This is the sequel to Three Men in a Boat and it is really rather good, especially when the three men – George, Harris and J – are travelling around the middle of Europe interacting with the locals and passing judgment on their surroundings as they move from Hamburg to Berlin and Dresden and their destination The Black Forest.
A bummel is a journey either long or short without a specific end date. It strikes me everyone should go on a bummel occasionally.
There are some amusing anecdotes – George tries to buy a pillow / cushion for his aunt but ends up with a peck on the cheek from an embarrassed shop assistant (the difference between kissen and kussen). Harris tries to stop a man watering a road in Hanover and ends up wetting everyone in sight in his struggle to wrest the hose from the man’s grasp. J steals a bike from a train under the mistaken impression it was Harris’s bike and not a complete stranger’s bike and ends up having to explain himself to the police who believe him to be a thief.
There are some excellent insights into the male character, for example on a man’s sense of direction:
“My instinct is correct enough; it is the earth that is wrong. I led them by the middle road….If the middle road had gone in the direction it ought to have done, it would have taken us to where we wanted to go.”
and a great reason why English spread through Europe and beyond
“But the man who has spread the knowledge of English from Cape St Vincent to the Ural Mountains is the Englishman who, unable or unwilling to learn a single a single word of any language but his own, travels purse in hand into every corner of the Continent.”