One Sunday recently while staying in London I took a stroll in the gardens of Temple, the insular clod of quads and offices between The Strand and The Embankment. It's kind of a luxury, rent-controlled ghetto for lawyers and barristers; there is a beautiful tailor's, a fine chapel, established by The Knight's Templar (from which the compound takes its name), a twee cottage designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and a Rose Garden, which I never promised you.
My mate John and I were wandering there together, him expertly proselytizing on the architecture and the history of the place, me pretending to be Rumpole of the Bailey (quietly in my mind), when we spied in the distant garden a hunched and frail figure, in a raincoat, scarf about her head, watering the roses under the breezy supervision of a masticating copper. "What's going on there mate?" John asked a nearby chippy loading his white van. "Maggie Thatcher," he said. "Comes here every week to water them flowers." The three of us watched as the gentle horticultural ritual was feebly enacted, then regarded the Iron Lady being helped into the back of a car and trundling off. In this moment she inspired only curiosity, a pale phantom dumbly filling her day. None present eyed her meanly or spoke with vitriol and it wasn't til an hour later that I dreamt up an Ealing Comedy-style caper in which two inept crooks kidnap Thatcher from the garden but are unable to cope with the demands of dealing with her and give her back. This reverie only occurred when the car was out of view. In her diminished presence I stared like an amateur astronomer unable to describe my awe at this distant phenomenon.
When I was a kid Margaret Thatcher was the headmistress of our country. Her voice, a bellicose yawn, somehow both boring and boring -- I could ignore the content but the intent drilled its way in. She became leader of the Conservatives the year I was born and prime minister when I was four; she remained in power till I was 15; I am, it's safe to say, one of Thatcher's children. How then do I feel on the day of this matriarchal mourning?
I grew up in Essex with a single mum and a go-getter Dagenham dad. I don't know if they ever voted for her, I don't know if they liked her; my dad I suspect did, he had enough Del Boy about him to admire her coiffured virility, but in a way Thatcher was so omnipotent, so omnipresent, so omni-everything that all opinion was redundant.
As I scan the statements of my memory bank for early deposits (it'd be a kid's memory bank account at a neurological Nat West where you're encouraged to become a greedy little capitalist with an escalating family of porcelain pigs) I see her in her hairy helmet, condescending on Nationwide, eviscerating eunuch MPs and baffled BBC fuddy duddies with her General Zodd stare and coldly condemning the IRA. And the miners. And the single mums. The dockers. The poll-tax rioters. The Brixton rioters, the Argentinians, teachers; everyone actually.
Thinking about it now, when I was a child she was just a strict woman telling everyone off and selling everything off. I didn't know what to think of this fearsome woman.
Perhaps my early apathy and indifference are a result of what Thatcher deliberately engendered, the idea that "there is no such thing as society," that we are alone on our journey through life, solitary atoms of consciousness. Or perhaps it was just because I was a little kid and more interested in them Weetabix skinheads, Roland Rat and Knight Rider. Either way I'm an adult now and none of those things are on telly anymore, so there's no excuse for apathy.
When John Lennon was told of Elvis Presley's death he famously responded, "Elvis died when he joined the army" -- meaning, of course, that his combat clothing and clipped hair signaled the demise of the thrusting, Dionysian revolution of which he was the immaculate emblem.
When I awoke today on L.A. time, my phone was full of impertinent digital eulogies. It'd be disingenuous to omit that there were a fair number of ding-dong-style celebratory messages amidst the pensive reflections on the end of an era. Interestingly, one mate of mine, a proper leftie, in his heyday all Red Wedge and right-on punch-ups, was melancholy. "I thought I'd be overjoyed, but really it's just... another one bites the dust..." This demonstrates I suppose that if you opposed Thatcher's ideas it is likely because of their lack of compassion, which is really just a word for love. If love is something you cherish it is hard to glean much joy from death, even in one's enemies.
Perhaps, though, Thatcher "the monster" didn't die this week from a stroke; perhaps that Thatcher died as she sobbed self-pitying tears as she was driven defeated from Downing Street, ousted by her own party. By then, 1990, I was 15, adolescent and instinctively antiestablishment enough to regard her disdainfully. I'd unthinkingly imbibed enough doctrine to know that, troubled as I was, there was little point looking elsewhere for support; I was on my own. We are all on our own. Norman Tebbit, one of Thatcher's acolytes and fellow "Munsters evacuee," said when the National Union of Miners eventually succumbed to the military onslaught and starvation over which she presided, "[We] broke not just a strike, but a spell." The spell he's referring to is the unseen bond that connects us all and prevents us from being subjugated by tyranny. The spell of community.
Those strikes were confusing to me as a child. All of the Tory edicts that bludgeoned our nation, as my generation squirmed through ghoulish puberty, were confusing. When all the public amenities were flogged, the adverts made it seem to my childish eyes fun and positive, jaunty slogans and affable British stereotypes jostling about in villages, selling people companies that they'd already paid for through tax. I just now watched the British Gas one again, it's like a whimsical live action episode of Postman Pat where his cat is craftily carved up and sold back to him.
"The News" was the pompous conduit through which we suckled at the barren Baroness, through newscaster wet-nurses, naturally, not direct from the steel teat. Jan Leeming, Sue Lawly Moira Stewart -- delivering doctrine with sterile sexiness, like a butterscotch-scented beige vapour. To use a less bizarre analogy: If Thatcher was the headmistress, they were junior school teachers, authoritative but warm enough that you could call them 'Mum' by accident. You could never call Margaret 'Mother' by mistake; for a national matriarch, she was oddly unmaternal. I always felt a bit sorry for her biological children Mark and Carol, wondering from whom they would get their cuddles. "Thatcher as mother" seemed, to my tiddly mind, anathema; how could anyone who was so resolutely Margaret Thatcher be anything else? In the Meryl Streep film, it's the scenes of domesticity that appear most absurd. Knocking up a flan for Dennis or helping Carol with her algebra or Mark with his gunrunning are jarring distractions from the main narrative: woman as warrior queen.
It always struck me as peculiar, too, when the Spice Girls briefly championed Thatcher as an early example of Girl Power. I don't see that. She is an anomaly, a product of the freak-conomy of her time. Barack Obama interestingly said in his statement that she had "broken the glass ceiling for other women." Only in the sense that all the women beneath her were blinded by falling shards. She is an icon of individualism, not of feminism.
I have few recollections of Thatcher after the slowly chauffeured, weepy Downing Street cortege. I'd become a delinquent by then, living on heroin and benefit fraud.
There were sporadic resurrections; to drape a hankie over a model BA plane tailfin because she disliked the unpatriotic logo with which they'd replaced the Union Jack (maybe don't privatize BA then) or to shuffle about some country pile arm in arm with a dithery Pinochet and tell us all what a fine fellow he was. It always irks when right-wing folk demonstrate in a familial or exclusive setting the values that they deny in a broader social context. They're happy to share big windfall bonuses with their cronies; they'll stick up for deposed dictator chums when they're down on their luck; they'll find opportunities in business for people they care about. I hope I'm not being reductive, but it seems Thatcher's time in power was solely spent diminishing the resources of those who had least for the advancement of those who had most. I know from my own indulgence in selfish behavior that it's much easier to get what you want if you remove from consideration the effect your actions will have on others.
Is that what made her so formidable, her ability to ignore the suffering of others? Given the nature of her legacy, "survival of the fittest" -- a phrase that Darwin himself only used twice in Origin of Species, compared to hundreds of references to altruism, love and cooperation, it isn't surprising that there are parties this week in Liverpool, Glasgow and Brixton -- from where are they to have learned compassion and forgiveness?
The blunt, pathetic reality is that a little old lady has died, who in the winter of her life had to water roses alone under police supervision. If you behave like there's no such thing as society, in the end there isn't. Her death must be sad for the handful of people she was nice to and the rich people who got richer under her stewardship. It isn't sad for anyone else. There are pangs of nostalgia, yes, because for me she's all tied up with Hi-De-Hi and Speak and Spell and Blockbusters and "follow the bear." What is more troubling is my inability to ascertain where my own selfishness ends and her neoliberal inculcation begins. All of us that grew up under Thatcher were taught that it is good to be selfish, that other people's pain is not your problem, that pain is in fact a weakness and suffering is deserved and shameful. Perhaps there is resentment because the clemency and respect that are being mawkishly displayed now by some and haughtily demanded of the rest of us at the impending, solemn funeral are values that her government and policies sought to annihilate.
I can't articulate with the skill of either of "the Marks," Steel or Thomas, why Thatcher and Thatcherism were so bad for Britain, but I do recall that even to a child her demeanour and every discernible action seemed to be to the detriment of our national spirit and identity. Her refusal to stand against apartheid, her civil war against the unions, her aggression towards our neighbours in Ireland and a taxation system that was devised in the dark ages, the bombing of a retreating ship -- it's just not British.
I do not yet know what effect Margaret Thatcher has had on me as an individual or on the character of our country as we continue to evolve. As a child she unnerved me but we are not children now and we are free to choose our own ethical codes and leaders that reflect them.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher leaving 10 Downing Street after the Conservative Party won a convincing majority in the General Election.
Baroness Margaret Thatcher reunited with her husband Sir Denis Thatcher, this afternoon when he returned home after spending the last few weeks recovering from his six-hour coronary by-pass operation. * Sir Denis the husband of former Conservative Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher, who is 87-years-old, said he was looking forward to a relaxing weekend in their home in Belgravia, West London. 15/6/03: His family said that the 88-year-old had been readmitted to the Royal Brompton Hospital in London for tests following major heart surgery in January. *30/10/03: Baroness Thatcher will be joined by her twin children, Carol and Mark, at a memorial service to pay tribute to her late husband, Sir Denis Thatcher. Sir Denis died in June, aged 88 having undergone major heart surgery six months earlier from which it appeared he had made a good recovery.
David Montgomery/Getty Images)British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, circa 1985. (Photo by David Montgomery/Getty Images) (Photo by David Montgomery/Getty Images)
Margaret Thatcher and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany at ease in the grounds as they had three hours of 'relaxed and very friendly' talks at Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence. They agreed more emphasis should be laid on the warmth of Anglo-German relations.
Baroness Thatcher and Conservative leader David Cameron meet for dinner at the Goring Hotel in Victoria, south-west London.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh sit with the Knights and Ladies of the Garter in the Waterloo Room at Windsor Castle before a Garter Service at St George's Chapel in the castle grounds. * The Knights and Ladies of The Most Noble Order of the Garter are, from left: front row, The Duke of Grafton, The King of Spain, The Queen of Denmark, The Duke of Gloucester, The Princess Royal, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Kent, Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, The Queen of the Netherlands, The King of Norway. Second row; Page of Honour The Honorable John Bowes-Lyon, Sir Edward Heath, The Duke of Devonshire, Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, The Duke of Wellington, The Chancellor Lord Carrington, Lord Richardson of Duntisbourne, Lord Bramall, Viscount Ridley, Lord Kingsdown, Baroness Thatcher, Page of Honour Lord Carnegie. Third row; Lord Inge, The Duke of Abercorn, Lord Ashburton, Sir Edmund Hilary, Sir Timothy Coleman, Sir William Gladstone and Sir Anthony Acland.
Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands (l) and Prince Claus (2nd from right) with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with Welsh Secretary Peter Walker at Clydach Vale in Rhondda Valley, where she saw derelict land being reclaimed as part of a factory development.
Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus of the Netherlands meet with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at Downing Street during their state visit to Britain.
File photo dated 17/06/07 of Margaret Thatcher and the Duke of York as a hand-written note by Lady Thatcher appears to show how she grappled with her response to the Duke of York's deployment as part of the Falklands task force.
EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY MARCH 22 File photo dated 01/10/88 of Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as Lady Thatcher's 1982 private papers include a number of brief mentions of figures who would go on to play a significant role in public and political life. They include an early meeting with Robert Mugabe, who had been elected as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, watched by her husband Denis, lays a wreath among the hundreds of other floral tributes near the turn stile area of the Bradford City football ground, Yorkshire, where many of the 52 victims of the tragedy were found.
During the second day of their State visit to Britain, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Prince Claus are greeted by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street, London, for luncheon.
Conservative MP Margaret Thatcher (the future British Prime Minister), Secretary of State for Education and Science.
Unsuccessful Conservative candidate for Dartford, Margaret Hilda Roberts, 26, on the day of her wedding to Denis Thatcher at Wesley's Chapel, in London.
A popular event in the two-day programme of the Conservative Women's Conference was the address on education by Margaret Thatcher, Education Secretary.
Margaret Thatcher enjoying a chat with dancers from the Red Army Ensemble -- Moscow Military District, at the Royal Albert Hall.
Unsuccessful Conservative candidate for Dartford, Margaret Roberts, 26, at her wedding to 36-year-old Denis Thatcher at Wesley's Chapel, in London.
Prime Minister, Edward Heath sports a smile which lasted during a three-minute ovation he received at the opening of the annual Conservative conference at the Winter Gardens. Sharing the platform with him is Margaret Thatcher, Secretary for Education and Science.
Margaret Thatcher, Conservative MP, receives a kiss from her husband Denis.
Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher, at working her office at the House of Commons.
Conservative MP Margaret Thatcher, 49, in her Chelsea home kitchen, before making her challenge for the Conservative Party leadership and a place in political history.
Former California Governor Ronald Reagan presenting a silver dollar medallion to Opposition Leader Margaret Thatcher when he visited her in her House of Commons office.
Margaret Thatcher speaking at the Conservative Local Government Conference at Caxton Hall, London, when she angrily accused the Government of having tried to whip up non-existent emotions in the referendum campaigns.
Margaret Thatcher, spokesperson on Education in the Conservative Shadow Cabinet, at the Houses of Parliament.
Margaret and Denis Thatcher get away from it all with their 25-year-old twins, Mark and Carol, by strolling through the grounds of Scotney Castle, Kent where Mrs Thatcher has a National Trust flat. She is relaxing before the battle ahead to become the first female Prime Minster.
Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher in a jubilant mood outside her Chelsea home, after Tory victories in by-elections at two former Labour strongholds - Workington and Walsall North.
Margaret and Denis Thatcher with their children, Mark and Carol, at their Chelsea home on the day of their silver wedding anniversary.
File photo dated 26/4/1982 of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Wide divisions within the Conservative party over how the Government should respond to Argentina's invasion of the Falklands are revealed today as Margaret Thatcher's 1982 private papers are made public.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wears protective clothing as she tours the premises of Vacuum Interrupters Ltd.
Margaret Thatcher waves from the doorstep of Number 10 Downing Street in Whitehall, London, on the day of the General Election.
Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher in a thoughtful mood when she hosted her party's press conference in London, as the 1979 General Election campaign entered its final week.
Britain's first women Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher arrives at no.10 Downing Street to take up office following the Conservative victory in the general election.
A jubilant Margaret Thatcher acknowledging the standing ovation after her speech on the final day of the Conservative Party Conference at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher facing an enthusiastic reception from well-wishers outside No 10 Downing Street, in London, on her return from the Commons, where she told MPs talks on a surrender by Argentina of the Falkland Islands were in progress.
Margaret Thatcher addressing a crowd at Stoneleigh near Coventry wearing a garland presented to her by an Asian constituent.
Margaret Thatcher with her husband Denis greets supporters at a rally in Fleetwood during her campaign visit of the North West.
Conservative party leader Margaret Thatcher with 16 year old Rother Valley schoolboy, William Hague, after he received a standing ovation from delegates at the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool.
10th JUNE: On this day in 1983 Margaret Thatcher won a landslide victory to start her second term of power. The window of success frames the jubilant Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher waving to well-wishers after her election win. At Tory Party headquarters, she told flag-waving supporters "My victory is greater than I had dared to hope".
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher looks pensive as she awaits the arrival of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV of Tonga at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher returning to 10 Downing Street after winning the election. Instead of entering her official residence, she insisted on walking to the end of the street and the corner of Whitehall to shake hands with well-wishers.
Ronald Reagan has a word in the ear of Margaret Thatcher on the day that Thatcher becomes the longest-serving Prime Minister in the 20th century.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, left, with American President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with French President Francois Mitterrand at the Chapter House, Canterbury Cathedral, when the Channel Fixed Link Treaty was signed by the foreign secretaries.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gives a three-fingered salute outside 10 Downing Street as she begins her third successive term of office following the Conservative victory in the general election.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterand at Canterbury Cathedral for the signing of the Channel Fixed Link Treaty.
Left to right: Queen Elizabeth II, American President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at Buckingham Palace when they attended a special banquet hosted by the Queen following the London Economic Summit.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is joined by Queen Elizabeth II and five former PMs at 10 Downing Street, London, as she hosts a dinner celebrating the 250th anniversary of the residence becoming the London home of Prime Ministers. (L-R) James Callaghan, Lord Home, Thatcher, Lord Stockton, the Queen, Lord Wilson and Edward Heath.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis lead off the dancing during the Victory Ball at the Empress Hall, Blackpool.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, London, ten years after they moved in, following the 1979 general election.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher outside 10 Downing Street, in London, with her son Mark, daughter-in-law Diane, and two-month-old grandson Michael.