McClafferty Middletoun Melancholy
It was a crunchy cold afternoon somewhere up a sheep-
lined, tractor-chugging, coal-tit-twittering track in Fiddle
Wood, in the Scottish Borders. The McClaffertys were hud-
dled around a crackling fire in Middletoun Farmhouse’s
kitchen when something hairy howled outside...
…something as hairy and clammy as a half-eaten, hair-
covered pork pie.
Uncle Patrick jumped, Lucy shuddered and baby Ro-
wan wailed, matching the howls.
Usually, Lucy and Ben spent many hours a day sitting
high up in two of the old chestnut trees, Groan and Creek,
looking out for grey squirrels, spies and other dangerous
people. But not this holiday—the last three weeks an unre-
lenting sleet had grown fangs, biting into their soft, freckled
‘Bored! Bored! Bored!’ sulked Ben, scuffing his shoes
along the wall.
‘Aaarrgh!’ groaned Mum, throwing a pan of burnt sau-
sages onto the fire.
‘I’ve had it!’ Lucy growled, doodling unhappy badgers
all over her fuschia TOP SECRET UNDERCOVER diary,
which Ben liked to tell her didn’t have a very undercover
colour at all.
Lucy always doodled badgers when she was in a bad
mood but this was the first time in her twelve years on the
planet that her mood had lasted so long. Her diary was cov-
ered top to bottom in growling badgers.
Lucy was in a terrible mood for two reasons. One rea-
son was the vicious weather, which left her feeling as flat
and salty as Salar de Uyuni, a salt flat in Bolivia known to
be the flattest place on Earth. The other was that Lucy
hadn’t heard Grandma laughing for months. Grandma had
an incredible hooting laugh which made everyone else
laugh too. Lucy loved her, as she always said what she real-
ly thought, not just what other people wanted to hear, un-
like most adults. She spoke eight languages and told Lucy
and Ben stories from all around the world. Of course some
people who looked at Grandma saw a batty old woman and
talked to her like she was a baby. Grandma would go along
with it and gurgle back at them. Then, when they were
gone, she would slap her ample thighs and roar with laugh-
ter at their silliness. But that was then.
Nobody had laughed, or even giggled, for months. No-
body had chortled, sniggered, guffawed, hooted or even
smiled. Baby Rowan was crying more than usual and the
milk was turning sour. Even the house martins nesting un-
der the eaves of the roof were squabbling and the twittering
coal tits had stopped twittering.
Lucy felt a strange emptiness inside, like a cold wind
whistling through an abandoned school playground. It
wasn’t just Middletoun Farmhouse that had stopped laugh-
ing. All up and down Scotland, and in fact all up and down
and round the world, no one was laughing anymore, except
maybe among some uncontacted Peruvian tribes deep in
the Amazon jungle, but that we’ll never know.
An announcement bleated on the radio.
‘The happiest man in the world, Bhuti Phuntsok from
Tibet, hasn’t smiled for months. Grenville Swan is investi-
The usually cheery radio host of Radio Borders, Kenny
McGroin, sounded unusually sad—his voice as lifeless as
lukewarm, lumpy custard. There was an uncomfortably
long pause as he fumbled for the next record. His changeo-
vers were usually exceptionally smooth. More than a few
eyebrows raised in the Borders and many more crinkled
when the saddest violin music in the world started playing.
Lucy’s eyes and nostrils welled up at the sound and Byron
began to yowl.
The front door banged. It was Mr McClafferty coming
in from work.