If you tread an unusual path in life, you will likely encounter unusual scenarios along the way. And so it was, that I found myself yesterday, perched atop an ancient office chair underneath the arches at Latimer road, breaking the bread with a bunch of relative strangers about sex, love and virginity. It’s a funny old life, I thought as I crouched amongst the grease, tools, tyres and labours of vintage automotive love that Tony likes to tinker with so much.
Tony is my car mechanic. He is a man who likes to know what makes people, as well as cars, tick. He also loves this project, so whenever I see him, he is always armed with a large bunch of questions about my latest discoveries. ‘What percentage of your interviewees say this?’ he wants to know, and, ‘what percentage say that? How many said they were scared? Which ones have the best stories and always, ‘but how does a man know when he has lost his virginity?’ Good question Tony, but not one that I intend to answer right now.
He often talks about his own experiences, growing up in Rhodesia, sibling of many and son of a Catholic mother. ‘Don’t bring shame upon the family’, our mother always used to say. We never spoke about sex, oh no’, he says. ‘I was always getting in trouble for asking where I came from’. ‘From a stork’, said my sister. ‘From a seed,’ my father told me. I got two cuts of the whip for my insolence when I asked the nuns at school. Oh, no, sex was a dirty, bad thing unless you were married, where I grew up.’
Tony often likes to involve other people in these conversations as well. Which is funny because there is always a wide selection of characters hanging around willing to listen. Sometimes it’s hard to work out who’s there to actually get something done and who just popped along for the ride. On several occasions, an old boy has wondered in. Chequered old-man hat and green Barbour jacket, he moves slowly into this spot-lit subterranea and silently takes a pew in the corner, angling, not just his head but his entire body, as if nursing a cricked neck, toward the sound of the words being spoken around him.
Lord knows what he made of Roger, an immense Jamaican man whose entire body rocked with mirth, slowly backwards and forwards as he sat yesterday and recounted the story of his lost virginity, way back when in the motherland. I love the Jamaican accent but I can’t always understand it so I can only tell you that his story involved a few false starts, followed by a large older lady and a lift in a car. This progressed to a field with cows in and an overgrowth of Akee bushes, (please check the link, rarely have I seen more sexual a plant!), in which the lady in question had built a ‘nest’. This was to be where our protagonist parted ways with his virginity. Or as he put it, ‘she crucified me’. I took this to be a good thing and certainly from the giddy look on my storytellers face, the memory induced a rather pleasurable response.
He went on tell us about his grandmother, a woman who ‘taught me everything I know’. ‘Never be jealous of a woman’, Roger’s grandmother told him. ‘What do mean?’ said young Roger. ‘Go and fetch your mother’s washbasin’. He did so. ‘Now fill the basin with water and fetch your mother’s machete’. Roger did as he was told. ‘Now’, she said, ‘stand in the basin and chop the water with the machete’. Roger did as he was ordered, chopping clumsily at the water and feeling, one would imagine, like a prime chump at the same time. ‘Look at the way that the water parts but just goes back’, she said. ‘It never leaves a mark. Just remember that a man leaves no marks on a woman’s fanny either so don’t ever be jealous of a woman’. I think we can tell who was wearing the trousers in Roger’s family.
I sped to my next Saturday morning engagement with Tony’s last words ringing in my ears. ‘Have you interviewed many Muslim girls?’ he asked. I keep telling him that I am interviewing men and women but he’s still struggling with the concept of male virginity loss. ‘No’, I said, ‘but I am trying’. ‘Oh, I’ve got lots of Muslim customers’, he said. ‘Lovely girls, all of them. I’ll ask them for you’.
Now that I would like to see. I might have to engage the Barbour-clad gentleman in conversation next time, just to see how that panned out for him.