This has been one of my comfort reads ever since I was a child - one of those books that always makes me laugh and cheers me up. It's the story of three friends (and their dog) taking a boating trip up the River Thames in the late Victorian (or maybe Edwardian, not sure) era, describing their misadventures along the way and a sprinkling of other amusing anecdotes. The humour still holds up, and it's also an interesting snapshot of the times, a way of life that was ordinary and even banal to the participants, but which is endlessly fascinating from a distance of more than a century. It's rather like visiting a distant colony where the language and customs are tantalisingly familiar, yet bizarrely alien at the same time. If that makes any sense.
If the book stuck to the humorous anecdotes, it would be fine, but sadly the author occasionally feels the need to interject passages of purple prose musing on historical events and other philosophical ramblings. Sometimes he punctures his own pomposity by weaving these passages into the story (he is so engrossed in his own deep thoughts that he steers the boat into the bank, for instance), but all too often they are simply uninteresting waffle which drift on for pages. They are a small part of the book (although they feature more heavily in his other writings, which makes them much less readable), but still they drag it down to 3 stars. [First written August 2011]