Last week I started my review of Billycock Hill, only six months after the previous book in the series. So as to not lose momentum, here’s part two.
Not the Five’s finest hours
Having refreshed my memory by reading the book I think that one of the reasons that it isn’t a favourite is that the Five really don’t do anything that brave or impressive throughout. They actually embarrass themselves quite a few times instead.
First up they ignore all the obvious KEEP OUT and NO TRESPASSING signs to swim near the airbase, having taken Toby’s word that it’s OK to do so.
They run out of Billycock Caves because of some whistling and wailing – and I don’t mean a tactical retreat I mean they run full-tilt out in terror and don’t return to investigate.
The boys, in their only moment of real investigating, get themselves captured and only escape thanks to Timmy coming to look for them. I have to say, that Will Janes must have been hardly able to believe his luck at that point. Having smashed the greenhouse with a rock, and claimed it was kids, and to then stumble on three kids to prove his point!
The whole mystery is solved by them reading two smudgy words printed on the back of a pig and then following Timmy’s nose down a couple of tunnels. To be fair they have almost nothing to go on, no concrete reason to believe that Jeff Thomas isn’t a traitor, no reason to believe he’s being held nearby. I think for me the book would have been stronger if the Five HAD seen something and were trying to find Jeff even if the police and/or the RAF didn’t believe them.
Saying that I actually read this one faster than some of the others, primarily because I compelled to find out what happened next. The curse/blessing of a terrible memory when it comes to book plots.
General things I noticed
Joan is still Joan. This is a mostly meaningless fact as I can’t remember when she changed from Joanna, the idea of noting these things was to build up a picture of the continuity or lack thereof, but it hasn’t worked very well. In another point, the Five are all introduced as Kirrins, despite there being a lot of debate about how that’s possible.
The holiday this time is Whitsun, which is one of those words I read in Blyton books and then realise I’ve no clue what it means. Religious holiday? Specific to the mid 20th century and earlier, or specific to England, or both?
To answer thanks to Google: it’s Christian, one of the many dates calculated in relation to Easter, and not a holiday celebrated in Scotland. It looks like it’s normally a Monday bank holiday in the rest of the UK, though the Five have two weeks off for Whitsun, so either it’s changed in the mean time or Blyton just liked to create random holidays.
Another thing I’ve no idea about is a Billycock hat. As soon as I read the first sentences of the book I recalled that the hill looked like the hat, hence the name, but what on earth is a billycock hat? Turns out its another name for a bowler hat, a hat designed by William Coke, or Billy Cock. Bowler comes from the fact it was mass produced by a company called Bowlers, so rather like calling a vacuum a Hoover.
There are some interesting word-choices through the book. The first being pigling, less common (and not accepted by my spell checker) than piglet – but we’ve all heard of Pigling Bland from Beatrix Potter.
Ices is also odd, when they’re talking about ice-creams. I remember the cheap choc-ices handed out at the end of school sports days, but to read ices and ice-tubs makes me think of literal ice, or at least ice-lollies.
Julian says we shan’t feed there of course rather than the more usual eat there. Blyton often uses yellow-haired as an alternative to the more common blonde
Toby’s dog Binky is another paw-shaker though George and Timmy don’t seem to mind at all, mind you, Binky doesn’t get to do anything heroic or useful!
One of the Five remarks that it would take a hurricane to blow the tents away, which is exactly what happened in The Sea of Adventure 11 years earlier.
Dick says I’m keen on planes. I’m going to fly one when I’m older and expresses interest in planes a couple more times, which is just as well as we’ve made him an RAF pilot in our stories.
The Five are shocked to sleep in until five past nine one morning, how absolutely shocking. I consider that a perfect time to sleep to, if I can get the chance! They’re all concerned about wasting the day if they sleep past seven it seems.
Toby’s dad doesn’t appear (or even get mentioned) until chapter 18, I was beginning to wonder if he was dead.
It’s not very common for Blyton to reference other books in hers (apart from plugging her own books!) but it does happen from time to time, Sherlock Holmes in the Five Find-Outers, for example. In this one it’s Alice in Wonderland –
‘Put that pig down, Anne, you must be tired of carrying it,’ said Dick. ‘You look like Alice in Wonderland. She carried a pig, too!’
Anne laughed. ‘It think it’s gone to sleep, just like Alice’s pig!’ she said. And so it had!
Toby’s younger brother is arguably the more interesting child of the Thomas family. Toby is a bit of a joker, but not as interesting as Pierre Lenoir or Jock Robbins, and not as infuriating as Richard Kent or Tinker Hayling.
Benny on the other hand is young enough to be cute and amusing with his pigling. According to his family he has had several odd pets over the years including a lamb and a pair of goslings.
Toby’s relationship with his brother is perhaps inconsistent – though I suppose that is quite realistic. The first thing he says about Benny is:
Benny’s a pet—he really is. Kid brothers are usually a nuisance, you know, but Benny isn’t.
Which sort of sets a tone that isn’t maintained through the rest of the book.
For a brother who’s a pet and not a nuisance, Toby is keen to get rid of the boy here:
Benny ran off on his fat little legs.
‘Well, we’ve got rid of him for a few minutes,’ said Toby.
This is after Toby upsets Benny by sticking a pot on his head! After which Toby says of Benny:
‘He’s all right. A bit of a cry-baby, though. I’m trying to bring him up properly—teasing him out of his babyishness, and making him stand on his own feet.’
It’s not said just how old Benny is, but at the beginning the Five think he can’t be older than five.
He’s also dismayed or irritated to see his brother appear here:
‘Oh, look there—here’s that little wretch Benny again—and the pigling!’
And of course there’s his joke about the ham on the table in the illustration above!
Benny doesn’t seem to take any of it to heart, though, and Toby is genuinely frightened and upset when Benny goes missing from the farm later, immediately rushing off to look for him.
I was actually quite horrified at that part, actually. This is the first time I’ve read the book since becoming a parent, and the idea that Mrs Thomas went off thinking Benny was with his father and/or brother, while they thought he had gone off with his mother is awful. In this day and age it would be classed as total negligence! It wasn’t just that Benny slipped away from those on the farm, it’s that they assumed he wasn’t there in the first place!
I think I will have to leave it there for this week, and return another week for the nitpicks, the copious amounts of food in this book and a few points about George, Uncle Quentin and Mr Gringle.