Right, here we are at part three and I’m not letting this review turn into a four-parter, so get ready as this
might will be a lengthy post… I’ve already written about Berta and some similarities to other Blyton books and Uncle Quentin and Elbur Wright, now for all the rest.
George vs Berta
Often George gets her own section, all about her pretending to be a boy. This time we’ve got that plus Berta forced into dressing as a boy.
Elbur mistakes George for a boy (I must say, you’ve got a fine boy he says to Quentin) and ruffles George’s hair which she normally hates but she grins because he thinks she’s a boy. This is cancelled out by the fact that the policemen call George Miss George, and she doesn’t complain.
Naturally George is very annoyed that Berta is going to be disguised as a boy. As she showed with Henrietta in the previous book she likes to be the only one. Berta to be a boy! Goodness! If ever anyone looked less like a boy it was Berta! George was most annoyed. She loved to dress like a boy, but she didn’t feel inclined to urge anyone else to!
To be fair I think George gets a raw deal sometimes. Nobody really takes her seriously, and in fact she’s repeatedly told she doesn’t make a good boy because her hair is too curly. This was brought up in the last book, and it was just as silly then as it is now. This time it’s Aunt Fanny peddling the idea that boys can’t have curly hair, and Berta makes a better boy as she has straight hair. Though apparently Berta’s hair has grown so much in one week that she no longer looks so much like a boy. How fast does her hair grow? I bet it had been a lot longer than a week since Julian, Dick or George had haircuts.
Now, while I understand George is annoyed by everyone fawning over a girl who doesn’t even want to be a boy she kind of had it in for Berta even before then. She (and the others) aren’t keen on a stranger tagging along with them for the rest of the holidays but when she hears another dog is coming she gets quite silly. Yes, it’s possible that any two dogs might not get along, but people introduce dogs all the time. Unless they have a dog who goes wild at the sight of another dog (which Timmy categorically does not) then they simply assume that everything will be fine when a friend visits and brings a dog.
The funny thing is that Timmy is eminently sensible, much more so than George, and when he’s told to accept new people/dogs/monkeys etc he does. He only ever fights with dogs that threaten him or the Five. Or ones he’s been told to hate like Tinker.
This is where George gets silly, telling Timmy to hate the other dog and to growl at it so that it can’t stay. That’s petty even for her.
Lastly, George is also petty when it comes to talking about Berta’s new identity. She knows that Berta could be in real danger and when everyone is saying they must remember to call him by his new name she buts in with hers and shes. There are a lot of theories out there about Blyton predicting Google with her google buns and so on, and they’re mostly nonsense, but given the current gender identity arguments going on right now I thought this little scene was really interesting. It struck me as a parallel to many trans or nonbinary people’s experiences today where they are being deliberately misgendered by others.
It’s good to see Jo back but I’d say this is her smallest role of her three books.
It is amusing that although George and Jo have a grudging friendship they could be united in their dislike of Berta. Jo can’t stand the girl, as she thinks that Berta should go and announce that they’ve kidnapped the wrong girl so that George would be freed.
Jo doesn’t turn up until page 133, after Jane, aka Berta, has gone to stay with her. She immediately recognises Gringo as belonging to the fair and wants to go there straight away in the dark. Julian forbids her to take his bike, and thinks that’s the end of it. But of course as he says She is a pickle and a scamp and a scallywag but her heart’s in the right place, and she simply takes Dick’s bike instead. This causes Julian to upgrade his assessment of her to a monkey, a gallant, plucky, loyal, aggravating monkey.
At least Jo leaves a note on the doorstep in the morning and cleans the bike before returning it. I think they forgive her because she turns up the information they need via her friend Spiky, and then of course she is instrumental in the rescue at the end.
Not the end of this post – you wish! – but the end of the story.
This is the part that I don’t remember so well. I remember the boys going around the house without any luck and Jo opening the coal-hole for them to find, and Dick tripping over a cat but that’s about it.
It’s strange how this part hasn’t stuck with me. Maybe it’s because to begin with it’s just Julian and Dick. Or because they’re a bit stupid and don’t think about climbing the gates for a good few minutes. Nor do they realise Jo has followed them even though Dick does say he has a feeling someone else is there. Then they can’t find their way in until Jo shows it to them.
To refresh my memory as much as yours, they lock various people in their rooms, find George in a cistern room and rescue her, but Dick steps on the cat on the stairs, Timmy chases the cat, and wakes up the men who shove the three children into a room. Then they have a stand-off as Timmy is loose in the hall so the men who weren’t locked in don’t dare come out. And finally Jo reveals herself and lets them out. Then it’s back home to fall asleep, before Aunt Fanny, Uncle Quentin, Elbur, Berta and the police turn up in the morning and nobody really knows what’s going on.
And all the rest
Now, finally, for the observations and nitpicks. First, the food. Mystery Moor was light on meals, or at least, descriptions of meals, but there is loads of food in Five Have Plenty of Fun – must be because Joanna is around!
- Their first picnic is neatly packed sandwiches, packets of biscuits and chocolate. A bag contained ripe plums, and there were two bottles of lemonade. The lemonade is home-made and icy-cold. Plus in Dick’s words – A fruit cake – a whole fruit cake – we’re in luck.
- For Timmy George packed some biscuits and a bone and a pot of paste. She even spreads the paste on the biscuits for him.
- The next picnic has sardine sandwiches with tomatoes, and egg-and-lettuce sandwiches (this is a slight rearrangement of fillings from Mystery Moor where they have egg and sardine sandwiches, and tomato and lettuce ones. I’m not sure I’m a fan of any of those combos!)
- They receive a hamper of American goodies from Elbur. It contains snick-snacks (I can’t find any evidence of this being a real product or brand), shrimp, lobster, crab and a dozen other things all in one tin, with which Dick says they’ll make sandwiches with and Gorgies which Anne supposes is something you gorge yourself on.
- A meal indoors is Ham and salad and new potatoes piled high in a big dish. There were firm red tomatoes from the greenhouse, and lettuces with enormous yellow-green hearts, crisp radishes, and a whole cucumber for anyone to cut as they liked. Slices of hard-boiled egg were mixed in with the salad, and Joan had put in tiny boiled carrots and peas as well, with Fresh raspberries from the garden, sugar and home-made ice-cream.
- Despite all the food on offer the Five forget to have breakfast and tea (on separate days!)
- One breakfast is a plain [one] of boiled eggs toast and butter, and after the forgotten tea Joanna offers them bacon and eggs as a treat.
- Their celebration breakfast at the end of the book is bacon, eggs, tomatoes, fried bread and mushrooms, lots and lots of hot coffee and toast and marmalade.
There was a lot of sleeping in this book (following nicely from Anne sleeping through everything in Mystery moor!)
- Anne sleeps through Berta arriving in the night and later through Sally being brought down to the bedroom, then falls straight back to sleep once George takes the poodle out
- Dick sleeps through Jo throwing stones at the bedroom window and Julian speaking to her from inside
- Joanna and Anne go off to bed as normal even though the boys have gone out to rescue George – in a nice twist they actually don’t manage much sleep
- Everyone sleeps through Aunt Fanny etc arriving home in the morning
While they don’t run into any policemen as awful as Goon or the one in Hike, the police they do see are not as in awe of the Five as they often are, and so they don’t really work together at all.
- The police say they shouldn’t have arranged to move Jane without consulting them, and Julian is quite taken aback.
- They also say that this can’t be dealt with by children, and when asked if they (the police) can get George back the sergeant’s answer is a hardly comforting maybe.
- Dick suggests it might be better to tell the kidnappers that it is not Berta that they have, the response No you leave this to us. You’ll only hinder us if you interfere or try meddling on your own. You just sit back and take things easy. The children’s version of don’t worry your pretty little head, said by a policeman to a women.
- Dick asks what they’re going to do to get George back (seeing as they seem to have done nothing so far to protect Berta or rescue George!) and the sergeant says that George is in no danger. She’s not the person they want, they will free her as soon as they realise that. Well it is a Blyton book so we know she isn’t really going to be murdered but that’s a bit of a blasé attitude!
- The police aren’t very interested in any of the clues the boys find, in fact they suggest they’re probably not clues at all.
Possible nitpicks I have found:
- The Five realise very late that Sally is an obvious sign that Berta is at Kirrin and the adults obviously don’t consider it at all
- First Berta is to sleep on a camp bed in the girls’ room, even though it’s a real squash. This early in the book Joan/Joanna hasn’t even been mentioned but later we see that she is at Kirrin Cottage and still has the attic room. Yet it’s not until much later on that Berta is sent to sleep in her room, as Jo had done in Five Fall Into Adventure. Is that because Jo was more equal to the hired help while Berta is above her?
- When Berta moves to Joanna’s room Joanna says she will shut the window for extra safety – but in Five Fall Into Adventure it’s said that she always sleeps with her window shut.
- Kirrin Castle has it’s one whole room still, the room that was supposed to have been destroyed after Five on a Treasure Island yet was back in Five on Kirrin Island Again.
- James has George’s boat for ages. Every time she checks he promises he will fix it but then goes out fishing, then he promises to have it done that evening, but it’s not ready until 2pm the next day – what has he been doing to it?
- Anne tells the shop-girl that their friend Leslie is staying, but of course, the shop-girl can’t tell she’s pronouncing it with an ie and not an ey!
- When grabbing George the kidnapper says this is the one, the one with curly hair even though Berta has long blonde hair and George has short dark hair. Julian says that the kidnappers were looking for a girl dressed as a boy. Why? Is that because they knew if Sally was there then Berta was there, but the only new child was a boy, ergo it was Berta? Elbur could have spirited Berta away elsewhere and asked the Kirrins to care for Sally to prevent Berta’s identity being given away by the dog.
- When they go to the fair Anne has to stay home with Sally in case she is recognised, but why can’t they just leave Sally with Joanna?
- Gringo has George – who has been kicking and screaming – in his caravan and all he does to hide her better is move the caravan across the field. I know he is relying on his workers being too scared to get any closer but all it would take is George opening a window or door and screaming.
- Joan is strangely forgetful twice – first about the telegram saying that uncle Quentin and and Aunt Fanny will be away a whole week, and again about a phone call from aunt Fanny who saying he is better and they are coming home as soon as possible. Neither have any major impact on the plot so why doesn’t Joan just tell the Five as soon as she sees them?
Unusual words and phrases
- Fanny has a soup-cup out for Berta, what is the difference between that and a normal cup? Is it one of those shallow, wider ones, like a bowl with a handle?
- George’s dressing gown has a girdle which to me is one of those corset-like things, rather than a tie or sash.
- Jo says of Spiky You can say what you like. He’s an oyster, he is. I assume she means shut tight like a clam?
- George is being held in the cistern room. To me a cistern is what holds water for your toilet, but in this case I assume it’s a room with some sort of water tank in it.
And all the really random stuff that is less easy to categorise…
- When Elbur called to say Quentin had to come help with the figures I did wonder if this could be a ruse to leave Berta less protected, but it’s too convoluted to work
- Alf is James again
- It’s just as well it was Anne and not George who saw the light on the island at night, given George’s overreaction in Five Run Away Together
- Julian and Dick agree to break one of the cycling rules they’re usually so hot on, and let George come back on the bike step because it’s urgent
- It is summer, so it’s not long since the events of Mystery Moor.
- Uncle Quentin is working on something that will give us heat, light and power for almost nothing… a gift to mankind. How I wish that was true!
- They plan to go fishing in lobster cove, which I don’t recall ever being mentioned before. They also plan to explore the caves in the cliffs – well, if they did I’m sure they’d find secret passages or some sort of other adventure!
- Both Timmy and Sally sleep on their respective mistresses’ feet, even though Timmy was strictly supposed to sleep in his basket in the earlier books
- Uncle Quentin is called the master, and it’s Miss Anne, Miss George, and Miss Berta, plus Mam for Aunt Fanny.
- I love the line Clever old Timmy knew that this was one of the times when joy must be dumb
- There is mention of a paper boy who is scared of dogs. I assume that this is not Sid from Five Fall Into Adventure.
And finally my last thoughts. For the first time during lockdown I actually enjoyed reading about other locations and nice weather. Previously it had just made me feel a bit miserable, this I definitely longed to be on a sunny beach, with a book and an ice cream of course, but I suppose the difference is this time it doesn’t seem like such an unobtainable goal.
It always surprises me how certain books can provoke me to write thousands of words (this one has reached well over 5,000 by this point, I mean that’s longer than the dissertation I wrote in my final year at uni…) but others only get one post. It doesn’t even seem consistent as to whether favourite or least favourite books get long write ups or shorter ones. If you’d asked me a few weeks ago, I’d not have predicted I’d have such a lot to say about this book.