Sometimes she did this, sometimes she did that
A strange day. After a hectic weekend of work and visitors, I set about doing laundry and housework, before switching on the computer and learning that Mrs Thatcher had died. Reading news items and social media has taken up the rest of the day, along with thinking about the seventies and eighties.
She became Prime Minister when I was sixteen. I remember writing in my Adrian-Mole-esque diary how much I wanted James Callaghan not to be re-elected but I can’t remember positively wanting anyone else. I remember economic turmoil, inflation over 20%, three day week, power cuts, and endless battles between the trade unions and the government but apparently the standard of living was still rising. My widowed mum was a part-time nurse so there wasn’t much money but I don’t remember wanting much. I rode my bike, roamed the countryside and gradually read my way through the public library. I remember the tv news in the year leading up to the election was full of images of picketed hospitals, uncollected rubbish and unburied bodies. But my dad had been a ‘union man’ and when he died a few years before Mrs T became Prime Minister, NALGO paid for my mum to take my sister and me to their holiday camp in Croyde Bay, Devon. I remember everyone had to go under a pseudonym to ensure equality. Amazingly, UNISON still offers special deals to the same holiday camp, including special offers for LGBT people.
Maggie was ousted when I was twenty seven, a year after the Fall of the Berlin Wall which was the biggest political event of my life and had many personal repercussions. So my youth was played out against the backdrop of the radical policies Thatcher’s government pushed through, Greenham Common and CND demos, Falklands War, eighties music and first rumours of a disease called AIDs. As a student in Brighton, I was woken up by the bomb at the Grand Hotel. There were shocking images of the battles between police and striking miners on tv – no mines locally – but in real life, I remember a benefit disco at Sussex University organised by GaySoc, to which a group of striking miners had been invited, leading to an equally tense stand-off. The miners didn’t like Geoff’s dress.
My degree was free, I had a full grant and was the first in my family to stay in education after age fifteen. In the holidays, I signed on, claimed housing benefit and also worked as a waitress for £1 an hour cash-in-hand plus dinner, in a steak house run by a Greek-Cypriot who stole my tips. It’s soon to become a restaurant serving only gluten-free. George claimed to be a concurrent, living incarnation of Tony Benn but that’s another story.
I was shocked today by the nastiness of some of the comments on social media and find the witch-bitch jokes horribly misogynistic. Someone even called her a whore. The idea of parties to celebrate her death is repellant. But I was struck mostly by the black-and-white thinking of those who see an 87-year old, former Prime Minister with Alzheimers as still the embodiment of a peculiar evil, as if she came from nowhere, worked in isolation and is responsible for the actions of politicians many parliaments later.
One of the pleasures of poetry is the way it can be at once coherent and at the same time, richly ambiguous. One of the goals of therapy is to enable a more nuanced view of life’s circumstances. We may have had bad or inadequate parenting, but that’s just one part of our story. Events of twenty five years ago may still be painful to recall but do we want to stay in that ‘first story’? We may want to see another person as wholly evil to our good, but a human being is never just one thing and he or she is seldom able to do much in isolation.
A favourite poem of mine by Simon Armitage called ‘Poem’ puts it rather brilliantly.