I’ve never understood the term, ‘middle-aged.’ I’ve always seen it as an attitude of mind. When I look at old black and white photos of me as a kid with my parents, I see what I think are middle-aged people, even though they were only in their early thirties. They just looked and thought like old people. They seemed to be in a rush to become just like their parents. And this was in the so called ‘Swinging Sixties.’
Books and more recently, the internet, allow you to communicate directly with the mind of the writer, without their age or sex mediating your interpretation of their message. It should not come as a surprise that a writer like Margaret Atwood can still produce original and thought-provoking work in her eighties; but our expectation of people that age is based on our childhood experience. Which is a long-winded way of saying never judge a book by its cover.
I wanted to write a story about a pair of mature ladies, widowed companions looking at life after marriage and families, and determined to make good their regrets while they were still able.
My inspiration was two women whose friendship transcended embarrassment at whatever they may have said and done in the past. One of them had memory problems, so they were determined to see as much of life as they could while they could still enjoy it. They went on lots of day trips and weekends away. One day I’d finished strimming the boarders in her back garden when her friend came through the adjoining gate and said, ‘Have you asked him yet?’ Her friend shook her head, embarrassed. The first lady went into her house and came back with the deceased husband’s old lap top which I had charged up and connected to the web for her a while ago. ‘Look at these,’ she said. There was a folder full of pornographic pictures downloaded from the internet. Pretty tame stuff, but I imagined a shock for them. ‘I’m sorry, the internet is full of this stuff. It’s easy to stumble across.’ I tried to be diplomatic. ‘Stumble across and download, the old perv. He used to hide his magazines on top of the wardrobe. But I can stand on a chair!’ I did not know what to say to her. Her friend had a glint in her eye. ‘Where exactly would we have to avoid if we didn’t want to see anything like this?’ They were both grinning. They weren’t embarrassed at all. ‘Its moved on since pictures,’ I said. I found them a mainstream porn site and left them to it while I cleared up the garden cuttings.
They adjourned to the kitchen to see the screen properly, and I stood at the doorway listening to them. Their commentary sounded like two teenage boys. ‘You’ll go blind if you watch too much of that,’ I warned. ‘Look at this dirty cow,’ one of them said. On the screen, an attractive young woman was being penetrated by three well-endowed men. ‘Looks like they are trying to plug any leaks,’ I said. They thought for a moment, then burst out laughing. I left these young at heart ladies to their entertainment.
I lost touch with them when I moved home, but they stayed in my mind and became the inspiration for Edith and Marjorie. It was in my second draft when I came up with the idea of Alzheimers as a motive for their determination to try everything. Not a staple trope of erotic stories, but one that received favourable comments. ‘Fantasy does not have to be unrealistic,’ said one reviewer. You can’t argue with that.