My Family and Margaret Thatcher

OK, so everyone’s writing about Maggie. I could – and possibly should – be writing about the kids vomiting or driving my wife insane or refusing to eat my scrambled eggs because I milk them. But hell, it’s been on my mind non stop.Maggie came from Grantham. I know that town. I know that grocer’s shop. And she has, one way and another, had a profound effect on my life and my relationship with my own parents.

My mother was raised in a little village in the Lincolnshire countryside a few miles from Grantham and she went to Kesteven and Grantham Girls School just like Margaret Hilda Roberts had done many years before her. She may well hate me for this, her politics being very far removed from Maggie’s, but it seems the school specialises in turning out strong, determined and successful women. Or maybe it was the town rather than the school. It’s the sort of place your work very hard to make sure you leave.

Stuck in the middle of nowhere, not even on the M1, it was the sort of place that struck me as being quintessentially British. Market at the weekend. Department stores and a church spire that dominated it. Pubs that may well have been excellent but that called last orders bang on time. Thatcher hated football fans but this didn’t come from having them charge past the Grocer’s in their hobnail boots every other Saturday. If you wanted to watch sport in that area then village cricket was your best bet.

We went up to stay with my Mum’s Mum every summer. Grantham is where I learned to swim, despite coming from a town by the sea. Why? Because after going to Granddad’s allotment and running through the spinney and playing cow-pat football there was nothing much left to do. My dad took us swimming to the Grantham baths as often as he could. Every time we’d drive by the Grocer’s shop. By then Maggie wasn’t in it. She was running the country.

My last ever visit to Grantham summed the place up perfectly. It was around the time that Converse All Star were trendy the first time and I was in the market for a new pair. I’d saved pocket and paper round money and my Gran had given me some extra. I went excitedly to the sports shop in Grantham. No trainers, especially not trendy ones. Just good old fashioned sports equipment. It was like there was a sign on the wall that read “There’ll be none of your poncey American canvas boots here m’duck.”

At the start of her first term I knew nothing about her politics or unions. I had watched the Falklands on telly – we all had – and later the miners strike. Teenaged me felt sorry for the miners but had a suspicion that Arthur Scargill was a wanker. Adult me still does.

But then, in her autumnal Prime Ministerial years she cast a shadow greater than any time we had driven past the out of commission Grocer’s. When I was 17 my parents divorced. Interest rates shot up. First 11% then 14%. Then 15%. Or as my dad remembers them ‘fucking expensive’. We had stayed with dad – I suppose he became an early SAHD – but though this was the right thing at the time emotionally it may not have been financially. The rates were crippling his business and ability to pay the mortgage. Then, just to really shit on our fireworks, she introduced the Poll Tax and suddenly anything I wasn’t giving in keep went to local government. We needed to take in a lodger and we still came within weeks of being repossessed. Neither Dad or I claimed a penny in benefit. Think on that when the Tories claim they support small business and strivers.

One of our lodgers was Patrick*. Short, Scottish and working class he claimed to be a Rangers fan from Edinburgh. In due course he would rip off a local pub and do a runner but he always paid us on time to the penny. One day, before he ripped the pub off, I went to work and, in the afternoon Carol started crying. Carol was the 30 year old Assistant Manager who dressed like a 50 year old and idolised Thatcher like I idolise Brighton and Hove Albion. The old hag had resigned. That’s Thatcher, not Carol. I could barely conceal my glee. When I got home me and Dad and Patrick were in the kitchen. “Terrible fuckin’ shame eh?” said Patrick. Then we opened a bottle of whisky. When it was gone Dad went out and got another. We partied like it was 1999, astonishing since it was only 1990.

Yesterday she died. I felt neither sadness nor celebration. Maybe it’s because I consider dancing on an old lady’s grave distasteful.  Maybe it’s because as I’ve grown older I’ve moved far more to the centre. Or perhaps it was because she has left us a legacy that won’t be talked about in the countless obituaries. Me and my Dad. A bond that can never be broken, strengthened, as they often are, in adversity.

*Not his real name. Obvs.


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