The three men continue up the river, going a stretch without encountering any locks. This is a shame, says J., as he likes the flower gardens that are kept at the locks. Talking of locks reminds him of a story.
J. likes the flowers at the locks, but these are very deliberate, carefully attended gardens. He doesn’t necessarily want everything to be wild, and instead wants things to be how he likes them.
In this story, George and J. are at the lock by Hampton Court on a glorious summer day. J. notices George smoothing his trousers and fixing his hair, before sitting down and beaming a smile. J. thinks it’s because George has spotted a girl he knows but sees that everyone else has assumed the same pose. He realizes that there’s a photographer with his camera aimed at them.
The river becomes a literal gallery, with boaters posing for photos taken by photographers set up on the banks. The photographers set up there because they know people on the river are vain and will pay to have a copy of their picture. George and J. prove this to be the case.
J. tries quickly to smarten himself up too, but someone keeps shouting at J. and his companions to watch out for their “nose.” After much confusion, they realize that the shouts aren’t about the noses on their faces but the nose of their boat, which is about to get trapped in the lock (which is very dangerous). They escape, but the photograph is ruined.
J. and his group get caught between wanting to look good and wanting to stay afloat. They’re too caught up with the photo to realize that the “nose” in question is the boat’s. This again shows where their priorities lie.
The three men pass by Wallingford, a town with Roman ruins. J, imagines the passage of time from the Roman Empire to the 11th Century Norman invasion: “But Time, though he halted at Roman walls, soon crumbled Romans to dust; and on the ground, in later years, fought savage Saxons and huge Danes, until the Normans came.” They pass Dorchester, another important city that was once a Roman settlement. “It is very old, and it was very strong and great once. Now it sits aside from the stirring world, and nods and dreams.” They go past one inn which J. thinks is the “quaintest, most old-world up the river.”
J. enjoys the company of towns with Roman ruins because they strike him as especially historical. That is, their history stretches further back than other towns and facilitates his daydreams more effectively. Of course, J’s hometown, London, was once settled by Romans—but it’s too difficult for him to imagine history at home.
Passing by Sanford, J. says it is “a good place to drown yourself in. The undercurrent is terribly strong.” An obelisk marks the spot where two bathers have recently died. The boat then passes between Iffley and Oxford, which J. says is the most treacherous and difficult stretch of the river because of competing currents going in different directions.
A reminder of the difficulties involved with boating, as the natural occurrence of strong currents creates dangerous parts of the river and makes it difficult in places to navigate.
Nearing Oxford, J. remarks that being on the river has a bad effect on people’s temper, making them frustrated at the little mistakes of others. One of his friends is always very calm when on shore, but as soon as she is on the water starts swearing at the other boaters who get in her way.
Similar to modern day road rage, boating sometimes incubates people’s stresses and makes them ready to snap. The stress is intensified because this is supposed to be a time of relaxation, and it’s because this relaxation is interrupted by others that people become furious. It’s ironic because the reader has seen this from the three men throughout the text.