It’s been an interesting week – and a traumatic one. So many memories and so many parallels with the modern world, all brought to a head with a single news item:
Margaret Thatcher is dead!
I confess that I really don’t know how to react. The compassionate side of me wants to send condolences to her family. You know, the way decent people do. And I am a decent bloke. I know what it’s like to lose someone and I most certainly won’t gloat (although I can’t blame those friends who do).
What this week has done for me, more than anything has stirred up memories of my youth, my desperate, hopeless youth. Memories of my home town after the steelworks and the pits had gone and our working men found themselves unemployed and obsolete – useless by the only measure they and their culture knew.
I was 14 years old when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. Two years later I was a jobless school-leaver with no future that I could see and no way to change it. I have friends who still haven’t worked over 30 years later. Such was the devastation not only of my home region but of the psychology of my generation. Teenagers and grown men and women alike just gave up in those dark days of Thatcherism and many have never recovered.
I was lucky – I found a way through but it wasn’t easy. I was one of the stupid ones. I followed Lord Tebbit’s advice and ‘got on my bike’ to find work. Yes – that really was the message from Thatcher’s callous cabinet – ‘get on yer bike’.
I left home and found myself homeless for two years. That was fun. I really don’t know how to describe homelessness and hostel living to those who haven’t experienced it. I met some fine people and made some excellent (and lifelong) friends, but I also saw the worst of humanity. I saw teenagers, children really, thrown on the scrapheap before they’d even had a chance to find their way in the world. And I saw the wealthy get wealthier while we lost everything.
The narrative then was the same tory story we hear now. A tale of scroungers and layabouts. I cannot describe the shame I felt as I stood at the Dole Office every fortnight to sign on for my unemployment benefit – a benefit I’d gladly have foregone for the chance of a job.
I heard stories of young women getting pregnant just so they could have a council house and being roundly condemned for their callousness. In truth I know of one (and only one) young lass who did that – and I can’t blame her for it. She was cold and she was hungry and she had no hope. But the rest of us just wanted a chance.
I walked miles throughout the South and East of England trying to find work in those dark days but nobody’s going to employ a homeless man – we smell. And even if we can find a hostel and a shower (eventually I was lucky enough to get a place at Lincoln YMCA) our clothes are raggy and our address ‘isn’t quite right’.
I used to busk for pennies with my guitar in a Lincoln underpass (beneath the level crossing on High Street if you know Lincoln) but even that carried the risk of losing your benefits if the DHSS snoopers spotted you. And every two weeks (on Giro day) a few of us would go and have a couple of pints at Sippers (our local). We’d have loved the chance to socialise more often but there was hostel rent to pay and food to buy. Even a couple of pints a fortnight was frowned on by the rest of society. It was as though they thought that since we were unemployed we should at least have the decency to suffer. Well I have news for you – we suffered enough.
And this week I saw a newspaper picture. Margaret Thatcher is dead. And I just don’t know how to feel. So let me tell you where the title of this blog comes from…..
“I saw a newspaper picture
From the political campaign
A woman was kissing a child
Who was obviously in pain.
She spills with compassion,
As that young child’s face in her hands she grips
Can you imagine all that greed
And avarice coming down on that child’s lips?”
That’s the opening stanza of a song about Margaret Thatcher by Elvis Costello. The title of the song is ‘Tramp the dirt down’…
“And when they finally put you in the ground
I’ll stand there laughing and tramp the dirt down”
These days I have no wish to desecrate Mrs. T.’s grave. What would be the point? Anyway I’m better than that.
But I understand the sentiment – I remember the sentiment. For years I swore that I’d do just that, such was my anger at the woman who stole my future (or so it seemed). That woman was not the saint that our right wing press claim. Nor was she the compassionate angel that the modern crop of sycophantic MPs seem to think they must pretend. She was a vicious, cruel, avaricious tory whose policies destroyed the hopes and dreams of countless working people. And I cannot grieve for her.
If you remember the true Thatcher….. if you see the similarities between her cruelty and the callous disregard for human suffering recreated by the present ConDem government then you have a duty…..
Tell your children. And make sure they get it. My generation failed to keep the memory alive, that’s why the tory ideologues got in again in 2010 – and look at what’s happening.
Pass the memory down through the generations – not just for 2015 but for all the elections to come. Never again let the tories destroy our society. And never again trust the treacherous LibDem enablers without whose support this current crop of tories would be impotent. It’ll take years to repair the damage they’ve done already. Don’t let them have another chance.