13 NOVEMBER 1999, Page 49

More froth than coffee Helen Osborne

ADRIAN MOLE: THE CAPPUCCINO YEARS by Sue Townsend Penguin, £14.99, pp. 326

The latest stage of Adrian Mole's trudge on life's pimply treadmill opens on election eve 1997 in the eldritch sub- suburban culture of the East Midlands. Pandora Braithwaite, Mole's long-time lust ('the thinking man's Princess Di'), becomes the new member for Ashby-de-la-Zouch and, shameless in Chanel, the most glam- orous of Blair's Babes.

Adrian, meanwhile, is having trouble with his bowels, possibly by overdosing on Opal Fruits. Certainly he seems more flatu- Don't be silly. You need an appointment with me to make an appointment with him.' lent than ever. He drives a Montego with a pine-tree air-freshener and, 'because of my authentic working-class food background', is the chef at Hoi Polloi in Soho, an improbably awful restaurant even in these days of improbably awful clip-joints, where skin on the custard carries a £10 supple- ment. Clients include Peter Mandelson, Harry Enfield and Bridget Jones.

Identifying with Stephen Fry as a celebri- ty celibate, Mole makes a pedantically disastrous appearance in Offally Good!, a television cookery show aimed at 'losers'. It is no surprise that his comedy-drama about a BBC accountant who is a serial killer comes to nothing, or that he plods on with his novel, Lo! The Flat Hills of My Homeland, retitling it Birdwatching.

Adrian has always been a bit of a drip, now he's soggy, drenched, a walking cloud- burst. His Nubian wife has done a bunk to Africa, leaving their two-year-old son — his eyes dark-oak as in the 'Cuprinol' wood- stain range — wolfing Coco-Pops in Wis- taria Walk with Mrs Mole Snr, who is half-crazed by HRT treatment before embarking on an affair with Pandora's dad, who tells her, 'Pauline, baby. Cellulite is just a thousand little dimples.' Sister Rosie is a scum-mouthed, randy teenager and DNA springs a nasty surprise when the stunted Glenn proves to be Adrian's delin- quent issue from a fumble with the moun- tainous Sharon Bott of Geoffrey Howe Road.

And so on, relentlessly, vacuously. Sue Townsend, her mordant touch flailing, chucks everything in and thwacks it with a sledgehammer. Perhaps she was on surer ground when Mrs T and John Major were in control of the Moles and she is as baf- fled as the rest of us by this Brave New Labour World. Perhaps Christmas was coming and the geese needed fattening. I always mistrust anything with a red ribbon bookmarker.

One of Mole's adversarial old gits in Leicestershire describes cappuccino as 'a little bit of coffee and a bloody load of froth'. It's a pretty fair description of this latest volume. Townsend seems as weary as her diarist when he moans:

Where am I going with the rest of my life? Where will I live? ... Am I now formally sep- arated from my wife? How long can a person go without a bowel movement? How much have I got in the bank? How long have I got before I am entirely bald? Which reminds me — will the Dome at Greenwich be finished on time? How does Mr Mandelson live with the worry?

None of this cuts much ice with Pandora:

Your life is a situation comedy! You're over 30, you're living at home with your mother, you're frightened of women — you're Ron- nie Corbett for the Nineties!

It's not only Pandora who has had enough. It might be better all round if Adrian put his feet up with the Independent and was left to suck his Opal Fruits in peace..