Last time I wrote a lot about Mr Luffy and the Andrews/Robbins family, and very little about the actual storyline or adventure. Let me remedy that now!
The big adventure
Now I’ve just read the book in the past week and yet I’m back to being confused by the order of events. While reading it I knew what would happen but I wasn’t certain of the order and I’m not much wiser now. I’ve had to flick through the book to work it all out.
To avoid a dull summary I won’t do it in order. I’ll start with that despite the boys making three trips to the yard/tunnel they only find the train and its hiding place when the baddies walk them right up to it. It’s George who finds it, with Timmy.
The boys see the train on their first trips – all three sneak down to Olly’s yard one night and witness a train with no lights which comes out of the tunnel, goes down to the yard for a bit, then comes back. I was struck by how frightening this bit could be!
“It’s only a train going through one of the underground tunnels – the noise is echoing out through this one.”
“It isn’t. That noise is make by a train coming through this tunnel!”
Dick’s Blow, I’ve twisted my ankle! is a line from the cassette tape that I remember well, and it explains why the three boys don’t follow the train to the yard or do any more investigating at the time.
Naturally Julian and Dick go back to the tunnel another night. Dick watches from the Olly’s Yard end where the train comes out, then goes back in, and Julian goes across the top to Kilty Vale where he finds a lot of small buildings, but no train ever appears. So they’ve seen the train twice but are no further forward. You can’t fault them for trying, though, as they’ve even gone into the nearest town to do some research.
Blyton likes her knowledgeable old men characters (Lucas from Five Have a Mystery to Solve, Jeremiah Boogle from Five Go to Demon’s Rocks, Old Grandad from Ring O Bell’s Mystery, to name a few) and in this one is Tucky, an old porter. He knows all about the tunnels.
He gives the children (minus George) a map and I wish we got to see it too, to help me keep it all in my head. I’m rubbish at imagining outdoor things, I always lump everything far too close together and then it makes no sense. In my mind Olly’s Yard is a matter of a few metres from the tunnel opening, and the other end of the tunnel at Kilty Vale is visible to anyone standing atop the tunnel. Not the fault of the author at all – it’s all my useless brain! (I find my mental image of Kirrin Island is just as silly with everything so close together half the plots would never work.)
In my defense the illustrations don’t help – they put Sam’s hut very close to the tunnel entrance, though on different sides!
Anyway, the layout is that there’s a tunnel a mile or so long leading from Olly’s Yard to Kilty Vale. Halfway down this is a branch that once led to Roker’s Vale but it was bricked up due to the roof falling in years ago. The Olly/Kilty tunnel is open but hasn’t been used in years.
Now, George has the basics of this information but hasn’t seen the map or heard the full story but she and Timmy go off anyway. They have a run in with Wooden-Leg Sam and then go up on top of the tunnel where Timmy falls into a hole. A bit like in Five On a Treasure Island he gets stuck halfway down, but this time it’s a vent not a well. He and George reach the bottom and find themselves in the main tunnel, right next to a spook train. I know it’s accidental but she’s able to walk up to it and even get inside, discovering it’s full of boxes. Also accidentally she discovers where the train has been hiding – SPOILER – there is a portion of the bricked up tunnel which opens, revealing a portion of tunnel before another brick wall. The train, along with George and Timmy chuffs its way into this secret space, trapping them inside. – END SPOILER –
Meanwhile Julian, Dick, Jock and Anne explore the tunnel. They walk all the way from Olly’s Yard to Kilty Vale, where a load of weeds tell them that the train clearly never comes that far. The boys head back along the tunnel – while Anne goes across the top – and discover the lines are dull and rusty all the way to the blocked off bit of tunnel.
At this point the story is split to three viewpoints and we have Anne who can see Mr Andrews and some of his men going into the tunnel before the boys have come out. The boys are captured and manhandled into the train’s hiding space. It’s nicely ironic that they wanted so badly to find the train and then end up tied up beside it. It’s also ironic that George – who was banned from any night time excursions – it the one who found it first and then is able to untie the boys to facilitate their escape.
It’s all sorted out quite neatly at the end, Anne fetches Mr Luffy and he brings the police with him. The bad guys are all arrested and the Five go back to the farm for a wash and a meal.
George is as good as a boy
As I’ve said above it’s George that find the train and rescues the boys. I’ve seen a few people say they can’t stand George in this book because of her whining/complaining/stropping but I think that’s unfair.
She gets a bit sulky when Anne tells her that she must help with preparing food and the washing up. She has a point, though. She’s only got to do that because she’s a girl. The boys don’t have to bother with any of that stuff. Ask her to fetch firewood or carry buckets of water and I bet she’d be quite happy.
She and Julian have a real row at one point and neither of them come out of it well. George is needlessly unkind in calling Anne a coward and blaming her for the boys leaving them both behind. Julian calls her out on it:
You’re behaving like a girl, for all you think you’re as good as a boy! Saying catty things like that!
He reinforces the idea that girls are inferior to boys there, just like he did in the last book. He also declares that the adventure belongs to he and Dick, perhaps Jock, but not either of the girls.
I have mixed ideas as to his thought process. Part of his reasoning is that Anne can’t be left at camp alone – but Mr Luffy’s tent is quite close. I suspect it’s 50/50 that and him just believing George shouldn’t be involved as she is a girl. He and Dick know fine they are going to upset George but are pretty blatant about going off anyway, more or less laughing in her face that they’re boys and can do what they like. Not their finest moments in the series. Vaguely related, the boys behave surprisingly like hooligans on their first visit to Olly’s Yard and shove some of the railway trucks along the tracks so they crash into each other.
Anyway, George does get one moment of happiness when Jock compliments her by saying he had thought she was a boy to start with.
Questions, comments and nitpicks
As usual the start of the book gives us a pointer as to where this adventure fits into a timeline (though if you add it up the children should be in their twenties by the last book).
They mention Last summer when we went off in caravans – though omit any mention of the adventure they had in Kirrin in the spring! We can assume this is just a few months later, though.
They eat some strange things this time around. Mr Luffy’s shared sandwiches are cucumber dipped in vinegar, and spam and lettuce. Anne says those are nicer than theirs, making me wonder what on earth is in their sandwiches. Tripe?
Interestingly on more than one occasion they have dinner (mid day) then tea (late afternoon) then a light meal in the evening. I’d have expected them to have lunch at midday, because to them dinner would be an evening meal.
They also have sardines and fruitcake for breakfast one day, which even Mr Luffy approves of.. yuck.
Some of my random observances;
Blyton overuses queer in this book. It’s used seven times across the scene where the Five meet Wooden-Leg Sam for the first time, and several more times in relation to him elsewhere in the book.
Anne and her volcano occurs a lot earlier than I remember, but I do remember and enjoy Mr Luffy’s little jokes about it later.
Tucky names Olly’s Yard, Roker’s Vale and Kilty Vale but they are also referred to as Roker’s Yard Kilty’s Yard on several occasions.
At one point Dick says No wonder Jock’s tubby. I honestly don’t remember every reading that before! I’ve never thought of Jock as tubby and he doesn’t look it in the illustrations.
I wonder how this one has been updated. For one, is it still a steam train? And secondly seeing as it’s all about black market goods, is it now iPads and other modern items rather than tea and sugar?
I think it’s a great pity that we don’t find out how the train’s hiding place was thought of and created. The Five make a brief supposition but I’d love to know more about it all.
I also have a lot of questions and nitpicks…
Who is paying Wooden-Leg Sam to watch? And what is he watching for? He is terrified of the spook trains, which suggests he doesn’t know that it’s a real train, yet at the end he’s the one that summons Mr Andrews because the children are in the tunnel. Has he been in their pay all along, or has Mr Andrews just recently paid or threatened him into doing that?
Further to that, if Olly’s Yard is deserted why does it a) still have train tracks that go all the way to Kilty Vale, b) have a watchman and c) still have wagons and other stuff sitting around. It’s all been closed for years, since Tucky was a young man. A bit different from Beeching’s cuts but you’d think they’d still lift the track and reuse it, and remove all the other properties of the company.
What doesn’t make sense is why they move the train in the middle of the day, when George has found it. Surely the whole point of a hidden space is that the train hides! It only comes out to collect goods. Anyone rambling in the area could have walked into the tunnel and come across the train loaded with black market goods. Also at this point a great lamp on the side of the tunnel comes on. If you’re hiding a secret operation it’s probably wise not to install a massive lamp, even if it’s off someone could see it and there’s no good explanation for it.
The whole using of the railway is part genius and part way over complicated. Stolen goods come to Olly’s Farm in lorries and stay a night or two. Then they go down to Olly’s Yard and are loaded onto a train which then gets hidden inside the tunnels. Later the goods come out a side door and onto lorries again.
So, firstly why not take the stuff straight to Olly’s Yard. Or better, straight to that side door and do away with the train nonsense. I suppose the train is part goods moving and part ‘stay away this place is scary’, but it seems like a lot of effort.
Talking of the side door… George and the boys can’t get out of it because – they suppose – the men have jammed something against it from outside. There’s no lock, so it isn’t just locked. I imagine it could be padlocked, but they believe it’s jammed which, to them, makes sense. They say it’s probably hidden too. The idea that they would simply jam something against it makes no sense though as they are wanting to prevent anyone getting in, not out!
And lastly there’s a conversation I have never been able to make head nor tail of. I won;t copy the whole thing but the important points are below:
“Come tomorrow,” said Dick.
“I can’t,” said Jock. “He’s gone and arranged for me to meet Cecil Dearlove.”
“Oh blow, so you won’t be able to come tomorrow either,” said Julian. “Well, what about the next day?”
“It should be all right,” said Jock. “But I’ve a feeling I’ll have dear Cecil planked on me for the day.”
“Well if you can’t come tomorrow either, and perhaps not the next day, what about going one night?” said Dick.
What day is Cecil is going to be ‘planked’ (as a Scot I would have used the word plonked in that context!) on Jock? If it’s the day after tomorrow why does he say it should be all right? If he’s referring to the next day, then the day after should be ok, and they wouldn’t have to go at night.
Five Go Off to Camp came out in a lowly 16th place on my list of favourites from the series. I’m mildly surprised at that now, as I did enjoy it. I do love the spook train and the (confusing) tunnels, but I stand by the comment I made on that list about how long the real adventure takes to get going.