It was back in 1992, on a Spanish beach, that I discovered the glorious anti-hero that is Adrian Mole (in a translated edition, these things matter to me.)
So now, older and wiser after a decade living in Britain, I wanted to revisit the original version and compare notes from a different perspective. It would be fun.
Second time around, I still loved the book. It was funny and heart wrenching in a way that only honest writing can be, with all main characters presented with complex flaws, questions, anxieties. And of course, an insight into Adrian’s adolescence ego for pure comic genius relief.
The novel delivered an unexpected delight: political awareness for readers of all ages. It seems that today’s teenagers want to read about worlds of evasion such as the hunger games and twilight, neither of which are concerned with the decline of the working class. For Adrian Mole, Margaret Thatcher’s politics brought the working class to its knees, becoming the inspiration for the hilarious yet devastating verse, ‘Do you weep like a sad willow/ in your Marks and Spencer’s pillow?’ Politics are interweaved in everything that happens in the Mole’s home, including unemployment, illicit relationships, drink and feminism, creating a portrait of the imperfect family, preceding the Simpsons and the Griffins.
An added bonus was the character of Bert Baxter, a notoriously difficult OAP whom Adrian helped care for. In a society that increasingly embraces the cult of youth, it is a welcome look to what the elderly could mean for increasingly fragmented communities and non-traditional families.
The mid 1980s was a period of much political agitation, hunger for change, idealism in the face of extraordinary challenges. Arguably, that tree bore little fruit, and almost thirty years later we have become a more individual and self centred society.
The Romans used to say that to keep people happy and minimise uprising attempts, what was needed is bread and circus, meaning enough food and entertainment. It is clear with the rise of food banks and our divisive society that a considerable number of families still haven’t got enough to eat. However, with the proliferation of the likes of Netflix, Sky and the Internet, most of us have access to as much entertainment as we want. We have too much circus to stop and think about what’s going on behind the scenes.
So, just after you switch your screen tonight, think: What do you really want from life beyond paying the rent/ mortgage and twice a year holidays? And how are you going to get it, and help others along the way? Is our wellbeing as individuals more important than the common good for our society?
Hand in heart, I believe we can all make changes happen.