Ok, so I tried some more and ignoring the tail for now helps. Thanks.
I am still getting the problem of (and it's not just a random loop) my last stitch in a row being way looser than the others... and I can't tighten it! From what I can tell, when I start the first row, the first stich is loose because of the tail and the string... this extra length passes down the row to become this rather annoying excess at the end. Am I just not holding things tight enough?
sorry to be a pest about this... thank you for all the help.