19 August 2001, 12:07 GMT
The XP Society were extremely excited at the prospect of their first ever Annual Picnic - to be held the very same day that it had been announced.
"A wonderful day MUST be had by all"
"What should the picnic involve?" society Chairman Ronnie Lips asked.
"None of us know," the picnic crew's unofficially elected spokesman, Tom Bradshaw, replied morosely.
"Well, never mind," Chairman Ronnie empowered. "We don't have to plan that far ahead. The main thing is to get the picnic underway, then we can decide what we need at a more appropriate time."
"Great!" Tom exclaimed, chirping up immediately. "Now, let's have a quick think-tank to get some initial ideas, then we'll get going."
"That's the spirit!" Ronnie encouraged. "Now, what's the first, most important thing that any picnic should have?"
Tom frowned, suddenly a little unsure of himself. Then his worried expression cleared, and he quipped: "Food! We want food, so let's bring food."
"Excellent!" chairman Ronnie confirmed. "That's more than enough to get us started. Now, I'm going to gather everyone around for their early-morning stand-up show, and tell them today is a special day: the last day of Planet Irk. No more irksome problems for us: it's all plain sailing from here."
"But where should the picnic be?" asked Tom.
"The Zen-like Mystical Powers of XP"
"Don't worry," Ronnie chuckled. "Remember, you have the Power of XP on your side. Just tell everyone to meet at the picnic site. When it is time to know where it is, they will know."
"Master, you are truly wise."
"Yes, yes. Now get your thinking cap on, there's a project to kick off!"
Chairman Ronnie departed to round up the rest of the team, leaving an air of hushed intoxication in his wake. Tom immediately telephoned his friend Jim, and breathlessly told him the exciting news.
Jim was not so enthusiastic though, as (he explained) today was his one-year wedding anniversary and he already had plans.
"Jiim..." Tom admonished in a mock-stern voice. "Remember this is XP - and you're not allowed to say No!"
So poor old Jim reluctantly left a note for his wife, grabbed some randomly chosen food from the kitchen (some sausage rolls and a cake with 'Happy Anniversary Bunnikins' written on the top in special coloured marzipan), and sped over to Tom's place.
"Now," enthused Tom once Jim had arrived, "We need to think this next stage through. Do you think we ought to have something to carry all the food in?"
Jim seemed slightly gloomy at first, but was soon swept up by Tom's infectious enthusiasm for the project.
"Perhaps a picnic hamper," he offered.
The Original Customer Specification.
"Can you eat a hamper?" Tom immediately challenged. "No, I didn't think so. Our customer's one requirement was that we bring food - edible things. Our first and primary test for this is whether everything we bring is edible. And our tests are, after all, our picnic specification. Now, I rather think a picnic hamper would fail that test, don't you?"
So they resolved to gather up as much food in their arms as they could without dropping any, stumble out to Tom's station wagon as best they could, and get underway as soon as possible.
"Once we've been driving for about twenty minutes," Tom explained, "we'll decide where we need to go."
About twenty minutes later, as Tom drove in silence and Jim furiously studied a battered old roadmap, Jim said: "Well, there's Jimbo's Picnic Area about twenty minutes' drive from here. In fact it's right by your house. If only we'd studied the map before we set off!"
"Oh, you and your grand designs," snapped Tom. "You and your stupid, old-fashioned ivory tower logic. Well that's not how we do things here. See, there's no time lost really. I can turn the car around - for free! Now we're simply heading back in the opposite direction."
"Well," Jim replied, bristling, "if we'd thought this through from the start, we could have gone to the Grand Conifer Nature Reserve and eaten our picnic with the tame bears! But no, it's too late for that. Jimbo's Picnic Area it is."
They arrived at Jimbo's Picnic Area about forty minutes later (having taken a few wrong turns). To their delight, Chairman Ronnie was already there, waiting for them with a broad, beaming grin on his shiny face. Behind Ronnie, the entire XP Society stood grinning.
Tom and Jim cheered up at once, and quickly forgot their quarrel earlier.
"Where's Bill?" Jim asked as they bounded out of the station wagon.
"Bill's pair-programming from home today," Ronnie explained. "Although... we haven't quite worked out how tele-pair-programming is going to work yet. Anyway, let's get this picnic set up!"
Singing and cheering happily, they brought out the food: Jim's anniversary cake and sausage rolls, plus some canned fruit, a Microwavable Suet pudding, a frozen chicken, three dozen half-baked baguettes ("Mmm, you should taste these ultra-fresh dough-treats once they're fully baked!"), a bottle of undiluted orange-squash cordial, and several bottles of wine.
They started with Jim's sausage rolls, but were appalled to discover that they were uncooked.
"Yes," Jim explained enthusiastically, "they're much fresher this way. You just heat them in the oven for forty minutes. Oh, hang on... we need an oven."
Standing in a circle, the group descended into a slightly depressed hush.
"I tell you what," Tom offered, "my house is just around the corner. Why don't I take the sausage rolls home now, cook them for forty minutes, and bring them back when they're done?"
"Splendid idea!" Ronnie exclaimed. "Except... I'm sure Derek over there has a fan-assisted oven. He could get them cooked in half the time."
"That's right!" Derek quipped, stepping forwards. He grabbed the sausage rolls and drove away in a cloud of dust.
"But... doesn't Derek live two hours away?" Tom queried, sounding hesitant.
"Excellent point," Ronnie confirmed. "Still, not to worry. We can eat the cake while we're waiting."
They quickly discovered that they didn't have a knife with which to cut the cake, so another XP-ite was sent away to find a cake knife. When he returned an hour later, they discovered that they had no paper plates to put the slices of cake on. Another XP-ite was sent away to find some paper plates.
He arrived back at about the same time as Derek, who proudly showed everyone his stack of sausage rolls (which by this time had cooled down and turned slightly rubbery).
They stood around in a disconsolate circle and munched the cold, rubbery sausage rolls.
Minutes later, Derek was sent away again to "quickly" defrost and cook the frozen chicken.
"Anyway," Chairman Ronnie announced, sensing that his troupe were in need of some morale-boosting. "It's time for the cake! Jim kindly informs me that he has probably sacrificed his marriage and future happiness to bring us this cake, so I am sure it will taste nice."
"Do we have any plastic forks?" someone asked from the back. "I don't like to get my hands grubby with cake-goo."
An increasingly disillusioned Jim was sent away to find a shop that sells plastic forks.
As the afternoon wore on, various society members were, in turn, sent away to find paper napkins, a can opener, small plastic bowls, a corkscrew, folding chairs for everyone to sit on, a small foldaway table to keep the food away from the ants, cups, mosquito netting (as it was long since dark by this stage and the mosquitoes were having a heartier feast than the increasingly morose society members), and - the last straw - a shotgun to fend off a nearby bear.
As the picnic drew to a natural close and wrapped up, the disgruntled members began to pack up their things and go their separate ways. It was midnight by this stage, and no-one was really speaking to anybody else. Almost everyone had mosquito bites, and one member had been badly mauled by the bear.
As they departed, a frustrated-looking Derek returned, and announced that despite his best efforts, the chicken was still frozen solid.
"Never mind," offered Ronnie, "if any task looks as if it's going to take too long, we just don't have to do it. That's one of our most important rules. And anyway," he added, in a last-bid attempt to rally the silently departing society members, "I have decided that tonight's grand finale shall involve fireworks! The grandest fireworks you have ever seen! And - and, a forty-piece orchestra."
The rest of the society members just ignored him, and silently departed, their heads hung low.
The following week, the society website described the annual picnic as "a bit chaotic, but a roaring success nonetheless", and urged everyone to bring a friend along the following year - same date, same place.
"That is," the website blurb added, "assuming that we choose the same venue and date. We will let you know on the day."
Epilogue: Last Year's Star Trek Event
As Chairman Ronnie was left to stand morosely on his own, with a large angry bear circling nearby, he fondly recalled last year's much more successful XP/Star Trek Costumed Summer Bash.
On the night, they arrived at the hall where they had decided to hold the XP/Star Trek Bash, only to discover that it needed to be booked in advance, and a Summer Cow Barn Dance was already being held there.
So an urgent, last-minute decision was made to migrate the XP/Trek Bash to Chairman Ronnie's own back garden.
Sitting next to the camp fire (which they had prepared but not been able to light), he recalled the party atmosphere, the replica Starship Enterprise that had to be lifted into his back garden by crane, the Trekkie uniforms, and the eager Ensigns crawling up Jeffries' tube.
"I'm sorry sir, I seem to have got stuck at the shoulders, now I'm just wearing Jeffries as a rather special hat."
"Mmph. Mmph, Blarg = Thank god for the Universal Translator, not only does it work when talking out of your arse, but when talking inside of someone else's. Magic!!"
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