Three Men In a Boat (To Say Nothing of Another Writer Reading It For Bits He Could Quote In His Own Work)

Published 27 September 2020

A narrowboat on the River Thames

One of my favourite writers about travel is a man called Mark Wallington.  I was first introduced to him by his book, Boogie Up The Pennine Way.  It’s his tale about walking the Pennine Way (funnily enough) with his dog Boogie.  It’s funny, charming, and definitely engrossing.  And more than anything, it’s the book that started me writing about walking myself. 

His tale of sailing up the Thames in a camping skiff with Boogie (there’s a bit of a gap between the books so it’s never massively clear if it was the same Boogie or not) was much on my mind when I walked the Thames Path.  I didn’t have a dog, and I may have been walking rather than rowing, but we were doing a similar journey.

Wallington’s tome was littered with references to Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), by JK Jerome.  Published in 1889, Jerome’s piece was the tale of a two week boating holiday up the Thames.  Jerome’s intention was for it to be a serious travel guide.  But somehow jokes and humour took over, and the book became the take of three men and a dog.  Wallington’s story was one man and a dog.  You can see the link and why he references it.

Now at times I am not a person of particularly original thought.  When it came to writing about my own adventures on the Thames Path, I looked to the way Wallington had referenced Jerome.  And I began to wonder if there was anything Jerome had written that I could pepper my own text with. I was going up the river. Jerome had gone up the river. Hey, it was obvious. Also it might pad things out a little if the going got a little dull.

With that in mind, I downloaded a copy of the book onto my Kindle.  And promptly never got round to reading until I’d made it most of the way from London to Oxford.  As such, my Thames Path journals only feature references to the book twice, both fleeting references to pubs in Sonning and Streatley.  Oh, and a reference to my failure to read the book in a suitable way to weave it into my own work.

A boat on the Thames at Oxford. It’s not a camping skiff. But then who knows what a camping skiff actually looks like?

Recently though I found the bits and pieces I’d highlighted and noted on my Kindle.  Things that stood out to me as maybe useful when writing.  Quotes I may use.

Quotes like “With me, it was my liver that was out of order.” 

At page 48 I noted that I was a quarter of the way through the book before anyone even reached the Thames.  Jerome was an inspiration in waffling on for sure.

There are some quotes that – now, some years later – I have no idea what I was thinking when I took note of them.  “You are a young man out for a holiday, and you want to enjoy yourself.  Come and see the skulls!”.  How I intended to use that, I am not sure.  Nor, “remember Harris telling me once of a bathing experience he had in Boulogne.”

“I don’t know why it should be, but everybody is always so exceptionally irritable on the river” was probably highlighted in case I met some angry landowner or something.  Although as it happened, I didn’t really.  The highlighting of one place name, “Chertsey”, was probably a mistake.

But in the mass of oddities, there’s two quotes that right now – in 2020 – really stand out to me.

“A change of scene, and absence of the necessity for thought, will restore the mental equilibrium.”

Like many people I struggled to adapt to the changes required by the Covid-19 lockdown.  Being constrained to my house, unable to get anywhere, I felt trapped.   I was being kept a prisoner. 

In a way, this was bonkers. I work from home all the time.  I’m well used to being in my house.  But there’s a difference between knowing you can leave at any time and not actually doing, and knowing you can’t. 

I swiftly learned that getting out for exercise was hugely important.  That it would “restore the mental equilibrium.”  It was true later on when, in July, we managed to get away for a weeks holiday in Northumberland after barely being ten miles from our house for months.  It was glorious.  It reset me no end.

The final quote I highlighted from Jerome sums up my own philosophy.

“He said we should have fresh air, exercise and quiet; the constant change of scene would occupy our minds.”

Jerome succulently sums up things about walking holidays that really appeal to me.  The fresh air.  The exercise.  The peace.  And the fact that you’re constantly moving on, seeing new things.  That’s the delight of long distance walking.  Or indeed of cycling.  Or travelling down the Thames in a camping skiff.  It’s all good.  It’s the travel.  It’s seeing something new.  It’s absolutely no wonder I tapped the screen and highlighted that one.

Your Comments

Paul Bailey

29 September 2020 at 1:55 pm

It’s been a while since I last read Jerome K Jerome’s classic, but every time I’ve picked it up, I’ve had a good chuckle. The author’s philosophy and outlook on life appeals to many, and I would recommend a read of “Three Men in a Boat” to all those feeling weary after lock-down, or find themselves in need of a pick-me-up.

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