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Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Great Picnic Civil War

Due to the mass of news stories deemed more ‘urgent’ and ‘serious’ being reported with consistently heavy coverage over the last 18 months, it’s highly unlikely that you will have heard the full story, if anything at all, of the completely tragic Great Picnic Civil War of 2011-12, and the devastating effect it’s had not only on the country of Germalyance (for the less geographically-minded reader, that’s pronounced jer-MALEE-onse) but also the wider world in general. It seems you can’t open a newspaper or read an online article these days without seeing some referral to the great swathe of picnic-obsessed refugees and immigrants swarming Britain’s shores, causing nation-wide shortages of Mr Kipling cakes and almost decimating the native populations of plastic cutlery. But what do we really know about these mysterious strangers, the Germalyantes?

From the Republic of Germalyance’s foundation in 892 AD (incidentally making it the second oldest republic in the world behind nobody’s favourite number one San Marino), the Germalyanteen people have generally been seen as a peaceful, laid back group who are more concerned about production of their infamous pentagon shaped chocolate bar, the Snowblerone, and their quality clock making. Since the late 1800s, Germalyanteen clocks have been shipped worldwide (apparently even the Queen is said to be an admirer- the true mark of quality), serving to remind people of the time every hour on the hour, with the soft, serene cooing of a turtledove. Nestled in the Alps, Germalyance was so untroubled by war or national dissatisfaction it had the fewest police per capita in the world, and no army. But, I hear you cry, if Germalyance is such a wonderful place to live, such a mythical fairy-tale land where people obeyed the term ‘make chocolate, not war’ literally, then why have all the Germalyanteen people fled their idyllic homeland and made their way to Britain? Britain, a country we can all agree is less Mr Disney and more Brothers Grimm in terms of its fairy-tale ‘perfection’.

The truth is, the cause of the Great Picnic Civil War of 2011-12 (from here on referred to as GPCW 11-12) is something that is such a foreign concept to people in the British Isles that I fear many of you will struggle to understand it, grumpy and dissatisfied as you are. You see, joking aside, Germalyance really was the closest thing on Earth to the mythical ideal of Utopia, making the GPCW 11-12 even more of a tragedy. At no time in Germalyanteen history has anybody ever been discriminated against due to colour, religion or gender, a statistic that even the most ‘civilised’ of countries only wish they could boast. If a little Germalyanteen girl wanted to make clocks, and a boy had dreams of milking cows, they were encouraged to follow their dreams whole heartedly. In the decade prior to the GPCW 11-12, happiness ratings for the population were even at an all-time high, with an average score of 97 out of 100. Who else can honestly say they are 97% happy with their lives? All the time? Every single day of the year? It sounds like an impossible feat, doesn’t it, but the Germalyantes did it, somehow, and kept doing it. In fact, in the decade 2001-20111, the happiness rating only dropped below 95% one year, during the World Cocoa Shortage of 2006, caused by failed crops in several African countries. So where did it all go wrong?

Like their neighbours in Italy and France, the people of Germalyance place extremely high emphasis on the importance of eating as a family. Unlike the uniquely British eating phenomenon where the more family members are at the same table the worse the mood seems to grow, the exact opposite is true for the Germalyantes. Without fail, they reported experiencing the highest levels of happiness when surrounded by their families and neighbours, whether for hearty, informal breakfasts or holiday dinners. Without a doubt, though, their favourite kinds of meal were picnics. You see, picnics are the ideal meal, as everyone could bring one dish, no one got stressed over planning, people felt useful, guests could be added at the last minute and everyone’s happiness rating soared as a result. This idea of the perfect picnic was so ingrained in the minds of the Germalyanteen people that when teaching children the ABC in primary school, each letter of the alphabet was traditionally represented by a picnic food. For example, C is for Chicken Drumsticks (although in Germalyanese, the word for chicken actually starts with a P. The idea remains the same, however). For years without fail, almost since the Republic was first formed, the traditional Germalyanteen method of transporting picnic food was in specially crafted wicker baskets. A technologically un-advanced society, by western standards, the wicker picnic basket was considered the absolute height of food-fashion and innovation for its entire run. High up in the mountains, with up to 30% of the country covered in snow all year round, and seasonal snow storms in the valley regions of the country, the Germalyantes were never short of a way to keep their food cool during picnics either, using the snow as you or I would a fridge/freezer. In the summer of 2010, however, due to increasingly warm temperatures and the lowest amount of snowfall in almost 150 years, the lazy summer picnics of the Germalyanteen people were suddenly under threat. Sick of meeting at an arranged picnic sight only to discover a distinct lack of snow, a disgruntled Germalyante by the name of Anton Vogel decided to take matters into his own hands. Flying in the face of tradition and everything Germalyance stood for, he snuck across the border to France2 and laid his hands on a cooler bag, little knowing that this would be the beginning of the end of life as he knew it….

Vogel unveiled his new discovery at his birthday picnic a fortnight after its initial purchase, an event that Germalyanteen scholars now refer to as ‘The Darkness’. When he arrived at the birthday picnic carrying something other than a wicker basket, and revealed its function, Vogel’s 78 year old grandmother promptly fainted and spent nearly a week in hospital recovering. Despite the strong negative reaction Vogel was unflinching, insisting that cooler bags were clearly superior to the wicker baskets that were, in his own words “outdated and inefficient” and had “obviously had their day”3. Although an obvious majority of Vogel’s picnic party rejected his idea outright and even demanded that Vogel leave, as was to be expected, his cousin Anna showed interest in Anton’s new contraption. A university student who studied Philosophy prior to the GPCW 11-12, Anna Fischer was openly supportive of her cousin from day one, even helping to recruit followers for his cause by way of flyers and demonstrations given out on campus. To everyone’s surprise, the word of the cooler bag spread, beyond campus, out into the streets, spilling into suburbia, until even Germalyanteen housewives were researching the pros of such a device on the internet. Using private browsing, of course. In less than three months, the word of Anton Vogel and his cooler bag has spread right across Germalyance like a great plague, tearing apart families, alienating supporters in their universities, workplaces and relationships, causing vandals and protesters to take to the streets in protest both for and against this change of tradition.

By Easter 2011 it was clear, due to consistently high levels of civil unrest, that the Republic of Germalyance was in grave trouble. The government appeared to be doing nothing to stop the fighting, the looting, the hate crimes occurring on a daily basis in their streets. Used to 97% happiness ratings, they were ill-equipped to deal with anything more serious than people complimenting the MPs on the beautiful flowers grown in the public gardens and the excellent choice of the colour purple for the new buses. On top of trying to control the anarchic public, the MPs were also trying (and clearly failing) to put a stop to inter- and intra-party fighting over wicker baskets versus cooler bags. The government of Germalyance ceased to function in any capacity on Monday 2nd May 2011. Within one week, on the morning of 8th May 2011, the Republic of Germalyance was reported by the UN to be in a state of civil war. Although countries had been looking on with curiosity for a while, at this quaint country arguing over picnic baskets, the declaration of war shocked the world. No one, not even the self-proclaimed ‘leader of the free world’ Barack Obama had had any inclination that the situation in Germalyance was anywhere near severe enough for war. Relieved to have something to finally take the public’s attention away from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the UN sent a troop of peacekeepers into the country to try and broach the possibility of peace talks between the two warring factions, ‘The Future’ and ‘The Resistance’. In less than a month, with any hopes of a negotiation clearly redundant, the peacekeepers withdrew from Germalyance as the fighting and death toll began to increase. On returning to the UN, they reported situations that bordered on the ridiculous: razors being hidden in baguettes, poisoned chocolate supplies, exploding turtledove clocks and deliberate disturbances of avalanches. Only the strongest believers actually took to fighting openly in the streets, but that doesn’t mean that the death toll didn’t rise each day. Although it seems almost funny to hear about it now, the Blue Berets that returned reported extreme levels of PTSD in the months following their deployment to Germalyance, claiming that seeing the ‘most peaceful nation on Earth’ at war was soul destroying and haunting.

Although the Republic was completely divided by this point, not everyone wanted, or was able to, join in the fighting. The elderly, the children, pacifists- none wanted any part of the war taking place, wishing for a time before Anton Vogel and his Cooler Bag, a time when going on a picnic was the best part of the day or week, and the big questions in life were whether to cycle or take the bus to work; a time when Germalyance was a country with one belief- the wicker basket. Just like their neighbours the French, and their endless supplies of wine and cheese. As long as a Frenchman has wine and cheese, all is right with the world. Appealing to their neighbouring countries for asylum, these people were booked on flights to several locations in Europe, as near as Germany and as far away as Iceland, not knowing if or when they’d be able to return home. Grabbing as many of their belongings as possible, their antique silver cutlery, their bone China crockery that had been passed down from generation to generation, and stuffing them into either their picnic baskets or their cooler bags, they fled their beloved homeland of Germalyance.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the tragic story of the GPCW 11-12. So I ask you, next time you see a group of women wondering along the street with cake stands and picnic baskets and thermos’s of tea, don’t judge them. Pity them! These poor people who, through no fault of their own, have been forced to flee the country of their birth, the country where many of their family members still reside in poverty and with little food, never knowing when it will be safe to return once more. The war is over, ladies and gentlemen, but the scars and guilt last forever. If you are interested in helping the Germalyance Rebuilding Project, both Oxfam and Care are accepting donations on its behalf. You can also donate by text, as of 1.1.2014.  Text GRP GIVE to 803304.


Footnotes

1 Although the GPCW 11-12 did in fact start in May of 2011, happiness data was still collected by the Germalyanteen government for that year. So supremely confident were they of their people’s continuing happiness, they felt secure enough to collect the results on the 1st day of January each year, leading to a well-known Germalyanese phrase which roughly translates as “Let’s start with happiness in the new year”.

2 The French Ambassador to the UK would like it officially noted that while the first cooler bag imported to Germalyance did indeed come from France, the French are not the only country to produce said cooler bags and it is merely coincidence and bad luck that Vogel decided to source his bag from there. As such, France would like to state on the record that while they are sympathetic of the GPCW 11-12, they accept no responsibility.

3 Schweiger, P. (2013) Anton Vogel, where did it all go ‘wrong’? Berlin: Kai-Homilius-Verlags Gruppe
4 Texts will automatically deduct £5 (GBP) from your credit balance, or the amount will be added to your monthly bill. Standard text message fees also apply. 



"I've liked lots of people 'til I went on a picnic jaunt with them," Bess Truman

Love, Lalita xxx

(Temporary ambassador for the Germalyance Rebuilding Project Association)