Three men on the bummel in a boat (but no dog)
I got a call yesterday, quite out of the blue, from an old friend called Sid.
'Hey Colgers!' he said, 'I'm near your manor visiting an old friend. Fancy meeting up for a beer?'
'Great!' I replied. 'Where?'
Our rendezvous turned out to be a cricket pavilion. But not just any old cricket pavilion. This one was on the banks of the river Thames near Marlow.
Sid's friend is a lovely chap called Matt, a London-based lawyer, and the pavilion - named 'Rosemary' - was left to him and his siblings and cousins by a great aunt when she died. Many decades ago, she and her husband bought the pavilion and had it transported and rebuilt next to the river as a summer house. It's a wonderful thing, deliciously crooked and tin-roofed, that sits sandwiched between the multi-million pound homes of the rich and famous that line this part of the Thames, known as Spade Oak Reach.
So, we had a beer at the nearby Bounty pub, a wonderfully eccentric place with a bar built from the hull of a boat - and then took to the river for a trip in Matt's rowboat.
We didn't go far - we simply traversed the stretch between the Bourne End marina and Marlow and back again - but the sun was out for most of the time, we were surrounded by swans. geese, ducks, moorhens, coots and the occasional kingfisher, and all was right with the world.
I naturally couldn't help being reminded of Jerome K Jerome's great comic masterpiece Three Men in a Boat.
It's a wonderful novel, one of the funniest I've ever read, and it's a book that I reach for at least once a year. I'm very lucky to own a first edition from 1889 - it's a little bit foxed and tatty but still a very lovely thing with occasional illustrations that make it very clear when it was written.
The extraordinary thing about the book is that, despite it being written over 130 years ago, the humour is remarkably modern. It was a trick that Jerome wasn't able to pull off twice, however. I've read most of his work - including the sequel Three Men on the Bummel - and, while they are witty and clever, they don't have the laugh out loud moments of Boat.
Incidentally, the word 'Bummel' caused some confusion for readers when the book was first published. Many believed the Bummel to be a river. It's actually a word of German origin and it isn't explained until the very last chapter of the book when Jerome is asked what it means."A 'Bummel'," I explained, "I should describe as a journey, long or short, without an end; the only thing regulating it being the necessity of getting back within a given time to the point from which one started. Sometimes it is through busy streets, and sometimes through the fields and lanes; sometimes we can be spared for a few hours, and sometimes for a few days. But long or short, but here or there, our thoughts are ever on the running of the sand. We nod and smile to many as we pass; with some we stop and talk awhile; and with a few we walk a little way. We have been much interested, and often a little tired. But on the whole we have had a pleasant time, and are sorry when it's over."
So I guess Matt, Sid and I went on a 'bummel' yesterday - only in a boat rather than on bicycles as they do in the book.