I was born in 1979. I’m the youngest of three siblings. My sisters Lisa and Marie are 9 and 12 years older than me respectively. They made up a whole heap of delightful nicknames for me when I was wee. Let me see. There was Dumbo, Biffo the Bear, Neil (from the Young Ones), Smelly Bum, Po Face…
I mean, during the earliest period of my life, I imagine I did have a smelly bum much of the time – what with me involuntarily pooping and widdling in my pants several times a day – and, if I’m honest, I suppose there were moments when my face could be described as distinctly ‘po’. And I guess I did have sticky-out ears. I still do. ‘Like a taxi with it’s doors open’, they used to say. But when they were feeling particularly mean, my sisters called me ‘Thatcher’s Baby’ on account of my birth coinciding with her premiership. They’d call me ‘Thatcher’s Baby’ and I would cry.
I didn’t get the joke. I didn’t want Thatcher to be my mum. Her face was too pointy, her hair was too pouffy, her clothes were too blue. Her voice was too dull, her mouth was too angry and I could only imagine that her bedtime stories would be pretty grim. I’d never met her. And I didn’t want to. I was scared of her like I was scared of the Bogey Man. It took great effort and hours worth of soothing back patting from my mother to reassure me that I wasn’t actually Thatcher’s baby and that I wouldn’t have to go live with her in 10 Downing Street.
I went to primary school in 1983. My friends and I sang this wee song in the playground nearly every single day… “Maggie Thatcher, throw her up and catch her. Maggie Thatcher squash her ’til she’s deid!”. There were accompanying actions to the song but I can’t for the life of me remember what the Maggie Thatcher ‘prop’ was. What did we throw, catch and squash? I cannot recall… Anyway – it doesn’t really matter. The song was by far the best bit. I knew a little bit more about who Thatcher was by this time. I knew she was the Prime Minister. I knew, via my powers of deduction (and earywigging into adult conversations) that she was ‘a baddie’. I knew she didn’t care about poor people and I knew she was taking the men’s jobs away. That was my understanding – and although hardly sophisticated, I feel I had the basics down.
Throughout my primary school years, my mum used to make me say my prayers every night before I went to sleep. Out loud. She’d make me pray out loud. This is a whole other story, really, but the crux of it in this context is this… We’d say a wee Hail Mary or something then we’d get into the the specifics. For a long time, I remember praying for Terry Waite, for a lady we knew who was very sick and for all the people who didn’t have (or were likely to lose) jobs. We prayed that my dad’s business would survive. We prayed we’d always have enough money to pay for the nice house we lived in. Secretly, I prayed nothing dreadful would ever happen that meant my mum couldn’t afford to buy me that big family sized bar of Milkybar she’d surprise me with on Friday nights.
Troubled, I talked things over with my dad at the kitchen table. I expressed my concerns about my Milkybar being under threat and he tried his best to explain a few things to me. He tried to explain that, as important to me as my Friday night Milkybar was, there were much more pressing issues at hand – like businesses collapsing, factories closing, jobs being lost, homes being repossessed, institutions being dismantled, entire industries disappearing and the divide between rich people and poor people getting wider and even uglier. I’d seen evidence of this stuff on tv. I watched the news. I got on board with John Craven. I saw men shouting and chanting, I saw Margaret Thatcher waving her fist in the air, I heard booing and jeering, I saw bar charts that did not look at all colourful. Something had to be done.
I got my writing set out – the most businesslike of my collection. I asked my dad if I could borrow his fancy fountain pen. (By the way, I didn’t once see my dad write with that thing. It was, to my mind, purely decorative.).
“Dear Mrs Thatcher…”
I can’t remember the details of my letter now – but I’m sure I asked that she do something to help support UK manufacturing and that she do all she could to make sure my dad’s shops didn’t have to close down. I maybe told her how much I loved visiting the factories my dad worked with and how much I wanted a corduroy jacket with a funnel neck and silver popper buttons. I probably told her how much I liked going to school and how well I played glockenspiel. Maybe I shared with her my feeling that my headmaster, Brother Jerome, thought she was A Bad Egg. If I did try to tell her about the ‘Maggie Thatcher, throw her up and catch her’ game – my dad would have made be scrub that bit out. I signed my letter, popped it in an envelope and addressed it to Mrs Thatcher, 10 Downing Street, London. I posted it. Then I waited…
I was in Primary 7 in 1990. I’d been allowed out of class to do some practical work with water and scales and weights and stuff. As much as I hated maths and counting and sums, I did enjoying measuring and weighing things. Length of jotter = 13cms. Diameter of clock face = 30cms. Height of statue of the Virgin Mary = 47cms. There I was, filling up my plastic litre jug at the sink, when Brother Jerome swooshed by – a big grin on his face, his arms wide. “She’s out!” he beamed. “She’s out?” I clarified. “She’s out!” and he set off round the school to spread the word among the teaching staff. I’ve heard stories this week of people being sent home from school early on the day Margaret Thatcher resigned/was papped oot. I wasn’t sent home from school, but I did enjoy an extra-long playtime with my friends that afternoon.
So Margaret Thatcher’s dead. I didn’t celebrate on Monday, I didn’t celebrate yesterday and I’m not celebrating today either. Instead, I’ve spent the week mostly staring at my computer screen, aghast. I bit my tongue and ground my teeth as I witnessed the fall out of Thatcher’s death from a new and different perspective. My jaw dropped in disbelief as Thatcher was repeatedly hailed as our ultimate British female role model and as one of the feminist icons of our time. [Y’all know that her having a vagina doesn’t immediately qualify her as feminist, right?] And as for this ‘Margaret Thatcher as positive role model’ stuff… Sure, there is no denying the woman worked hard to make her way into politics and worked even harder to poke her way through layers of jowly old boys to become Tory Queen Bee. Great. Sincerely. I get it. Beyond that though – I struggle to list any qualities in Thatcher I’d feel inspired to emulate.
I felt particularly bothered by those people who took to poo-pooing anyone under the age of 40 for even having an opinion on Thatcher or for so much as reacting to her death. ‘How would you know? You weren’t even born’. I wasn’t born in the 1940s. My knowledge of world history is ropey and my grasp of politics poor. My engagement with current affairs can be described as a bit ‘interrupted’ at best – but you know what? I’m pretty confident about where I stand on Hitler. He was a bad guy, right?
… So, Maggie never did respond to my letter. And I guess it would be pretty creepy if she did now. She didn’t reply to me – and from what I can tell, she didn’t do any of things I asked her to either.