Back in 1995 I wrote a novel called Perfect Meringues. In case you don’t remember the Nineties, let me take you back. It was a time when car phones the size of a house brick were the new toy for hotshot businessmen and the rest of us still used urine-scented telephone boxes. It was the time when a tattoo ceased being something regrettable your Dad got when he was in the Army. A tattoo became a style-statement, as did crimped hair and a pierced navel.
At the time of writing Perfect Meringues I was in my late 40s, divorced and the mother of four teenagers. As a parent I lived in terror of what havoc dodgy drugs might wreak (a doddle compared to today’s constantly shifting drug scene) and as a mature single woman I inhabited the wasteland of mid-life dating. That was the setting and Lizzie Partridge was my voice.
It didn’t occur to me that this, like everything, would change. And it certainly didn’t occur to me that I’d ever write a sequel.
Well here we are. It’s 2018, Anyone for Seconds is about to be published and Lizzie Partridge is older, greyer and a bit wiser, but not much. There are some parallels in our lives this time too. We’re both alone again - Lizzie, perhaps because of a tendency to snarliness, and me because the diamond husband I found out in that dating wasteland now has dementia. There are worse things than being alone as you approach 70 but it would still be nice to have someone around to discuss world events and help zip (or unzip) your dress.
It isn’t just the momentous changes though. Change is happening all the time. You don’t particularly notice your children transitioning from delicious toddlers to gruesome teenage eye-rollers to polite grownups with mortgages, because it’s all so gradual. Lizzie Partridge often feels wrong-footed by her now highly driven career woman daughter and I can empathise. When did my kids lose interest in the Mister Men books? Whatever happened to the Doc Martens? And where did my son’s hair go?
In Anyone for Seconds I have addressed two major themes in the lives of those who reach the silver years: becoming a grandparent, and retirement, particularly of the enforced variety. As I have discovered, with grandparenthood opportunities arise both for anarchy and for contemplation. Grandchildren are one of the answers to, ‘what’s it all about, Alfie?’ They are fragments of your DNA launched into the 21st century. They are also being raised in a world very different to their parents’ childhood, a world of health & safety precautions, political correctness and sex education for five year olds. It is our duty, mine and the likes of Lizzie’s, to throw a few granny firecrackers into the mix, toss aside the knee protectors and encourage everyone to lighten up.
And retirement? Possibly very nice for those who can afford it, but I can’t and neither can Lizzie Partridge whose pension fund is as threadbare as mine. This sequel has enabled me to give Lizzie’s half-dead career a much needed kick up its derriere.
Anyone for Seconds? by Laurie Graham is published in Hardback by Quercus on 23rd August, £18.99