Today I had a book returned to me by an old friend. I lent it to her in 2006; she took it back to Canada with her, where it languished in storage for many years. Then it was found in a clear-out, brought back to England, and finally, eventually, unexpectedly, fell back into my possession.
The book is Three Men In A Boat, which is a story of a much gentler journey than the one outlined above. I wonder what its author, Jerome K. Jerome, would have made of his novel making multiple journeys through the skies. It wouldn’t have been fantastical to him, not quite: he lived long enough to experience the early age of aviation, and volunteered as a stretcher bearer in WWI, when the flying machines did fly with ill intent.
But I still suspect he would have found the thought of it rather strange.
Adding another layer to this journey themed onion, I found a permit to travel nestled in its pages, having been used as a bookmark, probably by me. The station it was issued, New Malden, is one the book’s characters would have passed through on the train down from Waterloo to the river in Kingston. I expect they bought proper tickets, though, rather than spending the minimum possible to ward off the small possibility of late night ticket inspectors.
I have no idea where we would have been going at such a time, but I hope we had fun. And I can’t remember why I lent this book, and what I was trying to say by doing so. But that, at least, I can guess.
I am happy it’s made its way back to me, and what that says about the friendship that myself and this person have managed to keep afloat over all these years.
There is a passage from the book, one of my very favourites, that seems apposite, so I’ll leave you with it.
“How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha’pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with – oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all! – the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the criminal’s iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!
“It is lumber, man – all lumber! Throw it overboard. It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars. It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment’s freedom from anxiety and care, never gain a moment’s rest for dreamy laziness – no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o’er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the sombre-waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchis, or the blue forget-me-nots.
“Throw the lumber over, man! Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.”