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Five Go Off to CampReview by Nigel Rowe (August 3, 2005)
Summer hols then for this, the seventh adventure for the Five, as we join them planning a camping holiday on moorlands. They are being allowed to go "in spite of the terrific adventure we had last summer, when we went off in caravans". No mention of the shenanigans on Kirrin Island at Easter here, though. The main reason they are being allowed to go is that they are to accompany a teacher from Julian and Dick's school, Mr. Luffy. He is one of those strange Blyton characters that loves insects. He is described as an "elderly, dreamy fellow with a passion for studying all kinds of insect-life". The Five are all together again from the start of this book, planning what to take with them. We are not told where the moorland is, but as it is covered in snow in the winter, it might suggest Cumbria or the Yorkshire Moors in the north of England.
It is quite a pleasant opening chapter, a little strange as we are told, "All of them knew him (Luffy) quite well, because he lived not far away and often came to play bridge with their father and mother." I thought George had a different father and mother! When Luffy arrives and they load up the car and trailer, they say goodbye to the watching grown-ups. "Goodbye!" call all the grown-ups, and Julian's mother adds a last word. "DON'T get into any awful adventure this time!"
Who are all these grown-ups? Anyway, as Mr. Luffy says, "There are no adventures to be found on a wild and deserted moor!" Oh, really?
With all the preliminaries done in the first chapter, we're off! We are treated to some lovely descriptions of Mr. Luffy, en route to the moors. We share a picnic lunch with them—cucumber, dipped in vinegar. Wow! We also have those good old post war-time sandwiches made with Spam! Mr. Luffy thinks Timmy is a clever dog, so George naturally shines to him. Thank goodness for that. On we travel, the car eating up the miles and eventually reaching their camping site. This is pretty much the usual; farm nearby, gorse bushes, thick heather growing everywhere, plus "a huge rock that stood up bare and grey out of the moor".
This is rather an unusual book in the series. The atmosphere is different. Perhaps it is because we are off familiar territory. We also have an 'extra' throughout the book in Mr. Luffy. We are treated to the natural habitat when a curlew, the bird of the moorlands, wakes Julian up the next morning. Despite being only half past six he is hungry, so he finds some chocolate. Why aren't they all fat? There is, of course, a stream nearby for Anne to do all the washing in. Later, while the boys are off to the farm with George, Anne does the washing up and other jobs. When completed, she goes off for a little walk on her own. Whilst listening to bees humming, she hears another sound. An underground roaring. An unearthly shriek follows then a great cloud of white smoke comes right out of the ground. Anne is horrified. She runs back to camp screaming, "It's a volcano!" She runs into (literally) Mr. Luffy, who tells her that there are two or three long tunnels underground and it was a train she heard, and the sudden smoke was sent up a vent hole by a train. He promises to keep her secret about the volcano!
We now deal with the farm, situated close to their camp. Apparently, for post-war Britain, money seems to be of no problem. Following the boys' and George's visit earlier, we learn that they have a fleet of new lorries, a fine new car and even a grand piano in the drawing-room! George states, "The boy's mother didn't seem worried about rations." Bearing in mind this is 1948 (at least, that is when the book was first published), commodities were pretty scarce, rationing still being in force (confectionery was still to be rationed until 1955). We are treated to another delightful day of walking, nature and, of course, picnicking. Anne shows her mettle when another train is heard. George is quite frightened, but as Anne already knows what it is, she can look really brave by showing no fear. Good old Anne! The Five discover the railway lines in the valley, and go down to explore. They are warned off by "a one-legged man, with a wooden peg for his other leg, two great arms that might well belong to a gorilla, and a face as red as a tomato, except where grey whiskers grew"! He tells them of "spook-trains a-running at night". They come out of the tunnels at night, and go back in again, all by themselves, with nobody in them. He then throws a large cinder at Dick, so the Five leave. Of course, they want to visit the yard one night to see if there really are "spook-trains".
The following day they all go to the farm. Julian notices that there are men at work in the fields, but they don't look very industrious. We are then introduced to the Andrews family. First, we meet the "farm-boy" who is called Jock. It appears that his father died a couple of years ago, and his mother has now re-married. It seems that his step-father "doesn't know much about farming" and it's his mother that "tells the men what to do". They then meet his mother who promptly invites them to dinner! On a tour of the farm, Jock shows them a barn, which is locked but full of lorries. Mr. Andrews eventually turns up, and is described as a short, dark little man, with a weak face and a nose much too big for it. He also looks harassed and bad-tempered. Upon hearing of the "spook-trains", he appears shocked and dismayed. He warns them off, telling them that "bad things happen there. Accidents, years and years ago; they shut the place up and nobody is allowed to go there..." He tells them to promise him that they won't go near there again, but Julian just thanks him for the warning!
We are now treated to more "non-adventure" script. I do like it when the Five listen to the wireless, play cards or engage in other "normal" pastimes. After much card-playing, they all go to bed. The boys get a shock when Jock appears in their tent. He was prevented from seeing them earlier as his step-father needed him for the whole day. He seems to be doing his best to keep Jock away from the Five.
The adventure moves up a gear now. The children bathe in "The Green Pool", so called as chemicals in the water make it appear green. This is surely based on Dorset's "Blue Pool", containing vivid blue water due to chemicals in the water. That night, the boys and Jock plan to visit the railway yard again. Anne doesn't want to come and Julian doesn't want to leave Anne by herself, so George is staying behind as well. The three steal off into the night, and see the light in "Wooden-Leg-Sam's" hut. They approach the tunnel (in the frontispiece illustration, the tunnel is very close to Sam's hut, but in the story it is quite a way away) only to hear rumblings, and a train screams out of it, with no lights. It disappears into the distance. However, before the three boys can follow on foot (there is some delay as Dick twists his ankle and has to wait twenty minutes before he can stand on it) it returns and vanishes into the tunnel. There is a "spook-train" then! Incidentally, what an odd term. Surely, it should be "ghost-train"? Perhaps Enid was influenced by Arnold Ridley's "The Ghost Train". This had a similar plot.
There is much puzzling between them after this event. They check up on Wooden-Leg-Sam, who is still in his hut, but very frightened, peeping out from under his bed. Jock's wings are clipped the next day, as his father has arranged for Cecil Dearlove (what a name!) to stay. He is a twelve-year-old son of a friend of his. This has all the ingredients of being a tedious interlude, but happily Enid doesn't spend too much time on this. George is furious on hearing of the night-time antics. She is livid as Julian and Dick didn't let her go with them. George is quite unkind by suggesting that if Anne wasn't such a coward, she would have been able to go with them. Julian remonstrates, disgustedly telling her to "shut-up". After saying, "You will let me come next time, won't you?" Julian says "Certainly not. This is my adventure and Dick's—and perhaps Jock's. Not yours or Anne's." Who's behaving like a girl now, Julian?
In the nearest town, on a visit in the car with Mr. Luffy, the children (with the exception of George—still sulking—and Timmy) pay a visit to the railway station. Here we have a lovely conversation with an old railway porter. Enid has many such characters in the FF books. Old Grandad in Five Go Down to the Sea, and Jeremiah Boogle in Five Go To Demon's Rocks to name just a couple. He knows all about the tunnels and railway yards. It appears that there is quite a network of lines still in situ, but no longer used. Why, I wonder, haven't the tracks been lifted and the tunnels sealed off? A good thing they haven't—there would be no adventure! On their return to the camp, they find George in a much better mood. She apologises for walking off and the Five are all friends again. Aaaahh.
George goes off on her own, again, the next day. She finds the yard, and meets the watchman, who throws a cinder at her, charming fellow that he is. Leaving the yard and walking over the top of the tunnel, Timmy falls down a ventilation shaft and disappears. George scrabbles down after him, and finds herself deep inside the tunnel...
This is, once again, an excellent read. It was one of the last of the FF adventures that I read as a child. As I said earlier, it has a much different feel to most of the others. On a personal note, I much prefer the books that are set in a different location. Somehow, the frequent trips to Kirrin Island get a bit boring after a while. All the loose ends are neatly tied up in the altogether-too-short climax. My main criticism of Enid's books is that they finish all too soon. We are treated to long introductions and journeys with wonderful narrative en route to the holiday location. We get good descriptions and plot lines in the adventure. Then, in about two or three pages it is all wrapped up, and we are left with the feeling of "That's it, then".
Nevertheless, this is one of my favourites in the series—yes, I know I have many! It bears repeat reads and still keeps me hooked till the end!
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