Going on a trip with your friends is fraught with peril. You find yourself quarreling over every little detail, over which route to take, where to eat for dinner, how much to spend every day on such things as lodging and entertainment, who gets the bed closest to the window, whose toiletries are occupying too much of the bathroom counter, what time we should get up in the morning for breakfast. I must confess at this point that I have actually never tried to go on a trip with my friends, mainly because I know it would only be a disaster. Travelling with my family is one thing - they might temporarily disown me, but I know they will eventually forgive me for a) my nonexistent navigational skills, b) how much time I spend in the bathroom, and c) my inability to agree that 9 am is actually the middle of the day. But I feared that Spring Break in Cancun, or Paris, or Los Angeles would be the end of many beautiful friendships, and when I read Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), I knew that I had been right.
Four friends find each other feeling a bit seedy, particularly our narrator (presumably the writer, Jerome, himself), who feels that his liver is out of order, having just read "a patent liver-pill circular, in which were detailed the various symptoms by which a man could tell when his liver was out of order," and concluding that he had them all. He was a bit of a hypochondriac, our narrator, and when he went to the doctor to tell him of all his symptoms and various diseases that he had acquired he received this prescription:
"1 lb beefsteak, with
1 pint bitter beer
every 6 hours.
1 ten-mile walk every morning.
1 bed at 11 sharp every night.
And don't stuff up your head with things you don't understand."
(Sound advice, I would say).
At any rate, the four friends toy with the idea of getting away for a complete rest and change of scenery. A sea voyage is proposed, to which Jerome comes up with all the reasons why a sea voyage is a perfectly terrible idea. You start on Monday, he tells us, with the idea implanted in your bosom that you are going to enjoy yourself...On Tuesday, you wish you hadn't come. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, you wish you were dead. On Saturday, you are able to swallow a little beef tea, and to sit up on deck...on Sunday, you begin to walk about again, and take solid food. And on Monday morning, as, with your bag in umbrella in your hand, you stand by the gunwale, waiting to step ashore, you begin to thoroughly like it. So a trip up the river is indicated, with three of the friends all mad keen on the idea, except for Montmorency, who refuses to go, calling the trip "bally foolishness." Maps are consulted, the questions regarding camping versus staying in inns, necessary provisions, what to do if it rains, are all ruminated over by the three men.
Originally published in 1889, Jerome's description of the foul hell that is camping in the rain (as I grew up in Seattle, I am well familiar with this scenario) rings hilariously true over a hundred years later. Any time I get the insane notion to go camping and boating with my friends, I will turn to this book until the madness passes and I am calm again. Better to be inside in the cozy warmth chuckling at the misfortunes of these travelers (and one dog) than to be out in the wilderness suffering as they did a century ago.
Jerome, Jerome K. Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog). Dover Publications, 2006. pp 1, 3, 5, 8.