Last week news of two deaths brought sadness to members of my family. My lawyer son was devastated by the premature demise of Adrian Mole aged only 47 1/52, cut down in his prime when his greatest years of mediocrity and failure lay before him. As Mr Mole was nearly 10 years younger than me I had never had the opportunity, as I picked at the acne spots on my unseemly teenage face, to take comfort in the confessions he committed to his candid teenage diary: his obsessive love for the unattainable Pandora Braithwaite, his dismissive opinion of his utterly abominable dysfunctional parents and so on and so forth.
My own grief was reserved for Adrian’s creator, Sue Townsend, who died on April 10 at the untimely age of 68 1/52. Sue Townsend was one of a handful of this generation’s genuinely great comic authors. Her forte was social and political satire and, I admit, much of what she wrote made me want to throw up – which is probably a sign of how good it was. While the Adrian Mole series of books and her most recent “The Woman Who Stayed in Bed for a Year” prey on the dysfunctionality of the British middle class (lower and whatever else), “The Queen and I” cuts out the middle-class entirely; the deposed Royal Family are forced to subsist on social welfare while living on a filthy working class estate. Prince Charles gets arrested, while the Queen Mother has the down-and-out neighbours over for tea.
My personal favourite Sue Townsend novel is “Number 10”, in which a thinly disguised Tony Blair dresses up as a woman and tours the country with his police guard finding out what the public really thinks. The dearth of unattractive dysfunctionals, coupled with my eternal delight at seeing that particular Prime Minister dissed, makes it an uplifting experience from beginning to end.
My most-loved quote from that novel, and from the late, lamented Ms Townsend’s pen in general, relates to when Edward Clare’s (Tony Blair’s) wife Adele (Cherie) has taken a fashionable breast-feeding break from a meeting on the subject of Irritable Bowel Syndrome at 10 Downing Street. Baroness Holyoaks of the Liberal Democrats (those wombats who are now in coalition with Dave Cameron) is striking up a conversation with Rosemary Umbago, the blind editor of the Daily Voice:
“…’I do think it’s marvellous how you manage with your visual impairment, Rosemary.’
“Rosemary snapped, ‘Oh please call it blindness. I really can’t bear those weasel words of political correctness. I’m blind, for God’s sake. I was born blind. I’m not one of those sensitive nouveau-blind people who keep whinging on about their precious sight loss.’
“Baroness Hollyoaks, mindful of Rosemary’s dislike of politically correct language, said, ‘So, Rosemary, I understand you are married for the second time to a South African. Is he a nigger?'”
Now, while you search for excuses as to how she could get away with that last line, although Townsend was born in Leicester – which has the highest ethnic minority population in the United Kingdom – far from being black she could probably best be described as a “whiter shade of pale”. She was, however, blind – along with being plagued with a cacophony of other dreadful illnesses and impairments as well as a history of near-poverty. It may explain why her satire is so cutting and spot-on. It also speaks volumes about a remarkable woman who brought enormous pleasure to millions. The Taxbreak family will keenly miss Ms Townsend and her creations and while this Post has nothing to do with tax, it has everything to do with this Blog .
My condolences to the multi-ethnic inhabitants of Leicester on the loss of a favourite daughter and, meanwhile, Happy Holidays to those of you in Leicester celebrating Passover or Easter this week. (Anyone?)