The Only Virgin in London
This is a preview to the chapter The Only Virgin in London from the book Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott.
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The room filled with applause and mother removed the
cigarette from her mouth to blow out the candles.
“What did you wish for, Nan?” asked Tom.
“A win at the races. The two-thirty at Sandown Park to be precise.”
Everyone huddled round the birthday girl.
“Happy Birthday, Mother. You look amazing,” I said.
“Thank God I inherited your genes.”
“The best bits went to your sister, son. When are you coming home?”
“I don’t know.”
“I miss you.”
She could never make the journey to Turkey; an eight hour round trip to a country without pork or Neighbours just didn’t toast her soda bread. At eighty years and seven hours, mother was still as bright as a button. She had floated into her dotage as a gorgeous, spritely, well-preserved Ulsterwoman with a perfect perky figure and sapphire eyes so alive they looked like they might pop with excitement.
I summoned the group.
“Gather round, you lot. Settle down and feast your eyes on this.”
Mother took centre stage on a huge black leather armchair. Her brood collected around her. Maurice, our London-life engineer, handed her the obligatory brandy and an ashtray the size of a dinner plate. Liam dimmed the lights.
“Mother,” I said. “This is for you. From all of us.”
“Get on with it, son. The race starts in ten minutes.”
I switched on the TV, pressed play on the DVD player and joined Liam and Maurice at the back of the room. Please let this work.
Brennan-Scott Productions Present
The Only Virgin in London
The opening credits rolled by and so began a photographic montage covering the colourful life of my octogenarian mother. Liam had spent weeks constructing a tear-jerker of a movie, each frame and every transition designed to eke out an extra drop of unrefined emotion. Old sepia photographs of my parents slowly merged into each other as the Londonderry Air raised the sentimental temperature notch by notch. There was hardly a photo of the birthday belle without a fag in hand. Mother had puffed away on twenty a day since the Suez Crisis. It was all too much for my brother John who left the room, returning a minute later with a box of autumnal shades. Young Tom writhed about the floor giggling. As the play unfolded, I gazed upon the company. Here was head boy John, the proud brother who had struggled with my sexuality so much more than I. Now, he loved me without reservation and the feeling was entirely mutual. He lived a contented life with his classy third wife and the children he completely adored. Martin, second brother, was a man with more gumption and pluck than anyone I’d ever met. Damaged by breech birth and disabled by polio, he had loved and lost, proudly raised his children on tuppence ha’penny a week and still managed to laugh at life. He was also a self- proclaimed letch, a characteristic shared by each of the Scott brothers, including me. Tracey was the undisputed matriarchal successor and the image of our mother. Fiercely independent and single-mindedly loyal to her kids, she ruled the roost with the perfect recipe of tough love and warmth. Her children would be decent liberal citizens, she would make sure of it. They crowded around her, the eldest, Dan, squeezed up to his girlfriend on a small sofa and the two middle boys, Tom and Jack Junior, cross-legged on the carpet. Their youngest, Josh, nestled in his father’s lap, hoping for another kick-the-baddies- to-death martial arts film. Next to mother was an empty seat, left vacant by our truant sister. Kay had a troubled past and a reclusive present. She and I were semi-estranged following a long-forgotten and ridiculous row many years before. I blamed myself for her absence. She should have been there. Mother’s ticker-tape life rolled on and on. Josh groaned, realising that knee-capping was off the menu. Tom was already sucked in, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the beautiful young girl, swept off her feet by a penniless pretty soldier boy. The man with a twinkle in his eye plucked her from a small Irish town made famous by an IRA bomb and put her on a slow boat to Malaysia. Jack Senior died prematurely and the pain almost killed his wife. Strong, feisty and determined, she picked up her children, carried them to safety and vowed never to re- marry. “I’ll become a virgin,” she had said, “the only virgin in London.”
So there they were – my lot, my roots, my family. I caught Liam’s eye and a tear fought to release itself. Damn you, Liam, damn that bloody music. Everyone stared at the TV, afraid to look around. The pace quickened, photos danced about the screen, Irish reels picked up the speed and people past and present appeared and disappeared. A crescendo of deafening pipes and drums came to a climatic flourish and the screen dimmed slowly back to black. Liam’s Tour de Force was a BAFTA-winning hit. After a collective sigh and a ripple of applause, everyone turned to look at the birthday girl. She was transfixed, still staring hard at the screen. A small, grainy black and white image of her husband appeared and began to fill the screen. Liam’s pièce de résistance.
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