There’s a quiet but persistent dialogue in my head which plays on without ending or conclusion. If it were a play, the characters could only be female – one a politically correct, wise feminist who says ageing doesn’t bother her so long as she’s healthy and then there’s the other one who weeps as she watches her face acquire the crinkles of un-ironed linen. The first protagonist speaks resolutely and sensibly about experience and wisdom, of faces showing the warrior scars of life’s experience, of inner radiance and beauty. The second misses her younger self, hates covering her arms, and misses the glances that told her, long ago, that she was attractive.
I blame the dog and the full length mirror besides my bed, but these are red herrings.
The dog is clearly an excuse. Why wear something smart or decent when he’s going to plant muddy paws all over me? Why put on make-up to walk in the woods? Those are the lines I recite to myself, but they’re a detour. It’s nothing to do with the dog. I choose to wear comfortable old clothes. I like their baggy, soft familiarity. There are women who can throw on tweed and scarves, and whose hair looks romantically tousled in a gale and who look fabulous as they set off with their canine friends. Yes, middle-aged women. I’ve never had that knack. With or without a dog. I leave my face bare because it feels fine that way. I have impossible flat straight hair. I haven’t a clue how to dress. Presentation is not my forte.
As for the the full length mirror that hangs next to my bed, I could remove it, but it’s useful for checking that my t-shirt isn’t inside out and that I haven’t left a smear of toothpaste on my chin before I go to the post office. But when I climb into bed at night, or worse, emerge crumpled from the duvet in the morning, there’s no avoiding the years etched on my face and body and truthfully they are not attractive.
This was the tape-loop that played on and on before I created Alice Green¹ and shunted some of my words and worries and questions on to her. Let her carry the dilemma on her shoulders and try to resolve it. Should we acknowledge that in our fifties and sixties, attractiveness is irrelevant? Should we accept and even embrace this stage of our lives when no-one gives us a second glance but we have freedom, independence and a strong sense of who we are? Or is it understandable to resent the invisibility and diminishment of middle-age in a society which values youth and beauty?
So Alice was wandering around without a plot, invisible, when I decided to let her make the most of it and do something outrageous. So she stuffs a top from Marks & Spencer into her bag without paying for it and with pounding heart exits past the security bloke and the alarms. The adrenalin boost lifts her sky high. So she does it again, and again, and soon she’s a mistress at sleight of hand because no-one notices an ordinary, respectable, middle-aged woman dropping clothes into a big carrier bag. Alice goes on a shop-lifting spree for the sheer hell of it. Or to run away from a life that is a train wreck.
But she gets caught. Returning from her swim at the local council baths, there’s no avoiding the two police cars parked outside her house in leafy Edinburgh and she knows the game is up. Alice has to take stock, rake over her past, pinpoint when she went off the rails and find – and accept – herself all over again.
Run, Alice, Run is an irreverent, blackly funny coming-of-middle-age novel which looks with irony at the way society defines and diminishes women of all ages.
¹ Run, Alice, Run. Inspired Quill. 2015. inspired-quill.com/product/run-alice-run/