a deep-fat fryer at home, home-made are far superior to shop-bought and are just as nice at room temperature, keep the yolk runny for lubrication") and good pâté.
"There should be a bit of grazing in a picnic so that you can go off for a walk and come back to it," he says. "In the past, I've made picnics that were too filling and it's made people lethargic so I don't make that mistake any more."
But what about quiche, does the 70s/80s cliché have any place at the modern picnic?
"For me, a picnic is more about chatting and nibbling than stressing out about quiches," says Gaz. "It doesn't transport well unless it's over-cooked, and well-done quiche is awful; you need the wobble."
In terms of equipment, Gaz likes to keep things simple.
"I love the idea of strolling through the dunes down to the beach with a beautiful wicker basket - and they are great for photos - but the reality is that by the time you get to your picnic spot, you'll have scratched your legs to pieces when it's laden with food. I use a backpack."
One of the runaway successes of restaurant takeaways this summer has been the stylish picnic box offered by Mamó in Howth. The contents of the box change each week and devotees are delighted to stump up €22pp for the array of delicious small dishes, all beautifully presented, with some ordering it week in, week out.
The couple behind Mamó, chef Killian Durkin, and front of house boss, Jess D'Arcy, admit to being enthusiastic picnickers.
"I grew up eating picnics at regattas in which my dad was rowing," says Killian. "My mum had a big yellow picnic box and I remember the blanket being really scratchy. She'd bake a ham and roast a chicken and serve them alongside salad that was already chopped and ready to go."
In contrast, Mamó's picnic is geared more towards grazing than being focused around a centrepoint. "Good bread is the foundation," says Jess, "and then you need things to go with it. I think condiments are really important, and it's good to have little jars for each thing - capers, cornichons, mustard - which can elevate each element. And a salad is great for crunch and texture, but don't dress it until you're ready to eat."
One of the big hits of the Mamó picnics have been Killian's pithiviers - pies by another name. "If people are into baking at home, there's no reason that they can't make individual pies and use whatever ingredients they have to hand to make a filling," he says. "There's also the same level of satisfaction in a good vegetarian pie that there is in a meat pie - we do one with mushroom duxelle."
For picnic-friendly desserts, Jess suggests, "a simple cake, a coffee slice, Eton Mess - they all work really well."
Jess and Killian's reputation as keen picnickers means that they have amassed quite a collection of picnic equipment - much of it given to them by Jess's dad.
"The most important pieces of kit are a sharp knife and a bottle opener," says Jess. "You need a good - non-scratchy - blanket and some of the new picnic backpacks are brilliant - so well designed, with cool pockets for wine on the side. In Australia we were cycling for three hours in intense heat and the wine was still cold when we got to our picnic spot."
As regards the Irish weather, Jess and Killian advise making a plan and sticking to it. "Bring an umbrella for rain or sun," says Killian. "Unless it's torrential, I'd go ahead," says Jess, "you need a certain resilience for picnicking in Ireland, but there's something lovely about the wispy Irish rain."
HOW TO PICNIC LIKE A PRO
• Plan a menu designed for grazing, rather than a traditional meal
• If you're eating with people outside your own household, prepare individual portions
• Pack a water-proof backed rug - vonshef.com has a great selection of
well-priced picnic gear
• To allow for all-summer picnicking in the garden, whatever the weather, think about suspending a sail across a section of your garden to provide shelter from the rain
• Don't let a little forecast rain put you off a planned picnic - chances are you'll get some sun too