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Five On a Hike TogetherReview by Keith Robinson (July 12, 2005)
Another of my all time faves, Five on a Hike Together is a classic example of a world in which four young children and a dog can roam the moors without adult supervision. It would never happen today. When two boys at Julian and Dick's boarding school are awarded a scholarship, the whole school get two extra days tacked onto their weekend to celebrate. This neatly coincides with Anne and George's weekend break, so the four decide to go off on a hike together.
Actually it's all Julian's idea. He plans the entire thing from start to finish, marking the route on a map and indicating which farms to stay at overnight along the way. And so the Five set off at last, a perfect October day in the countryside. Things start to go wrong when Timmy, chasing rabbits, gets stuck down a hole and has to be yanked out by his hind legs. After that he limps a lot and generally feels sorry for himself. George is worried about him, so they all make the decision to seek out a vet in a nearby village.
It's at this point that the group splits. Julian and George will take Timmy to see Mr Gaston, a nice man who lives at Spiggy House on the hill. Because Mr Gaston might be out with his horses all day, there might be a bit of a wait...so Julian suggests that Anne and Dick head on to the next stop, Blue Pond Farm, and secure the rooms.
Naturally things don't quite go to plan. Dick and Anne wind up following the wrong path. It's dark and starting to rain as they plough on across a field, wondering how much farther it could be. Just then, bells clang loudly in the distance, going on and on and scaring Anne half to death! Finally they stop and Dick presses on, telling Anne there's a light shining in the distance; that surely must be Blue Pond Farm! On arrival they find a desolate little place with just an old deaf woman living there, who seems terrified that her son might return at any moment and see the two children. "You'd best be gone before he comes," she says. "He have a nasty temper, he have!"
But Dick persuades her to take Anne in for the night. The old woman points her upstairs to a small room there, while Dick is shown the barn. So while Anne sleeps alone in a little room, Dick dosses down in the barn, sheltered from the rain. Then a very strange thing happens. A man appears at the window and whispers to him. "Dick! Dick!" Startled, Dick doesn't like the look of the man's face in the moonlight, so he keeps in the shadows and says, "I'm here," in a gruff voice. Then the man delivers a very odd message from someone called Nailer:
"Two-Trees. Gloomy Water. Saucy Jane. And he says Maggie knows. He sent you this. Maggie's got one too."
These immortal words have stuck in my memory ever since reading this book when I was young. So, too, has the detail of the little map that flutters through the window, a map showing a criss-cross of four lines, each with a phrase at the end: Tall Stone, Chimney, Steeple, and Tock Hill. What can it all mean?
When the Five eventually get back together, it turns out that Dick and Anne had gone completely wrong and missed Blue Pond Farm altogether. Julian and Dick made it okay, once they'd got Timmy sorted...and they spent the night fretting over Dick and Anne's whereabouts. They compare notes. The clanging bells, it turns out, had been a signal from the prison warning of an escaped convict! So Dick immediately assumes the nasty-looking man at the barn window the night before must have been the escaped prisoner, on some errand for a man called Nailer. It also turns out that the deaf woman's son is a nasty piece of work himself, a man they call Dirty Dick...And so another puzzle is solved. The escaped prisoner had been trying to get a message to Dirty Dick!
With some valuable pieces of a puzzle in their possession, the Five go to the police. But the local policeman is a bit of a Goon and is scornful of their story. He rips up the map and tells the kids to stop wasting his time. This gives the Five a perfect opportunity to go and solve the puzzle themselves. But where to start? It turns out there is a place called Two-Trees, and next to it a lake called Gloomy Water...
I'll always remember the way the puzzle is solved, using a raft they find in a boathouse. I remember thinking, "What a clever idea!" And the way the whole thing is executed is good too, with the children slowly working things out and sailing out on the lake to search for treasure! Matters are not helped with the presence of Dirty Dick and Maggie though, a thoroughly unpleasant couple. As Dick says, "I can't bear Maggie. Horrid common voice and hard face. Ugh!" This made me laugh; it really shows Enid Blyton's upper-class lifestyle. And Maggie smokes too, which (to Enid Blyton's mind) makes Maggie all the more common.
The character "Nailer" is never seen, but he's spoken of frequently. Oddly he starts out as "Nailer" but then becomes "the Nailer" for some inexplicable reason. It's not a typo because the phrase is repeated several times in the latter half of the book.
The children eat gargantuan amounts of food throughout this story, possibly even more than usual. When they first start on a hike the kind lady in the village store makes them sandwiches. Her son, she says, has six sandwiches, or "twelve rounds of bread." When she asks how many the children can handle, Julian tells her eight sandwiches each! And as Dick confirms, that's sixteen rounds of bread for four people, so sixty-four slices. I usually have two full sandwiches myself, or four slices. I used to have three sandwiches (six slices) before I realized it's better to have four and then have something else as well. :-D But eight sandwiches each? At least Julian says they're to last all day...but the woman's son manages six sandwiches himself on a regular basis, and I can't believe he eats them for lunch and tea every day.
But breakfast in the village takes the biscuit. "Porridge and cream," says the woman. "And our own cured bacon and our own eggs. Our own honey and the bread I bake myself. Will that do? With coffee and cream?" Breakfast duly arrives with a steaming tureen of porridge, a bowl of golden syrup, a jug of very thick cream, and a dish of bacon of eggs, all piled high on crisp brown toast. Little mushrooms were on the same dish. "Toast, marmalade and butter to come, and the coffee and milk," the woman says. "And if you want any more bacon eggs, just ring the bell."
Where is this place? I want to go there. They can keep the thick cream though. Ugh!
Finally, a word about Julian. He must earn his reputation as a pompous ass through this book. Telling George and Anne that girls must not sleep in barns, although it's perfectly all right for boys to do so...reminding George constantly who's in charge... "You know quite well that if ever you go against the orders of your chief—that's me, my girl, in case you didn't know it—then you won't come out with us again. You may look like a boy and behave like a boy, but you're a girl all the same. And like it or not, girls have got to be taken care of."
Chivalrous? Or pompous ass?
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