The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by S Townsend
First published in 1982 and a hugely successful book - first of several in
the fictional 'life' of the writer, Adrian Mole.
The form is adhered to more conventionally than in the Grossmith's 'Nobody' and Townsend replicates a conventional diary form, with references to Bank Holidays and various traditional Christian holidays. The entries are shorter and less conventional than 'Nobody', which was, remember, rewritten for publication as a novel, having been originally published in episodic form for a magazine. Townsend's intention from the outset is to create a published 'novel', although it is not strictly true that a journal fits the genre of the novel form at all. This may cause you some problems if the examiners ask you to write about chosen form, or author intention. I think she is deliberately trying to copy a generic style with a particular satirical intention - to 'send up' various contemporary issues of the Thatcher years. What comes out at the end is an easily readable work of fiction - intimate and poignant at times and with a sharp humorous content, but more of that later.
The writer of the diary (and remember that we have two 'writers' here - Adrian and Townsend) is fictional - an adolescent boy of 13¾ who decides to keep a diary (a Christmas present ) as his New Year's resolution. The diary spans a period of 15 months, from January 1st 1982 to April 3rd 1983. The fact that it is a 'Secret Diary' indicates a typically adolescent attitude and makes the work immediately accessible to the reader, because ironically, of course it is not 'Secret' at all. The reader is able to 'peek' into fifteen months of an adolescent boy's life.
The entries are very irregular and most are quite short, which is realistic. They are also extremely self centred and naive - again sustaining the realism and audience appeal. The narrator is, of course, flawed, as we would expect from the generic form. Like Pooter, Adrian Mole sees only what he wants to see and ignores things which are obvious to the reader, thus intensifying the dramatic irony which is an inherent part of this type of writing.
It is not feasible to split the narrative into 'chapters' as we have done with 'Nobody', because of the fragmentary nature of the entries, so I have commented on sections of time, instead.
Jan1st - 14th
The focus from the beginning of the narrative is domestic. Adrian's world revolves around home and school, naturally enough. What is apparent from the outset (to the reader, if not to the 'author') is discord between Arian's parents. Note how he calls them 'mother' and 'father', rather than the more familiar 'Mum' or 'Dad'. Also apparent is Adrian's discontent - a familiar trait of the teenage years and one which Townsend 'milks' quite successfully. Immediately the reader has an identifiable theme which is realistic and contemporary. The ignorance of the narrator (NB you might have to find a better word than 'narrator' for Adrian, because this isn't really a 'story') intensifies the irony of the domestic situation. It is obvious that the father and mother are having serious domestic difficulties, but Adrian is unaware of them and much more concerned with his spots and his envy of the odious Nigel, who has none. Obvious comparisons here with Pooter, in 'Nobody'.
Note that Adrian criticises both his parents and seems very hostile and dismissive of them, especially his mother who is 'not like the mothers on television'. An interesting attitude/value here is, of course, the topical issue of feminism, which Townsend satirises throughout the book. Note for example how the next door neighbour's wife is busy concreting the driveway and also how Townsend implies that this 'unfeminine' behaviour is one of the reasons the marriage breaks up.
Various characters are introduced in the opening section of the book, most notably the adult quartet and the formidable Grandmother (Adrian's father's mother) and Adrian's friends. Nigel, the spotless 'weekend punk' (another topical reference which Townsend uses to satirical advantage) and the lovely Pandora, who prefers to be called 'Box' (note the euphemism and the 'in joke' which is a reference to the female sexual organ). Adrian, the 'intellectual' doesn't understand the reference at all, either the obvious mythological one or the slang! You might like to think about the way Townsend creates the character of Adrian from the outset. He is deliberately made to be a 'wimp' - pretentious - self-centred and ridiculously naive. Obvious comparisons are possible between Pooter and Adrian, in terms of each character's ignorance of what is going on all around him, and one of the key questions is exactly how a reader feels about each character. Much can be forgiven in the case of Adrian because of his youth. Readers expect teenagers to be selfish (teenage readers will empathise much more readily than adults, probably) and the events that happen to Adrian are very recognisable, too. Townsend cleverly uses contemporary issues in her work, the divorce of Adrian's parents, for example, and his reactions to it are central to the book. What you have to think about is whether or not you sympathise with him, or feel irritated at his utter selfishness about what is a very harrowing time for the adults.
Another 'character' introduced in this first section is the hapless dog, who seems to spend most of its time being neglected, ignored or mistreated. The dog is a 'must-have' accessory for the nuclear family of the early eighties.
Jan 15th - Feb 3rd
Adrian falls in love with Pandora but note how immature he is. Again, though,
this is consistent with the choice of age and sex of the central character and Adrian's
suffering is very realistically portrayed. The progress (or lack of progress) of
the love affair is one of the cohesive strands of the novel and provides a good
deal of comic relief.
In this section Adrian joins the 'Good Samaritans' - a school based community service group - again a topical reference by Townsend - and makes his first visits to his allocated old-age pensioner, Bert Baxter. Townsend makes the character of Bert quite obnoxious, though. he is not a stereotypically 'nice' old man. On the contrary, he is 'disgusting' according to Adrian and he has a dog, too. The sequences about the first visits to Bert are very funny, with the beetroot stains on the bed and Adrian's horrified references to Bert as a 'filthy commie'.
Adrian's mother goes out to work and he refers to himself as a 'latch-key kid' (this was a hot topic in the early eighties, as it was felt to be harmful to children to be 'neglected' by working mothers)
The Lucases are the 'first down our road' to get a divorce. This is quite an interesting issue, as divorce statistics did rise quite dramatically at this time. Note the references, too, to Nigel and his safety pins - this was the era of the Sex Pistols and the start of body piercing. Nigel's safety pin in the ear is used to good comic effect, though.
What emerges once more is Adrian's preoccupation with his own trivial concerns at the expense of real understanding about what is going on with the Lucases next door and his own parents. We expect the narrator to be egocentric in this genre, of course, so it is not untypical. Note also how Townsend replicates the pattern of adolescent speech and register and how Adrian uses a combination of quite formal standard English and contemporary slang.
Feb3rd - March 17th
Note ref's to mother not doing 'proper housework' and Adrian's attitude towards his father smoking. This was the beginning of the anti-smoking lobby which over the last couple of decades of the 20th century pretty well put paid to smoking in public places. Also note the other's reading matter. Germaine Greer was (and still is) a leading feminist writer. The Female Eunuch is one of her seminal texts, but according to Adrian it is full of 'dirty words'. Interesting this - it's difficult to tell whether Townsend is creating a typical prude in Adrian, or having a swipe at the male opinion of a feminist text that used fairly basic language to describe female parts. Maybe a bit of both. The 'overalls' that Adrian's mother wears is also a swipe at the 'sexless' clothing many women opted to wear to express their desire not to stereotyped as sex objects. Note the comment about Nigel's mother who buys a 'new pair of high heels every week'. The dyeing of the hair and the 'dangly earrings', too are all characteristic of the 'new woman'. Adrian's Grandmother, of course, makes 'real' custard and 'proper' dinners. If you want to focus on this issue in an answer, then you need to think about Adrian's attitudes and how they have been shaped by his upbringing. He would have been born in the late 60's and it is likely that both his parents would have been quite conventional - they would have had a 'traditional' attitude to male & female roles and Adrian would have absorbed it, too. He does not seem to take a very positive view, for example, of his mother's desire to go out to work and it is obvious that he has not thought about his mother as anything other than the person who does the cooking and the housework. In short, you could probably make a good case for Adrian being stereotypically 'male' in terms of how he views female roles.
Another thing that is of interest in the narrative is the consistent reference to fast food and convenience food. Again this was innovative at the time the book was written. Now it has become so usual that a modern reader may not even realise the significance of the food revolution that came with 'boil-in-the-bag' meals and Vesta curries (rather revolting TVP chunks that were reconstituted with water into a sort of yellowish glop tasting vaguely of curry powder. I think raisins were involved, too). When Mrs Mole becomes liberated, the standard of cooking does seem to deteriorate quite remarkably, but at the time, it has to be said, that sort of quick-fix food was really quite a dramatic invention, so she would see it as a benefit, rather than a handicap. Adrian and his father think otherwise. Note also the references to 'cheese with grape pips' and 'black forest cake' both items of 'new' continental/sophisticated food, characteristic of households with pretensions to social status. Compare it with Pooter's champagne & lobster mayonnaise and you get the idea.
Social aspirations and snobbery figure in the narrative, too. Pandora (consider the name) has a 'little fat horse' and lives in a 'posh' part of town, where the families take the broadsheet newspapers and Punch magazine. Note, too Adrian's ignorance when he criticises the 'spelling mistakes' in The Guardian' (an in-joke for readers of this book who read the paper - known for its spelling errors). Pandora is neatly counter pointed by Barry Kent, the stereotypical school bully. This theme is not specifically of the time, because bullying was and is endemic in most schools, but it serves to mark a particular contrast between social classes here and gives Townsend a means of generating humour (see the comments about Barry on p39).
The section from march 8th -17th raises some interesting references to women's assertiveness groups and Mrs Mole's rebellion against domestic slavery when she tells the family that 'the worm has turned' and shares out the housework. Read over the section about the jobs Adrian has to do around the house (p 43) and ask yourself who would have done them every day without any complaint at all for years?
The announcement of the divorce and Mr Mole playing his Jim Reeves records in the bedroom is both farcical and pathetic. Adrian's poem about Blossom the horse is dreadful (all his poems are dreadful - you'll need to say why if you get one of them in an extract) and again the reader is torn between exasperation and sympathy for the narrator at the way the events are reported. You could make the point that Townsend is very consistent in the way she replicates the extreme self-centredness of adolescence even if you feel, like Adrian's parents, that the one who doesn't get custody of him is the lucky one.
One of the more positive aspects of the narrative is the developing relationship between Adrian and Bert Baxter, who becomes a substitute Grandfather. Have you noticed how short of strong male role models Adrian is? Both he and his father seem to be terrorised by formidable women in the characters of Grandma, Mrs Mole and Pandora. Is Ms Townsend making a subtle point here, do you think? Bert Baxter remains quite independent, if a bit unsavoury, but even he succumbs to the beautiful Queenie in the end, so could we say that the Secret Diary is really a bit of subversive feminist polemic? Shall we burn our bra's and say 'Long Live the Feminist Revolution, or is Townsend doing the opposite and satirising feminism as rather a destructive movement which was responsible for destroying traditionally held beliefs and values, not to mention causing the break up of the institution of marriage?
March 18th - May 21st
Adrian becomes a 'single parent family' after Mrs Mole and Mr Lucas go away together to Sheffield. Note the sharp humour of the fight in the garden, which Adrian calls a 'civilised meeting'. The 'other woman' introduced - Doreen Slater - and her odious toddler, Maxwell. Again, the reader never really finds out whether Mr Mole knew Doreen before his wife left him, but that is typical of the genre and it adds spice to the sub-plot of infidelity and divorce.
The section about the visit to Nigel's house shows the Thatcherite obsession with materialism and consumerism. Nigel has a 'modern' house full of very expensive possessions. Adrian's envy is extreme and his loathing of his own situation obvious. Described with sharp humour, this is nevertheless quite a serious topic. Values did change very much in the 80's and Nigel's family embodies the aspirations of the time. Adrian thinks his father should be 'ashamed of our antiques' and doesn't understand why his father should 'boast about our hundred-year-old furniture.'
Note also the ignorance Adrian displays about Christianity - again one of the casualties of the latter part of the 20th century, although his comments about Houdini having given Jesus the idea about how to 'escape from the cave' is funny. Another topical reference is made to the Monty Python film 'Life of Brian' which was a very funny parody of the Christian story. Adrian describes it as 'dead daring' which it was at the time it was released. Christian groups staged protests outside cinemas in some places.
Life without Mrs Mole is bleak and the pair are rescued by the intervention of Grandma, who pays off the overdue electricity bill and takes Adrian and his father to live with her for a time. Again, we have a very strong female character in Grandmother, someone who is very capable and independent. A point to think about here - she is not of the 'liberated' generation, but she is more capable than Mrs Mole of organising her life exactly the way she wants it to be. Note how she is the one who sorts out Barry Kent (and his father) after Mr Mole's intervention only succeeds in getting his son 'duffed up' at school. It takes her 'one hour and seven minutes' to get Adrian's 'protection money' back.
May 22nd - July 31st
Adrian paints his bedroom black and burns joss-sticks (incense) which makes his father sure he is 'messing with drugs'. Quite a typical response from a parent and also quite a usual pattern of behaviour for a teenage boy. Note, too the fact that Adrian's bedroom is still decorated with a Noddy frieze. (Poor Noddy and his sidekick Big Ears became politically incorrect at about this time. He's been replaced by much more 'butch' children's characters like Bob the Builder)
Adrian meets Doreen Slater, who is 'as thin as a stick insect' with 'no bust and no bum'. Adrian thinks she would be 'quite nice if she were a bit fatter'. You have to make the obvious point here about the body image thing - 'thin is sexy' was becoming the norm at about this time. Doreen's relationship with Adrian is very different to that with his mother, note how she tells Adrian about his father's 'temporary impotence' and how shocked this makes Adrian.
A lengthy diversion here about the 'red sock protest' at school. It may seem to be a little incredible to a modern reader, but the fuss over uniform regulations is quite realistic. Many schools did have exceptionally strict dress codes and handed out suspensions for anyone who did not conform. Pandora's support of the socks with her 'sock protest' is obviously played for comic effect by Townsend, especially when the whole thing turns into a farce and all the protesters are suspended for a week, but one of the interesting things is the sharp satire in the description of the protest meeting at Pandora's house. Her parents are Tania and Ivan - they are 'members of the Labour Party' and Townsend creates a couple of very stereotypical 'progressive parents' (note the invitation to Adrian to call both by their first names). Adrian, of course, is the usual bumbling fool, but one of the benefits of his 'protest' is that Pandora notices him and 'tells Claire Neilson, who told Nigel, who told me(Adrian)' with the result that 'Pandora and I are in love!' This provides a strong story line for the remainder of the diary.
Developments in the Bert Baxter story continue, with Bert's admission to hospital with pneumonia. If you want to comment on social issues here, then you could think about the way that Townsend tackles the problems of elderly people who live alone. A bit of history - the population of elderly people has increased very significantly over the last couple of decades, partly because we live longer now, so dealing with the elderly has steadily become a major social problem. Read over the section where Adrian and Pandora go to Bert's house to look for the addresses of his children and you'll see how fragmented family life has become. Bert has not seen or spoken to his family for years and this disintegration of traditional family life is not new or uncommon. Note too how poignantly Townsend reveals Bert's past, with the discovery of the 'brown and cream postcards' signed by the anonymous 'Lola' (a wartime French sweetheart?) As usual, though, the sentimentality is sacrificed for satire, when Pandora & Adrian kiss, but not in the 'French' way and Bert asks Adrian whether or not he has 'had his leg over yet' (a euphemism for intercourse)
Adrian's illness (tonsillitis) leads to a visit by the truant officer - again Adrian is a hapless victim and then the 'brown-skinned family' (note the careful political correctness of the description of the Singhs) move into the Lucas house. Townsend predictably introduces another topical issue here, with various reactions. Mr Mole describes it as 'the beginning of the end of our street' , Pandora's opinion is that Adrian's father is a 'possible racist' (he is) and then we have the surprising revelation that Bert Baxter speaks 'fluent Hindi'. It soon becomes apparent that the Singh family is probably the most patriotic one in the street. At the Royal Wedding street party, for example, only Mr Singh knows all the words to 'Land of Hope & Glory' and he is the one who makes 'a speech about how great is was to be British'. Surprisingly, the character who would be expected to be most prejudiced about the Asian family turns out to be the one who is most supportive of them and makes friends very quickly. In fact Bert becomes a temporary lodger with the Singhs while he is convalescing and waiting to see where he will live.
The Royal Wedding section is interesting. You probably don't need to be reminded of how significant the occasion was at the time (or what happened after all the fuss was over) but reading a report of it through the eyes of a teenager gives a different viewpoint altogether. 'Lady Diana melted my heart in her dirty white dress' and 'helped an old man up the aisle' (references to the wedding gown that genuinely DID look 'dirty' and Earl Spencer who was an 'old man' and not very steady on his feet as he walked up the aisle) certainly reveal a different interpretation to those which were broadcast on TV and printed in the newspapers at the time. It might be worthwhile to note here that Townsend is not a Royalist and a later book of hers is a satire on the Royal Family living in a council house, so you could perhaps suggest that this part of the diary is deliberately intended to be anti-Royalist. Note how Dame Kiri te Kanawa, the New Zealand soprano who sang at the wedding ('that Kiwi woman' who has 'certainly got a good pair of lungs on her') is dismissed in the same sarcastic way.
August 1st - Sept 11th
Pandora goes on holiday to Tunisia (an unusual destination, certainly not
'fun-in-the-sun) and Adrian pines for her while she is away. When she comes back
he is 'racked with sexuality' and Pandora suggests a trial separation because
the 'light to medium petting will turn quite heavy soon'. Adrian is also 'racked
with sexuality when remembering 'Mrs O'Leary's knickers'. He goes to Scotland on
holiday with his mother and 'Bimbo' (her nickname for Mr Lucas) and meets an
American boy, Hamish Mancini, whose mother is on her 'fourth honeymoon'. While
in conversation with some neighbours also holidaying there, Adrian finds out
that Mr Lucas's wife 'left him for another woman' . The description of the
holiday is quite savagely anti-Scotland (does Ms Townsend not like the Celts
either?) and you need to read Adrian's 'thoughts on Scotland' on p.115. Just who
is satirising what, here?
Bert moves out of the Singh's and back into his old house. Mr Mole, Adrian, Pandora and her parents clean it for him and it 'looks great' when they are finished.
The letter from Hamish Mancini in Standard English translation:
Hi Adrian, How are you? I hope you're still going out with Pandora. She sounds great. I loved Scotland, it was brilliant. You are a great human being, Adrian. I think I was a bit out of it when we talked, but Dr Eagleburger, my psychiatrist is doing great work on my libido (sex drive). My Mum is really upset at the moment because husband number four has turned out to be a transvestite (TV) and has more Calvin Klein clothes than she has! Isn't autumn miserable? Bloody leaves everywhere....
You need to comment on the American idiolect and idiom and also on the fact that it doesn't 'travel' very well. Neither Adrian, Pandora, Mr Mole or Bert understand it. Again, Townsend is using satire. This time it's aimed at the Americans.
The start of the new school year in September gives us the list of items and
prices for Adrian's school uniform. Do a quick comparison against the cost of
the same items twenty years later and you'll get something of a shock, but
remember that these prices at the time were quite high. Also note the references
to O Levels and CSE exams, later replaced by GCSE's (also known as Key Stage 4
tests). If you want to comment on education issues, then you will have to do
some research on the old exam system - briefly CSE (Certificate of Secondary
Education) was a little less academically challenging than O Level (Ordinary
Level). Pupils would take O Levels in the higher academic classes and CSE's in
the lower ones. Adrian is doing a combination of both and note how he opts to do
'soft options' like Media Studies and Parentcraft. At the time, there was a very
fluid situation with regard to available subjects, especially for CSE . At a
school where I taught, for example, there was a course called 'Rural Studies'
which was really gardening for not-very-bright students. They dug potato
trenches and grew very large marrows and all got Grade1 results, if I remember
Please give very high marks to Mr Dock, the English teacher, for his riposte to Adrian's explanation about being a 'one-parent-family-child'. Seriously funny satire on the fashionable 'political correctness' which unfortunately still continues to devalue our language.
Sept 12th - Dec 31st
You need to have a look at the character of Rick Lemon (good name, that) the youth leader and his girlfriend 'Tit' (short for Titia - also probably a contraction of Patricia) Lemon and Tit are very clever stereotypes. They 'reject' fruit in Sainsbury's (an 'upper-class' supermarket) which comes from 'unacceptable' countries. South Africa, for example, was an oppressive regime which mistreated its black population (apartheid) and Rick's rejection of all produce from places like this leaves him with only 'English rhubarb' in his trolley. (Note that 'rhubarb' is also sometimes used to indicate someone speaking rubbish). Tit is 'cramming the trolley with pulses and rice' and has 'hairy ankles'. Adrian's father likes 'stockings, suspenders, mini-skirts and low necklines'. He is, according to Adrian, 'dead old fashioned'. Tit and Lemon, presumably are terribly modern?
On the subject of food, you can also comment on the school dinner menu, which really did 'phase out' custard and 'hot puddings' about this time. Schools went on to a system of outside contracted catering and many of the traditional kitchens had to phase out the traditional hot lunches cooked on the premises because of costing implications. Schools went on to a system called LMS (Local Management of Schools) and were responsible for managing budgets themselves. One of the casualties was often the kitchen system. It was cheaper and quicker to warm up pies and fry chips, so school dinners became quite basic. The typical menu Adrian quotes (page 121) is still pretty common in schools, although things seem to have begun to change recently, with more emphasis on healthy diets.
The Four D trip to the British Museum is pretty standard and very accurate indeed. (I speak as one who has been there and cleaned up the sick on outward and return journeys). Obviously, Townsend exaggerates for comic effect but the antics are certainly accurate. We were banned from a theme park in Yorkshire after a boat load of Fourth year boys killed several ducks on the ornamental pond. They just weren't quick enough to get out of the way of the oars, apparently. Poor Ms Fossington-Gore is all I can say. She's well out of it.
Bert goes into the Alderman Cooper Sunshine Home (note the irony - an old people's home is anything but sunny) and Adrian visits him. This is quite subtly poignant. Adrian says 'the old people looked as though they were thinking' and tells us that the Social Services 'painted the walls orange to try to cheer the old people up'. It doesn't work, though.
The main section in this extract is Bert's visit to Adrian's house for tea. Adrian's attempt to cook from the 'Cordon Bleu for the Elderly' recipes is (not surprisingly) a complete failure and Pandora's father and Mr Mole get very drunk. I like the section about the 'thin lips' on both Pandora and her mother ('women must teach young girls to do this') and once more we have a sardonic swipe at fast food, with Mrs Singh's laughter at the Vesta curry. Bert's tears when he has to go back to the Sunshine Home are poignant, but Townsend once more achieves a high degree of subtlety and prevents a maudlin effect by having Bert put the brakes on his wheelchair as he is wheeled out to the car.
Rick Lemon organises a youth club expedition to Derbyshire, to practise survival techniques (probably a swipe here at the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme, although Townsend doesn't mention the name at all). Adrian's survival food is ludicrously heavy - mostly tins and big packets of perishable stuff. He can 'hardly carry it back from Sainsbury's' and leaves out the two most important items to save weight - the toilet roll and the cornflakes. The expedition is a disaster. Adrian has 'lived like an ignoble savage 'for two days!' His reaction to outdoor life is quite a predictable urban child's reaction. No chips, no television, 'wiping my bum on leaves' and having to be rescued by the Mountain Rescue Service make him feel that it is 'wonderful to be back in civilisation.' Again, Townsend is satirising a trend - this time one which (unfortunately) still seems to be fashionable. Like the school outing to the British Museum, this is a chapter of accidents for Adrian, who learns nothing from the experience at all.
Adrian's hospital visit to have his tonsils out gives an interesting picture of the National Health Service - over stretched, foreign nursing staff, lost patient notes and very long delays before surgery. Adrian decides to 'join BUPA (a private health scheme) as soon as they'll have me'.
The bonfire at the firework party in aid of the Marriage Guidance Council ('a good community effort') fails to burn up the copies of 'Now' magazine, donated by the newsagent and Adrian decides to start a literary magazine at school called 'The Voice of Youth'. Claire Neilson's punk poem pretty well sums up the 'punk philosophy' (page 146) although she submits it under an assumed name 'because her father is a Conservative councillor'. Adrian's editorial is incredibly naive, but typical of the style of school publications, as is the content. Note the references to 'stencils' to produce the master sheets for printing the magazines. Before computers became common for home use, duplicating was done by means of 'cutting stencils' - a typewriter would be used to make impressions on a kind of 'skin' of flimsy paper with a heavier paper backing. This 'master sheet' would be rolled round a drum on an offset machine and acted as the master stencil for duplicating copies. Twenty five pence a copy for the magazine is ludicrously over-priced, so it is not surprising that 'five hundred copies were locked in the games cupboard' by the end of the first day.
Adrian's mother comes back home on November 29th and discovers that the overdue phone bill (for the calls to Pandora on holiday) amounts to £369. Obviously Mrs Mole knows her son very well, because she makes the 'tight fisted sod cough up some of his building society savings' to pay for it.
The 'experimental nativity play' at school is called 'Manger to Star', directed by trendy Miss Elf, who 'lives with a West Indian in a terrace in the town'. The head is not impressed when he watches rehearsals, especially with the 'simulated labour in the manger'. He wants 'three wise men dressed in dressing gowns and tea towels'. Miss Elf likes improvisation and Adrian and Pandora like the 'private Mary & Joseph rehearsal in (Adrian's) bedroom.' Another topical reference is to the fox fur coat, lent to Pandora and worn by Pandora's mother to the Marriage Guidance Christmas dinner. Fur was still fashionable at the time this book was written, although it was not long before it became another victim of political and ecological correctness and pretty well died out as an acceptable fashion accessory. Adrian's attempt to get the coat back by breaking into Pandora's house during a snow storm is pure farce, as is the school concert and the performance of the nativity play.
The Christmas period is a clever and quite sharply observed account of a typical family gathering with relations who never meet at any other time, too much drink, cooking disasters (the frozen turkey that Mrs Mole tries to defrost in the bath on Christmas day) and a visit to the pantomime. Note the carol singing episode. Pandora and Adrian really do manage to con a great deal of money out of drunks by singing carols outside pubs. If you want to make a social observation, then you could comment on the erosion of traditional family values and maybe also on the way in which consumerism is becoming more marked. Adrian's present (the racing bike) is paid for by American Express and his new outfit for the pantomime comes courtesy of his father's Barclaycard.
December 31st - April 3rd
The last four months' entries take the reader from New Year's Eve (one year on from the starting point of the novel) to the outbreak of the Falkland's Conflict (for some reason it wasn't officially called a 'War') with Argentina. Adrian's resolutions are as facile as the ones at the beginning of the narrative and his resolution to learn a new word every day stops on January 5th.
Bert and Queenie get married and Adrian brings all but two copies of the 'Voice of Youth' back home because 'Mr Jones needs the games cupboard'. Mrs Mole starts to hold her 'women's rights meetings in our lounge' and Adrian works for his exams. Mr Mole is still unemployed (the unemployment figures under Mrs Thatcher's government were astronomical) and has his credit cards taken away from him. He decides to become self-employed, making spice racks in the spare bedroom and spends the last of his redundancy money on materials.
You will have noticed the political references in the book, and need to do some research into political developments at the time. The SDP was the Social Democrat Party, which was formed as an alternative opposition party to Thatcher's government by a break-away group of Liberals and Socialists. It didn't last very long, but at the time, it was seen as significant and did cause some conflict in Labour and Liberal ranks. Pandora's mother favours it, but Pandora's father supports the hard-line left wing politics of Tony Benn - once thought to be a serious contender for leadership if the Labour party achieved power. Adrian's comments about Mrs Thatcher on page 175 are interesting. She really did (does) have 'eyes like a psychotic killer, but a voice like a gentle person'. Probably the reason the Conservatives stayed in power for so long. The references to Ms Elf's boyfriend, Winston, who has a Master's Degree, but can't get a job are accurate and although the incident when she draws the moustache on Thatcher's portrait in the Head's study is played for laughs, the action itself is quite understandable. The phrase 'three million unemployed' was widely reported in the Press at the time and it was only the Falklands Conflict that made it possible for Thatcher to survive a serious challenge to her Premiership and get elected for another term.
The 'Pink Brigade' radical group that Adrian and his friends form has naive objectives - 'war (we are against it) peace (we are for it) - but the sentiments do reflect the time quite well. Note they are 'pink' rather than 'red' - slightly left wing rather than fully communist. The family has to go on the Social Security because of Adrian's father's failure to sell any spice racks and Mrs Mole gives up smoking and calls the family 'nouveau poor'. (Translates as 'new poor' - 'nouveau rich' was the opposite - people who made a great deal of money by dealing in currency, which was part of the capitalist ideal encouraged by the Thatcher government)
Adrian's father manages to get a job, supervising a 'gang of skinheads and punks' on a renovation project on a canal bank. You need to look up the details about things like the Youth Opportunity Schemes (YOP's) which were government measures to occupy large numbers of badly educated school leavers (Baz, Daz, Maz, Kev and the like) on minimum wages to get unemployment figures down.
The outbreak of the Falklands War, Adrian's fifteenth birthday and his abortive attempt at glue sniffing (he sticks his nose to the model plane he is assembling) bring the diary entries to a close. It is quite obvious that Townsend intends a sequel (there have in fact been several) each one chronicling the times with a mixture of sarcasm and sharp satire.
© V Pope 2003