‘I like work, it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.’

Jerome K Jerome, and Three Men in a Boat is still funny over a hundred years later, and best of all, unlike The Call of the Wild, the dog not only has a fun time, but appears to be in charge and untrainable.

Jerome was born in 1859, in Walsall, and was the son of Jerome Clapp, who changed his name to Jerome Clapp Jerome, and at some point, decided to change his name to ‘Klapka’ as a nod to exiled Hungarian general György Klapka. His most famous book was written after he had come back from a honeymoon on the Thames, with his new wife and her daughter from a previous marriage. He changed his companions to men so it wasn’t ruined by any soppy love stuff, and possibly as writing about his new wife’s boating predicaments in a humorous way could have led to divorce almost as soon as married life had started.

Jerome, after what appears to be one of the haircuts my mum dished out to my brother as a child.

Jerome, after what appears to be one of the haircuts my mum dished out to my brother as a child.

Our narrator and his pals George and Harris, decide after a long discussion about how ill they all are, that a boating holiday will set them to rights, and so eventually organise things and get packed. The dog, Montmerency, reminds me of every terrier I’ve ever had –

Montmorecy’s ambition in life, is to get in the way and be sworn at. If he can squirm in anywhere he is particularly not wanted, and be a perfect nuisance, and make people mad, and have things thrown at his head, then he feels his day is not wasted.

After their first chilly, uncomfortable damp night on the boat, they all awake stiff and sore, except Montmorency who after supper from a giant, lavishly-packed hamper, slept on the centre of Harris’ chest. In The Call of the Wild, Buck has to dig himself a hole in the snow after eating raw fish if lucky, or dried horse hide (still with hairs on) if unlucky.

The book plots their course up the Thames, as well as various anecdotes and meanderings, too numerous to mention, although one about a coroner accusing the narrator of trying to put him out of a job by waking up the dead with some particularly smelly cheese he is transporting is particularly funny.

three men in a boat

Although my favourite sections of the whole book is this, as it sums up so many of my attempts at virtuous early morning exercise –

It is the same when you go to the sea-side. I always determine when thinking over the matter in London that I’ll
get up early every morning, and go and have a dip before breakfast, and I religiously pack up a pair of drawers and a bath towel. I always get red bathing drawers. I rather fancy myself in red drawers. They suit my complexion so. But when I get to the sea I don’t feel somehow that I want that early morning bathe nearly so much as I did when I was in town. On the contrary, I feel more that I want to stop in bed till the last moment, and then come down and have my breakfast.
Once or twice virtue has triumphed, and I have got out at six and half-dressed myself, and have taken my drawers and towel, and stumbled dismally off. But I haven’t enjoyed it. They seem to keep a specially cutting east wind, waiting for me, when I go to bathe in the early morning; and they pick out all the three-cornered stones, and put them on the top, and they sharpen up the rocks and cover the points over with a bit of sand so that I can’t see them, and they take the sea and put it two miles out, so that I have to huddle myself up in my arms and hop, shivering, through six inches of water. And when I do get to the sea, it is rough and quite insulting.
One huge wave catches me up and chucks me in a sitting posture, as hard as ever it can, down on to a rock which hasbeen put there for me. And, before I’ve said “Oh! Ugh!” and found out what has gone, the wave comes back and carries me out to mid-ocean. I begin to strike out frantically for the shore, and wonder if I shall ever see home and friends again, and wish I’d been kinder to my little sister when a boy (when I was a boy, I mean). Just when I have given up all hope, a wave retires and leaves me sprawling like a star-fish on the sand, and I get up and look back and find that I’ve been swimming for my life in two feet of water. I hop back and dress, and crawl home, where I have to pretend I liked it.
Many times I have found myself churned up in the wake of the vicious elderly early-birds and serious competitive swimmers, kicked with feet spiked with thick, horned toe-nails, splashed when I turn my head to breathe, so inhaled nothing but a lung-full of chlorinated water with plasters and hair bands floating in it. And then to come out, and find it is still a dark, freezing, January morning on the east coast of Scotland, and that hair left slightly damp can actually turn white and become frosted on the way home, is bad enough, but to echo Jerome, and then to have pretended to enjoy it. That, I found was the hardest part.