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Five Go Down to the SeaReview by Keith Robinson (August 25, 2005)
In the twelfth book of the series, Anne makes a comment that she'd rather not have any adventures on this little biking trip to Tremannon in Cornwall. She'd rather just have a jolly nice time. So Julian laughs and suggests everyone just pooh-pooh any whiff of adventure that comes their way. To his surprise the others agree, albeit a little reluctantly. So they all somewhat inadvertantly agree to steer clear of mystery and adventure this time round.
They set off by train to Cornwall, with Dick getting a puncture just before they arrive at the station. (He got a puncture in Five Get Into Trouble too; he should watch where he's going!) No matter—he pumps it up and they arrive just in time to see the train come in, and with the help of the friendly porter (who seems to know them all pretty well) they label their bikes and climb aboard. Apparently the Five's luggage has "gone on ahead of them" so there's no need to worry about that. I'm dwelling on this railway station thing because I find it remarkable that a porter can be so familiar with passengers he meets maybe once or twice a year, and that arrangements can be made where the luggage "goes on ahead" so efficiently. Indeed, when the Five arrive at Polwilly Halt they don't even need to think about luggage, because presumably it's still ahead of them on the journey to Tremannon Farm, where they're staying. Actually the Five don't get out straight away because they don't realize where they are until the driver impatiently comes along the platform to tell them they've arrived. All this points to a very different world than I'm used to, where you're responsible for loading your own luggage and making sure to get out at the right stop. Were things generally nicer and more personal in the forties and fifties? Or is it just because the Kirrins are a posh, upper-class lot?
So the Five arrive at Tremannon Farm, where they have arranged to stay. Again, presumably their luggage has already been delivered to their rooms, and no doubt unpacked for them. They meet a plump little woman with a friendly smile named Mrs Penruthlan. Naturally she's a simply marvellous cook and lays on a spread fit for several kings. As far as she's concerned the children should eat as much as they possibly can. Then her husband arrives home. She refers to him as Mr Penruthlan, which the Five think very strange; but somehow the title suits him, being a "strange and magnificent figure of a man—tall, well over six feet, broadly built, and as dark as a sunburnt Spaniard." The description goes on to say that "his mane of hair was black and curly, and his eyes were as black as his hair." A vivid description indeed, and this impressive character is all the more strange because all he appears to say is "Ah" and "Ock" which, to the wife, means all sorts of different things. And so the Five settle into Tremannon Farm, in their quaint and very small rooms, with the exciting knowledge that the "Barnies" are coming to town—that is, travelling performers who use barns as their theaters. Apparently Clopper the horse is a scream, according to Mr Penruthlan.
Ah, Clopper the horse! This is really the only thing I remember about this book, and even then it's a vague memory. But more on that later. First the Five have to deal with a scruffy kid that keeps following them around—Yan, or Jan as his name is probably spelt, is as timid as a mouse and curious as a cat. He peeks at the Five from afar, spying on them all day long—much to Julian's annoyance. Even worse, Yan peers through Julian and Dick's bedroom window while they're sleeping one night! Eww! I'd punch him in the face if I was Julian. Anyway, despite all this spying, Yan is a nice enough kid—with dimples when he smiles, which Anne seems to like. He dotes on Timmy, and Timmy seems to love him back, much to George's annoyance. And he has a Grandad that has some amazing stories to tell...
The Five take a picnic hamper along to Grandad's house and he regales them with tales of old, about how "Wreckers" used to shine a light on wild and windy nights to draw ships onto the rocks; hundreds drowned, and their ships plundered for loot. But although no ships have been wrecked in a very long time, says the old man, the light still shines from time to time... Naturally this causes a little disbelief among the Five, who clearly don't stand for any ghostly nonsense. But, Grandad insists, he's seen the light himself three times that year already! It can only be seen from one spot inland, and he warns the children that it will shine again next time there's a wild and windy night.
Guess what? It turns out that it's wild and windy that very same night! Why Enid Blyton couldn't seem to work around these amazing coincidences is beyond me. It would be so easy to have the children commenting earlier in the day about a storm on its way through (ie, foreshadowing) and have Grandad take that cue to start telling them about the Wreckers. It wouldn't seem half as contrived that way. It reminds me of when the Five Find-Outers were talking about twin babies and how on earth they were supposed to find any to help solve their mystery—and then Bets sees a poster which reads TWIN BABY CONTEST TONIGHT or something similar. Again, foreshadowing would have softened the delivery (no pun intended).
But anyway, when George asks if they're going to go walking about that night to see if there's a light, Julian laughs and says no, of course not—they'd get drenched, and it's not safe to be exposed to lightning like that. So they all go to bed like good children. But Julian and Dick can't sleep, and Julian suddenly decides that now that it's stopped raining he and his brother can head off into the night to see if they can spot that light shining after all. I couldn't help thinking, "You meanie, Julian! After telling George you weren't going out!" But off Julian and Dick go, and it's not long before they spot someone up ahead, climbing over a stile. Who can it be? They follow in the darkness—but then a hand shoots out and grabs Dick by the shoulder! After much struggling the boys escape and follow the man at a safe distance as he heads down to the farmhouse...and goes in! The man just walks in the front door, bold as brass. It must be Mr Penruthlan, sneaking about in the darkness!
The boys call it a night. What a waste of time, Julian thinks. They ended up following their host, getting almost caught by him, and following him back home! No sign of a light shining from the tower, either.
The next morning George is reproachful of Julian for going out without telling her. But when Yan shows up and tells them there was indeed a light shining in the night, they all decide to investigate further. Julian and Dick will go out again, the next night, to see if they can spot this flashing light. George suprisingly makes no comment about this, seemingly happy to be confined to her bedroom with Anne. Meanwhile Julian tells Yan firmly that the small boy is not to go out that night—as if Julian has any right to tell the boy what to do.
For the rest of the day, though, there's work to do. The Barnies are going to be playing in the barn, so it needs clearing out and getting ready. The Five meet the whole team of Barnies and get along very nicely with the happy bunch—except the Guv'nor, who's a grumpy, unsmiling, tetchy man. (Sounds like he's probably involved in something criminal then!) Sid and Mr Binks are an interesting couple of guys, a double-act who become the very funny and very popular Clopper the Horse.
That night Julian and Dick head off again into the darkness—and are annoyingly joined by Yan, who shows them the way to the spot where you can see the light flashing. Sure enough, there it is—a flashing light! How mysterious! On the way back to the farmhouse Julian and Dick spot a torchlight shining inside the barn, and they peer inside to see Mr Penruthlan going through the pockets of the Barnies' coats! Disgusted, Julian says Mr Penruthlan must be mad, doing such a thing. The next day they discover he's not only sneaking about in the night but lying to his good wife about it too; he apparently slept like a log all night, says Mrs Penruthlan, but the Five know better.
More work setting up the barn follows the next day. Julian and Dick are desperate to try on the horse costume, but Sid and Mr Binks aren't having any of it. They'd lose their jobs, they explain, if they let the precious Clopper suit out of their sight—especially the head, which Sid has to carry around with him all the time. Day and night he has the head in his possession, never letting it out of his sight. I find this a little hard to believe; apparently the head is a little heavy, and I don't think I'd be carrying it around every single minute of the day, every day. But the Guv'nor has made it clear that Clopper must be well looked after, since he's the star of the show. Still, Julian and Dick are determined to "have a go" and their chance arises later, after the first successful show, when Sid and Mr Binks have gone to join the merriments and the Guv'nor has offered to keep the costume in his possession for the time being. But the Guv'nor is not in the barn where he's supposed to be, as Julian and Dick find out when they take a meal out to him. But...the Clopper suit is lying about unattended!
There follows a funny scene where Julian takes the head and Dick becomes the horse's hindquarters. They zip together the two halves of the suit and prance about, finding it more difficult than they imagined. But then the Guv'nor returns—and is horrified and angry to see his precious Clopper barging past him and escaping into the night. Apparently he "let out a loud roar and gave chase"...but somehow, inexplicably, Julian and Dick manage to give him the slip because a little later, when Julian and Dick manage to unzip the suit and escape, they return to the barn to find the Guv'nor still there, inside, striding about and looking extremely angry. I can't fathom how a clumsy pantomime horse manages to get away from an angry man who gives chase...and it's particularly strange that the Guv'nor, who is clearly worried about his property being stolen, does nothing more than pace up and down in the barn. Very odd. Sort of reminds me of a computer game where one of the background characters paces and up and down endlessly until you, the player, comes along and does something that causes him to act. But despite that, it's a funny scene, and one in which Julian acts entirely out of character by making off with a valuable costume that not only doesn't belong to him but which he has been expressly forbidden to touch! Somehow I like this side of Julian. Who wants Mr Goody Two-Shoes all the time? Let's have some more childish, irresponsible behavior, Ju!
After all the shenanigans and various mysterious happenings—the shining light, and the odd behavior of Mr Penruthlan—it's time for the adventure to really get started. The children go to visit the old tower, from which the light shines at night. In my opinion there's an awful lot of "over-explaining" done at the tower; Julian puzzles out where he thinks Wreckers' Way must lead and then Dick and Anne and George each come to the same realization and explain things in their own way...It's like Enid Blyton wasn't convinced that her explanation was good enough, and because she didn't have a word processor and didn't want to rewrite everything, she continued the conversation to make sure her readers absolutely understood what she was saying. Yawn!
However, from that moment on the adventure/mystery rushes forward to a very satisfactory conclusion—almost Find-Outer-ish in the way things are nicely wrapped up. Overall, not the best book in the series and certainly not the most original...but pretty reasonable all the same.
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