Well now, here we are, just over four years since I first posted on this blog – February 7th 2007 to be exact – and I was really nervous about it because I’d only been writing for about 5 minutes. But it was the best way possible to give digital life to an idea that had been rolling around my head for some time.
I began researching my book in September 2005, right after I’d had one of those light bulb moments that you hear about but you don’t think actually happens. I think we all get them. I think the universe, god, your long lost family pet, whatever it is that you believe it, drops these ideas into our laps and its just up to us whether or not we take the bait. I took the bait. The words horse and starting gate don’t even begin to cover it. I was bored shitless with my day job or, as I remember writing at the time, ‘uninspired by earning money and spending it on new shoes and dinner’.
I was itching to do something new and unique. Something inspiring that we could all relate to so when I had the idea with a friend after an afternoon spent entertaining each other with our ridiculous virginity loss stories, I pretty much felt like my prayers had been answered. That seems like a good idea for a book I thought to myself.
For eighteen months I interviewed anyone who crossed my path and sat still long enough for me to ask them impertinent questions about one of the most intense moments of our sexual lives. Hardly anyone turned me down and there begun a really fascinating journey. I was amazed at what people would tell you when given the chance to talk anonymously about their intimate lives.
Deciding to open it out to the digital realm felt like a natural progression because I knew I had more material and more to talk about than I could ever fit into a book. And so it goes. After four years, I have had all sorts of weird and wonderful adventures in the blogosphere. Mostly I have realised that it is a benign place full of people who generally want to help you, despite the fact that you may never actually meet in person. If anything, blogging has taught me that people are essentially good. So many folk have given me a helping hand along the way. Not because they had too but just because they felt like it.
Shel Israel writes a blog about technology but he still took the time to post about my project on a blog that gets hundreds of thousands of hits every day. Some of them came and took a look at my humble offering. Drunk Mummy and I corresponded for quite some time before one day, she offered to write me a guest post about virginity loss. Not to mention the people that can now only be described as ‘pen-pals’, people who have written and told me some of the most heartbreaking, funny, outrageous and poignant stories that I have ever heard and whom continue to be friends to this day. We may never meet in person, but I always look forward to getting their mail.
I decided to celebrate these strange and funny adventures by posting a pre-digital story – an interview that I actually did in person. It didn’t make it into my book. Not because I don’t like it. On the contrary, this is an extraordinary story. You have to ‘kill your darlings’ as a writer friend told me right back at the beginning and this story is a case in point. It’s a stunning monologue but it just didn’t fit anywhere in my book.
It is also one of those stories that makes you realise just how lucky most of us are. That we sit here day in day out, whining about how we can’t afford to go on holiday or buy a new car when in fact these are very elegant conundrums compared to the concerns of most of the world’s population. Here is a lady who left her native Ireland at the age of 13 with barely a penny in her pocket. Forty-six years later, she took some time out of her day to tell me her story.
Violet O’Callaghan. Born 1936. Lost virginity aged 14
'You never talked about sex in Ireland. Sex is a dirty word. I remember when I was sent home from school when I first started getting the periods and I had a terrible bad stomach ache. My cousin said, ‘If you kiss John McGarren, you’ll have a baby’. So when my mother had to get the doctor down because I had these pains, my cousin said, ‘Violet is having a baby’.
There was a big workhouse where I come from in Ireland, you know, with a hospital as well, and people went there to have babies who weren’t married, which was a terrible disgrace. And my mum was going, ‘See them lights over there? If you are having a baby, that’s where you are going to go. That’s where your father will put you and you’ll stay there until you are an old woman’. And this is all because she heard my cousin say, ‘baby’. Oh no, babies was a dirty word, you wouldn’t mention babies. And you weren’t taught nothing about sex. We were very old fashioned.
I grew up in a place called Enniskillen and I came over to this country when I was thirteen. You want to go to London because you hear so much about London don’t you? You know, The Smoke, it’s a great place isn’t it? So I came over here with another girl. We had a half a crown each and I never went back since. Never went back. It was a different London in them days, you know. This would be 1950 and they were still clearing up after the war, you know, people were different. But the main problem was that I couldn’t read or write. Couldn’t tell the time on a clock, or anything, so I had a hard time. Yes. I got a job with Lyons Corner House in Hyde Park corner, clearing tables.
We had no place to sleep so we used to sleep in Victoria Park, and it was the old smog as well. It was like fog, and if I was on a bench down here and you were on a bench up there, I’d have to go by your voice because I couldn’t see you and you were too scared to move. My spot was underneath Robbie Burns as a matter of fact. Yeah, it kept the wind off you, the statue, you know? Met some good people. Met some bad people as well, believe me, met some really nasty people, and just went from one thing to another.
I found out most things just by messing around with people when you come over here. Before then I had no idea. No idea. The things I learned over here shocked us as a matter of fact. I used to think it would be like when I had me period and me mother thought I was having a baby because I was kissing John McGarren. I was a bit stupid.
My friends were all having sex, yeah, a lot of them. I mean some of these girls were bought up in the country and they were inclined to go a wee bit mad, do you know what I mean? Girls had sex because they’d got freedom. Some of them got talked into drugs, which was purple hearts in them days, and girls who were out all night on drugs often got into prostitution, which was a very simple thing to do in them days. Some girls moved away and settled down. Some never got married but just lived with blokes you know? It was hard but it was easy, I think it was a lot easier than today and yet sometimes I think it was a lot harder.
I was about fourteen when I first started having sex, and I do remember losing my virginity, yeah I do. It was a nice bloke. I tell you how I met him. I went to work at Butlins with another girl called Sally Moon from Donegal. That’s how I met him and he was the first one I ever went out with. His name was Leslie. I do remember that, yes. He was good fun to be with, you know? He didn’t promise us anything. He didn’t say he was going to write or phone and I think that’s the way I liked them, you know? The other blokes you meet just tell you a load of old rubbish.
I can remember where it happened. It happened on the beach as a matter of fact. We didn’t plan for it to happen on the beach but I think you more or less knew it was going to happen, yes. I didn’t really have any expectation. But then I had a pal who reckoned she’d never had any pleasure from having sex, and she’d had fourteen kids. It’s hard to believe, I tell you, if you’ve had fourteen kids you must have had something? ‘Violet. Nothing. I never felt nothing at all’. And that’s hard to believe isn’t it? But that’s what she told me.
I went back there months after and I was telling a friend, you know, this is where I lost my virginity, on this beach. You’re supposed to remember what it feels like but I can’t remember, mostly because there were that many after. I often sit and think I wonder if he’s still alive. I can still remember what he looks like. But no, I never seen him again.
Most of my pals were on the game. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have done it. The problem that stopped me was I was that scared of getting a dose. Because I seen girls getting sent to prison and in prison in them days, they used to put up a notice up on your door saying ‘isolated’. I was in prison later, yes. I was what you call a ‘back up’. I had been with some girls who had robbed a man, and that was right outside Holloway prison, would you believe that? I didn’t even know it was a prison. I was drinking half a bottle of VP wine, or ‘Kings Head’ as it was called in them days, and all of sudden I was nicked. I was remanded for six months. But that’s what they put on the door, so that everybody could see that you had VD. ‘Isolated’. It was wrong really. It was humiliating people. I was one of the lucky ones, because I never caught nothing like that, you know?
I do think it matters how you lose your virginity, yes, I do. I think it’s nice if you fall in love with somebody and you’re going somewhere together, you know? I don’t know why I lost my virginity when I did. I think what it is, I think you can’t wait to tell your friends what you’ve done, you know, but then you feel a bit ashamed that it’s over and you have to look at them again. And you think to yourself, you know, sex should be with someone you go out with again. I just say if you get one good one, you hang onto him. Believe me, there’s a lot of bad ones out there.
I’m a lot older and wiser now. Been through it all, done it all, you know, so it’ll never happen again. Too old for it now anyway, you know? I see them out the back there at night, smoking wacky backy, drinking different kinds of beer and you know they’re thinking that we’re old fashioned, but they forget! I’ve done it all myself. I’ve done all these things. We know exactly what they’re doing. Gosh, it doesn’t seem that long ago.
It just makes you think, maybe you could have lived your life a bit better, you know? Maybe you shouldn’t have been so quick from the mark. I think the babies I had was too quick. Maybe I shouldn’t have had Edward. I had him when I was seventeen and maybe I should have hung on and got my act together a bit more, you know?
Everybody should be entitled to a decent chance in life, no matter what your background. It’s not a girl’s fault if she hasn’t got a decent education. I’ve survived all these years without it. You’d be surprised. There’s a lot of people who can’t read and write. People just accept it. They don’t seem to bother about it, you know, they never ask why. It’s just when if anybody says, ‘What time is it Violet?’ Then I go, ‘that clocks about ten minutes fast’. Do you know what I mean? I sign the card for my pension, I just put the numbers in and people don’t ask questions.'