George as a boy
I think another reason this isn’t one of my favourites is that George takes rather a back-seat in this book. She doesn’t show very much of her trademark attitude at all.
She is pleased when Mr Gringle mistakes her for a boy, but throughout the book she and Anne are relegated to cooking and washing up, and she doesn’t complain even once. At one point the boys discuss aeroplanes and flying while the girls bustle around with the household (or camphold?) duties.
When the boys decide to go down to the butterfly farm at night to do some reconnaissance George doesn’t even suggest she might go, she’s perfectly happy to stay at the tents with Anne. This is a far cry from the George of Five Go Off to Camp, where she ties a string from their tent to her toe so they can’t sneak off without her.
She doesn’t come off against Toby very well when he plays a trick on her. She always says she’s not afraid of spiders (according to the others, anyway) but when she sees the one Toby has hung above her she leaps out of her seat, and is left looking a bit silly when it’s revealed to be fake. She does have a few strong words for Toby after but I don’t feel that she got even, at that point anyway.
Shortly after the spider incident George does express an interest in aeroplanes, saying they would interest me as much as you!
Toby (foolishly) retorts but you’re a girl! Girls don’t understand the first thing about aeroplanes or motor-cars or ships – or spiders either, come to that! I really don’t think you’d be interested, Georgina, dear.
George does answer back, but only with My name is not Georgina. And don’t call me dear! before Julian tells them off for squabbling.
She does, at least, her her own back a little later when she gives Toby a good ducking in the pool. He then swims after her to try to duck her, but she outswims him.
Dick remarks I back old George. She’d out swim most boys.
Toby further antagonises George towards the end of the book when he says that lime-washing is a messy job – job for boys, not girls. He is genuinely surprised that he has offended George with that, as he has forgotten that she doesn’t like to be girlish. He runs back and asks her to weed his mother’s garden by way of apology, and George accepts…
There are a fair few descriptions of meals in this book – more so than a few other recent ones. Largely due to Mrs Thomas at Billycock Farm providing them with so much to eat!
Their first meal – a picnic packed from Kirrin Cottage is not the most inspiring they’ve had. Ham and tomato sandwiches, fruit cake and orangeade with humbugs to follow. What’s interesting is they drink the orangeade out of disposable cardboard cups. In some past books they’ve had a camping cup or two, so I wonder if disposable cups are a sign of the times.
At Billycock Farm they are treated to a large ham, crusty loaves of new bread, crisp lettuces, radishes, an enormous cake, a dish of scones, great slabs of butter and jugs of creamy milk, with honey and home made jam.
They have a light supper one night, just bread and cheese. A tomato or two. Icy cold milk. Strawberries to finish. Only the Five (and possibly my mother) could call a two course meal a light supper.
One breakfast consists of boiled eggs, bread, butter, tomatoes and milk to drink.
Disaster strikes as the larder runs low one morning and they have to breakfast on bread, butter and cheese, drinking water, but sustaining themselves on humbugs after.
Their last meal is a ‘banquet’ though it’s just eggs, ham, bread, butter and salad.
Uncle Quentin and Mr Gringle
Uncle Quentin is only in the first few pages but even so he manages to fall over the children as they are on the floor reading their map. He then rants about not being able to find anything, it’s because he’s tidied his own desk and then forgotten about it.
I’m sure I mentioned this in an earlier part of the review but I feel that Mr Gringle could give Uncle Quentin a run for his money in the surly stakes. He has a similar attitude in that he’s pleased when someone shows an intelligent interest in his work (his work being of utmost importance to the exclusion of everything else) but has little patience for anyone he thinks is playing the fool or is lacking in brains.
Mr Gringle is so focussed on his work he has entirely missed four men living in his housekeeper’s room, and I can imagine that he would go out butterfly hunting and forget to eat.
And lastly – the nitpicks!
There are some famous mistakes in the series, and I’ve found two definite ones here.
Firstly, there’s the matter of the food parcel from Billycock Farm.
In the farmyard Julian says Well let’s start – We’ve got everything in the hand cart now. We’ll just wait for the food.
Firstly, are they starting then, or are they waiting? Soon Toby brings a package of food for them and The others arranged everything neatly in the useful little hand cart. The handcart that everything is already in, they’re just supposed to be adding a food parcel. I thought that perhaps the Five had opened the parcel in order to fit loose food items on the cart, but no, Anne unpacks the parcel at camp later.
Secondly, at the start of chapter six the Five plus Toby are about to follow Mr Gringle to Butterfly farm for a tour. Benny and Curly catch up to them and Toby gives his brother a telling off for coming after them, but tells them to tag along. Benny asks Mr Gringle if his butterflies are afraid of dogs or pigs, and then that’s the last we hear of the two of them. There’s a few references to “the children” and “everyone” along the way, but they go to the farm, have the run-in with Mrs Janes, return to camp where Toby plays his spider trick, and then on to the pool for a swim. At no point are Benny and Curly said to have returned to Billycock Farm.
Dale Vincero, a frequent commenter on this site has picked up on a few things which I will quote below, as I didn’t spot them:
That depiction on the front cover of an aircraft in that posture is seconds away from crashing!
I know very little about aircraft, but it does seem at a strange angle. Perhaps it is executing a roll, or spin, but it’s very low!
On page 77 and 78, cousin Jeff says that since the Five arrived to camp, they would have been quietly checked out by the Military from the airbase. Yet on page 114, the same military know absolutely nothing about the onsite Butterfly Farm and its various men coming and going – personnel who are permanent residents there. And all this within a few hundred metres from of the airbase… !!
This is a bit of a blooper, but you could put it down to character error – as in it is Jeff who has made an incorrect assumption.
There is also a mistake re the storyline in p88, p143. It was actually Julian who gave the money to old Mrs Janes, not Dick. Yet later the storyline insists it was Dick who handed over the money. In later FF books, they have corrected this, with the text having Dick hand over the money.
I have a later edition so mine has already been corrected, if it hadn’t I may have noticed this one!
So there you have it, finally, a review of Five Go to Billycock Hill. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, but nor was it significantly better. Time spent with the Five can never be truly bad (unless it’s someone else writing them!) but this one doesn’t quite capture the best of the Five.