Our Week with the Juffle Hunters

Our Week With the Juffle Hunters

Richard Sugg

Many thanks toMarina and Izzy, to Bob,Ann, Dave, Sophie, Dan and Katie; to Paul and Irene, Ella and Nina; to Suzi and Rupert and Florence; Deborah and Sergio, Amelia and Beatrice; Richard and Marie, Martin and Lucy. A big thank you to Sree for turning my vague imaginings into a very beautiful cover painting. And a special thank you to Chris, Danni, Freya and Ellis for very special inspiration. Thanks to Les for much kindness and many happy hours. Is a good children’s book the sign of a good childhood? Readers must judge, but ours was, and thanks beyond words are due to my mother and father for that.

For Freya and Ellis,

wishing you many

true adventures.

Preface

1                                  How we Escaped from Hell – Just in Time

2                                  A Long, Long Longggg Drive

3                                  Meet the Juffles

4                                  I Saw it First!

5                                  Time, Time, Time… Right on our Side!

6                                  Juffles in Trouble

7                                  One Great, Big, Monster Cake…

8                                  Big Trouble at Jumping Jackets

9                                  Blue Moon

10                                Never Trust a Nation…

11                                The Great & Unforeseen Dangers of the Facial Book

12                                ‘Is that a Mermaid?’

13                                ‘Look’s like your Mum’s Problem…’

14                                Hot Chocolate on Coffee Club Island

15                                The Hunt is On

16                                Seal Island…   Ahoy!

17                                ‘I say, Joseph…’

18                                One Small Glimpse of Paradise

19                                ShushaClean

20                                The Big House

21                                The Safest Place to Stand…

22                                The Library at the Edge of Time

23                                Science versus Nature

24                                Dog-A-Clock

25                                Trouble at the Old Fort

26                                With HP Sauce

27                                No Ordinary Map

28                                Last Boat to Seal Island

29                                Clear Blue Waters

30                                The Island

31                                The Office at the Edge of Trouble

32                                The Blue Lagoon

33                                The Hotel at the Edge of Patience

34                                Everything Flows

35                                The Isle is Full of Noises

36                                Farewell, Seal Island

37                                Go Huskies!

38                                The Official Bad Temper Survey Map

39                                ‘My Phone!’

40                                We Shall Fight Them…   On the Beaches

41                                Half a Degree in Temperature

42                                We Shall Fight Them… On the Landing Grounds

43                                Fish Supper and Purnapple Wine

Preface

‘Katie?’

‘Uh huh?’

‘Are you asleep?’

‘Well. I wonder…’

‘Cos–’

‘Let me see now.’

‘I CAN’T sleep.’

From Katie’s bed a piggy snort; a gap; a long low whistle. Dan heaved himself up onto the end of the mattress, found Katie’s feet and laid himself down crosswise just below them, fists bunched under his head.

‘Katie?’

Another fake snore.

‘I hate school.’

‘Me too.’

‘And Dad says all great people get booted out of school anyway.’

‘Before they’re sixteen. I know. Only he’s not here – is he?’

‘Nope.’ Dan was staring up at the stars glowing on Katie’s ceiling. He had them too, only hers were a different… what was it? conster-something. Some big, big word. Pattern anyway. He gave a sigh. ‘D’you think…’

‘Mmm,’

‘…we could maybe… runaway?’

‘To?’

‘To the woods. Like in that story. With the three brothers,’ Dan was getting excited now.

‘Brendon Chase.’

‘We could!’

‘Sssh! You’ll wake Mum.’

‘We so could!’ (Lower now). ‘Like they did. Last night of the summer hols. They run away, to the woods, and hunt the rabbits, and wear their skins, and no one finds ’em, and…’ Dan had tilted over now, and was trying to see Katie through the dark. ‘We sooo could!’

‘Hmm.’

Brothers. It was kind of weird having a little brother. (Dan was eight and Katie was thirteen, as of last week. To do with Mum’s career, it seemed – the gap.) Part of you really loved him and would never let anything hurt him. Only sometimes part of you felt it was like having this really daft little puppy always getting tangled round your heels. Usually just exactly when you were trying to do something important.

Mind you. It was a great story – Brendon Chase. And it really was the last night of the summer holidays. Warm as anything; window open; smell of the garden slipping in. No wonder they couldn’t sleep. Only one asleep, in fact, was Mum. Beat with work as usual. Dropped off in front of the tv earlier. Computer slipping off her lap. She worked toooo hard. So they could move, she said. Have a house, not a flat.

‘Katie?’

‘Yes?’

‘Why can’t every day be like this?’

‘Well. It has to rain sometime.’

‘It rained plenty. At the start of hols.’

It certainly had. Bit of a raw deal, that. What was that phrase? Hotter than July? Wetter than July, more like. And August. So many games of ping pong. Climate change, everyone said. Bad floods, some places. And then… two weeks before school, what happens? Sun! Glorious hot sun. Days out on the bikes, in the woods, with Sam and Suzi’s dog, Isabelle… Days of heat and dust and thirst and scraped knees. Days that seemed to go on forever, and lying here like this, tired as hell but still not asleep, remembering them in whispers.

‘It was a magic day.’ Dan’s eyes drifted up to the conster-patterns.

‘It was.’ It really had been. They cycled a million miles on the bikes, then found Dan had dropped the water, and they had dry biscuits and nothing left to drink, and just when they were starting to feel really dizzy and not so good anymore, Isabelle came bounding out of the bushes, barking, all wet, the dumb dog…

‘Hey! Isabelle!’

‘She’s wet!’

‘Izzie! Where’s the water? Izzie!’

‘Woof! woof!’ Izzie bounding round in a circle, the dumb dog, them all dragging their bikes through the hedge, down a slope, dizzier than ever, sun pounding, Izzie barking, and then…

WATER!

‘Water!’

O lovely water…

Sound of it, sparkle of it. A stream, with little falls, green weed, titchy fish. Maybe not for drinking, but, hey, who’s checking? Maybe not for bathing, but…

‘D’you think we can find it again?’

‘The stream? Sure. Maybe next summer.’ Little brothers did have to be teased, now and then.

‘Nooo! Next weekend!’ Next summer was like, farther than the farthest conster-patterns. In the whole universe. (That was a big word. Universe. But he knew it.) Next summer didn’t hardly exist.

But school did. Did it ever.

‘Katie,’

‘Uh huh.’

‘Yours is different.’

Boy. What now?

‘My…?’

‘Conster–’. Dan frowned. ‘Stars. Your star pattern.’

Ah ha. Here’s fun. ‘Conster-what, young man?’ Katie’s teacher voice.

‘Con…’

‘Hmm. Where did I put that detention book?’

‘No! Wait! It’s…’

‘Here we are. Daniel Chatham. Detention number six thousand…’

‘No! I got it! I so do got it.’ Dan leaned up higher on his elbows, eyes bright, face positively smug with triumph.

‘Have got it. Mr Chatham.’

‘Conster-’

‘Class is waiting, Daniel.’

‘Conster-nations!’ A very big I told you so smile.

Boy.

Brothers.

Chapter One

How we Escaped from Hell – Just in Time.

Slither! Whizz! Tumble!

Riffle! Rummage! Crump!

Dan was in the shed, trying to find his armbands and fishing net. The shed was kind of exciting. Its smell was dry and woody and a bit old. It was the smell of fun times; of fun things you didn’t get to use nearly enough. But boy, was it… a mess.

Whoosh! Tumble! Floop!

Snaffle! Raffle! Scoop!

Katie was in her wardrobe, trying to find her gloves. So much STUFF in here… Maybe they did need a bigger place. But who knew you’d need gloves at the start of September? Like… crazy, crazy day! And it wasn’t even nine o’clock.

They’d woken up at half seven, miserable as monkeys without bananas.

School.

It couldn’t be happening, but it was. It couldn’t be sunny. But it was. And it couldn’t be time to get up, cos it seemed like they’d just finally fallen asleep, all of three minutes ago.

But.

It was.

It really was.

Boy.

Biffle! Baffle! Baggage!

Scarves, shoes, jumpers, skirts… Jackets, hats, and every gosh darned thing but a single pair of gloves

Catherine Chatham!’

‘I need my gloves!’

“Catherine” meant trouble. What did mothers do whose kids were called Jane or Lee? How did they get all that trouble into just one syllable?

‘Uncle Jake will have gloves. Catherine, you are to fetch your brother. Right now. We are leaving…’

‘OK!’

And they really were. Leaving. For Uncle Jake’s. Now, how did that happen? Kind of a blur, really. Fifty minutes ago they were having The Last Breakfast of the Condemned Kids when the phone rang. Dan was in his dumbest mood ever, drawing faces in his porridge with the jam, and saying to himself,

‘Porridge borridge’ and ‘Porridge forridge’, as he’d got this habit lately of rhyming actual words with words that didn’t exist, and just once in a blue moon hitting on a real word, or (like now) a real word that did exist, only he was too daft to know; and just to get out of earshot of this Junior Poet while Mum was packing lunch, Katie got the phone, and it was this real important, deep posh-voiced guy, slightly scary maybe; but she did all her lines well, she thought. And Mum on the phone, stopping being Mum and being very much Mrs Chatham, the ace business woman. Some sticky pauses, mind. Some tough decisions being made there, it turned out. In double quick time.

Crash! Wallop! Clatter!

The shed was like a toy shop in a hurricane. And still no armbands…

Daniel Chatham!’ Katie’s grown-up thing.

‘I’m coming!’

‘We’re leaving in three minutes!’

‘Yeah yeah.’

And then Mum back in the kitchen, and a kind of weighty pause coming from nowhere, which even Dan could tell meant something interesting, sat up gawping with porridge falling off his spoon wrecking that jammy work of art he’d just made.

‘Alright. Now listen. That was work…’

‘Handsome Hennnn-ry…’ Katie whispered sideways, rolling swooning eyes. (He really was. Called Henry.)

‘…and they want me at Central Office. Today.’

‘Why?’

‘Big crisis. Long story. Now look. I haven’t said yes, til I talked to you first. If you don’t want it, I shan’t go.’

‘We’ll keep house!’ (Katie.)

‘We won’t run away!’ (Dan).

‘Ouch!’ (Dan as Katie squashes his foot.)

‘You can stay with Sam and Suzi, and I’ll be back in a few days. But…’

‘It’s OK, Mum.’

It must be odd, Katie, thought, being a mother. Leastways, being their mother. You had to do all this stuff that men did, and all the stuff mothers did, and then pretend it was all alright when even Katie could see it wasn’t, with the credit card bills, and looking at houses you couldn’t afford, and still not getting that promotion (she’d overheard this when Jackie came for coffee).

‘Where are you going, Mum?’ (Note the cunning of that. Ha ha! Jump from if to where in one easy leap.)

‘Ireland. If I can make the ferry. Which means…’

Mum worked for Jumping Jackets – once the top jacket firm in the whole UK. Only not any more.

‘…that I need to leave by 8.30. Latest.’

And here’s where things got interesting. They were woofing down The Last Breakfast of the Condemned Kids, and thinking maybe it’d be a bit fun staying with Suzi and Sam, but still mainly thinking nothing but School, feeling like they’d died and were about to go to Hell (aka: School!) when suddenly, Mum’s back from the phone, and: Suzi and Sam…

have The Fever. Some major new virus; so bad and new that aliens seem to have dropped it in the night, in some Cunning Plan of World Domination…

Not just that, but two phone calls later, seems like everyone has The Fever. So much so that they both get the Lurgy once-over from Top Fever Expert Sarah Chatham, but are pronounced Miraculously Healthy and Lucky Children.

Hurrah for porridge. Oh, yes. What Lucky Children. Everyone at home with The Fever, and us with a whole school all to ourselves. But…

Who shall look after these healthy lucky children? This is the question. And even through the gurgle clatter chink of washing-up Katie can hear that Mum is struggling. Grandma recovering from pneumonia. Dad in some crazy jungle with the tv crew as usual. Every house in the city with the gosh darned plague

‘Daniel Chatham!’

‘I need my armbands!’

Shed door creaking open. Peekaboo Katie. ‘These armbands?’

Dozy Dan with mouth open. Again… ‘Where?’

‘Never mind! Go! Now! Action!’

They both took one slightly uncertain look at the state of the shed; looked at each other; shook their heads; and thirty seconds later were hurtling down the path as another avalanche of things came crashing into the just-closed door.

‘Coat!’

‘Got it!’

So next, a really mountain-sized super heavy pause, kind of the theme music to the end of the world, only turning out to actually be the gosh darned fanfare into heaven

‘Children. Now listen. I’m at my wits’ end. There’s only one last chance. And I’m not really sure…’

Katie looked up from the lunch boxes. ‘Uncle Jake’s?’

‘Which is why, I’m not at all sure…’

‘But… that’s it! He’s on the way. Just drop us off…’

‘… and pull you out of school for the week, yes. To say nothing of the kind of education you usually get out there.’

‘Mum. You have to go.’

Big monster planet sized silence. Churning grown-up wheels of decision. Heavy heavy… ‘Well. Alright.’

Daniel, waking up from one more Planet Daniel dream, finally twigs.

‘Uncle Jake! Are we going to Uncle Jake’s?’

Maybe. I haven’t asked him yet.’

‘Uncle Jake’s ace!’

‘Will we see Samson?’

‘Alright.’ Very businesswoman-Mrs-Chatham-type snap glance at watch. Super bionic driving maths being done in the head. ‘If we go, we need to leave in eight minutes. Cases: full. Bladders: empty. Got it?’ This was Mum’s way of telling Dan quarter of an hour. Sometimes it worked.

So. Two more phone calls: school closed, Jake delighted, Samson barking, children in kitchen slumping round, miserable as cats without the cream:

Mummmm. We want school…. We want Maths! We want rice pudding! We want Mrs Dearnley and her jumpers! But Mummm… we’ll tell the RSPCC’.

‘RSPCA more like. And you now have seven – count them – minutes. After which: Orphanage.’

‘Toilet?’

‘Don’t need it!’

‘Mum! Have we got Dan’s nappies?’

‘Daniel. We have a three hour drive. If we’re lucky. There is one ferry. At five o’clock. If I’m lucky. We cannot stop.’

‘O-kay!’ Slither, skid, clunk! of bathroom door. Two bonus minutes for Katie to find gloves. Which seem to be absolutely nowhere in the flat.

Three minutes later: ‘Katie, it will be hot!’ Dan with one shoe on, laces untied. And suddenly:

‘My fishing net!’

‘Uncle Jake has ninety nine fishing nets!’

‘He has?’

‘Daniel.’ Dangerous jangling of car keys. ‘Uncle Jake is a fisherman.’

‘Oh. But–’

Phone snaps open, clamped violently to ear.

‘Hello? Is that the Orphanage? Mrs Chatham. I have two irredeemably wicked children here. What’s that? No, not much really. But one’s very little. You could probably get him up chimneys.’

‘No!’

‘He’s as nimble as a monkey, actually.’

‘I’m coming!’

‘And he can almost tie his shoelaces.’

‘Three…’ (from Katie);

‘Two…’ (from Dan, yanking tight untied shoelaces);

‘One…’ (from mother, whisking children, cases, armbands and cuddly toys through door which slams BANG! with shudder of fanlight glass, greatly irritating neighbours for, like, the thousandth time…

And…

We’re off.

Chapter Two

A Long, Long Longggg Drive

Such a long drive… The first bit was OK. They asked about ninety nine questions both at the same time (‘Can we swim?’ ‘Will there be crabs?’ ‘Can we walk Samson?’ ‘Can I ride on Samson’s back?’ – and much, much more) and were told ‘just a minute children; I have to concentrate until we get on the motorway’. So Katie boasted to everyone on facebook where they were going, and Dan strained his seatbelt leaning over to see, and then when it was motorway they asked all the questions again, and got told, ‘I hope so’ and ‘Perhaps’ and ‘We shall see’, and other grown-up things like that, which grown-ups always seemed to have in a big Lazy Bag of Answers for Really Important Questions that kids ask with very good reason.

But now it was motorway and Mum’s car an automatic (‘just point it and go’, she called it) so they put on music and all sang ‘At the Zoo’ which was a crazy-ace song about how zee-bras were reactionaries, antelopes were missionaries and stuff, whatever those things were. But it was a top song, and they sang it twice and stamped their feet and clapped hands and tried not to bounce about too much for reasons of Health and Safety, being in the car and all, motorway or not. And then they fell asleep.

___________

Katie half woke up, feeling a bit fuddled, and could see Mum looking at her in the mirror, and then she closed her eyes and tried to sleep again, but couldn’t really, and the look in the mirror floated around her half-dreams for a moment. It made her think (when she thought about it later, properly awake) that a lot of the most important things, there weren’t really words for. Words were useful, no doubt. There’d be chaos otherwise, with everyone miming at each other and not being understood, and nothing on facebook but goofy pictures. But some things, like that look… words weren’t quite enough. That look was one of those things, for a start, that stretches over time in a weird way. And true enough, much, much, much later, she understood that look another way, that she’d never thought she would, so that now it had layers and layers, like some great Easter egg with other eggs inside it. But that, I guess, is another story.

For now they just smiled, and didn’t say anything for a moment. Then Katie rubbed her eyes and said quietly (because Dan was still asleep, like a darned Devil),

‘Are we nearly there yet?’

Patient shake of the head. ‘Half way. Have a sandwich.’

So she ate a sandwich and drank some juice, already thinking as she did about the crazy sandwiches they’d made with Uncle Jake last time, and what new ones there might be this week. Then she had a quick peek at facebook, and looked out the window, which was pretty motorway-dull, and then by bad luck looked at the little orange clock by Mum’s stereo, and it was still only 10.42. That clock was trouble. Times like this, in fact, Time was Trouble. The best times were when you weren’t thinking of Time at all, and… WHOOOSH! off it went. But: one and a HALF hours… That was longer than anything. Longer than the longest lesson. Longer than the worst trip to the hospital. Probably longer even than a film, which was of course a different kind of Time altogether. FilmTime went HYPER-WHOOSH! and hey… presto! credits and time to pick up your litter kids, come along now…

‘Won’t be long. Just think of Sam and Suzi.’

‘Australia?’

‘Exactly. On two planes; for 23 hours.’

‘Boy.’ That was weird. Twenty three hours… On a plane. Where you couldn’t get off, except the once. That would make you as crazy as a cat without claws. Still. This was long, all the same. Odd how Mum didn’t see it. They didn’t quite seem to get Time, grown-ups. Not really. She wondered: were they were really super hyper impossible patient, all grown-ups (like Mum looked now, staring through the screen and clocking the signs) or did they just have no choice? Hmm. Maybe at some point they went to special Time and Patience classes which no one had told her about yet. (Another thing to look forward to there, kid.)

Meanwhile, what with Dan sleeping like the Demon Devil Brother from Hell, no chance of any more singing for a while.

‘Anyway. We’re going somewhere nice, aren’t we?’

‘Darn right. Uncle Jake’s is ace.’

Uncle Jake, as you probably guessed by now, lived by the sea. And not just by the sea, but on the coast – real wild coast, not with shops and arcades and big ships and stuff, just grass, cliffs, sea, and little empty beaches which seemed like you might be the first humans to stumble on them and plant your Flag of Coastal Conquest there. Boy, was it ace.

‘Now listen. You’re to make the most of it, and of course enjoy yourselves, because it might only be two nights; but you’re to keep the phone charged and with you all the time. Yes?’

‘Yes.’ Katie glanced at the phone, which also of course had a darned clock on it, that must be running slow… Ten fifty four. DONG! ‘But… Uncle Jake’ll be with us. Won’t he?’

‘Yes. Well…’

‘It’s good of him to take us, isn’t it? Just at the drop of a hat?’

‘It is, yes.’

Hmmm. No simple answers from the Lazy Answer Bag on this one. Uncle Jake, of course, wasn’t Mum’s brother. He was dad’s brother. Being dad’s brother was never such a hot recommendation these days. Not with Mum. He was a top dad, and he sent them all the money he should, even though (as he said) it played havoc with his plans for his stereo upgrade, and his three other wives and fourteen other kids (joking!). And he was actually – and you didn’t by any means always pull this one in the Great Dad Lottery – really cool, too. Not just trying to be, like Julie’s dad, which was, boy, super-painful. Dad really was. It was a shame, how it didn’t work out. So yes. Top Secret unspoken message: it’s because you’re with Uncle Jake that you’ll be keeping that phone on. Is that clear? Young lady.

(Dan still sleeping the sleep of the Holy and Virtuous Brother. Thought: enter Kid Brother for Olympic Sleepathon, 2000 and whatever. Easy money. Daniel Chatham: GOLD medal! Whaaa? where am I?)

And. Talking of money…

‘It’s good they want you. Isn’t it?’

‘Hmm?’

‘That work does. Like, the only woman for the job.’

‘Let’s hope so. I saw just the house last week.’

‘Near us?’

‘Yup. Near everything. Lovely attic. Garden.’

‘We have a garden, though – already.’ Looking on the bright side in case.

‘True. But this is big. Big like…’ (hushed voice; secret Christmas-is-coming-early type glance), ‘…trampoline-sized garden.’

‘Oh! Wow…’

‘So. Let’s hope.’

Katie made a face and blinked. ‘Done it!’

‘All crossed?’

‘Toes too!’

‘OK. Next exit. Off the motorway soon.’

Katie ate another sandwich. Motorways were toooo long.

‘Will you beat the Juffles?’

Big sigh. ‘I wish. Not this year,’ (See? What’s a year? to grown-ups? Weirdy weird weird.)

The Juffle Jacket Co. was Jacket Enemy Number One for Jumping Jackets. Big, nasty and huge. They seemed to come out of nowhere, not even a year ago, and now they were everywhere, like they’d been making jackets for Noah and family for the Flood, and maybe a nice cover-up for Adam and Eve when they got wise and: ‘my! where’s our clothes got to?’

Everybody wanted one. Except of course Katie and Dan Chatham. That would be… what was it? Treason. Treason was worse than murder. Worse than rolling barrels of gunpowder into the Houses of Parliament and shouting, ‘Happy Guy Fawkes night, ministers!’

‘Suzi says they’re from some rare bird.’

‘Hmm? Hang on a sec. Exit now.’

One hour to go. If they were lucky. Proper country soon, though.

‘The feathers. In the jackets. That the Juffle is actually a really, really rare bird. With special super feathers.’

‘If only. Then we could breed some. That’s a myth, I’m afraid. Juffle is just a made-up word – sounding a bit like duffel.’

‘Like duffel jacket?’

‘Like that. Only much more expensive.’

‘Hmm.’ They sure were. Charlotte nastygirl Hunt had one, and she’d only let you so much as try it on if she got a whole bag of crisps. Which she did. Lots. Bit of luck, with all those crisps she’d soon be too fat for the jacket, and they could hunt the charity shops for it. Anyway, the jacket was impossible super hyper crazy warm. Like toast. Like burnt toast. January. Top playground. East wind. Windchill factor ninety thousand (rising rapidly) and you were still warm as toasted toast. How did they do it?

‘They’re weird.’

‘They’re a menace, alright.’

‘No, but really.’ (Dan stirring his kiddie paws now, like he’s feeling to make sure his Olympic gold sleep medal is still there. Katie drops her voice more.) ‘When the wind blows, they kind of fluff.’

A shrug in the mirror. ‘Gimmicks will never cease.’

‘It isn’t, though. Just a gimmick. The windier it gets, the warmer they get.’

So you’re told.’

Whoops! Off with your head, young lady… ‘Suzi says so. She tried Charlotte’s on.’

Over a roundabout now, and buildings thinning out already.

Mum took a gulp of water once they hit the straight. ‘Well. Global warming won’t do them any favours.’

And then they hit a pothole, and Dan woke from his dreams of Olympic glory, and looked funny and cross, and now it was his turn to say:

‘Are we there yet?’

Which might not be quite the last time.

Chapter Three

Meet the Juffles

OK. So: we’ve got to cut back, now, to early Monday morning. A bit confusing, I know, but you might have seen this in films, right, where they play around with Time a bit. And if not, you may as well get used to it, so that you can watch the films, and not get confused – the best films, after all, are almost as good as books. But. Where were we?

Yes: early Monday morning. Dan and Katie are still asleep, and Dan is having a bad dream about how he’s late for an exam, but he needs to tie his shoelaces, and also have his hair cut before the exam, which in cold daylight seems wacky crazy, but you know what dreams are… And, one very, very, very long drive away, out on the coast, a little south of Uncle Jake’s, it’s just getting light on the clifftop. The grass is all dewy and glimmering and cold, a bit like your lawn when you go out for school in September, and there are rabbit droppings on it. In the gorse bushes further back from the cliff edge a couple of little birds are hopping about, and, looking really carefully, you can see a black and white snout peeping out a hole in the bank. This, if you haven’t seen one, is a badger, which are kind of shy and tricky to see – much harder than rabbits, for example.

Just now, the tide is way back, and for once you can’t actually hear it up here on the cliff, by the coastal path. Later, there’ll be a tractor in the field, and gulls squawking, and probably even a couple of crazy wild kids, mad as monkeys who’ve just won the banana lottery, romping like devils cause they’ve just escaped from Hell (in the nick of time) and made it straight to Heaven. And that’ll be noisy. Trust me. But now, this is the tricky thing to imagine about this spot of grass and bushes, with the sky above, slowly getting brighter. The tricky thing is – and prick up your ears now – you cannot hear…

anything.

Nothing at all. This is actually very rare. Try for a moment, and see what I mean. If you’re reading this in bed, you might think it’s pretty quiet. But, chances are, you can probably hear something. A car out in the street; the washing machine downstairs; maybe a computer, mumbling and fanning itself; or maybe just rain pattering on the skylight or the window. To hear absolutely nothing at all is, as I say, all too rare – so if you get the chance, make the most of it while you can.

Now, maybe because it’s so quiet, and maybe also because it’s so early, all ripe and dewy and full of possibility, the world looks a bit like it’s waiting for something. Which, in fact, it is. Because… what’s this? Just between the path and the cliff edge, something’s moving in the grass. Several things, now we get closer, are moving – almost like there’s a tiny tremor in the earth. Spooky… And now:

POP!

Six little circles of earth shoot up, little discs of grass and earth about the size of Dan’s palm, and six little heads pop up into the light. What the…? Well, easy peasy, you might say: moles! Six velvety mole snouts, looking out to greet the new day, and thinking smugly, ‘Ha! we ain’t going to school, September or not. Chew on that, kids.’ Fair guess, really. But these heads have feathers. And sure enough, they’re six birds. Very rare birds indeed, which make their nests underground, and then pull these little lids of earth back on snugly, so no one would ever guess they were there. And these…

… are the Juffles.

So now things do get kind of tricky. I mean, we just heard Mrs Chatham, right, saying these birds are some kind of myth. And Mrs Chatham is grown-up, and pretty darn clever, with the car and the job and keeping that pair on a tight leash against all the odds. True. But fact is, here are the birds, waddling about, fluffing their feathers a little, catching the light in tiny gleams, as the sun rises higher over the hill opposite the sea. So. Dilemma. What do we tell Mrs Chatham? Because grown-ups, they don’t like being wrong. Well, as it turns out, these birds might just do Mrs Chatham one pretty big juffling favour. But meanwhile, I don’t think we need to mess her head up with these waddling Juffles. As she has a lot on her mind, already.

One last thing, before we head off to meet Uncle Jake. It’s hard to guess, from where we are, but these birds, if you could kneel down in the dew there by them, on the grass, are really, really warm. They’re so warm, in fact, they seem almost to glow. So warm, that pulling your gloves off there on the grass, you could cup your hands over them, and feel the heat rippling up across your palms. Strange, but true.

In a perfect world, we could just say goodbye to the birds now, and leave them to their birdy business, rooting up the worms and skimming on the winds over the cliff edge. In a perfect world, nobody, not Mrs Chatham or anyone else, would know these weird birds existed, and they’d just live up here in secret, in their little bit of nature which they’ve got worked out very smartly. And in a perfect world, there wouldn’t be, stalking up, very very quietly, two big pairs of boots, and two hands clutching two big nets, and two mean nasty faces looking at each other, cunning as old foxes, miming, Sssh! But. There are. And now, just that split second too late for the birds to fly, down they come…

WHOOSH!

Two big shadows, two big nets. And the bright, new, ordinary but still special day, suddenly, goes dark.

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