When last we saw Adrian Mole, in the eighth book of the series, The Prostrate Years, in 2009, the love of his life Pandora (“she likes being called ‘Box’. Don’t ask me why”) Braithwaite, had just walked back into his world. After he has spent a lifetime yearning for her, nearly snagging her, losing her and reuniting with her, she arrives unexpectedly at his house, having heard of his prostate problems, and we are left with the image of an older (nearly three times the 13¾ of our first encounter with him), somewhat wiser, but seriously unwell Adrian walking out into the weak Leicester sunshine to welcome the woman he’s loved forever.
“Pandora! / I adore ya! / I implore ye / Don’t ignore me”. But can awkward Adrian hold on to the brilliant Ms Braithwaite this time around? More importantly, will he be able to hang on to life long enough?
We don’t really know because series author and comic genius, Sue Townsend, sadly, did not – she died in 2014. But she did leave her readers with the knowledge that another Adrian Mole adventure had been on its way. Another adventure where our hapless hero, with more than his share of strange misfortunes, in a world full of social and political upheavals, still comes out smiling.
On that basis, it would be safe to conclude that Adrian not only survived prostate cancer but also, finally, got the girl. “It’ll be really good to have her back”, he had confessed in his Secret Diary, way back when, continuing, “Love is the only thing that keeps me sane.”
Perhaps it did. And kept him alive too. So, this April, his many fans, who have followed his escapades through their own growing (“my thing has grown another centimetre”) years, can celebrate his fiftieth birthday (April 2) knowing that this eccentric, occasionally unwittingly wise, but usually just plain clueless piece of themselves has carried on being a bulwark against the vicissitudes of the world.
Determined to be a liberal
Political satire is the backbone of these books and a liberal Adrian echoes our dissatisfaction with the leaders of the so-called free world. In The Weapons of Mass Destruction, published at the start of the Iraq War, he explains, “Glenn has been excluded from school, for calling Tony Blair a twat”. An assessment with which he clearly agrees.
But he had his doubts about those in power long before that, in the early 1980s, at exactly 13 and 3/4ths of age. Of the sham of a royal wedding, he had said, as unknowingly perceptive as ever, “Lady Diana melted my heart strings in her dirty white dress. She even helped an old man up the aisle”. Or, more intuitively still, he had observed, “Sometimes I think Mrs Thatcher is a nice, kind sort of woman. Then the next day I see her on television and she frightens me rigid. She’s got eyes like a psychotic killer, but a voice like a gentle person. It’s a bit confusing”.
It is reassuring somehow to know, that though we can’t hear him anymore, he might still be calling a spade a spade, sunk into an armchair somewhere in the Midlands. He probably still writes journals, and endless letters beseeching the BBC to publish him. But without Sue’s help, of course, his writerly aspirations were – and are again – thwarted.
“My brother has published a volume of poetry, called Blow Out the Candle. The reviews were ecstatic. I hate him already”. But if Adrian’s novel Lo! The Flat Hills of My Homeland was never considered worth publishing, his politically astute observations always were. On the stigma against homosexuality that is bizarrely back in vogue, he had said in 1985, “Nigel has formed a Gay Club at school. He is the only member so far, but it will be interesting to see who else joins”.
On conservation and the callousness of local government, he had said, “It is the first day of spring. The council have chopped all the elms down in Elm Tree Avenue.” And of independent, opinionated women and the continuing efforts of the patriarchy to silence them – “Mr Scruton threatened to cancel the play if Mary, alias Pandora, continued to go into simulated labour in the manger”. Adrian’s mother Pauline was equally her own woman, and Adrian displays both disgruntlement and a sneaky pride in her “debauchery”.
All in all, we can be sure, he would have mourned with us the state of the world now. He would have marvelled at the horror that is Trump in his simultaneously snide yet wide-eyed way. And he had pretty much predicted the post-Brexit mess Britain finds itself in: “I asked Pandora how long she would love me. She said – as long as Britain has Gibraltar.”
Life after fifty
For all our sakes, we hope Pandora continues to love him whichever way Gibraltar goes. It is this focus on his everyday concerns, over and above everything else, including his political urges, that makes him so identifiable and endearing a figure to us shiftless millions. Ordinary, like us; full of faults, foibles and unattainable fancies. And not all that different at 50, we know now from experience, having come within touching distance of that milestone ourselves.
Like many of us who matured (or didn’t!) with him, a 50-plus Adrian is only slightly tempered by wisdom. “I have never seen a dead body or a female nipple. This is what comes from living in a cul de sac,” he lamented in The Growing Pains in 1985. We have it on good authority that he has seen both since, but something of his sexual naiveté, we fancy, would not have worn off.
“I was racked with sexuality but it wore off when I helped my father put manure on our rose bed”. And now with his fortunes in both love and health on the turn, we can almost hear him crowing again, “My skin is dead good. I think it must be a combination of being in love and Lucozade”.
His parents might have been a touch more profligate than ours, and his life full of more twists and turns, but his traits are our own, and of our times. He exhibits the same voyeurism and schadenfreude (“I used to be the sort of boy who had sand kicked in his face, now I’m the sort of boy who watches somebody else have it kicked in their face.”), that curious mix of intellectual cocksureness, with ego-wobbles and victimhood (“None of the teachers at school have noticed that I am an intellectual. They will be sorry when I am famous” or “It is no surprise to me that intellectuals commit suicide, go mad or die from drink. We feel things more than other people. We know the world is rotten and that chins are ruined by spots”) and even helicopter parenting (“I fear I am losing the battle to mould William’s character to my own satisfaction. He’s only six, but at his age Mozart was selling out concerts all over Europe”). In other words, Adrian Mole is all that is good and bad about us.
So, ladies and gentlemen, Adrian Mole alumni, please raise your glasses to A Mole – philosopher, beloved underachieving friend, Millennium Man and Everyman – on his getting to 50 in inimitable style, despite our many justifiable worries that he never would.
Let us drink to Pandora-love and dorkily ever after!
Shreya Sen-Handley’s Memoirs of My Body will be published in July. She can be found here on twitter.