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       Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years, p.1

           Sue Townsend
 
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Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years


  PENGUIN BOOKS

  Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years

  Sue Townsend, with The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ (1982) and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole (1984), was Britain’s bestselling author of the 1980s. Her hugely successful novels are Rebuilding Coventry (1988), True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole, Margaret Hilda Roberts and Susan Lilian Townsend (1989), Adrian Mole: From Minor to Major (1991), The Queen and I (1992), Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years (1993), Ghost Children (1997), Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years (1999), The Public Confessions of a Middle-aged Woman (Aged 55¾) (2001) and Number Ten (2002). Most of her books are published by Penguin. She is also well known as a playwright. She lives in Leicester.

  Adrian Mole

  The Wilderness Years

  Sue Townsend

  PENGUIN BOOKS

  PENGUIN BOOKS

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

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  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  www.penguin.com

  First published in Great Britain by Methuen 1993

  Published in Mandarin Paperbacks 1994

  Reprinted in Arrow Books 1998

  Published in Penguin Books 2003

  15

  Copyright © Sue Townsend, 1993

  All rights reserved

  The moral right of the author has been asserted

  Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

  ISBN: 978-0-14-196244-3

  To my sisters, Barbara and Kate

  ‘What’s gone and what’s past help

  Should be past grief.’

  William Shakespeare

  The Winter’s Tale

  Winter

  Tuesday January 1st 1991

  I start the year with a throbbing head and shaking limbs, owing to the excessive amounts of alcohol I was forced to drink at my mother’s party last night.

  I was quite happy sitting on a dining chair, watching the dancing and sipping on a low-calorie soft drink, but my mother kept shouting at me: ‘Join in, fishface,’ and wouldn’t rest until I’d consumed a glass and a half of Lambrusco.

  As she slopped the wine into a plastic glass for me, I had a close look at her. Her lips were surrounded by short lines, like numerous river beds running into a scarlet lake; her hair was red and glossy almost until it reached her scalp and then a grey layer revealed the truth: her neck was saggy, her cleavage wrinkled and her belly protruded from the little black dress (very little) she wore. The poor woman is forty-seven, twenty-three years older than her second husband. I know for a fact that he, Martin Muffet, has never seen her without make-up. Her pillow slips are a disgrace; they are covered in pan-stick and mascara.

  It wasn’t long before I found myself on the improvised dance floor in my mother’s lounge, dancing to ‘The Birdie Song’, in a line with Pandora, the love of my life; Pandora’s new lover, Professor Jack Cavendish; Martin Muffet, my boyish stepfather; Ivan and Tania, Pandora’s bohemian parents; and other inebriated friends and relations of my mother’s. As the song reared to its climax, I caught sight of myself in the mirror above the fireplace. I was flapping my arms and grinning like a lunatic. I stopped immediately and went back to the dining chair. Bert Baxter, who was a hundred last year, was doing some clumsy wheelchair dancing, which caused a few casualties; my left ankle is still bruised and swollen, thanks to his carelessness. Also I have a large beetroot stain on the front of my new white shirt, caused by him flinging one of his beetroot sandwiches across the room under the misapprehension that it was a party popper. But the poor old git is almost certain to die this year – he’s had his telegram from the Queen – so I won’t charge him for the specialist dry cleaning that my shirt is almost certain to require.

  I have been looking after Bert Baxter for over ten years now, going back from Oxford to visit him, buying his vile cigarettes, cutting his horrible toenails, etc. When will it end?

  My father gate-crashed the party at 11.30. His excuse was that he wanted to speak urgently to my grandma. She is very deaf now, so he was forced to shout above the music. ‘Mum, I can’t find the spirit level.’

  What a pathetic excuse! Who would be using a spirit level on New Year’s Eve, apart from an emergency plumber? It was a pitiful request from a lonely, forty-nine-year-old divorcee, whose navy blue mid-eighties suit needed cleaning and whose brown moccasins needed throwing away. He’d done the best he could with his remaining hair, but it wasn’t enough.

  ‘Any idea where the spirit level is?’ insisted my father, looking towards the drinks table. Then he added, ‘I’m laying some paving slabs.’

  I laughed out loud at this obvious lie.

  My grandma looked bewildered and went back into the kitchen to microwave the sausage rolls and my mother graciously invited her ex-husband to join the party. In no time at all, he had whipped his jacket off and was frugging on the dance floor with my eight-year-old sister Rosie. I found my father’s style of dancing acutely embarrassing to watch (his role model is still Mick Jagger); so I went upstairs to change my shirt. On the way, I passed Pandora and Bluebeard Cavendish in a passionate embrace half inside the airing cupboard. He’s old enough to be her father.

  Pandora has been mine since I was thirteen years old and I fell in love with her treacle-coloured hair. She is simply playing hard to get. She only married Julian Twyselton-Fife to make me jealous. There can be no other possible reason. Julian is a bisexual semi-aristocrat who occasionally wears a monocle. He strains after eccentricity but it continues to elude him. He is a deeply ordinary man with an upper-class accent. He’s not even good-looking. He looks like a horse on two legs. And as for her affair with Cavendish, a man who dresses like a tramp, the mind boggles.

  Pandora was looking particularly beautiful in a red off-the-shoulder dress, from which her breasts kept threatening to escape. Nobody would have guessed from looking at her that she was now Dr Pandora Braithwaite, fluent in Russian, Serbo-Croat and various other little-used languages. She looked more like one of those supermodels that prowl the catwalks than a Doctor of Philosophy. She certainly added glamour to the party: unlike her parents, who were dressed as usual in their fifties beatnik style – polo necks and corduroy. No wonder they were both sweating heavily as they danced to Chuck Berry.

  Pandora smiled at me as she tucked her left breast back inside her dress, and I was pierced to the heart. I truly love her. I am prepared to wait until she comes to her senses and realizes that there is only one man in the world for her, and that is me. That is the reason I followed her to Oxford and took up temporary residence in her box room. I have now been there for a year and a half. The more she is exposed to my presence, the sooner she will appreciate my qua
lities. I have suffered daily humiliations, watching her with her husband and her lovers, but I will reap the benefits later when she is the proud mother of our six children and I am a famous author.

  As the clock struck twelve, everyone joined hands and sang ‘Auld Lang Syne’. I looked around, at Pandora; at Cavendish; at my mother; at my father; at my stepfather; at my grandma; at Pandora’s parents, Ivan and Tania Braithwaite; and at the dog. Tears filled my eyes. I am nearly twenty-four years of age, I thought, and what have I done with my life? And, as the singing died away, I answered myself – nothing, Mole, nothing.

  Pandora wanted to spend the first night of the New Year in Leicester at her parents’ house with Cavendish, but at 12.30 a.m. I reminded her that she and her aged lover had promised to give me a lift back to Oxford. I said, ‘I am on duty in eight hours’ time at the Department of the Environment. At 8.30 sharp.’

  She said, ‘For Christ’s sake, can’t you have one poxy day off without permission? Do you have to kow-tow to that little commissar Brown?’

  I replied, with dignity, I hope, ‘Pandora, some of us keep our word, unlike you, who on Thursday the second of June 1983 promised that you would marry me as soon as you had finished your “A” levels.’

  Pandora laughed, spilling the neat whisky in her glass. ‘I was sixteen years old,’ she said. ‘You’re living in a bloody time warp.’

  I ignored the insult. ‘Will you drive me to Oxford as you promised?’ I snapped, dabbing at the whisky droplets on her dress with a paper serviette covered in reindeer.

  Pandora shouted across the room to Cavendish, who was engaged in conversation with Grandma about the dog’s lack of appetite: ‘Jack! Adrian’s insisting on that lift back to Oxford!’

  Bluebeard rolled his eyes and looked at his watch. ‘Have I got time for one more drink, Adrian?’ he asked.

  ‘Yes, but only mineral water. You’re driving, aren’t you?’ I said.

  He rolled his eyes again and picked up a bottle of Perrier. My father came across and he and Cavendish reminisced about the Good Old Days, when they could drink ten pints in the pub and get in the car and drive off ‘without having the law on your back’.

  It was 2 a.m. when we finally left my mother’s house. Then we had to call at the Braithwaites’ house to collect Pandora’s overnight bag. I sat in the back of Cavendish’s Volvo and listened to their banal conversation. Pandora calls him ‘Hunky’ and Cavendish calls her ‘Monkey’.

  I woke up on the outskirts of Oxford to hear her whisper: ‘So, what did you think of the festivities at Maison Mole, Hunky?’

  And to hear him reply: ‘As you promised, Monkey, delightfully vulgar. I enjoyed myself enormously’ They both turned to look at me, so I feigned sleep.

  I began to think about my sister Rosie, who is, in my view, totally spoilt. The Girls’ World model hairdressing head she had demanded for Christmas had stood neglected on the lounge window sill since Boxing Day, looking out onto the equally neglected garden. Its retractable blonde hair was hopelessly tangled and its face was smeared with garish cosmetics. Rosie was dancing earlier with Ivan Braithwaite in a manner totally unsuited to an eight-year-old. They looked like Lolita and Humbert Humbert.

  Nabokov, fellow author, you should have been alive on that day. It would have shocked even you to see Rosie Mole pouting in her black miniskirt, pink tights and purple cropped top!

  I have decided to keep a full journal, in the hope that my life will perhaps seem more interesting when it is written down. It is certainly not interesting to actually live my life. It is tedious beyond belief.

  Wednesday January 2nd

  I was ten minutes late for work this morning. The exhaust pipe fell off the bus. Mr Brown was entirely unsympathetic. He said, ‘You should get yourself a bicycle, Mole.’ I pointed out that I have had three bicycles stolen in eighteen months. I can no longer afford to supply the criminals of Oxford with ecologically sound transport.

  Brown snapped, ‘Then walk, Mole. Get up earlier and walk.’

  I went into my cubicle and shut the door. There was a message on my desk informing me that a colony of newts had been discovered in Newport Pagnell. Their habitat is in the middle of the projected new ring road. I rang the Environmental Office at the Department of Transport and warned a certain Peter Peterson that work on the ring road could be subject to delay.

  ‘But that’s bloody ludicrous,’ said Peterson. ‘It would cost us hundreds of thousands of pounds to re-route that road, and all to save a few slimy reptiles.’

  That is also my own private point of view of newts. I’m sick of them. But I am paid to champion their right to survive (in public at least), so I gave Peterson my standard newt conservation lecture (and pointed out that newts are amphibians, not reptiles). I spent the rest of the morning writing up the Newport Pagnell case.

  At lunchtime I left the Department of the Environment and went to collect my blazer from the dry cleaner’s. I had forgotten to take my ticket. (It was at home, being used as a bookmark inside Colin Wilson’s The Outsider. Mr Wilson is Leicester-born, like me.)

  The woman at the cleaner’s refused to hand over my blazer, even though I pointed to it hanging on the rack! She said, ‘That blazer has got a British Legion badge on it. You’re too young to be in the British Legion.’

  An undergraduate behind me sniggered.

  Enraged, I said to the woman, ‘You are obviously proud of your powers of detection. Perhaps you should write an Inspector Morse episode for the television.’ But my wit was lost on the pedant.

  The undergraduate pushed forward and handed her a stinking duvet, requesting the four-hour service.

  I had no choice but to go home and collect the ticket, go back to the cleaner’s, and then run with the blazer, encased in plastic, slung over my shoulder, all the way back to the office. I have got a blind date tonight and the blazer is all I’ve got to wear.

  My last blind date ended prematurely when Ms Sandra Snape (non-smoking, twenty-five-year-old, vegetarian: dark hair, brown eyes, five foot six, not unattractive) left Burger King in a hurry, claiming she’d left the kettle on the stove. I am now convinced, however, that the kettle was an excuse. When I returned home that night, I discovered that the hem was down at the back on my army greatcoat. Women don’t like a scruff.

  I was twenty-five minutes late getting back to work. Brown was waiting for me in my cubicle. He was brandishing my Newport Pagnell newt figures. Apparently I had made a mistake in my projection of live newt births for 1992. Instead of 1,200, I had put down 120,000. An easy mistake to make.

  ‘A hundred and twenty thousand newts in 1992, eh, Mole?’ sneered Brown. ‘The good citizens of Newport Pagnell will be positively inundated with amphibia.’

  He gave me an official warning about my timekeeping and ordered me to water my cactus. He then went to his own office, taking my paperwork with him. If I lose my job, I am done for.

  11.30 p.m. My blind date did not turn up. I waited two hours, ten minutes in the Burger King in the town centre. Thank you, Ms Tracy Winkler (quiet blonde, twenty-seven, non-smoker, cats and country walks)! That is the last time I write to a box number in the Oxford Mail From now on, I will only use the personal column of the London Review of Books.

  Thursday January 3rd

  I have the most terrible problems with my sex life. It all boils down to the fact that I have no sex life. At least not with another person.

  I lay awake last night, asking myself why? Why? Why? Am I grotesque, dirty, repellent? No, I am none of these things. Am I normal-looking, clean, pleasant? Yes, I am all of these things. So what am I doing wrong? Why can’t I get an average-looking young woman into my bed?

  Do I exude an obnoxious odour smelled by everyone else but me? If so, I hope to God somebody will tell me and I can seek medical help from a gland specialist.

  At 3 a.m. this morning my sleep was disturbed by the sound of a violent altercation. This in itself is not unusual, because this house provides a home for many peopl
e, most of them noisy, drunken undergraduates, who sit up all night debating the qualities of various brands of beer. I went downstairs in my pyjamas and was just in time to see Tariq, the Iraqi student who lives in the basement, being led away by a gang of criminal-looking men.

  Tariq shouted, ‘Adrian, save me!’ I said to one of the men, ‘Let him go or I will call the police.’

  A man with a broken nose said, ‘We are the police, sir. Your friend is being expelled from the country, orders of the Home Office.’

  Pandora came to the top of the basement stairs. She was wearing very little, having just left her bed. She said in her most imperious manner: ‘Why is Mr Aziz being expelled?’

  ‘Because,’ said the thuggish one, ‘Mr Aziz’s presence is not conducive to the public good, for reasons of national security. Ain’t you ‘eard there’s a war on?’ he added, ogling Pandora’s satin nightshirt, through which the outline of her nipples was clearly visible.

  Tariq shouted, ‘I am a student at Brasenose College and a member of the Young Conservatives: I am not interested in politics!’

  There was nothing we could do to help him, so Pandora and I went back to bed. Not the same bed though, worse luck.

  At nine o’clock the next morning, I rang the landlord, Eric Hardwell, on his car phone and asked if I could move into the now vacant basement flat. I am sick of living in Pandora’s box room. Hardwell was in a bad mood because he was stuck in traffic, but he agreed, providing I can give him a £1,000 deposit, three months’ rent in advance (£1,200), a banker’s reference and a solicitor’s letter stating that I will not burn candles, use a chip pan, or breed bull terrier dogs in the basement.

 
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