A SWAN CAN BREAK A MANS ARM, YOU KNOW?
A SHORT APPRECIATION OF SUE TOWNSEND
Wednesday April 2nd
I am thirty-five today.I am officially middle-aged. It is all downhill from now. A pathetic slide towards gum disease, wheelchair ramps and death.
Sunday May 5th
Bowels – blocked.
Penis – unresponsive to stimuli.
Saturday November 16th
I am still without ntl. The engineer refused to get out of his van because Gielgud and the other swans were walking around the car park, looking as though they owned the place. Before he drove away he said, “A swan can break a man’s arm, you know.”
Sue Townsend, after a decade and more of ill health, died on April 2014, aged just 68. She was among my very favourite writers, perhaps at the very top of the list. THE SECRET DIArY OF ADRIAN MOLE AGE 13 ¾ was one of the first ‘grown up’ books I read, and I myself was around that age, or just a tad younger. I loved the book, having picked it up in a charity shop, and I remember saving my money and rushing to W H Smith’s to buy the sequel, THE GROWING PAINS OF ADRIAN MOLE. I’ve read them half a dozen times or more. At 12 or 13 I loved reading about Adrian and his chaotic family, their mishaps, and really funny incidents like the school trip to London which Adrian doggedly documents. Much of it went over my head; I was too young. I didn’t know who Dostoevsky was, or what The Female Eunuch was all about. At each subsequent reading, a little older each time, new things sprang out at me; new insights into character, new jokes, new humour. I have followed Adrian Mole through eight volumes into his 40’s, up to the cliff-hanger in THE PROSTRATE YEARS [none of Mole’s friends or family can pronounce ‘prostate’ properly] where his fate remains unclear after a battle with prostate cancer. Sue Townsend was working on another volume, Pandora’s Box, when she died. So while it is clear that Adrian Mole has survived his brush with death, it is unclear whether this book was anywhere near publishable, so Townsend’s thousands of fans may never get to read it.
Sunday July 18th
My father announced at breakfast that he is going to have a vasectomy. I pushed my sausages away untouched.
Sue Townsend was born into working-class poverty, a lifelong character in most of her books. She was a single parent for years, and wrote in secret, until her first Adrian Mole book became a huge success, being one of the most bestselling books of the 1980’s. Over four decades she has become widely recognised as Britain’s best-loved comedy writer, but there is far more to her work than just humour. Underpinning almost everything is a sense of the working-class, the normal man in the street, and hardship, poverty and the difficulties of life. Pervading through all this is perhaps one key message, one thing that makes the world a better place, no matter if you’re the Queen or an unemployed storage-heater salesman; simple kindness. Her writing is laugh-out-loud funny, but also humane, tragic and bittersweet. She has a brilliant sense of timing, an eye for off-beat but completely believable characters, and a quiet fondness for quiet and clever comedy. Her books mirror society; Thatcher and unemployment in ther 80’s, Facebook and celebrities in the ‘00’s.
Sue wasn’t all just about Adrian Mole. She wrote six other books, and six plays, winning great accolade and awards. My favourite of these is The Queen And I, a fantastically funny and moving novel, about the Queen and her family stripped of their royalty and estates and treated like anyone else, sent to live on a rough housing estate in the Midlands. Here, Prince Charles has an affair with a woman down the road, Prince Phillip goes a bit mental, and Harris, the Queen’s corgi, becomes the leader of a tough street-pack of homeless dogs. The Queen meanwhile is portrayed as a kind but sad character; she often has to borrow money to put in the gas meter, or go to the benefits office for a crisis loan, but when called upon to help her neighbours she repeatedly stands up to the plate, helping to deliver a baby in a poverty-stricken house, and cleaning up the messes left by her family. The point here is that no-matter who you are, rich or poor, everyone is the same, we all have our failings, we all have a heart.
Sue Townsend was, and will continue to be, onme of my favourite writers. I am sad that no new books will dance out of her pen. But I will continue to re-read her excellent books; she left us with some proper crackers.
Monday December 13th
My mother and father sat together in the chapel, briefly united. Me and Pandora sat either side of Bert. He said he wanted to have ‘young ‘uns’ around him.
Then, while the organ played sad music, the coffin started sliding towards purple curtains around the altar. When the coffin reached the curtains Pandora whispered, “God, how perfectly barbaric.”
I watched with horror as the coffin disappeared. Bert said, “Tara old girl” and then Queenie was burnt in the oven.
I was so shocked, I could hardly walk up the aisle. Pandora and I both looked up when we got outside. Smoke was pouring out of the chimney, and was carried away by the wind. Queenie always said she wanted to fly.
R.I.P Sue Townsend. 1946 - 2014