Pandora, I adore ya! I implore ye, don't ignore me!

Posted on April 12, 2014

Sad to hear yesterday that Sue Townsend, writer and creator of Adrian Mole, has died.

Like many teenagers in the 80s, I read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole so much that the copies literally fell apart – and although I’m loath to admit it in public, like Adrian I often didn’t get what the grownups were doing:

Adrian overhearing this conversation between his parents:

Adrian’s mum: George, it’s positive.

Adrian’s dad: Christ, I can’t deal with all that three o’clock in the morning stuff, not at my age.

Adrian’s diary: It sounds like my mother is making unreasonable sexual demands on my father.

Alas, I thought this too. At the time I was too young to know that the phrase ‘It’s positive’ often refers to pregnancy – and I’m just realising it’s slightly disturbing that I did know about ‘unreasonable sexual demands’.

Among my many favourites:

• Adrian wearing red socks to school

• His horny pursuit of Pandora (I would never have thought that teenage boys measured their ‘thing’ but once I read it, it was of course true. [‘Mine is only five inches. Donkey Dawkins says his comes off the end of a ruler.’])

• Sharon Bott who will ‘show it all for 50p and a pound of grapes’ (Ms Bott later says on their first date: ‘Why have you bought me grapes? I’m not poorly.’)

• Bert Baxter, Morning Star reader, and his beetroot sandwiches (and how sweet it is when the family half-exasperatedly end up adopting him). Every time I write about Skegness (more often than you’d think), I remember Bert Baxter saying wistfully, ‘I’d give me right ball for a week in Skeggy.’

• Adrian’s mum’s feminist awakening – which I only realised years later was Greenham Common, or as Adrian called it, ‘a picnic’. Adrian: ‘My mother has gone to a woman’s workshop on assertiveness training... my mother came home and started bossing us around.’

• The poem about Margaret Thatcher – ‘the sort of poem that could bring down the government’ (the first two books will always stand as a document showing what it was like in Thatcher’s Britain for the working class):

Do you weep, Mrs Thatcher, do you weep?
Do you wake, Mrs Thatcher, in your sleep?
Do you weep like a sad willow?
On your Marks and Spencer's pillow?
Are your tears molten steel?
Do you weep?
Do you wake with 'Three Million' on your brain?
Are you sorry that they'll never work again?
When you're dressing in your blue, do you see the waiting queue?
Do you weep, Mrs Thatcher, do you weep?

• The end of Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction – when comedy does serious, it does it bloody well.

As the Guardian piece showed, Sue Townsend couldn’t read until she was eight, failed the 11+, was married with three kids by 22, and spent years after that as a single mum trying to feed her family on very little. No amount of ‘balsamic vinegar or Prada handbags’ would make her forget what it was like to be poor, she said after she made her fortune, and she made sure to give a helping hand to others. The type of writer I’d like to be – without the three kids, of course.

A necessarily brief – and paraphrased – piece as I don’t have my copies to hand – but am pretty sure I’ll be spending this week catching up. And I’ve just found there’s a Sue Townsend novella I haven’t read – about the teenage diary of a certain Margaret Hilda Roberts…

RIP Sue.

Best Adrian Mole quotes

5 political lessons learned from Adrian Mole

Adrian Mole and me: how this 80s icon mirrored my own politics


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