Flirting and Smoking

Welcome to Part Six of the latest audio entertainment in our series Tales for Our Time. For the height of summer, we’re enjoying Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome, a comic classic of messing about on the river that has delighted readers for 130 years in most parts of the world – but possibly not in Tirana or Gjirokastër. Toby, a First Weekend Founding Member of The Mark Steyn Club from Amsterdam, writes:

This was one of extremely few Western books allowed under Enver Hoxha’s brutal Communist dictatorship in Albania. However, it was never available.

That’s a brilliant joke that could almost come straight from the book.

Last night’s installment went down especially well with Babs, a Steyn Club member from Long Island:

To my mind, this is the funniest episode so far. And how prescient about the China Dogs and stitching samples. I myself am guilty of marveling about both! And hedge mazes yes! I don’t have the temperament for them and would just as soon have someone come rescue me after a while. Where I live they are corn mazes in Autumn but pretty much the same thing.

Thanks, Babs. We’ll try to do as well (or even better) with tonight’s episode. I have always loved the painting at top right because it’s an almost perfect visualization of the opening scene as conjured by Jerome K Jerome:

It took us some time to pass through, as we were the only boat, and it is a big lock. I don’t think I ever remember to have seen Moulsey Lock, before, with only one boat in it. It is, I suppose, Boulter’s not even excepted, the busiest lock on the river.

I have stood and watched it, sometimes, when you could not see any water at all, but only a brilliant tangle of bright blazers, and gay caps, and saucy hats, and many-coloured parasols, and silken rugs, and cloaks, and streaming ribbons, and dainty whites; when looking down into the lock from the quay, you might fancy it was a huge box into which flowers of every hue and shade had been thrown pell-mell, and lay piled up in a rainbow heap, that covered every corner.

On a fine Sunday it presents this appearance nearly all day long, while, up the stream, and down the stream, lie, waiting their turn, outside the gates, long lines of still more boats; and boats are drawing near and passing away, so that the sunny river, from the Palace up to Hampton Church, is dotted and decked with yellow, and blue, and orange, and white, and red, and pink. All the inhabitants of Hampton and Moulsey dress themselves up in boating costume, and come and mouch round the lock with their dogs, and flirt, and smoke, and watch the boats; and, altogether, what with the caps and jackets of the men, the pretty coloured dresses of the women, the excited dogs, the moving boats, the white sails, the pleasant landscape, and the sparkling water, it is one of the gayest sights I know of near this dull old London town.

I may have to get out my boater and striped blazer for this episode. Ladies, please pick out your favorite parasol. Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear Part Six of our tale simply by clicking here and logging-in. Earlier episodes can be found here.

The above-mentioned painting from 1896 is by Joseph-Ferdinand Gueldry, a great artist of the aquatic. Born in Paris, he became a painter and oarsman, and co-founder of the Société nautique de la Marne. M Gueldry was also an international rowing referee and competed several times in the Henley Royal Regatta. So he combined his two loves in frequent painting of his favorite river – the Marne – and also of a close runner-up, the Thames.

We’ll be back here with Part Seven of Three Men in a Boat tomorrow evening. You can listen to it either as an old-fashioned nightly radio romp twenty minutes before you lower your lamp, or save it up for an almighty binge-listen on a long car journey.

If you’re minded to join us in The Mark Steyn Club, you’re more than welcome. You can find more information here. And, if you have a chum you think might enjoy Tales for Our Time (so far, we’ve covered Conan Doyle, Baroness Orczy, Dickens, Forster, Conrad, Kipling, Kafka, Gogol, Jack London, Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Louis Stevenson and more), we’ve introduced a special Gift Membership that lets you sign up a pal for the Steyn Club. You’ll find more details here. Oh, and don’t forget, over at the Steyn store, our Steynamite Special Offers on books, CDs, and much more.

Speaking of the cruising life, following last year’s sold-out inaugural Mark Steyn Club Cruise and this year’s sold-out second cruise, we’ve now announced a third. Details here.