The Final Curtain

We’re on a 50s binge at present in this household. I’m ploughing my way through David Kynaston’s Austerity Britain, while my intrepid wife is devouring Dominic Sandbrook’s epic Never Had It So Good. Both are salutary reminders of the poverty and squalor of post-war Britain.

My hazy memories of the 1950s are somewhat different: a privileged middle-class infancy in a tree-lined North London suburb. I remember watching the horse that pulled the milk cart feeding from its nosebag. The coalmen who delivered the coal and tipped the sacks into a concrete bunker wore those strange leather head-and-shoulder combos that you never see now except in films like Mary Poppins. We had a Bakelite telephone and, tellingly, one of the early television sets. My comic, The Topper, was delivered to our home every week. My maternal grandparents, who lived a short walk away in a house with a bomb shelter in a garden that sloped down to the Northern Line railway, used to warn us to watch out for Teddy Boys. My little brother disgraced himself in his pushchair by asking our mother why the man who stopped to say good morning had a black face. And for a few brief years, before the family decamped to Belfast, I went to the primary school at the bottom of the road, beside the tube station. All seemed well with the world.

Memories of the 1950s seem like an appropriate backdrop for the death of Margaret Thatcher, which understandably dominated the news last week. While I think of the decade as the bridge between the pre-war imperialist era and the white heat of the 1960, between the old order and the new, Mrs. T. put the old tin lid on it. After her reign, nothing was as it was before.

I spoke to a friend and contemporary on the day that her death was announced. Neither of us felt anything in particular on seeing the headline. Apart from a fairly privileged childhood, both of us had been radicalised to a degree by a higher education. A quarter of a century before, we might both have felt like dancing in the streets, but this week just shrugged it off. Anyone who has had to live with a son like Mrs. Thatcher’s must have suffered enough for any sins that she may – or may not – have committed. After the death of Denis, she turned into a sad, reclusive specimen to whom death must have come as a blessed release.

There was a time when I was embarrassed to reveal that my first years were spent in Finchley, the Iron Lady’s constituency. Now, though, with the perspective of history, I feel somewhat ambivalent about our former MP and a little less abashed to admit the terrible truth.

The 1979 elections were the first time I was able to exercise my vote. How grown up it felt to write my big black X on the card in the privacy of the voting booth. I honestly can’t remember how I voted, but it’s conceivable that I voted for Mrs. T. Even if her patronising voice sounded like she was telling children about Andy Pandy’s latest adventure with Looby-Loo and Teddy, the country seemed to be in a terrible mess, inflation was out of control, and she was a woman. More power to the handbag she carried like an assault weapon.

I had just started my glittering career in the Civil Surface, a callow supervisor in Brighton Benefits Office, serving the Great Unwashed (as they were known on our side of the counter). I remember talking about the new prime minister to two former students, who used to work as casuals during the busiest periods. Janet and her friend with the peroxide hair and the crimson lipstick were horrified that I didn’t see Mrs. T. as evil incarnate.

Once I’d done a little growing up, I began to think more for myself and less like my parents. Against a backdrop of the Falklands War, the pitched battles against the miners and the poll-tax riots, her voice became ever more grating and her demeanour increasingly patronising. Maybe she was evil incarnate after all. Maybe I would dance when she checked her handbag at the great Cloakroom in the Sky.

Living in France has tempered my antipathy. I’m not sure what the French think deep down about La Dame En Fer. I suspect there’s a certain grudging admiration and maybe they secretly wish that a Gallic equivalent had marched into parliament in a pair of shiny court shoes to sort out the unions and boost the economy with a stiff dose of entrepreneurship. On the other hand, they’re probably quite relieved that a prophet of the free-market economy didn’t sweep away the old values with such a stiff new broom.

During my lunch breaks throughout the week, I watched a stirring documentary about an American Football coach who worked with a bunch of no-hope kids from some God-awful district of Memphis, Tennessee to turn a seriously losing team into something rather better. The coach in question, a God-fearing family man who had been raised without a father by his mother, could have been one of Margaret Thatcher’s self-made men: someone who’d worked his way up through the ranks to possess his own business, a big car and a big new house in which to raise a big prosperous family.

The kids to whom he dedicated six years of his life, on the other hand, appeared to be the direct legacy of Reaganomics, the free-market liberalism of Mrs. T.’s major ally in the fight against state interference, Ronald Ray-gun (as Gil Scott-Heron dubbed him). It was the usual sorry tale of those who get left behind in the wake of economic progress: in this case, black illiterate kids, many of them without a father, some of them without a mother, living in broken down squalor, often raised by a grandparent or two (if they were lucky) and seemingly all of them without guidance, direction or hope.

Just in case you want to see Undefeated, I won’t reveal what happens. Save to say that it made very moving viewing. It was also a painful reminder of what it must be like to be part of an underclass: effectively society’s untouchables. History has shown that Mrs. Thatcher might have got certain things right. Undoubtedly, she helped to lift many out of the kind of grinding poverty depicted in the tome I’m reading. But left to its own devices, the free-market economy – which allowed her father’s grocery shop to prosper – can create a society obsessed with the acquisition of wealth. Money became the new morality. How much more dispiriting it must be to live in poverty when you see everyone else apparently living the high life.

So I won’t be burning effigies or dancing in the streets. But I certainly shan’t be watching the lavish and expensive state funeral that the current ‘austerity’ government has conferred upon a lady who’s not for returning. As another clever bit of graffiti put it: Iron Lady? Rust in peace.

Hi Bruce. Thanks for the tip; I'll give it a try. Jo, your heartfelt statement is much appreciated. 'Loike a noice bit of emotion and provocation, I do...' And Jane, hi and thanks for a splendid anecdote about Harold Wilson and the daffodils. No wonder my grandparents couldn't stand the man.

Jo, think we are on the same tack. Whenever I say I am far left of Marx and somebody arrives at Schicklgruber, I then give them my lecture about somebody who actually did hijack the word 'socialist' and use it overtly without anything social in the substance of what happened in chain. I am an internationalist, libertarian, happy to put others before me, am permanently stone broke because I do not give a fig for the values of capitalism and will have the cheapest and most appropriate send off in my turn. The only thing I insist on is that people use the expression celebration of my life rather than mourning. If anybody wants to have a party to celebrate my send off, then that's their business, but don't expect me to be there.

So with you on T and her ilk all the way...

has anyone else tried doing this? it really is rather good fun!

a friend of mine described me as "so far left on this chart, that I must be almost next to Hitler...and I said, yes, but the key is I'm not authoritarian, I'm libertarian, which means instead of gassing people I don't like, I will bore them to death with recycling stories from festivals. ;)

If you are rich and can afford to pay for it, why on earth should ANY funeral be paid for by the public, even if they are royalty?

I have to be means tested when I go for my pension, invalidity and claim any other taxable expenses, in fact it seems ever little thing has to be means tested and we need justification for everything. This may be a pain, but I continue to accept it because it feels generally fairer.

There is NO equality in this argument that we should pay a penny. It's disgusting. It's unfair. It's nothing to do with politics, it's wrong. Nor would I expect the Africans to have to pay for Mandela's funeral if he dies a rich man nor Dali Lamma nor any rich leader of any persuasion, no matter how hated or loved. John Lennon, the Queen, Freddie Mercury, Pol Pot. who cares? they are all WELL able to pay.They were rewarded in life and that should be enough for them.

I'm not grateful to people who tell me 'this is how it should be' and very unhappy with your so-called "value for money society". If I want value for money, I have to fight tooth and nail for every penny and I have to spend ridiculous amounts of time doing it.

Oh and there is absolutely nothing wrong with moaning about someone who is directly responsible for killing so many people; and certainlynot when one of them was your own family, like I say, join the dots.

No. she's rich enough. she should pay. end of story.

The fact that some of us choose to remain out mystifies them no end. I have had endless 'chats' and I must say that the most enlightening comment I really ever heard was when a certain Norma M said that in another life she would wish that her OH had done something else entirely. That was when he was occupying the top job!

Hi Brian, I DO remember seeing a BBC(?) documentary a few centuries ago, that covered to 'acceptance' of a potential candidate, and I recall what you are saying, as the whole process seemed to be defined as 'if you are not one of us - you must be agin us' or words to that effect?

I also recollect that the Committees on these things seemed to be packs of highly prejudiced dimwits - from all sides, which DID make me Wonder why anyone would want the job - UNTIL I read of the perks and the golden pensions.

I don't wonder at all after that, and never have again.

Oh well Norm, I turned down the offer of a 'possibility' that I never ever wanted. Politics is so rule bound to begin with that either people conform in one sense or another and with a certain outcome of there being doubt on their integrity either way. I would like to see more control over the civil servants who regulate and oversee politicians too. That is where I have sometimes found breathtaking corruption.

Hi Brian, no I must have missed that. As for them being honest about it, we can only assume that can't we? I still wouldn't trust any one of them as far as I could throw him, or her (not very far these days!) - and that's either side of the Channel, Atlantic, Pacific or anywhere.

I just want them to be more alert than me, more intelligent than me, more erudite than me, and above all to have more sense than me. I don't want them to be as thick as I am.

Norman, don't tell me you missed the €45,000 designer chair! We had a good laugh on that last night. It is a mix of people who have clearly made and 'failed' in life. At least they are being honest about it, until the mainly above average everything across La Manche.

Am I the only one watching the current crop of 'Financial statements' coming out of the French Parliament a bit distasteful? I don't really need to know if someone has made a fortune or not, what I want to know is that person up to the job they are holding.

I do find it depressing (as I have stated earlier) to find Parliamentarians with houses Worth €130,000 or even less, and that is the sum total of what they have achieved in their lives. If tht's the best they can do, well I might as well apply for the job, and I also have zero qualifications, or maybe that is a qualification in itself with this truly weird 'normal' President.

I may have missed it, but I haven't seen his listing anywhere, isn't a Leader supposed to lead by example'?

Mark, you might like to subscribe to "I grew up in the 50s" on Facebook. (there's one for the 60s also). Loadsa memorabilia.

It seems strange to me that everyone hated MT. Someone out there voted for her - three times. I voted for her twice but not the third. With hind sight we can judge oh so clearly, but we have to remember the situation at the time. GB was in big trouble. I know there are things that can be pointed out as horrendous mistakes, but evil? really? For me, as a young girl with parents who believed I didn't need to be educated (I was a girl after all) and my place was in the home, she showed me potential and opportunity. My parents weren't horrible people but they were very "working class" and believed "I should know my place". they could not understand why I wanted to put myself through the hassle of working my way through evening classes, working harder than my colleagues, to climb to MD at a young age. Would I have had that opportunity under a labour government, or even a different Tory leader? Possibly. Would the NHS have had the same problems - or worse? Possibly. Would unprofitable major industry have gone down the tubes? Probably. Would people still be moaning? definately.

Jane, WE are not spending £8 million on her funeral, a large percentage of the cost is being paid by her family.

Why paint things to be worse than they actually are?

I voted for her. I was 18 and I discussed it with my mum. Between us, we decided that even though we were deeply suspicious of her motives, that having a woman in power for the first time had to be our first priority, because we were both so tired and worn down by the ever-defeating prospect of a future filled with the same mysoginistic nonsense as the past.

I was going to copy and paste one of those telling and very illustrative lists I see from facebook, to stroll through the reasons why, as the years rolled forward, I changed my opinions and can whistle every word of 'Ding Dong', 'Shipyard', 'Ain't gonna work on Maggies farm no more, 'I'm in love with...' and so on without so much as blinking.

But the real reason is far more personal. In 1983 my mum was diagnosed with Leukemia. Back then, the NHS was just about still respected. We'd been the best in the world in the 70's and we all felt it. We led the way. My mum and I relaxed. It will be ok we said (just like we said when we were in the voting booth) the powers that be will look after us. We had faith in the doctors and faith in the system. We were British. 6 months later, after chemo had been tried and remission was on the cards, we asked for a bone marrow transplant. We were told, confidently and rather sadly by the consultant, that the chances of surviving a bone marrow transplant or of it being successful at my mum's age were very slim. She was 54 & died in 1984, &_ months later. I was 21.

During the months and years that followed I discover that (I am a qualified nurse)

a) bone marrow transplants then, cost much more than chemo.

b) her chances of survival would have been equal to, if not HIGHER than chemo.

c) leukemia transplant patients have a higher survival rate if a good match is found _- my mum had 11 living brothers and sisters and 92 nephews and nieces. She'd been the youngest of 14.

d) in America, at the time, bone marrow transplants were regularly done successfully on patients 10 years her senior

e) consultants regularly had to -still do today- decide the fate of their patients based on cost alone.

e) the NHS cutbacks that Thatcher introduced were by far the greatest blow to the quality of care than anything prior to or since. She destroyed the NHS.

Please don't anyone attempt to argue with me about this, as I merely would like the opportunity to have my say about Margaret Thatcher and my mum.

Some of you may no doubt feel sorry for me, yet at the same time, believe that I am bitter, twisted and a little deluded by grief to have loaded the death of someone so dear to me onto a total stranger But what I say to those people is, if you can't join the dots, I really cannot bring myself to have a conversation with you. I learned above all things, as a student nurse at university, that scientific research is the evidence base on what good healthcare should be founded. I learned that time and time again, health reports have shown the links between cutbacks and deaths. The bigger the cuts, the greater the deaths. No-one can tell a grieving relative that cutbacks have not killed their loved one, because they do. They definitely directly killed my mother.

Mark, I will understand if you feel my 'statement' is too emotional or provocative for your blog, so by all means censor it. But thanks for allowing me to have a tiny say and let out some of the huge grief that I believe firmly rests at the doorstep of No 10 when she lived there.

Happy spring and summer :)

Margaret Thatcher was the architect of the demise of manufacturing in Britain.

Her emphasis on home owning diminished the availability of social housing, her policies on homelessness created a world where the only way to get a home outside your parental home was to have a child, encouraging single parenthood and that vicious cycle of deprivation, her vision of share ownership by the masses, encouraged people to have unrealistic expectations of increased wealth, similarly of making money from buy to letting supported the other vicious cycle of inflated house prices, and increasing levels of housing benefit. She started these all off, though successive governments may have continued to dig the hole that was started by her.

And to top it off, we're spending £8m on a funeral for her! Its just a shocking waste of tax payers money.

Hi Mark would might have crossed paths when we were young as I went to school at Manor house convent in finchley road but I was like you from a privileged background living in Golders green then hampstead garden suburb with goldersgreen as our local train station.harold wilson lived down the road from us.What a unlikable man.I remember riding my bike over his front lawn and squashing all his daffodils and he dashed out and and took me be the scruff of my neck round to my parents who of course voted for mrs thatcher and certainly not labour party but like you cannot be bothered with mrs Thatchers death ok she did bring the uk out of the dumps but so many families suffered during her reign

No, Mark, surprisingly not Scandinavians. One is SE Asian and the other is Caribbean, both have had a particularly strong leader to start them off and have some bloody repute to their dubious credit and yet societally I have met more people content with their lot.

Norman, the 'spy generation' some years older than I were of a tiny minority. The other extreme was the vast majority and they gave me the full brunt of what they held of my views.

Jane, I am not too sure what extreme really is, except that I actually believe in the common good of all people in a socially shared fashion - which is called socialism. Thus far it has been little practiced but much preached and yet I still believe in its potential.

Hmm. Interesting debate. It's why I feel so ambivalent about Mrs. Thatcher. Mark, Jane I take your point entirely about 'acquisition of wealth'. I should perhaps have chosen my words more carefully. What I object to is what happens when this becomes the be-all-and-end-all. When the law of supply and demand runs subverts all other laws. Brian, I'd be very interested to know which are the two countries you reckon the citizens are content with their lot. Scandinavian countries perhaps. They must have better politicians than we do in either the UK or France.

Brian, I do believe that Cambridge was in fact rather replete with those on the extreme Left wasn't it? Burgess, Maclean et al? There must have been something in the air at that time that didn't seem to be replicated in Oxford for example? Was it in the teaching, the tutors or what? Never having been closer than the gates I will never know.

I am not politically astute enough to know the gradations of a University education, but I suppose we are all in th thralls of those who purport to teach, but try to indoctrinate aren't we?

Which are the two countries you refer to? Oddly in my case I lived as you know in Budapest shortly after Communism dies there,a nd I recall how most people had their doubts about the future - favorite expression being 'none of us had much, but we were all equal' Patently untrue, but that was the dogma held by even the younger generation.

Working in Russia was different where the Young regarded Russia (or USSR) as the 'favorite' Big Brother - not in 1984 terms, but as an avuncular image of Stalin (still held in some quarters by the way).

In later years the joys of making money superceded most of thes eopinions, but I don't doubt there are still the ones who believe the 'old days were best'.

We are all Victims of our past.