J., Harris, and the dog pass through Molesey lock. This is one of the most popular spots on the river, with lots of dressed-up pleasure-seekers sitting on the grass and boats queuing to get through.
The river is a kind of gallery, providing the boaters with a chance to show off their best dress and to affect their best “at-leisure” poses.
J. says that boating on the river is a “good opportunity for dress.” He talks about the clothes the three men have for the trip. They are dressed smartly in blazers. George has bought a new blazer jacket for the trip and had showed it to the others the previous week. J. and Harris agreed that it was a good fashion choice—“to frighten the birds away”.
The men are clearly concerned with their image, each of them having made a special effort to dress well. George and J. are happy to judge Harris on his poor choice in clothing, going against J.’s instruction to get rid of the “formalities and fashions” of life. Fashion is a medium through which people can perform their leisure.
J. thinks that a “boating costume” presents a good chance for girls to dress up too, except that sometimes they take it too far and wear things ill-suited to being on a river. He remembers a time when two girls did just that. The girls are “beautifully got up,” but look more like they’re having photos done than going boating. They have unrealistic expectations of how clean the boat should be and think that the splashes from J.’s rowing will make them dirty. The group switches rowers to appease the girls, but the new rower splashes them even more. When they stop for lunch, the girls constantly worry about getting food on their outfits.
The girls are more concerned with looking good than enjoying their time on the river. Rather than embracing their environment, they take the social pretensions of the city with them—in fact, in the river environment, it’s even easier to see that they are most concerned about how others are perceiving them. J. might be mocking that here, but the book consistently demonstrates that he and his friends are concerned about their own perception too.
Back in the present, Harris tells J. that he wants to get out at Hampton Church to see the grave of a “Mrs. Thomas.” He’s heard it’s a funny tomb, though J. can’t really see the appeal. J. doesn’t care for graves, or local history. He tells the story of one sunny morning when he was relaxing in a beautiful village churchyard.
Harris has a strangely warped sense of history, seeking out particular graves because he’s heard they’re funny. J. can’t get on board with this because he prefers history that lets him properly escape the contemporary moment—which graves just can’t do for him.
In this story, J. is leaning against the church wall, thinking “beautiful and noble thoughts,” when suddenly he is interrupted by the sight of the bald-headed gravekeeper walking towards him, a big bunch of keys jangling in his hand.
J. wants to be free to use his imagination, not forced to look at graves. The reality of the world, in the form of the gravekeeper, again interrupts his romantic musings.
The keeper asks if J. wants to see the graves, to which he replies, “No, go away.” The man insists that, as J. is not a local, he should come and see the graves, but J. really can’t see the point—there are graves where he comes from that he could see anytime. The gravekeeper starts crying as J. continues his tirade. He asks J. to at least see the memorial window, or the skulls he has in the crypt. J. turns and flees, the gravekeeper shouting after him.
J. would rather be left to his own devices, thinking his beautiful and noble thoughts. The fact that he finds his own thoughts beautiful and noble shows that he holds himself in pretty high esteem.
Back in the present day, Harris is still insisting that they go to see Mrs. Thomas’ grave at Hampton Church. J. says there’s no time, as they have to pick up George at 5:00 p.m. Harris, irritated, says he wants to get a drink, but J. tells him they’re far from any pubs and he should just drink their lemonade instead. Harris clumsily reaches for some alcohol but ends up causing the boat to hit the riverbank and getting his head stuck in the hamper.
Classic comedy capers ensue from Harris. It appears that J. is in charge of the particular vision for the trip, not letting Harris get his way. Even early in the journey, things are not as relaxed the men had hoped.