Nostalgic Bookshelf

Snarky recaps of nostalgic media, including Making Out, Baywatch, Blyton and Baby-Sitter's Club
20
Sep 2018
Famous Five #7: Five Go Off to Camp by Enid Blyton

Famous Five #7: Five Go Off to Camp by Enid Blyton

Title: Famous Five #7: Five Go Off to Camp by Enid Blyton

Summary: Spook trains in the dead of night! And they seem to vanish into thin air – but where do they go? The Famous Five are on to it! But discovery of an unusual underground tunnel system, and a secret train-service, has them puzzled. If they follow the tracks, will they solve the mystery?

Initial Thoughts

Spook trains, secret, underground tunnels, and a mystery? Sounds like a typical Blyton holiday. And also like an A++ story for me to recap. Halloween season starts 1 September and so we are well into it. SPOOK TRAINS AND GO.

[Dove: I always wished that we could have a supernatural Famous Five – like the way Sweet Valley would leap off into the supernatural and then do an Etch-A-Sketch reset.]

Recap

Dick starts us off with a quick inventory: 2 tents, 4 groundsheets, 4 sleeping bags — but why doesn’t Timmy have a sleeping bag, Dick asks, and they all fall out laughing, even Timmy, or at least the Timmy equivalent, which is thumping his tail against the ground while he’s grinning wide. Which is actually a little creepy the way Blyton talks about it. [Dove: Leave this with me, but if you look at one of my cats side-on, it looks like he’s grinning. And it’s unique to that cat, the other and Mum’s cat don’t look like they’re smiling from the side. It’s really hard to take a picture of, because he’s a preener. If he notices me paying attention, he’ll clamber all over me until I make a big fuss of him. See:]

Dove's cat smiles

Dove’s cat smiles

They’re going camping by themselves, and Dick is surprised that their parents are going to allow them to go by themselves, not after that caravan adventure. Anne points out that Mr Luffy will be camping nearby and keeping an eye on them, but he’s really going to study moorland insects and Dick is certain that he’ll be distracted the entire time. That’s still more adult supervision than you’ve had on some of your adventures. [Necromommycon: Mr. Luffy basically reads like an elderly version of Gussie Fink-Nottle. ]

If you’re wondering who Mr Luffy is, because I am, we’re quickly told that he’s a master at the boys’ school, “an elderly, dreamy fellow with a passion for studying all kinds of insect-life.” Anne avoids him because his bugs are always getting loose, but when exactly do you see him, Anne? He teaches at a completely different school than yours, doesn’t he?
[Necromommycon: My favourite thing is when Julian tells a story about Mr. Luffy taking two chaps out in his car for a day’s run, and forgetting they were there and coming home without them. That doesn’t prove he’s absent-minded, Julian, it proves he’s smart enough to try to lose your ilk on the moors. ]

Anyway, this camping trip has them living in tents on the high moors where they can all do anything they want, including Timmy chasing rabbits. There’s not going to be a werewolf, is there? Because this sounds like a setup for a werewolf story, and I really want a werewolf story. In short: WEREWOLVES. [Dove: I have a draft file called “The Five, The Twins, and the Werewolf” (if you say it aloud, it’s a much better title than it looks written down), but it’s not gotten very far yet.] [Wing: I love you.]

George threatens to gag Anne with a hanky if she doesn’t be quiet (and let the boys talk, natch, goddamn it, George, I love you, don’t be terrible), and we get more of the list. Dick thinks it’s almost as fun planning a holiday as having it, which is true. [Dove: Pro tip: If you don’t like planning, holiday with Wing. Though, on balance, even if you do like planning, holiday with Wing.]

They check out a map of where they’re going, there are very few small farms scattered about the vast moors; it’s hard for farms to make a living on the poor land, though there is a small farm near where they’re camping that will supply them with milk, eggs, and butter. Always a very convenient farm nearby, and Julian can continue his sexual explorations across all the farms in England.

They talk about how the moors are covered in snow in the winter (so much so that they have to dig out the sheep when they get lost) and that they might be windy and cold in the summer. This still sounds like the start of a werewolf story, but also like a holiday I will never in a lifetime take oh my god. [Dove: You know what’s in Yorkshire, beside me? The Yorkshire Dales. Get over here.] [Wing: BUT IS IT WINDY AND COLD IN THE SUMMER?]

When the sleeping bags arrive, the kids sleep in them in their rooms that night and everyone but Anne complains about Timmy trying to climb into the sleeping bag with them (George), flopping on their stomach (Julian), and turning in circles on top of him (Dick). In fact, Anne calls Dick on his exaggeration.

Finally the time comes to head out. Mr Luffy shows up late, but he does show up, they get the trailer and the car loaded, and “Julian’s mother” shouts for them not to get into an awful adventure. (a) Wishful thinking and (b) as if she’s only Julian’s mother.

Mr Luffy is a terrible driver, Julian keeps reminding him to drive slower because oh god of course we’re in that time when Julian is perfect at everything aren’t we, Mr Luffy is thrilled with going on the holiday and is looking forward to teaching the kids a lot. The kids think he looks strange but they like him. He’s gentle and odd and untidy and forgetful and protective.

Sandwiches at lunch, provided by Mrs Luffy: cucumber dipped in vinegar, ham and lettuce, egg, and sardine. Some of those sound great, some of those sound terrible.

Timmy takes the last bite of a sandwich from Mr Luffy’s hand, because he’s supposed to get the last bite of all of them, but this is bullshit. You don’t let your dog do that to people. Come on. COME ON.

Oooh, ginger beer and ripe plums finish off the meal.

When they finally see the moors, it does sound beautiful: heather-covered moorland … wild and lonely and beautiful, blazing with heather, and shading off into a purple-blue in the distance. UGH that sounds great, I want to go, and yet the cold! THE COLD!

(Still needs more werewolves.)

They have tea once they arrive at the campsite, this time because Anne set aside lots of the sandwiches and cake specifically for tea-time. God forbid anyone but Anne deals with making sure the food is handled.

Mr Luffy does want to camp near the kids, but then realises they probably want to be able to get up to silly games and such, and so he decides to camp down by the old gorse bush, where he’ll be out of the wind, leaving them with the half-circle of gorse bushes that will shelter them from the wind. This is actually quite adorable. [Dove: Didn’t I tell you that gorse bushes fucking rock in the Blyton-verse?]

Once everything is set up, they’re all off to sleep, though the kids have a bar of chocolate each and a few biscuits. They all fall asleep quickly.

The next morning, Julian wakes up to a strange cry of “coor-lie” ringing across the moors. It takes him a second, but he realises he’s camping and that cry is from a curlew, a moor bird. I’m going to believe everything is correct when it comes to birds in this book. I am not a bird person. Dove is, though. Maybe she’ll weigh in.

(Yes, I realise, I’m not going for the easy pun.) [Dove: I’m not really a twitcher, I just get besotted by the sparrows and starlings that used to visit my old house. And I really liked a bird we saw in Calfornia until it tried to kill Wing.] [Wing: I’m pretty sure you and Raven liked it even more after it tried to kill me, because it certainly left the entire street laughing.]

He falls back asleep, wakes later to the girls being up already, they have breakfast (bacon rashers and tomatoes and bread fried in the fat), and Anne says she’ll look after the food side but George has to take care of meal prep and washing up. George gets sulky over this, because she doesn’t like those things the way Anne does. I get sulky because THERE ARE TWO OTHER PEOPLE CAMPING WITH YOU OH MY GOD. [Necromommycon: Seriously. There are three people in your group, Anne, all equally capable of washing a goddamned dish. It’s amazing how these books simultaneously make me feel cozy and restful but also murderous.]

Julian goes to wake Mr Luffy, but he’s already gone. They freak out, but then Dick remembers that if his bug-tin is gone, he’s off doing collecting work, and it is, so they feel better.

Anne sends all of them off to the farmhouse while she does the cleaning up, so (a) bringing George in to help didn’t last long and (b) ONCE AGAIN YOU ARE ALL CAMPING TOGETHER YOU SHOULD ALL HELP WITH THE WORK.

She finishes before they get back and takes herself off on her own walk. While she’s relaxing later, she hears a weird sound from underground, a rumble and a roar, and she’s afraid that there’s going to be an earthquake.

Then there’s a shriek and a cloud of white smoke comes right out of the ground.

Anne is completely freaked out now, terrified they’re staying on top of a volcano that is about to blow, and I’m trying really hard not to laugh at her over it, because that is a freaky thing she’s just seen, but — does England have a single volcano? [Dove: I wanted to say no, but realised this is the kind of thing that seems so obvious that you need to check. A quick google says we did, but they’re extinct now.] [Wing: That’s what I thought.]

She trips on heather and rolls down the hill, sobbing, until Mr Luffy comes to rescue her. He reassures her that it’s not a volcano, but some long train tunnels that go from one valley to another. He promises not to tell the others, and she offers to cook him up some breakfast because he missed theirs since he was following a rare butterfly. Oh, god, he’s adorable.

The others are back at the tents, and they keep talking about how great the farm is, all well maintained and cute and with a grand piano in the drawing room. Which Anne thinks is weird because it’s so hard to make a living on the moors, how can they afford that? They also have a brand new car and new farm machinery and a bunch of lorries to take their produce to market (allegedly). HMMMMM. I wonder if this is a little sketchy. I don’t know, Blyton is super subtle.

The farm is owned by new people, not the family Mr Luffy knew before, and he’s curious as to how they make their money.

After Mr Luffy finishes his breakfast, he goes off to work and the kids go on a walk with a picnic lunch. Dick does offer to help Anne pack them dinner and tea, which is more than I expected.

They follow what Dick thinks is a shepherd’s path, and there are butterflies and lizards and gorgeous heather and it’s all really lovely. They hear the rumbling again while they eat their lunch. The boys are chill and patronizingly reassuring to the girls, but Anne is also chill, surprising them all, though George and Timmy are worried and the boys laugh at them. I hate you both.

Later, they find a deserted stretch of railway lines that lead to a railway yard; Julian thinks they and the tunnel near them are old and out of use. They go down to explore, and everyone but Anne wants to play on them. I don’t blame them for this, I love railroad tracks. They push some of the old wagons, make one crash into another, and suddenly a “terrifying figure” comes out of a tiny hut. He has a wooden peg for one leg, two gorilla-like arms, and a red tomato face. Cooooool.

He spokes in a husky, hoarse whisper instead of a loud and angry yell, which is what they expect. He comes closer, talks about his broken glasses because he can’t see them well, and cries a little because no one cares about old Wooden-Leg Sam. He’s the watchman, though he’s not sure why they want him there. What? Watch for the spook-trains? No way, he’s not doing that anymore, he’s seen too much and been scared by too much.

The kids want to know about the spook trains, of course, and he whispers to them that there are trains that come out of the tunnel at night all by themselves and go back by themselves, no one inside them, and one night he knows they’ll come for him, so he locks himself in his hut, blows out the candle, and hides under the bed so they don’t know he’s there. I love you, Sam.

Sam’s mood turns and he tells them to get away, he’s been hired to drive anyone off who comes too close, and the kids leave, Anne terrified, but the others curious. Julian and Dick want to come back at night to see the spook trains. I would do the same. [Dove: Allegedly you and I, Wing, are reading the original version of this, but I remember from childhood that Sam’s dialogue is written phonetically. They “bruk” his glasses, and so forth, which, to me, made him seem even more sympathetic, as he was obviously upset about the mysterious goings on and and it felt like the kids were judging and mocking him – I get the feeling one of the boys repeated his way of saying something at some point.] [Wing: I feel lied to, book.]

They run into an old man, a shepherd or farm labourer; he’s looking for his sheep (which have red crosses). When they tell him they haven’t seen any down the slope to the railway hard, he tells them to stay away from it because it’s a bad place, and confirms that there are trains running that nobody knows about. The tunnel hasn’t been used in thirty years, but he hears the trains running when he’s out with his sheep.

The boys laugh it off, because Anne is getting scared, but kind of gently and ask the shepherd to join them for tea, but he needs to find his sheep so he takes his leave.

Everyone had a late tea, including Mr Luffy, so they have a fruit cake and lime juice and stream water for their supper. They tell Mr Luffy about the spook trains, and he shows them a rare and interesting beetle. I quite like this gentle friendship they’re having. Mr Luffy is about a billion times better than any of the other adults who’ve shown up.

The girls and Mr Luffy fall asleep quickly, but Dick and Julian stay awake a bit talking about the spook trains. Timmy startles them, goes back to George when Julian shouts at him because Julian is a bag of dicks and also I zero percent believe that Timmy left George in the first place.

In the morning, they all have breakfast together, and then Mr Luffy is off to Crowlege Vale to check out the beetles, which will be an all day trip for him. The kids and Timmy are going to the farm to get food and ask the farm boy if he knows anything about the spook trains.

Anne worries about leaving their stuff unguarded, but George is affronted at the suggestion that she would ever leave Timmy behind when they go off somewhere — except you’ve done that a bunch, George.

The farm boy is Jock. Ooookaaaaaaaaay. He shows them collie puppies (PUPPIES I WANT TO PLAY WITH PUPPIES) and tells them about how he used to live on Owl Farm before this one; he and his mother had to leave Owl Farm when his dad died. He has a stepfather, now, and he’s no farmer. His mother is taking care of the farming and telling the men what to do. Stepfather only gives her money to handle it and to buy fine machinery and wagons, etc. His mother struggles with the men, though, because they don’t know what they’re doing and the stepfather always picks them out. The only good one is an old guy named Will. He refuses to work with the new guys.

Jock doesn’t much like his stepfather, who doesn’t like him either; Jock’s glad that he’s out for the day. Stepfather keeps the lorries locked up, and none of them understand why he has lorries and a bunch of wagons to take goods to market. Jock is going along with everything, though, because his mom is happy with the farm and that’s what he wants.

Anne thinks that the stepfather, Mr Andrews, must be “big and tall and dark and frowny” and not like children because people like that never do. Yes, cool, so many layers of shit there, damn it, Blyton.

The kids have dinner with Jock and Mrs Andrews (meat pie, cold ham, salad, potatoes, pickles, plums, jam tarts, thick cream — I’m getting hungry myself, even though I ate not too long ago). They play with the puppies after lunch and talk about how terrible the farm workers are. Then Julian and Dick tell Jock about the spook trains. He hasn’t heard of them, but wants to go explore, too. He says he hasn’t had a single adventure in his life, and they talk about how many they’ve had, because they live ridiculous lives.

Anne begs them not to go see the spook trains and says they’ll make an adventure come if they keep going. Anne, darling, I love you, but perhaps you should not go on holiday with your brothers and George and Timmy if you don’t want adventures. [Dove: Uh, can we have an “Anne Goes It Alone” book? You know, where she just does her thing without being mocked and patronised by Dick and Julian?] [Wing: I would love that.]

At tea time (scones with new honey, bread spread thick with butter, fresh cream cheese, sticky brown gingerbread, fruit cake that looked like plum pudding when it was cut), Mr Andrews comes home. He’s a short, dark little man with a weak face and a big nose. That’s a pretty stereotypical antisemitic description, and I have little doubt that Blyton was writing a Jewish character here. Shit. [Dove: You’re not wrong, many people have stated that she was racist and held antisemitic views. Sigh.] [Necromommycon: That would also explain the whole “he’s from the city and is inferior to his wife who is a proper farm lady” vibe. Yuck.]

Anyway, Mr Andrews takes his tea in his room because he’s had a bad day and not much to eat. Anne is surprised that he looks so small and stupid. Gee, Anne, aren’t you supposed to be the kind one?

Before he goes off to eat, Jock asks if he knows anything about the spook trains. He looks shocked and dismayed, and then decides to take his tea with the rest of them. He says he’s been careful not to mention the trains for fear of scaring Jock or his mother. He shouts at them to tell him what they know and where they heard it and then he’ll tell you a few things that will make them never go near the old railway yard again.

Julian tells about their experience with Sam, keeping it short and rather dull, and then Mr Andrews tells them never to go back there because it is a bad place and terrible accidents happened there years ago. Nobody’s allowed to go there, and even if they could, no one wanted to, because they were scared of the bad place.

Anne is scared, of course, and asks if he really believes in spook trains. He says that he does, and they come and go, and it’s bad luck to be there when they come, because the spook train might take them away. [Dove: There’s a very good creepypasta about that – there are several hundred along those lines, and I can never find the one I enjoyed so much.] [Wing: …I hope you do because I want to read it.]

Julian laughs that off and changes the subject because they’re frightening Anne.

Mr Andrews keeps going, though, so Julian takes their leave and they head out, though not before Mrs Andrews loads them up with food to take for later. [Necromommycon: They literally eat more carbs in this chapter than I’ve had in a month. I’m so hungry I could gnaw on my computer right now.] [Wing: The food porn is delicious in this one.]

Julian can’t stop thinking about Mr Andrews and how weird he got over the story, and he also insists on paying Mrs Andrews even though she’s trying to make a gift of it to them. He ends up alone with Mr Anders briefly, who gives him one more warning, and then all the kids set out, even Jock, who is going partway with them.

They chat about Mr Andrews’ weird stories, and Julian says they might still go watch for a spook train but of course the girls aren’t to come. Fuck out of here, Julian. George calls him on this too, pointing out that she’s just as brave as they are. Julian tries to appease her by saying that she can come when they find out it’s just a silly story, because Julian has become the fucking worst, what the hell.

Jock actually backs George on this and says that he thought she was a boy the first time he saw her, which of course thrills George.

Julian triples down, though, and says that the girls can’t come and of course George can’t leave Anne all alone. Now why the fuck does George have to stay behind? Aren’t she and Dick basically the same age? FUCK YOU JULIAN I HOPE THE SPOOK TRAIN RUNS YOU OVER. [Dove: *applauds*]

Back at camp, Anne immediately goes about her “little jobs” even when the rest go down to the stream to cool off, even George. Because it’s totally cool to leave Anne alone at camp when she’s being a good little woman, but not when George wants to come do something you think is boys only. FUCK YOU JULIAN.

After dinner, they argue again over whether George will come, because Julian is really trying to make me climb into this book and smack the hell out of him. Luffy hasn’t returned by the time they all go to bed.

Just as he’s about to fall asleep, Dick hears something wiggling through the heather and then sees a head stuck through the opening of the tent. He threatens to smack it because he thinks it’s Timmy. It is not Timmy.

Nor, though, is it someone come to smack Julian for me, damn it. It’s only Luffy, finally back, and checking on them, I guess? It’s a little weird that he’s just going to come into the tent late at night, but I don’t think I’m supposed to read it that way.

The kids are going through food fast, to Anne’s sadness, even though it’s not like they don’t have a place to go get more. Anne won’t let the boys help clean up after breakfast because that’s a job for her and George. Damn it, Anne, don’t make me hate you, too. I’m getting enough of that from Julian.

The boys check in with Luffy, who is sticking around camp because he’s tired and stiff after so much scrambling around the day before, and he has a bunch of specimens that need to be mounted. He also wants to meet Jock.

But Jock doesn’t come.

Julian considers going to see if he’s okay, but decides not to, because Jock has to have a good reason for not coming and surely Mrs Andrews wouldn’t want them to visit her two days in a row. Except she loved feeding you all, and for all the adventures you’ve had, you sure are quick to assume that everything is just fine when they very clearly could be going wrong. [Dove: Loathe as I am to defend Julian, I will point out that we Brits are very wary of wearing out our welcome. On the other hand, keep note of how often these kids say “please”, “thank you” or “I’m sorry”. Then contrast the entire series against a five-minute conversation with me and/or Raven. Conclusion: They are not real Brits. Also, I’ve never seen them drink tea.]

They play rummy with Luffy that evening, until it gets too dark to see, and then Luffy heads to bed early because of how late he got back the night before. The kids go to bed, too, and are quickly asleep.

Late into the night, Timmy gives a little growl, but no one hears it, nor the second one. He leaves the tent because he’s heard something. Meanwhile, Dick wakes up when something brushes against the outside of the tent and a shadow looks in through the entrance. He’s not sure if it’s Timmy or Luffy and doesn’t want to make the same mistake, so he waits in silence, but the shadow doesn’t say anything, just stays still like it’s listening for something.

Finally, Dick asks if it’s Timmy. It’s not Timmy.

It’s Jock with Timmy.

He joins them inside the tent, bringing Timmy with him, and then Jock and Dick squeeze into the same sleeping bag. I’m amazed I’ve never seen a fandom for Dick/Jock, but then, I haven’t actually gone looking since I started reading the books, have I? I have not. [Dove: I’ve only dipped a tiny toe in fandom, mostly in the Malory Towers end of things, but when I did – admittedly, quite a few years ago – fandom seemed to be quite strongly f/f shipping or m/f. And it was quite polite too. Sort of like the precise inverse of the Supernatural fandom.]

Anyway, Jock didn’t show up because his stepfather took him out for the entire day, off to Endersfield, left Jock at the public library, and then didn’t come back for him until past tea-time. And Jock can’t come the next day because he’s supposed to meet the son of one of his stepfather’s friends; the son is called Cecil Dearlove.

Jock sneaked away to tell them about it and brought them more food, because of course he did. They make plans to go visit the railway yard one night since Jock can’t get away during the days for awhile, and of course they decide not to tell the girls, they’ll just go off on their own, and I hate them all. It’s fine to want to have time with just your brother or your new friend or other guys or whatever, but they all know how badly George wants to see this with them, and Julian is obviously not down with that simply because she’s a girl, and I hate everything.

The charm is coming off the rose, y’all.

The next morning, Anne is delighted to find that food has appeared over night. Dick teases her that a spook train brought them, and Luffy adds that a volcano shot it into the air. I find both of these actually delightful, and Anne gets a kick out of it, too.

George, of course, guesses that Jock showed up. She’s also certain that the boys have planned something and adamant, to herself at least, that they won’t trick her. You go, George! I love you.

They have a quiet day with Luffy, swimming and basking in the sun and just looking at things. It’s lovely and relaxing, and I would like a day like that myself. It’s been such a busy summer, I’m exhausted.

They see Jock in a passing army lorry, followed by Mr Andrews in a bright new car. They’re all curious about what they’re taking to the market, because that’s a lot of farm produce at high prices to afford a car like that.

That night, Jock shows up late so the boys can go off to look for spook trains. Jock did not have a good time with Cecil Dearlove, but has to spend the next day with him at the farm. Also, the lorry was empty on its way to town and came back much later, though Jock doesn’t know what it picked up.

The boys sneak off into the darkness, stumbling over the tufts of heather until they finally find a sort of path. Eventually they find the old rail yard. There’s a small yellow light on; Dick finally figures out that it’s the candle in the watchman’s hut. They decide to sneak down and see if Sam is in the hut then hide and wait for the spook train. They argue over the best way to walk across the yard quietly, because there are cinders on the ground, but finally make it to the hut. Sam’s inside, reading a newspaper and smoking a pipe. His little hut is messy, and he hasn’t fixed his glasses yet. He cuts quite a sad little figure, and I hope he doesn’t turn out to be terribly evil, which seems like a Blyton thing to do.

The boys head along the track lines until they get close to the tunnel. Once they’re close enough, they hear a far away, muffled noise; Dick figures out that it is a train going through some of the tunnels that are still in use. But no, Julian says. It is a train using this tunnel, because god forbid Julian ever be wrong about things.

There’s no light as the train gets closer and then it passes them quickly and disappears. Disappears to where? I didn’t think they’d walked far enough along the tracks to not be able to see it reach the yard, but okay, whatever.

As they head back to the yard, Dick manages to twist his ankle. It takes 20 minutes before he can stand on it again, and then he has to walk slowly, but before they get more than a few steps, the train comes back and disappears into the tunnel.

The boys are shaken by it, even Julian, but also a little thrilled. Dick is grumpy at himself, because he stopped them from being able to get close to the train in the yard. Still, they make their way back to the yard to check on Sam. The light’s out, but eventually they see him peeping out from under the bed when he lights the candle again. They knock on the window to check on him, but that terrifies him and makes everything worse.

They decide not to tell the girls, because of course they do. It’ll just scare Anne and make George angry, and god forbid she get angry over you acting like sexist little shits.

Timmy walks Jock home (again, though we didn’t see it on page last time), but when they get near the farm, he starts to growl. Jock sees a dim light by the barns, but it goes out before he can get close enough to see what’s going on, though he hears a lock closing. The man there hears him coming and lashes out nearly knocking him over.

It’s Peter, one of the farm men, the grumpy man driving the lorry earlier that day. He’s angry at Jock for sneaking around and claims that he had a breakdown and that’s why he’s only just got back. Peters demands to know what he’s doing out and about fully dressed, but Timmy slinks away and Jock heads back to the house.

Peter hasn’t told Jock’s stepfather about it by the next morning, even though Jock sleeps in quite a bit. He wants to slip off to see the others and asks to take them some food, but his mother reminds him that Cecil is coming over. Mr Andrews doesn’t want him running off because he’ll get caught up with those kids and be late coming back. Jock is sulky over this and confused why his stepfather keeps interfering with his life now when he hasn’t before.

When Cecil arrives, he wants to play soldiers, which is the only game he really likes, but Jock demands they play Red Indians. Cool. Coooooooooooooooooooooool. Jock puts on a headdress with feathers and paints his face red, blue, and green, then takes a tomahawk downstairs to scalp the Pale-Face.

Cooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool.

I get that this is a product of its time, but y’all, this is racist as hell. [Dove: I’m suddenly remembering that in the second year of primary school (1986?), we had to make Native American headdresses, not the full feathers, but a painted cardboard headband with a single feather (as if that makes a difference) when we were learning about Native Americans. I’m not defending it, I’m agreeing that this kind of shit used to happen all the time with no respect given at all.] [Necromommycon: When I was in grade school, I got cast as a “squaw” in the school play “because of my heritage.” This was by a group of well-meaning teachers who probably really truly thought they were doing the right thing. So in my mother’s closet, in the scrapbook-thing of my school years, is the playbill listing my name and my role as “squaw,” and I cannot even begin to know what my mother felt about that but I can’t imagine it was pleasant.] [Wing: Your poor mother. And you. We definitely had similar activities when I was in elementary school. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s gotten much better at all.]

Jock scares Cecil, who runs screaming. The kids and Timmy show up right about them, Jock does a war dance, I hate everything. Cecil disappears, Jock asks Timmy if he got back alright the night before, and the boys frown and nudge him, because obviously the girls don’t know. Jock waves it off that he visited again and Timmy escorted him home. I notice that instead of stomping and kicking him the way they do Anne when she starts to tell secrets, all Dick does is give him a secret nudge.

George demands to know the truth because she’s certain they went to the rail yard without her — and yeah, they did, but before they can say anything, Cecil turns up and says that Jock’s stepfather is looking for him because he’s going to be punished for scaring Cecil so.

Cecil sits down with the others, looking for sympathy, but they flat out mock him and he marches off after saying he’d smack their faces if he didn’t know his manners. NO, KID, SMACK JULIAN FOR ME AT LEAST COME ON.

Mrs Andrews brings them food and sends them off because Jock is being punished by being sent to bed for the day because she wouldn’t let Mr Andrews whip him. Julian sees Cecil spying on them and offers to take him off on an adventure on the moors; Mrs Andrews thinks this is a great idea, but Cecil goes and hides so he won’t have to be alone with them again.

Everyone but George goes to have a quick word with Jock through his window once Mr Andrews leaves; George stays at the haystack with the food, frowning. George, smack the shit out of those boys!

Jock gets the kids to tease Cecil one more time, this one about a bull coming for him, because they are all monsters. George doesn’t want to hear this funny story, and Julian thinks she’s very trying indeed when she loses her temper. MAYBE DON’T BE A SEXIST LYING SACK OF SHIT THEN, HUH. [Dove: I hate the way, no matter where they are in the argument, they always expect George to perk right up. Some of us cycle through our emotions at a slower pace. Just leave us alone and let us finish the cycle. Forcing us to perk up early just makes us stick on “I need some space!” so much longer.]

George lets them have it when they get back to camp, and Julian continues to be a shit. George listens to Julian tell the story, but she’s angry and hurt, and I hope she gets hers, because he is terrible. I don’t even want to finish recapping this damn book, I’m so angry at him and at Dick and Jock to a lesser extent. I truly hope Julian gets run over by a spook train.

Then George lashes out at Anne, blaming her for being left behind because Anne’s a coward and she’s the reason George couldn’t go. FUCKING HELL, GEORGE, DON’T YOU BE A SHIT TOO.

AND THEN JULIAN SHOUTS AT HER FOR SAYING THAT, WHICH SHE SHOULDN’T HAVE SAID, BUT YOU ARE A FUCKING TERROR JULIAN HOLY SHIT I WANT TO SET THINGS ON FIRE RIGHT NOW.

So much for me loving Blyton’s cheerful, warm books. *fire confetti everywhere*

Julian continues to be a shit, the boys go off to look at Luffy’s big map of the moors, Anne goes to fix food because maybe a good meal will make everything better, Wing goes off to set things on fire and shout at the moon. Good times, good times.

They learn the spook train comes out into another valley, the tunnel connects with another tunnel that leads into a separate valley, I DON’T CARE I DON’T CARE I DON’T CARE. Anne calls everyone to dinner (salad, hard-boiled eggs, slices of ham, and apple pie).

Then Luffy takes everyone into town but George, and everyone else (but Luffy) is glad she’s staying behind, for different reasons. The boys because they’re shits. Anne because she knows that George needs alone time to work out her anger, which is true and smart. [Dove: Anne is the only one who gets George’s emotions.] [Wing: Anne is the smartest of them all.]

In town, the kids ask around about the tunnels, until they are sent to a man named Tucky, whose father and grandfather built all the tunnels. He tells them stories and shows them the map. The main tunnel runs into Kilty Vale and the side tunnel runs into Roker’s Vale, but allegedly the place they meet was blocked up long ago. Convenient. Also convenient, Tucky gives them his old map, despite the fact he’s kept it for this long.

The boys come up with a plan on how to look through the tunnels, but of course they won’t include George, still, because THEY ARE TERRIBLE I FUCKING HATE YOU BOTH YOU’RE NO LONGER HATED LESS DICK YOU ARE RIGHT THERE WITH JULIAN.

George comes back to camp later than they do, and she apologises for being an ass. Julian tells her, “amiably” that it’s all right and she should forget it. WHERE’S YOUR FUCKING APOLOGY YOU GODDAMN BAG OF SHIT.

That night, Julian sees George sneak out to do something, and then he figures out that she’s put a string across the front of the boys’ tent so that she’ll feel the tug of the string when they leave. They sneak out the sides instead, because god forbid they fucking let her be a part of the kind of adventures they’ve had together this whole entire fucking time what the fucking hell has gone so wrong with these books. [Dove: Also, how many times has George snuck off – not to deliberately exclude them, but to keep them out of trouble – only to be pulled back by St Julian because they’re friends and all in this together?]

The train comes, Dick sprints to the tunnel opening to watch for the train coming back through, Julian goes to find his way to the other end of the tunnel, sending the boy who sprained his ankle just the previous night to sprint off to the tunnel seems like not a smart idea.

Julian makes it to Kilty’s Yard, but the train hasn’t come yet, so he makes his way into the tunnel to see if it’s bricked up. It’s not. He finds an old niche for the workmen and hides in it. It’s eerie and he creeps himself out some alone in the dark. I HOPE YOU GET RUN OVER.

Julian waits like 40 minutes, but the train never comes. He is smart enough to go back via the moors rather than risk going down the tunnel and running into the train, to my everlasting sadness, and eventually gets back to Dick.

Dick says that the train only stayed in the yard about 20 minutes, so it’s been gone for a long, long time at this point. Julian is shocked because, of course, he never saw it come back out the other side.

They decide that they’ll have to explore the tunnels in the daytime because it’s possible that side tunnel isn’t bricked up the way they were told.

When they get back, they set off George’s string setup, so of course she wakes up and tries to see what they’re up to, but they’re already back in their tent, fast asleep. Bags of dicks. Complete and total bags of dicks.

The next morning, the boys tell them about their adventure, and George is, of course, furious again. So furious that Dick laughs at her for it. Fuck you, Dick. Fuck. You.

Jock arrives and breaks up the brewing fight; he’s in quite a mood himself, because he’s being sent away to stay with his stepfather’s sister for two weeks. He’s not sure why, but his mother is miserable and his stepfather is in a terrible temper.

Julian invites him to come stay with them instead, and Jock thinks it’s a great idea. He won’t tell his stepfather, but will tell his mother in secret and she will take care of things with his step-aunt, because of course she won’t want to talk to her brother about the thing they arranged.

George refuses to listen to them talk about the spook trains, and Julian is a bigger fucker than ever, exasperated and cross at her when she walks away with Timmy. DUDE. You keep blocking her out. You keep lying to her and tricking her. You keep refusing to take her because she’s a girl. And instead of fighting with you, she’s taking space for herself. YOU ARE THE WORST AND I HOPE YOU DIE.

Dick suggests they take her with them during the daylight, because that’s certainly the same as going at night to actually see the goddamn spook train I hate you both so much.

Even Anne calls her an idiot for going off on her own. Goddamn it, am I going to hate all of you before this book is done? I THINK THE ANSWER IS YES.

Mr Andrews starts whistling for Jock, and the four of them run off to hide in the heather as Mr Andrews meets Luffy. He decides the right way to manipulate Luffy is to convince him that the kids are running into danger around the moorlands, and that he’s trying to get Jock back before he gets into danger, too, which would break his mother’s heart.

Finally, Mr Andrews leaves, and Luffy tells Jock that he doesn’t blame him for wanting to get away from his stepfather. They sit down to eat together and then will have an adventure, which poor George will miss again. UMM. George hasn’t been missing the adventures, you have been intentionally excluding her, you fucking sexist little shits.

But Chapter Fifteen is called George Has an Adventure. Let’s see if this can redeem the book for me. (DOUBTFUL.)

George goes down to the train yard to speak with Sam. He shouts at her to leave, says some “he” told him to keep the kids away, and would throw a cinder at her but for Timmy’s menacing growl.

She takes off, stopping by the tunnel to look inside, but doesn’t walk alone into the dark mouth. Damnit, George, you should have a torch [Dove: Wing: the only American I know who uses “torch” and “flashlight” interchangeably without flinching.] [Wing: I have truly been infected influenced by our friendship. Though I will never default to “sofa” over “couch” so don’t get your hopes up.], get your ass in there and have a goddamn adventure. Blyton, I’m starting to hate you.

George starts out following the path Julian took over the tunnel, but finds a curious bump along the way. She’s digging and trying to get it free when Timmy disappears into it. That dog falls into more things, I tell you what. Turns out, the mound is really a vent-hole for the old tunnel, the iron bars across it rusted and fallen in.

George exposes the remaining bars and then climbs down into the vent. Inside, there are steps made of iron nails, some with thin rungs across them, the remnants of an old ladder. Timmy fell onto a collection of iron bars stuck on the old iron ladder. I suppose one thing to say for this book is that in another, Timmy would have been impaled and George would have to put him out of his misery, so at least we don’t have that.

(UGH. Just the thought means I’ve taken a break to go cuddle Monster Dog.)

George has no idea how to get Timmy out and so goes in search of something in the tunnel that might be helpful, like a rope. She pretty quickly runs into a silent train. The spook train, perhaps? It’s old and out-of-date and smaller than modern (“modern”) trains. She’s super curious, wondering how drives, if anyone, or did it just remember its old ways — but she decides that’s silly and goes about trying to rescue Timmy.

Who has just fallen off the iron bars. He falls all the way down to land at George’s feet, but he is okay because he fell in a pile of soft soot. Jesus, this dog really does fall into everything and survive. (I am not complaining about the survival part.) [Dove: Happy spoilers. Nothing bad ever happens to Timmy. Also, soot, just like sand, is basically a mattress according to Blyton.]

Timmy jumps up into the train as he explores, which relieves George’s fear, because if he will go up in it, she has nothing to be afraid of. Awww. I like their friendship for all that Timmy is far too anthropomorphized. He’s still a better friend than any of her cousins are being in this book, jesus fucking christ.

George four covered trucks filled with boxes, but before she can explore too much, she hears a noise in the tunnel, a clanging sound followed by a bang. Then a bright light comes on, from a big lamp in the side of the tunnel. This is where the tunnel forks, and the other fork really is bricked up — but THEN. Then the wall opens, because of course it does. SECRET PASSAGES. HIDDEN DOORS. ADVENTURES.

See, fuckers? You shouldn’t leave George out of your adventures.

A man who looks vaguely familiar to George gets into the train and starts prepping it to take off. George realises that she’ll be trapped in the moving train if he does, and off they go into the tunnels. The train ends up stopped in a space between two brick walls, which is where the train hides most of the time, it seems.

Back at camp, the others are having a ton of fun. Luffy asks about George, and the others wave it off as her being in a temper (I hate you boys), but Luffy and Anne are both a bit worried about her, even though she has Timmy with them.

The kids want to go off exploring again, but this time Luffy wants to come with them, but Julian talks him out of it (not very well, mind you; this is mostly down to Luffy being well aware that kids might want time alone and careful to make sure they’re happy, because Luffy is kind of delightful).

They go down to the rail yard again, and Sam warns them away. They ignore him and walk along the lines until they get to the tunnel where they want to go look for where the train is waiting, because it must be there because it never came out the other end. (a) You’ve been away from it for nearly half a day, if not longer, the train very well could have come out of it since then. (b) The boys are super assy to Anne, who is nervous because if it’s a spook train, it very well could have disappeared.

They go all the way out to Kilty’s Yard, and while seeing it in the daylight, Julian realises that no train has gone through there, because weeds have grown across the lines and a train would have chopped them to bits. This, of course, makes Jock certain it really is a spook train, but no one makes fun of him for it. I HATE YOU BOYS.

ALSO, ANNE REFUSES TO GO BACK THROUGH THE TUNNEL AND IT’S OKAY FOR HER TO BE ALONE NOW BUT NOT WHEN GEORGE WANTED TO COME WITH THEM AT NIGHT WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK.

Anne is in just the right spot to see Mr Andrews come over to shout at Sam and then a heavy lorry turn up with three of the farm labourers from Jock’s farm. Anne doesn’t know how to warn the boys, and so all she can do is wait to see what happens.

She waits for ages and then finally goes down to talk to Sam. She learns that Sam is the one who told Mr Andrews the kids were around and he tries to grab her to keep her there. She runs off, though, and he can’t keep up.

Up on the moors, all she wants to do is go find Luffy and get a grown-up’s help. What? A kid in this series actually admitting an adult would be useful? WUT.

But Anne gets lost and is truly terrified but sets about to find the right path.

Meanwhile, inside the tunnel, Julian sees a pair of lines that are bright as if they’re used a lot, unlike the black and rusty lines that lead out to the unused section. They head back to the yard where Sam works and don’t see the four men waiting for them until they’ve been captured. Where’s that know-it-all little shit attitude now, JULIAN?

The men push the boys into the place between the two walls — which is conveniently where the spook train, Timmy, and George are also all located, even though no one knows George and Timmy are there. The men tie up the boys and leave them in the cave so they can go about their business. [Dove: You know the issue I have with caves and tunnels? I’m having a hard time picturing this – although it made sense when I was a kid. Can someone draw me a picture?]

George and Timmy come find them once George is certain that the men are gone, and she cuts them free. NO FUCKING APOLOGIES FROM THE ASSHOLE BOYS YET, THOUGH.

George has also found caves stretching out on either side of the tunnel that will make a good place to hide. Jock finds a switch on the wall that he hopes will open one of the false walls but instead turns on bright lights. This helps them explore, and they find all sorts of black market stuff like tea, whisky, and brandy hidden in the caves. Gee, smugglers, again? I am shocked. Shocked I say. [Dove: Ah, rationing, the plot point that keeps on giving in this series.]

They figure out that the goods are taken to the farm and then taken down to the train and that is, of course, how all that money is being made. They make their way through the main cave and to a door, but they can’t get it open and figure that there’s a bunch of things shoved against it to hide it.

They have a brief tea together because Julian still has his bag — still no fucking apology — and try to figure out how to get out. Eventually, George finds a big lever but can’t move it on her own. Julian and Dick have to work together to move it and then one of the brick walls swing open.

They sneak quietly down the tunnel, but don’t get more than a quarter of a mile before they hear someone coming toward them. George, again, rescues them by remembering that vent that she and Timmy came down. AND THEN THEY LEAVE TIMMY BEHIND WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK.

Julian is the last to go up, but before he manages it, a bright light fills the tunnel; Timmy hides in the shadows but growls, and Julian hears Mr Andrews and the other men talking about who possibly could have opened the wall because they left the boys tied up tightly.

Of course, the men find the kids gone and start hunting for them. They don’t see Timmy, thank god, and Julian manages to start up the ladder, alas.

George gets up to a spot where Timmy knocked iron bars when he fell, which means they’re all stuck there in a row. George doesn’t dare try too hard to move them for fear of knocking them all down and making enough noise to give them away.

Back to Anne, she stumbles around lost for a long time, shouting for Luffy, who has been reading back at camp, but when darkness comes, he gets worried about the kids and goes over to the farm to ask for help, but only Mrs Andrews and the maid are at home. He doesn’t tell her that the children are missing because she’s already freaked out that Mr Andrews is gone and all the men and all the lorries. DUDE. She has the right to know her son is missing. Goddamn.

Then Luffy goes down to the police station; the police agree to help find the kids and then look into what’s happening with the farm and the spook trains. They’ve had an idea that something hinky was going on, but they haven’t been able to figure out quite what.

They all find Anne very quickly, who catches them up on what’s going on. Luffy tries to get Anne to stay behind, but she won’t, so he carries her as they head down to the yard, bypassing Sam completely. Anne also refuses to stay back out of the tunnel, and is also getting really worried about George, because, of course, she doesn’t know that George is with the boys.

The smugglers finally find the vent and Julian’s feet dangling. One of the men pulls Julian off the ladder and another man goes for Dick next. All of them come down, even George, even though they don’t know about her (and think she’s a boy at that).

One of the other men comes running down the tunnel shouting about the police; all the men head toward the other yard where the cars are waiting for them. George sends Timmy after them, and of course he manages to stop the men.

The police collect the men and Luffy drives the kids over to the farm for a meal and a bath. They all get caught up and Mrs Andrews feeds them all very well. Mrs Andrews is sad about her husband, but also excited to have the chance to run the farm right.

George tells the boys not to go off without her tonight, and Dick says the adventure is over, why would they.

AND STILL NO FUCKING APOLOGY FROM THE BOYS I HATE THEM SO MUCH.

Final Thoughts

So … this has become a problem for me. It was fantastic when all five of them were having adventures together, but if the boys are going to keep George and Anne from joining the adventures, I am going to be furious for the rest of the series. Damn it, Blyton.

Also, Julian is insufferable as hell at this point, and Dick isn’t too far behind. Even George had a shitty moment, though I am slightly more sympathetic for her because she reacted in her hurt and anger at the boys being shitty. That doesn’t excuse her for taking it out on Anne, though.

Basically, I hated everyone but Timmy and Mrs Andrews at various points in this book. That does not bode well.

[Dove: When I read this, I did think it might make you leave the series. The boys are absolutely insufferable. With every book I read in this, it just makes me wish someone would do a reboot on the series. I love the adventures, the food porn, the going off without adults, and the interesting places they go to, but the reality is getting infuriating. The boys are asshats, poor Anne is belitted at every turn, and George is constantly forced to work through her emotions to everyone else’s requirements, not her own.]

[Wing: I think having loved the books before this makes this one hit even harder. I FEEL BETRAYED, BLYTON. What the hell. A reboot would be great, too; all sorts of adventures, some supernatural some not, lots of food porn and tea porn, cousins + friends + diversity — huh. I am having thoughts.]

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