A Story for May: An extract from the next instalment of 44 Scotland Street

May 2023

Enter Galactica McFie.

Alexander is writing the next volume of Scotland Street at the moment and is keen to share the goings-on of his favourite characters. In this novel, we are back in the world of Angus and Domenico, Bruce, Matthew and Elspeth, and, of course, Bertie and his friend Ranald Braveheart Macpherson.

There is a new member of Bertie’s class at school. This is a girl called Galactica McFie – and she is going to be a match for Olive and her lieutenant, Pansy.

This is Galactica’s first appearance. She is being introduced here by Bertie’s teacher, Miss Campbell:

“This, boys and girls,” she said, “is our new member. This is …” She hesitated. She was used to unusual names – after all there was a Tofu in the class, as well as a Valentina and a Brexita – and so no eyebrow should have been raised by the arrival of one Galactica McFie, a girl of seven-and-a-half with neatly-plaited blonde hair and a pert, retroussé nose.

“Galactica,” Miss Campbell continued, “has come to us from Stirling. Her parents are now living in Edinburgh – that’s so, isn’t it, Galactica, dear?”

“That’s correct,” said Galactica. “We’ve moved to Ann Street. Do you know where that is?”

The teacher shot her a glance.

“It’s the best street in Edinburgh, my Mummy says. Miles better than Heriot Row. She says that Edinburgh is full of streets that are suitable for people like us.”

“I see,” said Miss Campbell, through clenched teeth.

“My Daddy has taken a job in Edinburgh,” Galactica continued. “He’s a neurologist. Neurologists are very clever. They know all about nerves and brains and things.” She paused. “I shall be a neurologist when I grow up. I already know quite a bit about it.”

The class remained silent as they eyed Galactica.

“There are so many things we can become when we are grown-up,” said Miss Campbell, breezily. “Sometimes the choice is just too great, I fear.”

Galactica lowered her voice, as if to impart a confidence. “I don’t have to worry about any of that. They’re keeping a place for me in Edinburgh. It’s official.”

“Well,” said Miss Campbell, “I think you’ll still have to apply for medicine in the fulness of time. That’s a long way away, though.”

Galactica stared at her. “We’ll see,” she said, enigmatically.

“Galactica can sit next to Bertie, I think,” said Miss Campbell. “You can put your things in the desk, dear. We’ll find you a peg later on.”

“This is a bit of a dump,” said Galactica.

Miss Campbell frowned. ‘We don’t say things like that, Galactica. It’s not nice to call other people’s classrooms dumps.”

“Even if they are?” asked Galactica.

Miss Campbell ignored the question.  “I think you’ll find this a very friendly school, Galactica. We are all here to support one another.” She gave Galactica a warning look, as she said this, and then went on, “Everyone can be what they want to be here. Everybody has a chance. Do you see what I mean?”

“Yes, I do,” said Galactica. “I was in the Brownies. I would have been a patrol leader if I had stayed. I played hockey for the school under ten team. I can write my name. I can spell Edinburgh and Callander. I have started to write a book that I will finish when I am fourteen or fifteen. I have plenty of time. I can speak fourteen words of Catalan. I’m going to get a pilot’s licence when I’m seventeen. That’s my personal statement.” She paused, and then added, “That’s my truth, you see.”

“Very good,” said Miss Campbell. “It’s so nice that you’re a busy wee soul.”

And she thought: why did I get these children – and their mothers? This one’s going to be an ocean-going little madam – no two doubts about it. And just think of her mother …

Galactica took her place, next to Bertie, who smiled at her encouragingly, even if with a measure of caution. For a few minutes she busied herself unpacking her satchel, placing an array of sharpened pencils on the desktop before her and opening a small blue jotter at a page already headed by the day’s date, carefully lettered in red. Then she turned to scrutinise Bertie.

“So,” she began. “So, you’re Bertie, then.”

Bertie nodded. “My full name is Bertie Pollock. I live in Scotland Street.”

Galactica absorbed this information with a curt nod. “I see,” she said. “And have you got any brothers and sisters?”

“I’ve got one brother,” said Bertie. “He’s younger than me. He’s at nursery school. He often gets projectile vomiting.”

Galactica reached for a pencil. “Do you mind if I take notes?” she said.

Bertie frowned. “Why?” he asked.

Galactica tapped her pencil. “Because I like to keep a record,” she said. “You never know, do you, Bertie Pollock?”

Bertie said that he did not mind. His voice was wary. Olive and Pansy were difficult enough, but this new girl seemed to be in a wholly different league. Why were girls so difficult? Why did they have to make it so hard for boys?

“And what is your brother’s name?” asked Galactica.

Bertie hesitated. Other boys had brothers called Bill or Jim, or Harry, even. He had Ulysses.

“He’s called Ulysses,” he answered, almost apologetically.

Galactica began to note that down, but gave up on the spelling. Now she looked about her, which gave Bertie a feeling of relief.

“Who’s that girl over there?” she whispered, as Miss Campbell had begun to address the class about something.

Bertie followed Galactica’s gaze. He knew who she must be looking at, even before his glance confirmed it. It had to be Olive. This was destined to be.

“That’s Olive,” he whispered back.

Galactica’s verdict came quickly. “That’s a stupid name. An olive is a little green thing that people eat. You may as well be called Tomato.”