And That’s Not All

One of our members, Richard Gillies, presents this short piece, which he assures us is not entirely autobiographical.


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And That’s Not All

When you are young, your personality is new formed, and if there is anything wrong with its construction you take a long time to accept there is any need for improvement. That is why, when trying to impress, you will go to any length to put a sticking plaster over what is on the outside, rather than dealing with what lies within. Take myself: I used to buy Falcon hair spray to improve hair that probably did not need any improving, yet something sold me into using it. I must have thought it made me look better, but whether it did was never been clear. Studying the evidence as impartially as recollection affords, I cannot thing of a single benefit that came my way as a result of its application. It may have had the opposite effect, and acted as a deterrent, yet the data is not there to pass judgement, and all I can say is that the advertising won through. This was at the time when people did not like their hair to move. Hats were becoming a bit, well, old hat and so people were using their hair as a surrogate certainty, and like most surrogates they required to have qualities similar to the original.

Not only did I want my hair not to move, I thought I could do a better job of cutting it myself. I am being a tad disingenuous here, as the real reason I was giving the barber a miss, was because I could not stand hair going down the back of my neck, and if I could cut it myself I could institute appropriate measures to reduce such an event taking place. I had challenged the hairdresser, a Mister Flockhume, on this but he protested that not a single hair had ventured south of my white polyester collar, yet I could always sense the occasional follicle escapee, either in reality, or in my head. Anyway, it was the uncertainty that troubled me most and with this in mind I bought myself a hair trimmer. This was the time when infomercials were beginning to appear on T.V. and people like K-Tel and Ronco were pushing their wares at every turn.

So I ordered one, and when it arrived, I unwrapped the brown paper and found a small box that once opened evoked great promise.  Though it looked like a lice comb from hell, with its double sided line of teeth and razors embedded, it resembled a serrated guillotine, curiosity of the unknown prevailed and won me over.

From the start difficulties began to become apparent. As each side of the device had a business end, handling proved rather awkward and, in addition, it soon became obvious that cutting your own hair required standing outside of yourself. That was only possible metaphorically, so plan B saw me with a mirror in hand, held in such a way as to reflect the reflection of the back of my head. This was where the hallway mirror came in useful. But this was not plane sailing, for as well as the fact that one hand was already employed there was the problem, which the nautical phrase invoked, in that the sea was not a plane flat surface and neither was the mirror, which had a fish-eye glass. So this was where dreamy theory and real reality began to part company.

I commenced to cut my hair, with large swatches falling to the floor like frayed cloth. After two or three cuts the blades were showing signs of becoming dull, causing further tugging, which brought forth the occasional yelp as the blade dug in. Yet everything seemed on track and as I finished off, the inspection that followed did not seem to disappoint. The occasional sight of blood was written off as work in progress: something that would be resolved by practise. Overall I was pleased with my first attempt, and being my own barber gave great satisfaction. And so, with this in mind, I went through to the kitchen. Though not looking for a second opinion, nevertheless I was given one anyway. My mother dropped one of her Aynsley Bone China tea-cups, collateral damage that would later be added to my charge sheet, for it broke the integrity of the set I was told, and caused her to shed tears, but whether the cause or the effect was to blame, for the origin of her precipitation remained unclear, I never could fathom. My father took a different tack and found it all very amusing, so much so, he hurried off and returned armed with his Instamatic, firing off all four sides of his flash cube, just to get “that special moment.”

So, like most gadgets, the DIY hair trimmer never lived up to the hype, and was filed in the ashcan. I was sent off the next day for some damage limitation, an exercise the austere Mister Flockhume carried out without any comment save to ask if I wanted something for the weekend.

Although looking a lot older than my years, I was still quite young and in my naivety I said.

“Do you have any smoky bacon flavour?”

At first he looked confused, lifting his scissors from my hair, he paused for a moment, looking at my reflection, he then returned to his industry replying in his monotone voice.

“I can see sir is a man of the world.”

Minute of our AGM – 11th January 2017

Nethergate Writers – Annual General Meeting – 11th January 2017

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Present: David Carson (Chair), Tom Jennis, Abby Lyons, Aileen Cook, Colin Donald, Richard Gillies, Ray Kinsman, Craig Mudie, David Frances and Rosie Baillie.

Apologies: Sue Baxter, Susan Proctor, Roddie McKenzie and Fiona Pretswell.

1. DC welcomed everybody to the meeting. RB volunteered to take the minute in FP’s absence. DC proposed that the minutes of the previous AGM were adopted with no corrections, this was seconded by CM.

2. Matters Arising:

DC questioned the quorum for the group which was previously set at 10%. The group agreed that this was quite low and after discussion agreed to reset the quorum at a third of the membership. This was proposed by CM and seconded by AC.

DC reminded the group that at the previous AGM they had decided to plan a social event for the group. The event had not taken place and DC wondered if the group should try again. The group
agreed to hold an annual social event going forward and AC agreed to organise it.

ACTION: AC to arrange social event to take place in Jan-Feb 2017.

3. Treasurers Report:

RB circulated an account summary to the group. RB had gained access to the bank account in June 2016 and had recorded all income and expenditure since then.

RB highlighted main expenditure as being on web hosting and the Scottish Association of Writers membership. She forecast that these costs would recur on an annual basis. RB also highlighted the small but regular income from Amazon. RB explained the situation with the Amazon account which was still held under our former tutor’s personal Amazon account. It was agreed that RB would contact both her and Amazon to try and transfer management of the Nethergate Writers account to herself. The group agreed that it was worth maintaining the Amazon account.

Once in control of the account it was agreed that the remaining stock would be added as another mechanism to sell it.

ACTION: RB to arrange transfer of Amazon sellers account, and add physical stock to be sold alongside the e-books.

RB also presented the stock list to the group and asked for a decision on what to do with it all. The group discussed various options, but agreed for the moment to keep the stick with the hope of selling it via Amazon. The group also agreed that free ‘marketing’ copies could be given to local hotels or cafés. It was agreed that contact details etc would be updated.

ACTION: All members to ask RB for a ‘marketing’ copy if they identify a suitable venue.

ACTION: CM to publicise the various books on the website, e.g. spotlight on a different book each month.

The group also discussed how the money might be used to further support the work of Nethergate Writers. It was agreed that it could be used to support a future publication(s), with the possibility of a pamphlet to coincide with 2017 Dundee Literary Festival. AL also reminded the group that there was a final ISBN available to the group for use on a future publication. It was also agreed that we may need to use the funds in future to pay for a venue to meet in, if the link to Dundee University was lost.

DC suggested that, going forward, members of the group could pay £2 each time they attended a Nethergate Writers meeting; and that this was a method to bring in a regular income. The group
agreed and further clarified that new members would attend their first meeting for free, but that on becoming a member they would be asked to contribute. The group also agreed that members would not be expected to pay the sum if they did not attend a meeting.

ACTION: RB to arrange receipt of payments going forward.

ACTION: Group to review this arrangement at next AGM.

4. Webmaster’s report:

CM confirmed that the website had been running since June 2016 and that since then it had received 494 unique visitors and had a bounce rate of 48%. (Bounce rate is defined as where visitors to the website land on the front page and then do not peruse the sight any further.) There are on average, 6 posts per month, and to date there had been 2 comments in response to posts. (184 spam comments had been removed).

The group thanked CM for his continued work in support of the website. They went on to discuss how the website could be further developed. The following suggestions were made:

i) add ‘call to action’ points at the bottom of each post, e.g. ‘if you like this, you might like…’

ii) requirement for more prose posts (as opposed to poetry)

iii) serialise longer prose pieces

iv) members on Facebook should like and share all Nethergate Writers posts which will increase coverage, and encourage their friends and family to follow the site

v) at the end of each meeting, the group should agree what pieces could be added to the site to assist CM in populating the site.

vi) remove the ‘new’ from the opening banner as the website was essentially no longer new

vii) delete ‘next meeting’ posts each time a new one is added to remove confusion

viii) for Facebook posts, always add a striking image as this will encourage readers to stop and engage

ix) on a monthly basis, a different member of the group to answer 4-5 standard questions about themselves and their writing – a ‘spotlight on’ series.

ACTION: CM to take forward the suggestions mentioned above.

5. Chair’s Review of the Year:

2016 had been a successful and busy year for the group, with 19 meetings (average attendance = 8).

The meetings had been enjoyable and varied, with never a shortage of writing to discuss. The group agreed that the recording an informal minute of the meetings should continue and it was unanimously agreed that DC would continue to do so.

DC congratulated Roddie McKenzie and Rosie Baillie on their successes in 2016 (Roddie with publications in Lallans, Seagate and the Irvine Museum; and Rosie in the Breathing Space Competition).

6. Election of Office Bearers:

The existing office bearers were all happy to continue in their roles and the group unanimously agreed. There were no objections and no other volunteers. Office bearers for 2017 as follows:

Chair: David Carson

Secretary: Fiona Pretswell

Treasurer: Rosie Baillie

Webmaster: Craig Mudie

7. Membership

It was agreed that FP would email those members who had not attended (or rarely attended) in 2016 to ask if they would like to continue on the mailing list.

[Post meeting note: DC to take on this task in Fiona’s absence]

ACTION: DC to email members and ask for confirmation that they wish to remain on email list.

8. Future meetings

The group agreed to hold monthly meetings during term time, and fortnightly outwith term time. FP to request booking from February onwards.

[Post meeting note: RB to take on this task in Fiona’s absence]

ACTION: RB to make room bookings.

The group discussed future plans, on the basis that the University may not continue the evening classes beyond Spring 2017. Suggestions for new venues were discussed, and also the option of the group paying a tutor in a private arrangement. The group were open to all suggestions and agreed to revisit as and when required.

The group also agreed that they should consider inviting speakers to their meetings going forward.

ACTION: All members are invited to consider possible speakers and seek to make arrangements for their attendance at future meetings in liaison with the secretary.

At forthcoming meetings, the group will discuss engagement with the Literary Festival and possibilities for an accompanying publication; alongside plans for possible Pecha Kucha appearance.

ACTION: Roddie to make contact with Dundee Literary Festival to ask about possibility of some sort of involvement in 2017.

ACTION: AL and RB to make plans for Pecha Kucha having volunteered to present at the event if chosen.

[Post-meeting note: slot at next Pecha Kucha confirmed (28th Feb).

9. Meeting concludes: CM thanked DC for his chairmanship of the meeting and his ongoing input to the group.

A Pair From Roddie

One of our members, Roddie McKenzie, has been busy over the last few weeks.

Firstly, he has had a poem ‘The Gairdener’s Lousin Time’ published in the most recent issue of ‘Lalans’, (#89) the journal of the Scots Languge society. Further details (including how to order copies) can be found on their website here – http://www.lallans.co.uk/index.php/lallans

And on top of that, Roddie’s poem ‘Cumbrae’ is on display in the current exhibition at the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine. Further information, including opening times for the exhibition, can be found here – http://www.whatsonayrshire.com/harbourartscentre.html

Chattering From The Chair – Monday 12th December

David Carson, the Chair of Nethergate Writers, give his rundown of events at our final meeting of 2016.


The three R’s were highly visible at this meeting – Ray, Richard, Roddie, along with David. The four of us passed a stimulating ninety minutes. Our first discussion centred on some computer problem solving. One of the R’s hopes soon to be creating online, and will be keen to share!

Four pieces of writing had been circulated. First up, from Roddie, Rescue Dive. We all enjoyed and appreciated the extended metaphor that ran through the verses, in particular:

These thoughts
I hold like my breath
and follow them down
hand-lining
on a barely illuminated
rope of theory.
Free diving.

Suggestions for minimal improvement included the removal of one or two words, and a small re-ordering.

Perhaps as valuable as commenting on the poem was the discussion that followed about depression, and its causes and treatments.

Then followed Richard’s Walk, an account of the attempts by a host to go for a stroll with guests who had stayed on after a wedding. The characters were strongly drawn, the setting vivid and real, and the dialogue completely natural and believable. We thought that sentence length should be more varied to reflect the different aspects of the narrative. We all thoroughly enjoyed it.

David’s piece, Broken Journeys tried to describe a specific phenomenon that had been classed as anti-social but could be taken as applying to anyone who steps outside society’s norms. Some interesting comments on justice ensued.

Finally, we looked at The Wasteland, another piece from Roddie. This received instant approbation, and bar a few suggestions for minor changes we thought it an excellent description of and reflection on urban decay.

The evening finished with mutual good wishes for the Season, and reminders of the AGM on Wednesday 11 January 2017.