Last week I started my review of Five Have Plenty of Fun, but all I really covered was Berta (aka Lesley, Leslie and Jane) and the similarities I spotted between that book and some others by Blyton.
Despite the fact that I don’t think I would like Uncle Quentin at all in real life, I actually really enjoy reading about him. He’s one of the things that makes the Kirrin books stand out, almost as much as Kirrin Island. I also quite like writing about him, as proven by the time I dedicated a whole post to what he gets up to in just one book – Five Go to Smuggler’s Top.
You’d think there would be less material in this book on Quentin – mostly because he and Aunt Fanny disappear for a good chunk, abandoning Berta to the care of Joanna and the Five (do you think Joanna gets extra pay for such duties?) – but there’s a surprising amount to say.
Bad tempered vs good tempered
As we know, Uncle Quentin is bad-tempered and forgetful.
In this book we learn that George sometimes wished that he was a more ordinary parent, one who would play cricket or tennis with children, and not be so horrified at shouting and laughter and silly jokes. He always made a fuss when George’s mother insisted that George should have her cousins to stay. In a sort of flashback we see that he ranted Noisy, rowdy, yelling kids! I shall lock myself in my study and stay there! when he heard his nephews and niece were coming to stay.
Julian and Dick joke about Quentin blowing up the world in a fit of temper and George says Well, I wish he wouldn’t keep blowing me up if I let a door bang or set Timmy barking. Of course we saw in a previous book that Quentin himself is terrible for slamming doors!
What’s interesting is that when Berta stands up and refuses to be disguised as a boy Quentin is not used to being defied openly like this. I’m pretty sure George has openly defied him many times!
On the other hand Elbur Wright – father, or indeed Pops, of Berta is a cheerful, friendly man who gives the children a whole pound to spend on themselves after just meeting them. He sends Berta to stay with them when she is in danger as he has taken such a shine to the Kirrins, being as healthy and happy as they are. He also dearly loves Berta – so much so he would be willing to spill all his scientific secrets to keep her safe, while Quentin appears to suggest he would leave George to rot if it had been her kidnapped!
Traitor or loving father?
I wish we’d seen Quentin and Elbur argue this out, as it is we only see Quentin’s rather strong reaction.
If his Berta is kidnapped, he will give away every single secret he knows to get her back. Pah! What’s he made of? Traitor to us all! How can he even think of giving away secrets for the sake of a silly girl?
Pretty harsh words – especially when you consider what they’re working on. A way giving us heat, light and power for almost nothing, is how George explains it, and a gift to mankind as Quentin himself puts it. So it’s not a dangerous weapon, or anything like that. If he’s going to gift it to mankind then does it matter if someone else makes the same invention/discovery somewhere else? Apart from the prestige, and money of course.
Elbur’s definitely as forgetful and fuddled as Quentin when it comes to real-life things. For example Elbur doesn’t know how many children Quentin has, and mistakes George for a boy, even though he is sending Berta to the same school as Quentin’s daughter and has obviously discussed this with Quentin.
Quentin surpasses even himself in terms of forgetfulness in this book, though. He seems to have a complete blind-spot when it comes to Berta. While most of us would make slip-ups if someone changed their name three times in one week, we’d hopefully be aware of it!
Quentin is the one Elbur talks to about sending Berta to stay and yet he can’t remember Berta’s name, not even when reading a letter from Elbur about Berta. He doesn’t know who she is when he sees her at breakfast the first morning – even though he knew she was arriving in the middle of the night. He then doesn’t recognise her when she has been disguised a boy, despite that letter being all about disguising her as a boy. In fact he is genuinely baffled as to who is standing in his house both times.
What with Berta then being Lesley/Leslie, of course Quentin starts calling her Berta, just a little bit too late, so it’s just as well that he and Fanny have gone off before she becomes Jane.
And to top it all off he absent-mindedly spreads mustard on his toast at breakfast time. According to Fanny it’s the second time that month that he’s confuse the mustard for marmalade. I know they were having bacon and eggs etc too, but mustard doesn’t strike me as something you should have on a breakfast table, especially if you have someone like Uncle Quentin in your house.
Quentin redeems himself
It appears that Quentin does care more than he lets on, though. While they are away Aunt Fanny calls and tells Joanna that Quentin has collapsed and is very ill. She says he has been working very hard, and the news of George being kidnapped was the last straw. Makes you wonder – would he actually give up his secrets for George if he was in Elbur’s shoes? As it is, it’s Elbur’s information they want, Quentin doesn’t know the figures they’re looking for.
There is one nice moment with Quentin, when Aunt Fanny insists on going with him to see Elbur. Her husband gave a sudden smile that lighted up his face and made him seem quite young. “Will you really come with me? I thought you’d hate to leave the children.” As crotchety as he is, I think he really loves his wife.
I also like how he deals with the police at the end of the book. They’ve been pretty useless throughout, and are standing open-mouthed as Julian and Dick try to explain how it is that George is back.
Well, look alive, man – they’ll escape before you can get them if you don’t hurry, he says. And then I want some coffee. I think we’ve talked enough. Do go and catch your kidnappers, my good men.
So in part 3 I will finally get to the rest of my comments, including a large section on George vs Berta, one on the food plus my nitpicks and other observations.