Dick’s mobility scooter raced at full power. Anne caught him up because her scooter was newer and had been more recently charged. “Where are you going?” she yelled.
“To the cliff top,” said Dick.
“Why the hurry?” protested Anne.
“George is in a funny mood,” said Dick. “I’m worried she’s going to do something foolish.”
Anne looked ahead to where George and Julian cut a dark silhouette against the straight lines drawn across the sky, leading to over-fluffy clouds making ominous shadows over the choppy sea. She was thankful that the Kirrin District Council had made a successful bid for European funding in order to make the cliff walk wheelchair-friendly.
“George!” shouted Dick. “Don’t do anything rash!”
But high on the cliff George and Julian were oblivious to Dick’s cries. George was oblivious because the gusty onshore wind muted her hearing aids and Julian was oblivious because Julian was now oblivious to most things. Julian was eighty-eight and George only a year younger. They had driven their mobility scooters up the three-hundred-yard gentle incline from the care home garden to the edge of the cliff.
“I’ve a good mind to sell it,” she said. “After all these years, I’ve a good mind to sell it.”
“I was the clever one, wasn’t I?” asked Julian.
“I was going to leave it to the nation but I’ve a good mind to sell it. And I’ll kick the blasted National Trust out of Kirrin Castle – my castle!”
“You can’t do that – you gave the castle to them,” declared Julian.
“I’ll take it back!” announced George.
Dick and Anne arrived. Anne sensibly positioned her scooter in front of those of her two old, old friends. That way George couldn’t do anything rash, and Julian couldn’t do anything dangerously accidental. She was, however, precariously near to the cliff edge, which perturbed her a little, but it also pleased her as she knew it would come in useful at the end of the chapter. “What are you two up to?” she demanded.
“We’re not up to anything,” said George.
“Yes you are,” said Dick. “You skulked out of the care home, and then pelted up here doing four miles per hour or even more.”
“Well, look!” said George, pointing to Kirrin Island.
Anne looked, and saw, and trembled with anger. Someone had set up a huge banner saying DON’T VISIT THE HOME OF SEXIST, RACIST, MIDDLE CLASS ICONS!
“Who’s done that?” demanded Dick.
“Some horrible people,” said George. “Kirrin Island has been doing a gushingly tremendous tourist trade all these years and now a bunch of horrid people are trying to put off all the nice people who want to visit to see where we had some of our most exciting adventures.”
“Why do people have to be so nasty?” asked Dick.
“They say we were pretty nasty at times,” said Anne.
“Only to ne’er-do-wells, criminals and foreigners,” said Dick.
“That’s their point,” said Anne. “We were xenophobic.”
“So was everyone,” said George. “There was a war on.”
“Only when we first had our adventures,” said Anne.
“But after that there was the cold war,” said George.
“That’s right,” said Dick. “So it was patriotic to only trust people who were British, or better still, English. And it wasn’t our fault if most of the bad people in our adventures were foreigners.”
“Not most,” corrected Anne. “Just some. And I suppose the protesters are right about us being middle-class.”
“We couldn’t help that,” said Dick. “I didn’t ask to be born into a comfortably family in an idyllic southern suburb and be sent to a spectacularly benign boarding school.”
Anne looked suddenly pensive. “Where you were educated to be pristinely sexist,” she said.
“I was never sexist,” said Dick. “I never knew what sexist meant in those days.”
“Neither did I,” said Julian. “And I was the clever one wasn’t I?”
“Oh Ju,” said Anne, “you were so clever. But I was clever too, not that you ever acknowledged it.”
“We did,” said Dick. “We always told you what a clever girl you had been, on the rare occasions when you were clever.”
“And I was brave,” said Anne, slyly edging her scooter closer to the edge of the cliff.
“Not as brave as me,” said George. “I was as brave as any boy could be.”
“Or any girl,” said Anne. “Girls can be just as brave as boys.”
“But I was as brave as any boy.”
“Can’t you see?” said Anne, “that’s what those horrid protesters mean when they say we were sexist.”
“But I was as good as any boy!” insisted George, and to prove it she drove her mobility scooter around the front of Anne’s and positioned it right up to the edge, and closer to the three hundred foot drop than any of the others.
“You just wanted to be a boy,” said Anne.
“I still do!” said George.
“But that’s sexist,” said Dick.
“No it’s not,” said Anne. “It’s gender realignment.”
“Is it?” asked Dick.
“I’m sure I would have known that in the old days,” said Julian. “I was the clever one wasn’t I?”
“You weren’t politically incorrect,” said Anne to George, “you were way ahead of the times.”
“I think you are right,” said George. “In fact I know you are right. Any man would know that. I’m going to sell Kirrin Island and use the proceeds to pay for a sex change.”
“Sell Kirrin Island!” exclaimed Dick. “George – you can’t!”
“I can,” said George. “After all it belongs to me. I’d have to dig up dear old Timmy first, of course.”
“Timmy was our dog wasn’t he?” asked Julian looking rather confused.
“Timmy was my dog,” said George, who had been a girl who wanted to be a boy and was now a woman who knew she should always have been a man. “But he was much more than a dog. He always knew and understood what we were talking about. He was a person just like us.”
“That’s species realignment isn’t it?” mused Dick.
“I should have said that,” said Julian. “I was the clever one wasn’t I?”
“Timmy was the cleverest one of all,” said George. “We wouldn’t have been the Famous Five without him.
“Isn’t is strange?” said Anne. “When we were having our adventures, the only people who didn’t know we were famous were us!”
“Nobody ever recognised us,” said Dick. He looked wistfully out to sea. “Nobody ever asked for my autograph.”
“They don’t ask for autographs anymore,” said Anne, “they ask for selfies.”
“What on earth is a ‘selfie’?” asked Julian.
Anne took her mobile phone from the basket on her mobility scooter and, reaching out to arm’s length angled it towards herself. “Like this. Come and join me Dick!”
Dick wriggled off his scooter and joined Anne on hers. Unfortunately, in doing so, he nudged the motor switch and Anne’s scooter reversed half over the edge of the cliff. Anne didn’t scream, but Dick did. “Whoaho! Help!” he cried.
Quick as a snail George, who was woman but really a man, slid from her scooter and leaped like a dog who was really a human, to grab the handles of Anne’s machine. Straining like a heroic pony in a stereotype-reinforcing adventure book for well-to-do gals, she pulled with all her gender-fluid might and stopped Anne’s scooter from slipping any further.
“Julian! Help!” cried George.
Julian was peering nonchalantly at Kirrin Island. “I was the clever one wasn’t I?” he mused.
“Julian!” insisted George.
“Oh no!” said Dick. “I don’t want to fall horribly to my death without ever having signed my autograph!”
“Julian!” insisted Anne, calmly but firmly.
“What is it, dear little Anne?”
“I’m not dear, and I’m not little. Since the menopause I’ve always had a higher body mass than either you or Dick.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” said Julian.
“Well would you mind noticing that Dick and I are precariously cantilevered over a three hundred foot fall to the jagged rocks below, and help George in his/her attempts to save us?”
“Oh, I say!” said Julian, suddenly remembering mid-twentieth century spoken idioms. “Of course I shall!” And, with all the speed of an arthritic sloth, Julian slithered off his scooter and lolloped over to rest his frame alongside George on the handlebars of Anne’s scooter which now see-sawed menacingly, but charmingly, over the edge of the cliff.
“What now?” asked Julian.
“You’re supposed to be the clever one,” said Anne.
“Press the go switch,” said George.
Julian did so, but the rear powered wheels just spun merrily in the air.
“Pull with all your might, and all dead Timmy’s might too!” said Anne.
George pulled with all her woman-might and all her man-might and all the spirit-of-dead-Timmy’s might while Julian remembered all the clever might he was sure he’d once had, but the scooter refused to move an imperial inch or a metric millimetre towards safety.
“It’s no good,” said George.
Anne spoke with calm courageous dignity. “I think this may be our final adventure,” she said.
“It can’t end now,” insisted Dick. “We haven’t had chance to show the world that we were not middle-class, white, sexist xenophobes.”
“But we were all those things,” said Anne with serene dignity. “We couldn’t be anything else. We were a people of our times, just as those protesters are people of their time too. People who criticise their predecessors always fail to realise that one day they may be criticised just as harshly for expressing what are commonly accepted ideas subsequently subjected to future revision.”
“I wish I’d said that,” said Julian. “I’m supposed to be the clever one.”
“Do you know,” said Anne, “that the books about our adventures were banned from British libraries because they were considered not to have sufficient literary merit?”
“I don’t give a donkey’s fart about that,” said George. “They were jolly exciting. Just as this is. But I’m afraid I can’t hold on much longer.”
“Climb on board,” said Anne. “You too Julian. That way you can balance us.”
“I wish I’d thought of that,” said Julian. “I’m supposed to be the clever one.” And he and George wriggled onto the handlebars of Anne’s mobility scooter. Then the four of them pivoted back and forth while perfectly balanced over the edge of the cliff.
“It’s just like one of our adventures,” said Anne. “Except dear old Timmy’s not with us.”
“He’s here in spirit,” said George, and she wriggled something out of her pocket. “And I never go anywhere without the mummified tip of his tail.” She wagged it in the air.
“Oh George, that’s wonderful!” exclaimed Anne; and Dick and Julian agreed.
“The tip of Timmy’s tail always meant a lot to me,” said George.
“Then we are all together again said Anne. It’s another adventure! Five have a cliff-hanger together!”
“Can’t see a way out of this one,” said George. “Can you Julian?”
“Not without my reading glasses,” said Julian.
“It reminds me of the final scene in a Michael Caine film,” said Dick, suddenly inflecting his speech with a cockney timbre. “‘Ang on a minute,” he said, “I’ve got a great idea!”
The Famous Five books influenced everything I have ever written for the simple reason that they hooked me into reading. For all their literary limitations and the mid-century, middle-England, middle-class, hypocritical predilections of their author, End Blyton, they fostered a love of literary escapism and instilled a rudimentary understanding of the mechanics of plot, suspense, resolution and the structural constructs that facilitate credible fantasy.