:: Article

Excerpt: Girl at End

By Richard Brammer.

“Bringing together Northern Soul and laboratory Cytology for the first time, Richard Brammer’s Girl at End is UK literary subculture at its best.
Isabel Waidner, author of Gaudy Bauble

Obscure soul records and obscure pap smear specimens. Fluid, fluidity and inflammation at 45 revolutions per minute. Girl at End was written during periodic bouts of hypomania (literally and not figuratively).
Richard Brammer

 

Outro

[Time allowed: 1 hour]

Write a composition on one of the following subjects:

1. Write a composition that ends – ‘I hope I shall never go there again’.

2. Describe two very different buildings that you have found interesting.

3. Explain the pleasures of some active hobby, e.g. sailing.

4. A long-distance lorry driver taking a snack in a cafe.

5. The blackness of winter.

 

Today is the 9th November 1989. Girl at End digs into a box of forgotten records in a record shop just around the corner from Superheaven and pulls out Vikki Styles’ little known 7-inch ‘The Tears Won’t Stop Falling’. Does she play it on the portable turntable that she carries everywhere? What do you think?

Today is only 34 days since Bette Davis died – one last flash of her “popping, neurotic eyes” and today is 39 days since Nathan’s Famous opened the first hot dog stand in Moscow. Today is 8,440 days since Darrell Banks’ mid-tempo classic ‘Open the Door to Your Heart’ was released in 1966 on Revilot Records in the USA. [1]

Do you think Girl at End knew that? She knew it. Girl at End is connoisseur. She is definitely connoisseur. She knows all of this.

On first listen, she can tell that Vikki Styles ‘The Tears Won’t Stop Falling’ is heavily indebted to the Darrell Banks classic, it has the same vocal melody but different lyrics, the same horns but Vikki’s version has a faster tempo. This sped up tempo is ironic because the Darrell Banks [2] version had been written originally by Donnie Elbert [3] under the title (still, its legal title) ‘Baby, Walk Right In’. The new title was the result of an attempt by Darrell Banks to release the record behind Donnie Elbert’s back but right in Donnie Elbert’s face whilst Donnie Elbert was on tour. Maybe they – Donnie and Darrell – laugh about it later, we don’t know but what we do know is that Darrell simply speeds up the song, changes the title and claims 100% credit for it. It doesn’t work, he doesn’t get 100% credit but he does end up getting royalties on 50% of a soul-classic despite having never written a note of it. But hey, that was Darrell Banks and, as they say, Darrell Banks isn’t Girl at End. Girl at End isn’t responsible for the actions of Darrell Banks.

It isn’t easy to find the year of release for the Vikki Styles version on the actual physical vinyl but this can wait because Girl at End has her rigorous cataloguing system. She can’t deal with the year until she’s looked into and identified the colour of the record’s label. She can’t decide whether the label is best described as Indian-red or mulberry so she summons Birdman. As everybody knows, Birdman is a doyen of Japanese colour systems. He’s here already. Birdman is fast.  He holds the record up to the light and reads the label, it says Odex Records, he comments on that decorative typeface but Girl at End has zero interest in typefaces and is in fact typeface-blind, unable to differentiate one from another. At school they bullied her. They put Helvetica in front of her and played the popular game, ‘Name That Typeface?’ Back then she didn’t know better. She’d guess ‘Garamond’. They’d laugh at her for her typeface ineptitude. Children of graphic designers can be cruel. Once they took out her sandwiches and hid International Style favourite Akzidenz-Grotesk in her lunchbox. She remembers this with fondness now. Birdman knows nothing of her typeface blindness. He isn’t being malicious when he brings it up. He examines the colour. He says it doesn’t conform exactly to a Japanese colour but that it is closest to botan-iro, which is the colour of a flowering plant in the genus Paeonia, the flowers of which are large and bisexual.

Girl at End does a quick search on her hand computer and finds that mischievous nymphs always hide in that plant, in amongst the petals, and that this imparts a related connotation of shame or bashfulness to the plant but that’s bullshit right, she asks Birdman. Not wanting to cede an inch of Japanese colour expertise, Birdman changes the subject.

‘Who’s Vikki Styles?’ he asks.

 

Surepath™

Unlike Thinprep™, the small white brushes or ‘broom-heads’ associated with Surepath™ preparations just snap right off. They are made to just snap off. Insert the brush into the endocervical canal and rotate it five times in a clockwise direction. Then snap it off. Simple. There’s no mystery. It sounds reckless? It isn’t reckless at all. The sole aim is to sample the squamous cells in the transformation zone for it is the cells of the transformation zone that are most in danger of becoming abnormal™. By snapping off the head of the brush inside the vial of ethanol-based preservative fluid there is zero chance of air-drying artefacts and you can be sure that the sample is 100% ‘there’ to be transported to the lab in the same vial. Vicki Williams doesn’t give a fuck about any of this though. It isn’t Vicki Williams’ job to deal with it. That part happens somewhere else, in a doctor’s surgery or in a smear test clinic or even in a colposcopy clinic. Fuck that part thinks Vicki Williams. That part isn’t any of my business at all.

Vicki Williams knows that the main problem with her job is excessive mucus. The problem has always been excessive mucus and excessive blood and excessive inflammation.

Obscuring factors.

Look, the first step is to get the cells off the brush. That’s the first step that Vicki Williams is called upon to do. She can’t do anything else until she’s done that. Stand next to the vortexer. Vortex the specimens. It isn’t time to go home yet. 24 samples at a time shake around in the plastic clam-shell container. There’s no skill to using this machine you say but let me put you right there. Imagine you’re Vicki Williams. What does she know that you don’t? She knows there’s an important caveat and that we need to talk about that as part of your vortexer training. What is this caveat? At some point, it had been noted that if the samples are simply allowed to spin around inside the vortexer then they aren’t really being properly vortexed and the cells are NOT being imparted to the liquid sufficiently thus rendering the process useless. A slipmat was added to the equation to prevent this but, given that the whole process effectively takes place blind, it is impossible to tell whether or not a few vials, maybe at the back or in the middle, are still spinning around inside the vortexer. This would suggest that the liquid inside them isn’t really being agitated all that much, that it isn’t vortexing properly.

“I’m spinning around, move out of my way”. Vicki Williams sometimes sings that when she’s vortexing. It’s sort of a stupid habit she has. But anyway, yeah, the caveat is that there is a small element of faith involved in all of this.

It isn’t really something that we are supposed to talk about. We’re just supposed to have faith. That’s how faith works. Nevertheless, it is possible that one or two vials out of every 24 could turn out to be scanty. Scanty means there will be scant evidence of cells in the liquid as they will have stayed on the brush. The cells are no use on the brush. If they don’t get into the liquid they won’t get onto a slide. Scanty means there are not enough cells to provide a screenable sample and not enough information to feed into the screener’s eyes as they look down through their microscopes. This will result in wasted glass slides, wasted processing time, plus, most importantly, wasted time for the patient. The screener is the one tasked with the job of appraising the state of the cells when looking down a microscope. It’s an important job and it’s a fairly skilled job but screeners don’t tend to get enough respect because historically it’s been seen as a job for women, a good part-time earner for ‘homemakers’ that is in actual fact a cut above standard jobs of that type. It is a very important job and many other women would’ve died without screeners acting as an early warning system. Whether the screeners wear headphones and listen to their favourite chart music or to gardening podcasts or to doom metal whilst they do this is really none of your fucking business.

A scanty sample will lead to the patient receiving a letter three months after her last test informing her to go back for another. She’s of a nervous disposition maybe. If so, she will worry. Alternatively, if she’s businesslike and abrupt, she will view this as very much an inconvenience. If she’s medically pious, she will rush back and do as the letter says. The letter will say that there is probably nothing to worry about. It’s merely a sample collection error. The lab will try and blame this on the sample-taker. They will say does this sample-taker even know where the transformation zone is? Is she/he a moron? Has she/he visualized the cervix and rotated the brush correctly? We have had that in the past. We had that situation, do you remember? I told you. It was the one where Vicki Williams was speaking to a sample-taker on the telephone, the sample-taker was insisting that yes she’d definitely visualized the cervix when in fact we could see on the hospital computer system that this particular patient had her cervix removed many many years before so whatever this sample-taker was visualizing it certainly wasn’t the cervix and no it wasn’t even a partial amount of cervix because the patient hadn’t had a partial hysterectomy but had in fact undergone a total abdominal hysterectomy and there was more chance that we could ourselves see more of the cervix than the nurse by going to the histology department and looking for it in a jar. As you read the last sentence, the one about the jar, you are permitted to laugh because that last sentence, particularly the bit at the end, would be viewed as a very very funny cytology/histology-based joke and there isn’t much that cytologists and histologists laugh about together because often they’re sworn enemies. Be warned that if you do laugh at this and you are caught laughing at this there is bound to be at least one person who has overheard your laughter who will point out that the patient wouldn’t be finding it so funny.

The way Vicki Williams sees it is that it’s her business if she chooses to laugh or not to laugh. She does her job well either way.

Meanwhile, following the failed sample, the patient will re-attend her GP surgery and the nurse there, the sample-taker, maybe even the one who once said she saw a patient’s cervix even when that patient no longer had a cervix, or maybe the one who sends a Christmas card to the lab every year and maybe a box of chocolates, and sends it mixed in with her specimens in a slightly unsanitary way, will likely tell the patient that the original failed specimen was definitely a lab error and not her error at all and she will say that the lab are always screwing up like this and she will seem very angry and will say to the patient, “I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years, my professionalism is not in doubt” and the patient will agree with the sample-taker and also roll her eyes at the stupidity of the lab but if she met someone from the lab for some reason, she would side with the lab and roll her eyes at the ineptitude of the sample-taker. Maybe she’s easily lead, this patient. Maybe she doesn’t really care and only wants an easy life. Maybe she doesn’t want to get involved with this bullshit lab versus GP surgery politics. Maybe she just wants to listen to Northern Soul or maybe she wants to start a Queercore fanzine. Maybe it’s snowing outside and she’s looking at the snow and that’s all she needs for now.

Another important side-effect of this situation and one that Vicki Williams knows very well is that the three-month period between one scanty inadequate sample and the taking of another is absolute and sacrosanct. To transgress it would be doing nobody any favours. The patient must not go back before this three-month period is over. Any sample taken before the three months are up will again be useless because epithelial cells take three months to regenerate. Everybody knows this and if they don’t they should know it. Somebody tell them for Christ sake!

To the outside world, the people who work in the lab are scientific. That’s the idea that labs set out to put across.

Vicki Williams wears her white coat like the rest of them. It isn’t completely white. Nobody’s lab coat is completely white. The only wholly white lab coats are seen in classic Hollywood cinema. This, too, is such a funny laboratory joke that you should never tell it to someone who is cutting up something small and delicate like a skin biopsy.

Lab workers ensure their name is written onto the back of their lab coat collars in thick marker pen and put it on a peg like junior school. The penned-on names flake quickly and blacken the neck. This doesn’t take long. The name remains just about legible. And then sweat happens of course. Under the arms, as you’d expect. Scientific people can and do sweat but it is not recommended that such behaviour be associated with science.

What is scientific though? What constitutes scientific? Corporate visitors to the lab are always dismayed by the jeans and the trainers visible beneath the white coats of the medical laboratory workers because in their world this displays a lack of professionalism but does their professionalism have any validity? They believe it does. They believe that trousers and shoes under lab coats and not trainers and jeans are related to better healthcare but this is bollocks and they are wrong, there is no relation. Everyone knows that studying “business-management” at university is basically the study of a Mickey Mouse subject, there is no merit in it. It’s a waste of taxpayer’s money because essentially there is nothing that you can learn about business. Being successful in business means being successful in business already, through already inheriting a lot of money and starting a business with that or through stealing money from poorer people and being allowed to get away with it. Business isn’t rocket science. Business isn’t medical science. There is no mysticism to business. Business isn’t important at all.

Vicki Williams often thinks this as she watches the corporate men tour the building. They tour it for meaningless reasons and these tours are hosted by senior hospital corporate managers who are equally meaningless. Corporate business needs to be seen to be doing something so as to offset its essential uselessness. The corporate visitors lean forward to shake the hands of lab staff but recoil away quickly when they realize they’ll be shaking the nitrile gloved hand of someone who has been trimming a spleen. This is the problem with corporate people. They don’t know anything at all about anything that is important. They don’t even know any good histology/cytology jokes.

Vicki Williams removes her lab coat. Vicki Williams hangs it up. Vicki Williams walks down the corridor to have her fifteen-minute afternoon break. How did this happen?

 

Cellularity

There’s a button on your shoulder

And I’m pushing it over and over

Ariel Pink ‘The People I’m Not’

This book is a Northern Soul documentary and for that reason when we see Dad spinning, he is spinning in slow motion. All dancers in Northern Soul documentaries are the best and most acrobatic dancers. At the very least, the ability to spin is necessary to get onto the television.

Superheaven is so over shabby chic [4] and this despite the conventional, institutional look of the analogue clock that clocks time above the DJ booth. The second hand of this clock rotates at 1 revolution per minute. Still, Superheaven has a patina. “Look” argues Superheaven, “we’re not into shabby chic, and we’re so over that but we can’t avoid patina. Take our metalwork for instance. All kinds of chemical compounds form on our metalwork – oxides, sulfides, sulfates and carbonates, the list goes on. The upholstery on the seating around the side of the Superheaven dancefloor has many accumulated changes in surface colour and texture.”

“We’re only human” say Superheaven.

“Sure, the free-party scene is over, we have no alcohol license, we’re purpose built but unfortunately, we still take place in time. Despite our best efforts we remain trapped in time.”

Girl at End switches from 45rpm vinyl to CD. As the laser reads the outer edge of the disc it spins at 210rpm, as it moves to the inner edge, it spins at 480rpm. There’s nothing anyone can do about that is there? Back at Girl at End’s flat her washing machine begins a spin cycle that builds from 500rpm to 2000rpm and back again. On the main road outside Girl at End’s L-Shaped room, cars cruise casually at around 750rpm. She moves to her laptop and looks for an MP3, her hard drive spins at 7200rpm which is fast but it’s really nowhere near fast enough for the enrichment of uranium. If Girl at End goes to the dentist (she loves the dentist), her favourite dentist will drill her teeth with his favourite ultrasonic dental drill at 800,000rpm and you could easily enrich uranium at that speed but you could never do it with a dentist’s drill. Besides, dentists don’t have that kind of expertise. Girl at End laughs about this with her dentist on her next visit.

“Is this the literature of exhaustion because I’m exhausted” says Girl at End’s dentist.

Girl at End misses cassettes but she doesn’t miss cigarettes. She likes to feel herself ageing as one spool unrolls itself towards her death, every new second representing discrete moments of her life. She thinks of Boom and looks for him at the side of the dancefloor where he always stands completely still.

Boom never says much but when he does he really asks the big questions.

Last Friday, Boom said ‘Tape counters. What do they really mean? Do they represent time? I mean what gives, man? Is it time, feet, inches, centimetres, or millimetres?”

Birdman is typically irritable. He becomes impatient with any question that doesn’t involve systems of Japanese colour. He gives Boom an answer all the same:

“Most counters are driven off a take up or feed reel and that means they’re unlinear and so they’re absolutely not as accurate as feet or time or any of that. It’s just a reference and nothing else. Forget about it, Boom.”

Journey overhears this. She has feuded with Birdman ever since they had their falling out.

She isn’t interested in this topic but adds her opinion mostly to piss Birdman off:

“One turn of the counter represents two turns of the take up reel. If you apply some simple mathematics, [5] you can tell that it’d have to be two turns per side because a standard C60 cassette results in 860-900 turns a side and so a three-digit counter wouldn’t be enough for a C90 or a C120”

“Who the fuck uses a C120” Birdman is derisive. Birdman is always derisive.

Journey has riled him. She’s pleased. She continues,

“Cassette rotation is measured in inches per second (ips) and has no definitive rpm value. A C120 is 120ips. Does this help you in any way, Boom? Do you understand more about this now?”

Boom reads her tender tone as patronizing. Journey is always patronizing. Birdman is always derisive. Neither has addressed the existential void at the centre of Boom’s query. This is why he generally keeps his own counsel and remains silent, keeps himself to himself. Boom is almost always silent.

What he’d been getting at was to do with time and not with their precious sound engineering expertise at all. He’d wanted to know if time is temporal or whether we can say that we really view it more as a spatial metaphor and he wondered if we did view time as a spatial metaphor then would that be erroneous in any way? He wondered if the spatial metaphor was linear or if it was circular. That’s pretty much what he’d been getting at. He looks over at Dad on the dancefloor.

Dad is spinning.

 

Footnotes

[1] That same year, the record was due to be released in the UK on London Records but all copies were melted down because London Records hadn’t bothered to secure the rights to the song. Nevertheless, one copy, apparently stolen by somebody who worked at the record pressing plant, was saved and it came to light some 9,131 days after the End of History when it was posted on the Soul-Source internet message board by someone calling himself “NickW”. Girl at End knew nothing of this because it wouldn’t happen for another 9,131 days.

[2] 6962 days before the End of History, on 24th May 1970, Darrell Banks was shot dead by an off-duty police officer who was having an affair with Marjorie Bozeman who was the then girlfriend of Darrell Banks.

[3] Donnie Elbert coincidentally died 140 days before the End of History and 140 days before Girl at End plucked Vikki Styles’ ‘The Tears Won’t Stop Falling’ from a box of dusty 45s.

[4] The term shabby chic was coined by World of Interiors magazine in the 1980s. According to Dong-Hun, L. (2013) in Consumption Amid Low Growth. SERI Quarterly, 6(1), 11-15,6, “Shabby Chic caters to consumers who want to be stylish even during a recession”. Dong-Hun also notes that “communities whose boundaries have been formed based on common residence, ancestry, or workplace have been fading with the spread of social network platforms. Along with this, the desire to consume based on such community identification is also disappearing. However, new communities are also emerging” and “in another dimension, social networks based on phone contact lists containing friends and family are expanding, encroaching on connections with unfamiliar people such as on Twitter and Facebook” and shabby chic is “based on the concept that timeworn items have their own beauty”.

[5] “If you apply some simple mathematics” is one of Journey’s stock phrases. She drops it in everywhere.

 

Richard Brammer’s Girl at End (Dostoyevsky Wannabe) can be purchased here:

https://dostoyevskywannabe.com/experiments/girl_at_end.
The book comes with a number of online trailers and mixtapes to make for a more immersive experience.

Sections of Girl at End were including in Liberating the Canon: An Anthology of Innovative Literature edited by Isabel Waidner and published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe. Isabel’s introduction to Liberating the Canon was published by 3:AM here:

https://www.3ammagazine.com/3am//liberating-canon-intersectionality-innovation-literature/

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Richard Brammer was born in 1975 and he lives in Manchester, UK. He is co-founder of Dostoyevsky Wannabe and Swimmers Club. He is also the author of a number of books of words that he insists on publishing via the press that he co-founded in the manner of independent record labels of the 1980s (such as K Records, Sarah Records, Simple Machines). His previous books include: MDMA and Menthol Cigarettes, Public Dick Punk ’83, Cult Boyfriend, Listening to Emily’s Sassy Lime, Again, Warehouse Mixes and Moscow Rules. 

He is currently working on a non-fiction book about independent music and outsider groups co-authored with Victoria Brown entitled: Colour Me In: Outsider Groups, Dropouts and Pop’s Collective Unconscious (forthcoming in 2019).

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, March 12th, 2018.