Five Go Off in a Caravan is the fifth Famous Five book. The Five are a well-established group now and they had their first non-Kirrin adventure in the last book, Five Go to Smuggler’s Top. This time they go off in two caravans, not a caravan as the title suggests, and find themselves embroiled in another adventure (naturally).
Well, why not caravans? I mean apart from the lack of space, the lack of amenities, the shaking every time someone walks around… (I actually loved [static] caravan holidays as a child – my parents don’t seem to look back so fondly, though).
The Five get the idea for a caravan holiday when a circus goes past – on its way for a short break between performances – and the brightly coloured caravans look an appealing way to travel.
It’s too hot for walking, Anne can’t cycle as fast as the others and a hotel would mean too many adults. George doesn’t want to go to Kirrin as she was home at half-term and Father was just beginning one of his experiments – and you know what that means. 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.
Anne adds that she likes Uncle Quentin but she’s afraid of him when he’s in a temper. This is more like the Uncle Quentin we normally expect, rather than the suddenly interested one we got at the start of Five Go to Smuggler’s Top.
So caravans it is! They are not quaint and brightly coloured circus-style caravans though. They are shiny modern, streamlined, ones which can be pulled by horse or car.
Each van had a little chimney, long, narrow windows down the two sides, and tiny ones in the front by the driver’s seat. There was a broad door at the back and two steps down. Pretty curtains fluttered at the open windows.
There are bunks along the side, a sink with running water, a proper stove and a gadget for heating water. Though, as we would expect, the Five spend most of their time cooking and washing outside anyway!
Their days in the caravans are a typical Blyton idyll, meandering down lanes in glorious weather stopping only to eat and camp for the night. They stop at farms along the way for supplies and to get permission to camp, and it’s after four or five days’ travel that they catch up with the circus.
Blyton loved her circuses and wrote them into several of her series as well as basing whole books on them.
Related post⇒ The Circus of Adventure
I love Blyton’s circuses as she paints a warm and loving community who all look after each other and live comfortable yet exciting lives. Ok so it’s probably a far cry from the reality of the situation, but not all fiction has to be gritty and realistic.
The caravans were set round in a wide circle. Tents had been put up here and there. The big elephant was tied by a thick rope to a stout tree. Dogs ran about everywhere, and a string of shining horses were being paraded round a large field nearby.
Most of the camp is jolly and friendly. There’s Nobby who they saw when the circus passed, his terriers Barker and Growler and Pongo the chimpanzee. Then there’s Larry and Old Lady the elephant who plays cricket, more terriers that play football and Rossy with his horses including Black Queen and Fury. Not to mention Lucilla and her troupe of monkeys.
But then, of course, there is the darker element of Tiger Dan and Lou.
Tiger Dan and Lou the acrobat
Dan is Nobby’s uncle (well, later Nobby reveals he’s just the man his parents had asked to look after him before they died). We first see him driving his caravan past the children at the start of the book. Nobby points him out and says he’s the chief clown.
The children stared at the chief clown, and thought that they had never seen anyone less like a clown. He was dressed in dirty grey flannel trousers and a dirty red shirt open at an equally dirty neck. He didn’t look as if he could make a single joke, or do anything in the least funny. In fact, he looked really bad tempered, the children thought, and he scowled so fiercely that Anne felt quite scared.
Later Anne says she just can’t imagine Dan as a clown because clowns are always so merry and gay and jolly. Dick points out that it’s just an act, and that a clown needn’t be the same out of the ring as he has to be when he’s in it. If you look at photographs of clowns when they’re just being ordinary men, they’ve got quite sad faces. I love Dick’s insight there. I wonder how Blyton would make of modern-day performers and celebrities who have to be ‘on’ all the time.
Dan is worse than just sad, however, according to Nobby:
He’s worse than a tiger when he’s in a temper. They call him Tiger Dan because of his rages.
Lou the acrobat isn’t much better.
Lou was a long-limbed, loose-jointed fellow with a ugly face, and a crop of black shining hair that curled tightly.
He too is bad-tempered, scowling and unfriendly. He sees the children and comes over to ask what they’re doing messing around. He calls them posh (as an insult!) and tries to kick Timmy before threatening that he has ways of dealing with bad dogs.
Related post⇒My top three baddies
Julian had already made up his mind to have as little to do with this pair as possible but Lou and Dan run into them – literally – that night.
They are chatting in the night (a distance from the circus – that’s a mark of suspicion against them already) and walk straight into the girls’ caravan in the dark.
They are not best pleased to find out the children are so close and tell them to clear out in quite a nasty stand-off.
Those who have read this book before will know that Lou and Dan are up to some illegal doings, which of course the Five get caught up in. They clearly hate anyone ‘snooping’ around their camp and thus want rid of them, but they should have been careful what they wished for…
Are they coming or going?
So Lou and Dan are keen for the children to clear out, and clear out they do. There’s no point in staying where they aren’t wanted and aggravating the situation.
They head up into the hills – though Lou and Dan expect them to be travelling on past the hills – and on the advice of the farmer they set up camp in a shady hollow which is complete with a burbling spring and a lovely view of the lake.
Incidentally, Julian had always planned to camp away from circus in case it was noisy or smelly.
After a hot and lazy day they decide to go down for a swim in the evening and lo and behold, bump into Lou and Dan half-way down the hill. The men enquire whereabouts they are camping and suggest it’s better back down at the bottom of the hill. How curious, considering how keen they were to get rid just the day before.
On their way back up – with Nobby – they discover Lou and Dan are hanging around their caravans. They two men are trying to be amiable – and warn them they want to exercise some animals in the area so the children would be better off moving. In fact, they even say they can come and camp back by the lake! What a change of attitude.
“Yes, you come,” said Tiger Dan to the children’s growing astonishment. “You come, see? You can bathe in the lake every day, then – and Nobby here can show you round the camp, and you can make friends with all the animals, see?”
Nobby has already told the children he was beaten for talking to strangers so he is just as shocked. When he expresses his amazement Dan roars at him to shut up before Lou reminds him with a nudge to be friendly.
Julian sees through this performance though and says You’ve got other reasons for making all those suggestions. George is adamant she’s not moving her caravan for anyone. And so, they stay.
Things start happening
The four children have a lovely day playing around the circus but discover than Tiger Dan often disappears at night (suspicious marker #2) and has a cart which is often full of secret things and is sometimes half-empty (suspicious marker #3).
Timmy, meanwhile, has been left to guard the caravans and is barking madly when they return that evening. Nobby, Barker, Growler and Pongo are with them, and Barker eats some raw meat that’s been left out. When he takes ill they realise the meat has been poisoned, which is why Timmy and Pongo wouldn’t go near it.
But who would try to poison Timmy? Could it be Dan and Lou who clearly want the children out of that hollow and were conveniently missing from the circus camp all day?
Highly suspicious of Dan and Lou, Julian comes up with a plan to find out why they are so interested in their camp. After shouting to Nobby that they’re all off to town for they day they board a bus. Julian gets off at the next stop and doubles back, hiding himself on top of one of the caravans.
After a time Dan and Lou show up and – for some unfathomable reason – go underneath the caravan Julian is on. Then they start pushing the caravan towards the edge of the hill.
Do they push it right over? Does Julian plummet to his tragic death?
Considering this is an Enid Blyton book and there are another seventeen books in the series the answers are most likely to be no, but it’s a tense moment all the same.
Come back next week to read the rest of my review!
Next post Five Go Off in a Caravan part 2
I loved this book when I was growing up in the 60’s, along with all the other Famous Five books of course. I guess still seeing the occasional old “gypsy style” caravans back then, and hearing and seeing stories about them, made it more real than the story must be to children in the current time.
Like all the Famous Five books, the characters were well described, and you got a good mental picture of them while you were reading.
Loved the review, if I have time I would love to go back and re-read all of The Famous Five, but it would have to be original editions, I think reading the “modernised” versions would sadden me.
I’ve always loved the books by, ‘The Famous Five,’ and the idea that there are all kinds of crooks in a traveling circus isn’t even really new in itself. Because there are very confusing comics in which it is shown that circus directors, ringmasters, animal trainers, clowns, acrobats, snipers, etc. are involved in espionage, illegal oil drilling, drug trafficking, robbery, theft, etc.!
Lou and Tiger Dan (what a strange name for a clown, by the way, because it fits more with a animal trainer!) don’t exactly resemble Bassie & Adriaan and the first two are not related to each other. If they had pretended to be very different, nobody would have noticed and that Lou is such a handy burglar shouldn’t be surprising if you’re an acrobat.
Yet Lou does not behave like an acrobat at all in the album, but more like one. real crook and what exactly Tiger Dan looked like has not become very clear to me.