Just ahead of my appearance with Tucker on the telly, we continue our voyage with a trio of plucky adventurers up the Thames to Oxford in our latest Tale for Our Time: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome, a saga of mishaps and musings from the cruising craze of the 1880s.
In tonight's episode, our narrator is unusually insightful on the boating life:
One young man I knew had a very sad accident happen to him the first time he went punting. He had been getting on so well that he had grown quite cheeky over the business, and was walking up and down the punt, working his pole with a careless grace that was quite fascinating to watch. Up he would march to the head of the punt, plant his pole, and then run along right to the other end, just like an old punter. Oh! it was grand.
And it would all have gone on being grand if he had not unfortunately, while looking round to enjoy the scenery, taken just one step more than there was any necessity for, and walked off the punt altogether. The pole was firmly fixed in the mud, and he was left clinging to it while the punt drifted away. It was an undignified position for him. A rude boy on the bank immediately yelled out to a lagging chum to 'hurry up and see a real monkey on a stick'.
If you're a member of The Mark Steyn Club you can hear Part Fourteen of our serialization of Three Men in a Boat simply by clicking here and logging-in. All previous episodes can be found here - so you can choose whether to listen each night twenty minutes before you lower your lamp, or save them up for a weekend binge-listen.
Two nights back, Episode Twelve contained the following cryptic aside:
Greenlands, the rather uninteresting looking river residence of my newsagent â€“ a quiet unassuming old gentleman who may often be met with about the region, sculling himself along.
Peter, a First Week Founding Member from Wokingham (a town so woke it was woke before woke had even woken up), writes:
Of course, Jerome K Jerome refers to the very pleasant riverside estate of Mr W H Smith, who greatly expanded his family's firm of newsagents. Mr Smith was lampooned in Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore as Sir Joseph Porter, the admiral who had never been to sea in a ship. 'Now I am the ruler of the Queen's Navee'.
Greenlands is now part of Reading University and hosts the Henley Business School. It served as a Royal Garden Party venue in the Diamond Jubilee in 2012. (I attended, in a very minor capacity, many layers of precedence below the Royal Party and guests. Lovely event though, and, despite Mr Jerome's slighting aside, it's a very lovely house and estate!)
Don't sell yourself short on precedence, Peter. A First Week Founding Member of The Mark Steyn Club takes precedence over the younger son of a marquess and just behind a non-genital-conforming transgender.
The above mentioned W H Smith, founded by H W Smith in 1792, was the first retail chain on the planet, and its bookstores remain a familiar sight on British high streets, and elsewhere in the Commonwealth, especially India. They briefly flowered in American airports, but disappeared, if I remember correctly, about a decade ago. In the UK, it was W H Smith which caused me to give up on a certain alleged Tory prime minister. As I recalled only the other day:
At the time UK Conservatives were cooing over the hollow David Cameron, a man so 'conservative' he believed W H Smith should be banned from displaying Terry's Chocolate Oranges at the cash register because it was a health risk. Meanwhile, the Telegraph was so out of it that Charles Moore, our great editor, was talking up the Ulster Unionist David Trimble as the next Tory leader. Alas, the trendies had their way and, as I put it, the Conservatives opted not for the Orangeman but the Chocolate Orangeman.
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To become a member of The Mark Steyn Club, please click here - and don't forget our special Gift Membership. Please join me on Tucker's show live across America in about an hour, and live across the planet on our Clubland Q&A tomorrow, Friday, at 8pm Greenwich Mean Time - and shortly thereafter right here for Part Fifteen of Three Men in a Boat.