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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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In Contempt
As I noted a couple of days ago, Mrs Thatcher's death didn't produce in me the delight it did in some, delight that I would undoubtedly have felt had it occurred fifteen years ago, and twenty-five years a fortiori. I don't know whether that's a loss to be regretted: I certainly don't begrudge others their pleasure - and if it's seasoned with vindictiveness, why so was the 11 year tyranny her premiership. What do people expect?

I think I spent much of my euphoria on that day in November 1990. I learned of her resignation when I was on top of a bus in Bristol city centre, from which vantage point I saw it blazoned on a newspaper hoarding. I was on my way to have lunch with a man from the Open University, that excellent Wilsonian institution, being on a half-time contract at that point and hoping to get some extra tutoring. It was a very happy lunch, even if no work resulted from it, and I floated round the covered market in the afternoon, thinking, "This must be what VE day was like." People couldn't stop smiling.

I hated Mrs Thatcher in a way I've never hated any other person I didn't know personally. With contempt, however, I am much more liberal, and these days there are many worthy candidates. Ed Miliband's insistence that Labour MPs attend today's session in Parliament devoted to "tributes", and his further insistence that they follow his "respectful" tone, qualifies him amply. Tony Blair, standing on the steps of St Albion's Parish Church to wag his blood-stained finger at those of his fellow citizens who had the "bad taste" to hold parties, perhaps escapes contempt by dint of being beneath it; but I'll certainly welcome all those mealy-mouthed politicians who hid their opinions beneath neutral phrases about Thatcher's "impact" and how she "shaped a generation" - the way the Luftwaffe shaped Coventry city centre. They're probably congratulating themselves on being "statesmanlike", but I think (as so often) of Henry Fielding:

This excellent method of conveying a falsehood with the heart only, without making the tongue guilty of an untruth, by the means of equivocation and imposture, hath quieted the conscience of many a notable deceiver; and yet, when we consider that it is Omniscience on which these endeavour to impose, it may possibly seem capable of affording only a very superficial comfort; and that this artful and refined distinction between communicating a lie, and telling one, is hardly worth the pains it costs them.

And so the work continues of airbrushing her victims from the picture, or obscuring them behind a swag of military cloth.

The difference is, her departure from office had a substantive impact on political events. Her death, so many years later and so long after illness had reduced her to a shadow, did not. All it affords is a particular opportunity for reflection.

I was a robust Nixon-hater back in the day, but unlike most such I did not want to see him on trial after his resignation, and I did not begrudge him his retirement or even the infamous pardon. All I had wanted of Nixon was to see the back of him, and once he was gone I was content.

Regarding such ambiguous phrases as "shaped a generation," I am reminded of how Time Magazine used to try to explain that its feature then known as "Man of the Year" was not an honor, but merely an acknowledgment of importance. To name Hitler as Man of the Year, which they did more than once, was not a compliment but a recognition of his transparent impact. However, in recent years they seem to have given up on maintaining this distinction.

I'm reminded of a joke my uncle (a boozy Welsh raconteur of the old school) used to tell about the death of a man who was so unpopular that the whole village turned up to his funeral because they wanted to hear what the vicar could possibly find to put in his eulogy.

The eulogy consisted of the words: "By, that man could whistle!"

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In the last couple of days, you mean? We've had our share through the years - 1831 was the daddy of them all, though.

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My dad tells a similar Welsh story, which had the punchline, 'Well, he was a great arguer, wasn't he?'

I did once actually witness the head of department attempt to give a complimentary speech at the farewell party for a colleague whom she actually hated, despised, and essentially fired. Pretty gruesome, i'truth.

I remember Condoleezza Rice smiling and saying over and over that Sarah Palin certainly was a governor, or words to that effect. (Cf. the old story about saying in an admiring tone, no matter how homely the offspring, "Well, that is a baby!")

I remember when she went - it was also the day I finally passed my driving test, and we were all delighted, by both. We went to the pub to celebrate. So I feel that I have expended much of my emotional investment in this, 23 years ago.

It sounds as if we reacted in similar ways. (Except that I passed my driving text in '89!)

According to my husband, when Thatcher was deposed I went out and bought cream cakes to celebrate. I don't actually remember that, but I did my rejoicing then. Her death leaves me unmoved. All the eulogies, however, have released a raw anger in me that I didn't realise was still there.

It is telling that at the Welsh class this morning, no one said a kind word about her and quite a bit of ranting was done -- and we're all over 60 and none of us are what you would call passionate about politics. However, none of us wanted to celebrate the death of a frail old lady with Alzheimers. I do feel that the attempt to get the song "Ding dong the witch is dead" into the top 10 by the weekend is going too far.

All the eulogies, however, have released a raw anger in me that I didn't realise was still there.

Me too. I think this is the worst manifestation so far - though it's not now going to go ahead, as even its sponsors realized it would backfire. But how could they even think it?

Meanwhile, to any Tory saying how awful it is to criticize recently deceased politicians, one need only point to the Tory press write-ups of that gentleman and scholar, Michael Foot.

Thanks for the link. It will provide an excellent riposte to those who say that only undiluted praise should be permitted.