I guess one of the reasons why I seemed to be so unaware of the impact Mrs T. had on my life is that I had almost forgotten that she was (until recently) still alive, only Meryl Streep and those clever Hollywood types reminded me a couple of years ago when they tactfully decided it might be a jolly good idea to produce a film about an old lady (still living) with dementia. I have to admit I did watch it, if only for the surrealism of watching footage of striking Yorkshire miners whilst sat in a cinema in Tanzania, and to be honest I found the whole thing rather intriguingly distasteful. I wonder if she watched it, or even knew about it?
Mrs T. really disappeared from my life on the day I sat having my packed-lunch at school, munching on cheap white sliced sandwiches, watching her wave a teary goodbye at her front door. I probably even discussed it for a few minutes with pals before getting back to the far more important and complicated issues of life as fifteen year olds, I don’t really remember, I had a lot of complicated issues to deal with at the time.
And I have paid her very little heed since that day, and as far as I can see she has done very little since. I don’t recall her having anything to do with her son and his moment of fame getting foolishly involved in that dreadfully amateur coup d’état attempt with that scoundrel Simon Mann, foiled by Robert Mugabe of all people. She certainly had nothing to say about his sister’s brief foray into celebrity, (her misdemeanours getting considerable more column inches than his) as she prematurely ended her moment of fame by mentioning golliwogs whilst at the BBC, which I’m fairly sure is an unwritten rule as a no-no for any television presenter, even if you are sat with an old man and his valuable collection of ancient marmalade memorabilia on the Antiques Roadshow, you just don’t mention it. But really that was that, she was an ex-prime minister, who had developed an incurable disease, had become a widow and had not been seen in the public eye for many years.
I guess very much in the same way that Michael Jackson died for me in 1989, after releasing the dreadfully sycophantic Liberian Girl. Of course I do know he continued cranking out the tunes for many years, even after ‘somehow’ worming his way out of that whole Jesus juice debacle. But to be fair he was on a downward trajectory with ‘hits’ such as the Earth song, that particular abomination of music included wonderful lines such as:
What about animals?
(What about it?)
We’ve turned kingdoms to dust.
(What about us?)
What about elephants?
(What about us)
We’ve lost their trust?
What about the elephants indeed? I’m sure the elephants never trusted you Michael, for I certainly didn’t. Jarvis Cocker (or rather Jarvis Cocker’s arse) pretty much summed it all up for me at the time.
I had actually returned to Liberia briefly and was there on the day Jackson died, it seems the Liberians had given up on him at about the exact same moment in time as I had; well they certainly didn’t play anything other than Liberian Girl during the week of his demise, and this was perhaps musically the worst radio listening week in my life right up until Whitney (let’s see how many syllables we can fit into each word) Houston went and died, and Tanzanian radio went insane for a week.
Did you know the opening lines to Liberian Girl (the hushed whispered bit at the beginning) are actually spoken in Swahili, just shows how little he knew about Liberia, or indeed their girls. I’ll bet a few quid Michael Jackson hasn’t ever driven away from a Monrovian bar in the early hours with four Liberian prostitutes prostate on the bonnet of his car gripping onto the windscreen wipers, screaming for business, as he slowly cruised away under the watchful eye of the UN machine guns.
Anyway, I digress. I ask myself, now today, surrounded by sunshine and expensive muesli:
“What did Mrs T. ever do for me?”
One September upon returning to school after the long summer holidays, trying to get used to things which at that age were massive changes to our lives; new teacher, a new classroom layout, and of course fresh new exercise books just waiting for our best handwriting to christen them. We were prepared for change, but couldn’t imagine the biggest change that was about to befall us.
Our daily torture of having to force down a third of a pint of lukewarm, sickly cow juice once a day at morning playtime had ended. Free milk had been stopped by “Thatcher the milk snatcher” for seven to eleven year olds many years before unbeknownst to us. We had reached that grand old age where no more would we have to suck hard on that thin pink straw, choking down that vile sour white watery filth filled with lumps of Satan’s smegma, for this was definitely not Jesus juice. No longer would that sun-curdled government-endorsed and teacher-enforced child-abuse continue. Some brave soul plucked up the courage to ask our new teacher why, her tart response “because Mrs Thatcher said so”. I can’t remember us celebrating, but I imagine my stomach pleasantly gurgled a silent thank you. God bless Mrs Thatcher (whoever she was), in my eyes she was just great.
My childhood fear of milk remains with me to this day, and I am still unable to pour even the freshest milk into my tea without a brief initial confirmatory sniff.
Born in seventy-five, I am really a child of the eighties, and although Mrs T. had won her first election to become Prime Minister when I was four, it wasn’t until the year of the great milk celebration that I really began to understand who she was. It was during this year some dreadful Argentinians had been audacious enough to invade an island 8000 miles away from the UK (and 460 miles from Argentina) claiming it was theirs or something like that. Anyway, Mrs T. from the safety of her hair helmet and shiny front door masterminded a victory that was broadcast all over the television. All of a sudden, for the first time in my life politics had a colour, she demonstrated to me that politicians didn’t all need to be the rich and miserable grey men, in their miserable and expensive grey suits with their miserable and bad grey haircuts, miserable grey voices and miserable grey opinions, she Belgrano’d them out of the way. She proved that you could be all that, and a woman at the same time. A Prime Minister no less. Mrs T. brought colour to politics she appeared into parliament and onto our screens like the tardis on a foggy Victorian London street.
The sound of her voice echoed out of the little box in the corner of front rooms across the country, like the distant drone of someone doing the hoovering next door, not loud enough to disturb, but substantial enough to intrude upon the peace of a Sunday morning. Her words created a fine faint dust, as if coming from the exhaust of that vacuum cleaner it infiltrated our homes settling on the G-plan furniture all across the land.
You know that smell of a vacuum cleaner, it’s strange, it’s death and dirt and hints of unspoken despicable activities. In theory the humble hoover is cleaning the carpet and making things look fresh but at the same time it is pumping an invisible cloud of dead skin cells, fragments of hair, dust and invisible microbes into the atmosphere, and they have a very distinctive smell. If you can’t relate this allegory, have a sniff the next time you are waving a hoover about, you’ll get it, trust me. On the surface the hoover is about cleaning and refreshing the room and making things all nice, on the underneath though it is filling that room with the stench of death and decay. That is how Mrs T’s voice sounded to me, regardless of what she was saying, regardless of how cleansing and pleasantly refreshing it may have been, it was soulless, it droned on, but it spread an unseen cloud of death and decay and bad news, that quietly settled without notice. I didn’t trust it one bit.
Nevertheless, it was during this time, and because of her presence that I started to take an interest and gain an understanding of politics, not that I can pretend to really understand it any more thirty years later.
And she appeared every night on the news, she was even parodied on TISAWAS and other children’s programmes, she made a household name of Janet Brown (her impersonator), we used to do impressions of her in the playground, and it seemed at the time that she had been, and would be around for ever. She was indestructible, even the IRA were to try and fail to bring her down. Nobody would stand up against her, and come away smiling, no one that is until Comrade Scargill made his stance in 1984 and that was the catalyst to an event that irrevocably changed the life of the mining communities, my community forever.