Richard’s Ramblings – 29th January 2020

One of our members, Richard Gillies, provides a report of our last meeting, written in his own inimitable style.

Present – Gillian, David, Sarah, David Francis, Phillip, Abigail, Ian, Susan, Richard, Rosie, Craig, Aileen, Sandra

Apologies – Rupert, Susan

This week Craig started the ball rolling in that we began by reading pieces straight away so that the bulk of the work that had been sent should have an airing.

First to be read was a piece by Roddie called Doon the Nethergate, which brings to mind the old adage when in Dundee do as the Dundonians do. Doon the Nethergate is about how Gnasher meets a unicorn and asks why it has come down from the cross. Gnash calls him spike, philosophises about mythology, loyalty, and useful employment then marks his territory by an old wall that is less than grateful about being on the wrong side of his yellow rain. Spike and Gnash have a reservation at the Queen’s hotel for left over food but the usual kitchen lassie is not around. Empty-handed Gnash decides to look elsewhere and on the way Gnash opens up about how he and his maister have been made homeless. Social Services have been involved, mainly due to the to old school discipline at home and the new school celebrating change but incorrectly. Dennis cannot be accommodated at the homeless shelter because they have a no pets policy and therefore he is having to live rough. It’s Halloween and the warm mills and newsprint of the past has been replaced by office security and anti-homeless architecture of the present. Spike, fully appraised of the situation, joins Gnash as they go dumpster diving and on the way the meet Gnash’s friends, penguins called Adelie, Maud, Halley, Vicki and Liz. They too are suffering from the cold being rooted fixtures they cannot cuddle up like their Antarctic cousins. Gnash’s olefactory organs have sensed something interesting and he notices a drunk tackling a chicken supper and using his charm purloins his pock. Realities of the real world intrude and Gnash et al have to fend off a mugger who is attacking his maister. Duly kebabbed the mugger runs off leaving a trail of fight or flight hormonal scents in his wake.They have saved the day but the maister’s ill health has taken a turn for the worse. Due to a lack of opposable thumbs they find they cannot get an ambulance. Even when Minnie and Dan emerge from the mist, like Michelangelo’s David emerging from the marble, their cartoon fingers are too clumsy. Desperate Dan carries the patient to the steps of the court house where Minnie uses her sling to put out the street light so their not discovered. So to sum up when the world of the imagination intrudes upon reality, a happy ending is not a certainty.

 Roddie informed us it was supersized with extra Dundonian and screened by two native speakers so we can reasonably confident that the writing corresponds with how it is spoken. However, this contributor’s laying out might need a government health warning, however it has been a joy to read. 

The piece was read by Craig with great alacrity for the reading was as much a tour de force as the writing. To bring to life inanimate objects is one thing to bring to life inanimate objects in broad Dundonian I suspect is something else. Of course, Desperate Dan et al from the Dandy and Beano are an institution in Dundee and indeed Roddie certainly reinforces their roots by affirming that should not be forgotten. Points brought up included, what certain words meant, would Desperate Dan speak with a Texas drawl, and sorry about the last comma, which brings up the question of inverted commas and there use in speech. Most thought it was an excellent piece of work bringing full of humour and atmosphere. There was also a query about technique in which it was questioned whether it was written in plain English and then changed to the vernacular, or if it was born fully formed in its finished state.

Talking about atmosphere and it was Susan’s story next to be read. For this was a warm, affectionate looking back to the nineteen sixties. Two women, Joyce and Pat typify the times with their beehive hairstyles, high length boots and min skirts. Angst ridden whether the Scottish weather is going to play havoc with their appearance they opt to go to the Queens rather than to the Bread. Here the weather seems to have taken a hand in the decision making process in that they meet Ron and Barry.  Well met by moonlight Ron and Barry and after the introductions have been concluded they team up to party on down to the theatre to indulge themselves with a pantomime: performance of Mother Goose, buoyed up by Rum and Coke and the great smell of Brut. Things go well for a while then get a little weird with evocations of the past and the present events colliding at the end of the performance. Amongst the old film stock, the group find themselves locked in a room begin to hear strange noises. Ghosts of the buildings many incarnations seem loath to leave as if a surfeit of entertainment has become embedded in the very fabric of the building. This brings to mind magical realism with books like Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus with reality and fantasy inextricably linked. From fantasy to farce and mother goose in mid undress saves the day and even asks them to après performance drinkies, and being the troopers they were, they agreed. Finally, they come to the realisation that all they have experienced is a legacy of the theatre’s history.

First comments were positive about the suspense and wondering what happens next. Another comment concerned Ron’s ambitions as a budding thespian. Was Mother Goose a plot spoiler and perhaps not enough ‘show don’t tell’ with the girls’ reactions to the boys. A positive comment about the girl’s perspective was advanced as was a more historical query about the theatre royal itself. It was generally agreed that the story had a certain authenticity that evoked the period with the stuff that resonated then but forgotten now and how the verity of the way people expressed themselves can best be presented by those who have experience of it.

David Francis goes a little further back in time with his Dundee in 1723 Or a Nethergate Tale concerning a Chancer, a Tailor, a Whaler and a Jailer. David uses Daniel Defoe’s quote as a starting point and tells us of his archival studies as an amateur historian. The venture that follows brings to mind the gothic genre in which a document, in this case a poem, is discovered which tells a strange story. It is about a Chancer called Nethergate Norris and because its author purports to be unknown, but which was composed by the author himself adds to its authenticity. The poem is about a “a rascal, a pickpocket, a thief,” to quote David’s poem. Nethergate must have been a den of iniquity then, which of course it no longer true. It is well written style is so of that time that you could easily imagine the likes of Dick Turpin making an appearance. There follows a court scene in which a tailor is presented as a prosecution witness. His complaint brings the defendants character into question. The defendant is of course the chancer Nethergate Norris, who despite appearing to be of good character somewhat fails to live up to that by pinching the tailors watch. Another witness is a whaler who corroborates what the tailor says about Norris’s honesty by telling his own story of woe in which the man tried to steal his wallet and if were not for his shipmate would have been severely out of pocket. Finally, we have confessional with the jailer being privy to Norris’s fessing up of all his past misdemeanours. How someone far from being ashamed of how he made his living is proud, not just of doing it but doing it well and only being undone by his own conscience. However, his professional pride is restored when he steals the jailer’s wallet and then returns it. A very impressive piece which fits with the early enlightenment with its air of the doffing of hats, loveable rogues, and a casual attitude towards capital punishment. One member enjoyed use of the Daniel Defoe quote. The poem was seen as convincing. The courthouse scenes laid out perhaps too long said one, was countered by another who thought it built up the atmosphere really well. Macphersons rant came to another’s mind about another unfortunate who found himself on the wrong side of the law and was hung in duplicitous circumstances. Is calling the chap Nethergate taking a liberty proffered David gamely refusing to plead the fifth amendment. However, if he hides in the Nethergate, if he shops in the Nethergate and if he’s known by the moniker Nethergate it suggests he is a Nethergater. Final thoughts were offered about how the language spoken and written was very in keeping of that time and would give the anthology variety.

Aileen has written story called Chimera, With Kippers. This about some rather rotund gentleman who thinks fish and chips shops have a broader selection of fish than is the case. Of course, it turns out to be Winston Churchill in some alternate universe who may not be too familiar with fast food, as a lot of politicians tend to come a cropper when they wander too far from their silver service. Churchill complains about how ungratefully he was treated by his Dundee electorate though a lot of MP’s chose a distant constituency just because they were distant. The person Churchill is talking to in the chip shop happens to be Ernest Shackleton the explorer. The tale continues with each telling the other of the various successes and failures in their various fields of endeavour. The two are wary of each other at the beginning as well as being somewhat ignorant of each other’s exploits. For Shackleton it was not being around for Churchill’s later years, whilst for Churchill, well he had a lot on his plate would be the charitable response. Finally, they seem resolved that they did alright though the recognitions were given more gratefully when given posthumously. This is a well written story, creative in character and, if there is indeed a multiverse, believable. The bumptious voice of Churchill and the more laconic Shackleton were well captured it was said. One person wondered the about the maggot infested kipper and such is Churchill’s fame the Queen’s hotel framed this less than glowing review so that their patrons can both revere and gag in equal measure.

Yes, kippers are not on a chip shop’s menu but apparently whisky is opined one member. Probably a hip flask could save the day here. All in all, it was suggested that the piece was complete as far as a beginning, a middle and an end were concerned.

The final piece read out was called Thank Heaven for Little Girls. It begins with a girl standing outside a hotel’s toilets while her mother within seems in some distress. This is a very descriptively written story about a wedding and the rich realities that such events can become. Natasha, the girl, is drawn away from guarding the door and along the corridor to an old lady called Mamie who begins to tell her about when she was last in the hotel in 1908. Then we are taken back to when she was a little girl of ten and how she stowed away in a certain Mrs H’s car after falling out with her mother. Mamie is a witness to history being made as they go to where Churchill is on a soap box speechifying to a crowd. He was harangued by suffragettes at every quarter being somewhat equivocal about women’s right to vote. Mamie is torn away from the throng who had attended the now absent politician’s speech but finds him where he hid himself. Politicians can be found many strange places even to this day. A large fridge springs to mind. However, we are then transported back to the nineteen eighties and Mamie’s take home message to Natasha is you should not be overwhelmed with the enormity of what you want to achieve for there lies cynicism.

Another well written story finished off this meeting and the comments were as follows: –

One of the writers wondered why the mother was upset. Sarah answered there had been a fight, but the word count meant that scene landed in the cutting floor. That does not detract from the story as it is not a key event however and the questionnaire added the ending was very good. The author worried the ending might be too trite but those present thought not. A lovely descriptive piece was what another of those present thought. Point of view was queried

What happened to the mum, was another point raised. The storie’s ending was praised to which the author said she did not want it to be too trite. Lovely description said another member. Point of view was queried but whether it was a real issue, though discussed, did not resolve if it was an issue or not. Should Mamie be too shy to address Churchill was also addressed though she seemed to have enough chutzpah to secrete herself in Mrs H’s car. Finally, was solemnly overused. Put together this was a well executed narrative and everybody seemed to enjoy it.

A little bit of business brought the meeting to a close. A query about who was attending the following week in which a plan of action with time scales and everything else that is to be considered. Volunteers for chairing the next meeting were between Susan and David.

The next meeting is February 12th. 

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