You kind of fall in love, in a little way, with every person that you interview.
Most often, you have never met before. You will have had a conversation to discuss arrangements, venues and any questions they might have. But essentially they meet you as a stranger. You sit down together, the tape recorder goes on and they begin to tell you the intimate details of their lives. Often things that they have never told anyone.
Last week I spent an afternoon going over old transcriptions, laying them all out on the floor, each character wrapped in a transparent A4 sleeve, their cores printed neatly out onto chunks of crispy white paper. To read them again was a bit like having them all over for tea. Violet made me laugh the most, somewhat in contrast to her story, which is not the easiest. Perhaps it is her voice, a rich northern Irish lilt, so hard to get your ear around that I had to transcribe her interview myself, knowing it would have taken my regular transcriber weeks compared to my days. But it is more than her sonorous tones. It is her diction, her choice of words and the way that she looks at her life. A life that has included six children, an errant husband, a stretch in goal, or the ‘hokey pokey’ as she calls it and a journey away from her family at the age of thirteen, no money in her pocket, to begin a new life in London.
As I read her words again, I am sitting back at her feet with my Dictaphone, looking at a tiny lady who has lead a huge life. A clock hangs behind us on the wall, but she doesn’t know what time it says because she never learnt to tell the time. ‘If anyone ever asks me the time Kate, I just tell them that clock is ten minutes fast.’
She didn’t learn to tell the time, or read or write because when she arrived in London she got a job in a Lyons Corner House and earned a living, many of her friends turning to prostitution to make ends meet. Why am I telling you all this? I am not really sure, but it is partly to illustrate the fact that virginity loss is just an episode in the ten part series that makes up our lives. Every episode reveals something further about the main character.
Which is why, even though I set out to interview people about the loss of virginity, I always want to know about the journey. How do we get to the point where we can lose our virginity? And are there clues, hidden in those nascent episodes as to what the future might hold? How far forward do we travel on from that point? Where does the story end?
Fifty-seven years later and in a cozy council flat in South-East London. Violet has not returned to Ireland since the day she left but her accent is as robust as it ever must have been. As she sits on her armchair, not unlike a queen on her throne, and recounts her teenage misdemeanors, I catch glimpses of the thirteen-year old girl in the face of the grand dame that sits before me.