I have an ambivalent relationship with Margaret Thatcher. She came to power in May 1979 - a month before my 11th birthday. I was far too young to have developed a great deal of political awareness. I remember it though - my mother excited at the dinner table because Britain had its first female prime minister.
"She'll show the lot of you!" I remember her saying to my younger brothers and my father. "Perhaps one day you'll be prime minister, Sara. Now it's possible".
In our house there was a good deal of chatter over the following weeks about what the suffragettes had achieved and how the world had changed. They considered Thatcher almost like a nanny - she was going to sort everything out and there'd be no nonsense. My grandmother was beaming. But my female relations got quieter and quieter over the term of Thatcher's office. I don't remember why, explicitly, but I do recall the creeping feeling of disappointment and in part, the sense of shame. My mother, my grandmother and my aunts had voted Tory.
I live in Scotland where Thatcher's legacy is of the poll tax, of closing down our coal and shipbuilding industries and of practically disemboweling the unions that had an eye out for decent working people. Scotland just isn't terribly Tory. There's an old joke doing the rounds that we have more pandas up here (two to date in Edinburgh Zoo - we're hoping for a third) than Tory MPs. Among my friends who are a little older than I am there is a zeal today at Thatcher's death. She was horribly, horribly right wing and I find it difficult to forgive her that. Despite believing in the policies she implemented (the woman really thought she was doing good) I look at the society we have today and I can see the scars her policies left behind. Enormous social immobility and a lack of political empathy. On the internet they're saying all the people of Scotland should be given a spoon now, so we can dig together and hand the woman over to the devil in person.
And I'm torn about that. She was an old lady and in a way part of my childhood. I had my own (small) vitriolic outburst earlier this year when I was allocated a school milk bottle to write about in an exhibition I took part in at V&A's the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. I hadn't remembered Thatcher's role in this specifically but as I researched it came back to me - part of my childhood that had been damaged when Thatcher stopped free milk for the most needy children. What I remember of it was it feeling that the care of the state had been turned off. I wrote a poem called Empty. It goes like this:
Fill me up
Milk of human kindness
Fill me up
Empty breakfast belly
Dreams and possibilities
Fill me up
Brimful of justice
Fill me up
Sodden with milky hope
We must care for the hungry child
We must care for the sick and the old
In the give and take
We can afford
To fill me up.
Last summer at the Edinburgh Book Festival I got chatting to writer, Damian Barr, who has written a memoir (out next month) about his Scottish childhood. He called it Maggie and Me. I knew what he meant. I don't approve of the twitter storm currently underway and the vitriol online about Margaret Thatcher's death, but I do understand it. She touched every one of us - even those too young to realize what was actually going on. And like I said in the poem, she left many of us Empty.
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