Three Men on the Bummel

“A ‘Bummel’,” I explained, “I should describe as a journey, long or short, without an end; the only thing regulating it being the necessity of getting back within a given time to the point from which one started.  Sometimes it is through busy streets, and sometimes through the fields and lanes; sometimes we can be spared for a few hours, and sometimes for a few days.  But long or short, but here or there, our thoughts are ever on the running of the sand..."
Earlier this month, I spent a couple of weeks in Europe as a chaperone for a tour celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. At one point our tour director Ciaran, a longsuffering Catholic leading our group of enthusiastic Protestant pilgrims to the shrines of all the great Reformers, asked if any of us had read Jerome K. Jerome. I had read Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) a couple years ago, and he suggested that I should read the (unknown to me) sequel, Three Men on the Bummel.

Three Men on the Bummel follows the pattern of the previous book, only the thin excuse for a plot concerns our three friends taking a bicycle tour from Berlin to the Black Forest rather than a boat trip on the Thames. I say "thin excuse for a plot" because the real humor of the book comes almost entirely from episodic situation comedy due to the incompetence of the three tourists and to the extensive, rambling asides that always eventually seem to come back to where they began. It's absolutely classic British humor.

Aside from the witty humor, I particularly appreciated reading this book coming off the tour. Jerome's sly assessment of German culture is amazingly true even today after the tumultuous 20th century. From the German love of order and aversion to breaking even the slightest rules (they must really hate American tourists) to the German love of soda water. Seriously, Germany, is it too much to ask to have a single bottle of water anywhere that is non-carbonated and doesn't have chunks of minerals floating in it? Jerome also skewers his native British culture, much of what he says applying equally to Americans, and takes some shots at the French as well. All in good fun, of course.

If you're a fan of wild slapstick or dry British humor you should give this lesser known book a go.

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