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Five Go Off in a CaravanReview by Nigel Rowe (July 20, 2005)
This, the fifth outing in the Famous Five series, sees a change of location at the opening of the book. Instead of being at Kirrin, home of George, we are at Julian, Dick and Anne's home at the start of the summer hols. Quite where this might be, we are not told. We're not even told their mother's and father's names. Elsewhere in the series their mother is referred to as Mrs Barnard, yet Julian is referred to as a Kirrin. Careless writing/editing or what? Apparently, the five are not welcome at Kirrin, as Quentin is beginning one of his experiments. As George says, "If we go there we'd have to walk about on tiptoe, and talk in whispers, and keep out of his way the whole time." Dick makes the point that Aunt Fanny couldn't cope with them and George's father, and sparks would fly. Anne likes Uncle Quentin, but admits to being afraid of him when he is in one of his tempers. What charming, kind and caring parents they must be. Send your child off to boarding school, and then have no time for her and her cousins in the holidays!
Lazing about in the garden, the four consider what to do with themselves. Various options are mooted, but none seriously considered. All in all it is quite a pleasant start, and one can almost hear the bees buzzing and a tractor groaning in the distance. Anyone for a ginger beer?
This euphoria is broken by the sound of a dog barking; lo and behold, a circus procession appears and parades right outside their garden. A cart-wheeling boy comes up to the Five and introduces his dogs, Barker and Growler, and tells them the circus is to go up in the hills to rest. Then a fierce looking man, chewing a pipe, shouts to the boy, Nobby, to "come along of us". We learn that this is Uncle Dan who keeps Nobby "in order all right!" The circus passes on and disappears into the distance.
This whole scenario gives George the great idea of following them to their resting place, "up in the hills". "Do let's, oh, do lets!" She even thinks the grown-ups will be glad to be rid of them for a week or two. Haven't they just been rid of them for two or three months whilst at school?
Well, enough said! 'Daddy' arranges for two caravans to be borrowed, and an extra horse—they already have one, their own Dobby. Hurrah!
In this era, the father was usually the disciplinarian of the family, the mother being much more gentle and forgiving. I wonder why Blyton gives the father the more endearing term, Daddy, whereas the mother is called Mother? Maybe it's a class thing.
Off they go then. Rather lovely narrative follows of their travels to locate the circus. Julian does his usual performance of impressing a farmer's wife, "who liked the look of the tall, well-spoken Julian very much". Enid really shines at describing nature. One is transported back to a slower, more leisurely world, free of mobile phones, motorways and screeching tyres. I almost hoped that they wouldn't find the circus, and instead spent a leisurely time camping and watching butterflies! However, they finally arrive where the travellers are camping, Merran Lake.
They soon see Nobby again, with his dogs, and he introduces them all to Pongo the chimpanzee. He shows them round the site. However, a surly character called Lou sends them packing. He thinks the four are a "posh lot" (can't disagree with that, Lou!). As they don't feel inclined to stay down with the circus folk, Julian decides they should camp further up in the hills.
They find a grand spot, overlooking the circus folk's site and Merran Lake. Naturally, there is a spring nearby to furnish them with fresh water! This idyll is made complete by the usual farm around the corner, complete with lovely farmer and fat, round-cheeked farmer's wife. They of course love Julian's "polite, well-mannered way that all grown-ups liked". All grown-ups with the exception of the villains of course, who all hate the jumped-up pompous kid!
However, before too long, Tiger Dan and Lou are back, urging the five to return to the circus camp. Julian refuses, being suspicious of their sudden change of mind. Nobby suggests he signals with a large handkerchief when it is safe to come and visit.
When the children do visit the camp, they see Pongo the chimp, who is quite a thief, stealing hard-boiled eggs! They also see the elephants, horses, dogs, monkeys, et al. Anne finds a cart covered by a tarpaulin, which Nobby says belongs to Dan, who "half killed him" when he once peeped in. The day is ruined, however, when the children return to their caravans and Barker eats some raw meat that he finds on the ground. Suddenly, he whines, shivers and rolls over. It's poisoned. Obviously, this meat was intended for Timmy. Someone wants him out of the way. I wonder who!
The four devise a plan. Julian will hide while the others go to the village. They want to find out what is so interesting about where they are camped. Sure enough, Lou and Tiger Dan eventually arrive, trying to move the caravan. They want something that is actually underneath the van! We are now entering the adventure proper...
There are some amazing scenes of terrible cruelty in this story. Nobby waves a huge red sheet to warn the Five off from visiting the camp. He is beaten black and blue by his uncle. Stones are thrown at Pongo and he is rendered unconscious. Although pretty horrendous, I don't remember being upset when reading it as a child. The Five find planks under the caravan which lead to underground caves and stolen goods. It really does get quite exciting from here on. We are now firmly in Enid Blyton Adventureland. One's reading gets quicker, being unable to wait for the end! Incidentally, we also find out the secret of Dan's cart!
This is a truly great read. I loved everything about the story. The idyllic setting at the beginning, the leisurely two or three day journey to the lake, the circus camp scene, their caravan site up in the hills and, of course, the adventures underground! There is none of the annoyances of the inferior Five Go Adventuring Again. The Five are at their best when they're all pulling together and no one is isolated from the rest of the group.
Five Go To Smuggler's Top was a hard act to follow, but Miss Blyton followed it well. This is one of my favourites, which stands the test of time and bears re-reading many times.
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