Growing up in the 1980s, it was difficult not to be affected by Thatcher’s destructive policies, especially in the North. ‘Thatcher, Milk Snatcher’ was a rhyme we seemed to know before we could speak. Not that we were indoctrinated, we could see for ourselves the hole in the classroom roof, the leaking pipes in the library. An early memory is of being in hospital as a kid on election night and asking my Mum why the nurses were crying as the results came in.
My Dad was an active Trade Unionist in the 1970s. He fought Thatcher at rallies and demonstrations, joined political groups such as the SWP. Despite being a qualified tradesman, he became suspicious when big companies would give him a job, only to withdraw their offer at the last minute. People spoke of a ‘blacklist’. Whether paranoid or a victim of some sinister Orwellian agenda, many workers like my Dad found that jobs, increasingly few and far between, were far from guaranteed. We grew up with ‘Boys From The Blackstuff’ and saw Thatcher as the architect of everything that was wrong with our world.
So, I was surprised when I phoned my Dad with the news of Thatcher’s death, that he wasn’t as jubilant as I was. When I was older, we vowed in drunken conversations to meet in the pub as soon as she died, get pissed and revel in her passing. But when I phoned him, it was as if something was missing. There was a sadness there. Not for Thatcher, but for what had happened; for what she did. We didn’t celebrate, we just went for a walk instead. Any relief at her passing will be tainted with memories of that time.
When Thatcher Died
I was secretly disappointed you already knew.
I dreamed up ways of giving you the news,
spaces between each
In the end the words fell out,
It could have been ‘I passed,’
Or ‘It came back negative.’
An absurd relief in the tone,
Like rain after drought,
Welcome, bitter drops.
But, of course, you already knew.
There was an absence in your voice,
A deflated acknowledgement,
As if I’d said ‘The winter is over,
But you lost your lambs.’
It was a novelty when you picked us up from school.
We never made the connection.
Seeing you in daytime never meant
And we’d talk
of milk and blacklists.
Ghosts in the wire.
We always said we’d meet in the pub,
The day Thatcher died.
But we didn’t.
We walked the canal in the
Thin heat, the uncertain promise of Spring.
My restless joy met silences as we walked
And I couldn’t understand
Until we passed the factories.