Maybe Adrian Mole isn’t the first thought most readers might have when thinking about Christmas books. For me they are right up there with the funniest and most realistic Christmas Days in literature. Every diary, starting with The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4, contains a Christmas and each one is disastrous, but also laugh out loud funny. We’ve all had such Christmas disasters, perhaps not with such alarming regularity, and while a lot of us run ourselves ragged in December to ensure everyone has the perfect day, it’s good to read something like this to remind us that Christmas still happens whether your napkins match your tree decorations or not. The true joy of the Moles is that they are a (fairly) normal family, but their Christmas Days are always fraught. When they’re all together, Grandma Mole can always find fault with something her daughter-in-law has done, usually there’s something wrong with the food or her darling son George is being hen-pecked. In the later years, as his parent’s complicated sex life can mean some extra bodies at the table, there is a tug of war over the gravy. The Mole family gravy is made with stock from giblets and was his grandmother’s recipe. His mum Pauline would fight to the death over her right to make the gravy. Here, if anything can go wrong, it will, whether it’s a culinary mishap, an ill thought out present, or natural disaster. Christmas 1981 was our first with the Moles, but it sets a precedent.
Friday December 25th (1981)
‘I went up to the bathroom and found my mother crying and running the turkey under the hot tap. She said, “The bloody thing won’t thaw out, Adrian. What am I going to do?” I said, “Just bung it in the oven.” So she did.
‘We went down to eat Christmas dinner four hours late. By then my father was too drunk to eat anything.’
Adrian is one of life’s innocents, even in adulthood, and it’s delightful to read his completely oblivious observations of others. His friend Nigel receives presents that might indicate to most people that he’s thinking about his sexuality. He’s also oblivious during the years that both his father and mother are pursuing affairs, most notably with ‘Stick Insect’ Doreen Slater. His head is often so full of his attempts to be an intellectual, his love for Pandora Braithwaite and his various anxieties that he misses what’s going on under his nose. One year Adrian invites Bert Baxter and his girlfriend Queenie for Christmas but hasn’t informed his Mum and Dad. It’s Christmas morning when he wakes his hungover parents to say they have to pick them up. Bert usually spends the day in his bungalow with Alsatian Sabre, eating pickled beetroot in his underpants, so this is definitely a step up.
Whoever the guests are, they bring their own drama with them. His parents seem inclined to come on the same day, but bring a new lover whether it’s ‘Rat-Faced Lucas’, Pandora’s father Ivan or ‘Stick Insect’ with Adrian’s step-brother in tow. I find Adrian’s maternal grandparents hilarious. Used to living in a potato field in Norfolk, and not used to company, the pair are very Biblical and disapprove of drinking and fornicating. Their glum faces at the dinner table make everyone feel guilty for having a good time. At Christmas 1982 it’s the turn of Adrian’s Aunty Susan. She is a prison warden and has leave to join them for Christmas Day, along with her glamorous friend Gloria. Adrian is so flustered by Gloria’s impressive cleavage he can’t even tell his Dad what part of the turkey he wants.
Saturday December 25th (1982)
‘When my mother asked me which part of the turkey I wanted, I said, ‘A wing please!” I really wanted breast, leg or thigh. But wing was the only part of the bird without sexual connotations.
‘I was given a glass of Bull’s Blood wine and felt dead sensual I talked brilliantly and with consummate wit for an hour, but then my mother told me to leave the table saying, “One whiff of the barmaid’s apron and his mouth runs away with him.”
1982 is the first year that Adrian has to think about gifts for his family. With typical tact he buys his mother a cookery book, but Pandora’s gift is more difficult. As outsiders we know what Pandora will think of her Woolworth’s locket (2 days later it has turned her neck green) but Adrian has a budget. I loved this description of Christmas Eve panic because we’ve all done it. Sucked in by the Christmas music and the knowledge it’s his last chance to buy before the big day, he goes ‘off list’ convinced he needs something extra.
Friday December 24th 1982
‘At 5.25 I had a panic attack and left the queue and rushed into Marks and Spencer’s to buy something. I was temporarily deranged. A voice inside my head kept saying: “Only five minutes before the shops shut. Buy! Buy!
As the years go by and Christmas becomes Adrian’s responsibility, he has to face providing for his expectant and excited son with very little cash coming in. As we tip into the 21st Century, I found this poignant note. Trying to lower his son’s expectations while desperately trying to keep the magic of Christmas intact he writes the following note from Santa.
Thursday December 14th 2000
I had to forge the following note from Santa tonight. I laid it on William’s pillow before I put him to bed.
Dear William Mole
I have been watching you all year, and have been pleased with your behaviour. However, I’m sorry to have to tell you that my elves have failed to manufacture enough PlayStation 2s, therefore you will not find this item on the sofa on December 25th.
P.S. 2000 elves have received redundancy notices
Santa Claus, Greenland
These later Christmas entries are full of drama. Two years later, joining his parents in their new country abode, the Mole Christmas is overshadowed by the events of the previous year. The weather is bleak, the fields are muddy and they are in the middle of nowhere, not to mention that Adrian killed the ‘new dog.’
Wednesday December 25th 2002
‘The atmosphere in my parent’s living room was more Pinter than Dickens. There was a Christmas tree in the corner of the room but it was a scraggy affair and looked as though it was apologising for it’s almost bare branches. My mother had done her best with three sets of Christmas lights, baubles and tinsel. My mother said ‘it’s the anniversary of the new dog’s death. ‘Christmas Day will never be the same again. I will never forget the sight of that poor dog choking to death on a turkey bone.’
Our final Christmas with Adrian takes us up to 2007, where we find Adrian and his family are living next door to his parents at ‘The Piggeries’. It’s a pretty bleak outlook for Adrian, whose kindness means he is overloaded with worries, at a time when he needs some support. Adrian is having treatment for prostate cancer daily and feels unwell, but he’s looking after daughter Gracie, while his wife Daisy is working as PA at Fairfax Hall for the new heir, Hugh Fairfax-Lycett. Adrian’s usual inability to see the elephant in the room means he hasn’t noticed her weight loss, her Gucci dress or the fact that she works late several times a week. Their Christmas is hijacked by the accident prone Bernard, Adrian’s colleague at the bookshop where he’s been working till it’s recent closure. Wonder son Brett Mole is back, having lost all of his money, his home and his car. On Christmas Eve Adrian and Daisy are having a problem familiar to most parents.
Christmas Eve 2007
Gracie’s main present was a mini trampoline. When we opened the box from Toys ‘R’ Us we discovered that it contained eighty separate components and that it lacked the special tool with which to build the soddin’ thing and which was vital to the trampoline’s successful self-assembly. So the boast on the outside of the box that ‘Within minutes your child will be having healthy, happy, bouncy fun!’ was a lie. At one thirty in the morning, when we were practically weeping with tiredness and realized that we had connected the springs upside down, Daisy gave me a look of pure hatred and said, ‘A proper man would have realized that the springs were on upside down,’ and stomped off to bed.
It’s clear to the reader what’s going on between Daisy and her boss, but the ever sharp and blunt Pandora – now their local MP – picks up on it straight away. She asks if Daisy is still buying matching underwear and draws her own conclusion. This could be really bleak, but in Townsend’s hands this Christmas is both funny and poignant. I loved Bernard’s nocturnal disaster as he gets up to visit the toilet, steps on the trampoline, bounces off the ceiling light and is found naked except for a strategically placed cushion with his ankle still trapped between the springs of the trampoline. The New Year party at Fairfax Hall is a turning point. Adrian finally notices his wife’s dress, is puzzled that all Hugh’s London friends seem to have met her and sees Daisy and Hugh photographed together in a society magazine. Then Pandora walks in, sees everything in a glance and is the first person to notice that Adrian looks very unwell. After a call from his Dad to collect Gracie, Adrian is forced to walk home, but Pandora leaves with him and her kindness is touching.
When we went next door, Pandora ordered me to put some dry clothes on. While I was changing into my pyjamas and dressing gown she cooked bacon and eggs and made a pot of coffee.
I won’t ruin the ending of the book because some people might be tempted to go and read these later books that they might have missed. You won’t be disappointed if you do. I felt it was a fitting end to the series, even if Townsend didn’t know it was to be her last. It was sad to leave behind such a human, intelligent and loveable character. Adrian is the embodiment of that quote attributed to John Lennon, from his song Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy); ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’. We’re just happy he allows us to come along for the ride: