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Pickle Me This

April 10, 2014

On Sue Townsend and Adrian Mole

adrian-mpleI can’t think of many books I loved when I was 8 that I still love now but only 500 times more. The first time I read an Adrian Mole book, I was too young for it, and couldn’t figure out what he was talking about when he was measuring his “thing” and I had a few curious ideas what “spots” were. See, it wasn’t just that I was young, but that the books were foreign, and I didn’t know who Noddy was so really didn’t understand about his wallpaper. Like many young protagonists I read when I was even younger than they were (hello, Holden Caulfield!) I took Adrian at face value and so it took me awhile to realize that Lo The Flat Hills of My Homeland probably wasn’t a very good book. But it didn’t matter, because by the time I figured it out, I loved Adrian Mole, following all his adventures right up until The Weapons of Mass Destruction, which came out in 2004 and which everybody at my workplace in Japan passed around until the book was in tatters.

Adrian Mole was integral in my love affair with England, which was long-lasting and huge with life-changing consequences. I am sure that it is from Adrian Mole that I first heard of bunting (strung up during the Royal Wedding in 1981) though I didn’t know what that was either. I can trace my obsession with commemorative tea-towels back to the Charles and Diana one that Adrian Mole’s dad hung on the front door in lieu of proper festivities. I moved to the Midlands in 2002 because I knew of it from Adrian Mole and I thought it was kind of funny (and plus I had no money so couldn’t afford to live in London). And there I met my husband, whom I dragged to Skegness because Adrian Mole had gone to Skegness and I thought that was funny too (and it was! Stuart hadn’t believed me. English people don’t have as much fun doing ironic Adrian Mole lower-class things as you or I do, but they are totally missing out). I still tease Stuart on a regular basis¬†about his Adrian Mole-ish 1980s Margaret Thatcher childhood. He’s since told me who Noddy is.¬†

Oh, Pandora Braithwaite (who became an MP!). It is from Adrian Mole that I first heard the name Germaine Greer. I love that his mother became a radical feminist, and also that she regretted not naming Adrian “Brett”. Bert Baxter and his Woodbines and beetroot sandwiches and his Alsatian, Sabre. In later years, Adrian would impregnate a woman called Sharon Bott. How bully Barry Kent became a poetry sensation. And Nigel, who started a gay club at school, and Adrian was worried because now everybody would think Nigel was gay. Mr. Lucas next door, and Mrs. O’Leary (who gave a glimpse of her knickers while stringing bunting, if I remember correctly), and Mr and Mrs. Singh and all the little Singhs, and Big and Bouncy and Malcolm Muggeridge. Adrian Mole was so totally subversive, probably the naughtiest books in my school library. I am so glad that nobody ever noticed.

I love Sue Townsend. I read her other novels too, Rebuilding Coventry and Ghost Children, plus The Queen and I, which was terribly funny. I am quite sure I will reread Adrian Mole for the rest of my life, and they will never cease to make me laugh out loud. And so I was sad today to learn that she’d died at just 68. It’s a real loss that feels personal to me.

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