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Three men on a bummel: Jerome K Jerome

If you have already read Three men on a boat, you will see this little volume as a natural sequel. It brings back together the same three protagonists, but this time on bicycles and, instead of the river Thames being their ‘terrain’, it is the Black Forest in Germany. This book was given to me as a Christmas present (someone knows I like cycling!) but I was not only intrigued about the nature of cycle touring in the early 1900s, but also its location. Back in 1982, Jenny and I did a tandem tour of the Black Forest, a fascinating journey with the ‘earworm’ tune of A walk in the Black Forest constantly going through our heads! As we climbed a 12km hill one day, someone shouted in a strong northern accent (imitating some well-known chimpanzees selling tea): “Can yuh ride t’tandem, then? And we thought we were in the heart of Germany!

Jerome’s journey reflects the Victorian interest in the use of bicycles for touring, including discussions of the anatomical principles of saddle design (things never change!), brand competition and advertising, and the sheer logistics of setting off on a bummel (A German word meaning a long journey with no particular destination in mind). We also get a skewered glimpse of German society in the days of the German Empire, when it was clean, orderly and obedient to authority. If you enjoyed Three men on a boat, you will be intrigued by this, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t quite live up to its forebear.