Sunday, 19 October 2008

An imperfect world of joy and sorrow mingled

Some things in cycling never change.

Jerome K Jerome wrote "Three Men on the Bummel" back in 1914. It's a marvellous work, one of my favourite books, perhaps one of the funniest books of all time. The protagonists go on a cycle tour, and have many adventures before and during the tour. In some ways it's quite old fashioned, but in others its right up to date. Most of the cycling problems are still with us today. For instance, there are still saddles which cause conversations like the following:

I said: “Can you think of any saddle ever advertised that you have not tried?”

He said: “It has been an idea of mine that the right saddle is to be found.”

I said: “You give up that idea; this is an imperfect world of joy and sorrow mingled. There may be a better land where bicycle saddles are made out of rainbow, stuffed with cloud; in this world the simplest thing is to get used to something hard. There was that saddle you bought in Birmingham; it was divided in the middle, and looked like a pair of kidneys.”

He said: “You mean that one constructed on anatomical principles.”

“Very likely,” I replied. “The box you bought it in had a picture on the cover, representing a sitting skeleton—or rather that part of a skeleton which does sit.”

He said: “It was quite correct; it showed you the true position of the—”

I said: “We will not go into details; the picture always seemed to me indelicate.”

He said: “Medically speaking, it was right.”

“Possibly,” I said, “for a man who rode in nothing but his bones. I only know that I tried it myself, and that to a man who wore flesh it was agony. Every time you went over a stone or a rut it nipped you; it was like riding on an irritable lobster. You rode that for a month.”

“I thought it only right to give it a fair trial,” he answered.

I said: “You gave your family a fair trial also; if you will allow me the use of slang. Your wife told me that never in the whole course of your married life had she known you so bad tempered, so un-Christian like, as you were that month."

The book is well out of copyright and can be downloaded for free. The text is available from Project Gutenberg amongst other places. Alternatively, why not buy a copy. It's a thin book ideal for reading on a cycling holiday. It's one of a small number of cycling books that I think are well worth reading and if you're going to buy it you could do worse than the very inexpensive copy on our website amazon shop.

The picture is one of those by L Raven Hill which illustrates the book. It's of "The Overhauling Fiend". Those who have read the book will realise he's another character who is still with us. Before Three Men on the Bummel, the same Author wrote the more well know Three Men in a Boat. Also a wonderful book, but with fewer bikes in it. My wife suggests not reading either of these books on public transport as laughing out loud attracts too much attention.

1 comment:

Anneke said...

I remember a Dutch series called Floortje Bellefleur about a girl, who varies in the various books of the series between 12 and 17 years old. Somewhere in the middle of the series (so about 15 years old I'd guess) she and a couple of friends go on a cycling holiday, unaccompanied by adults, and have loads of fun. It is a rather old fashioned series; the writer wrote these books between 1960 and 1980, still I liked it when I was about 10.