- Damian Barr has written a book on the Thatcher years -- "Maggie & Me"
- Thatcher "privatized his family into poverty," he says
- He watches her hearse go by to show her the respect he says she didn't show him
I knot my black tie carefully. I haven't worn it since my grandmother's funeral. I check my reflection in the shop windows near Westminster as I walk towards the chapel where my "other mother" lies in her coffin.
For five years, I've been writing "Maggie & Me," my memoir of surviving Thatcher's 11 years in power. I feel surprisingly protective or perhaps possessive about my relationship with the woman we called Maggie. She privatized my fractured family into poverty by closing the steelworks where my dad toiled and cutting my mother's disability benefits, all while not seeming to care about any of it. And yet, as my family descended into chaos and eventually abuse, Maggie was always there in some sense; always encouraging me to get an education, to get away, to be an individual.
At 9am on the dot, I find a place right opposite Big Ben near Westminster Abbey. I will see her hearse as it leaves the scene of her greatest political battles. At this time in the morning, there are more police than observers on the scene. They've been on duty since 5am but remain good-humored. There are sniffer dogs and through the drizzle we catch flashes of color amidst the crenelations of parliament -- snipers on the roof.
Tourists stop to take pictures. People who have to get to work are annoyed that the road is closed and they have to walk the long way round. A young woman, dressed entirely in cobalt blue from shoes to headscarf, joins my prime spot. She looks like a Thatcherite nun.
Much fuss has been made about granting permission for protest but I come across only two placards and these are about the £10 million cost of the funeral. It's hard to see where this vast sum has been spent. There's no sign of bread, nor circuses.
I am here to close not just a chapter of my life but a whole book. At various points, Maggie turned her back on me but I won't do that to her today. "I wouldn't give her the satisfaction," I think to myself, and I feel oddly nostalgic. There's a definite sense of loss. Or is it release? Grief or relief? Maybe both. When Labour Party leader John Smith died I was heartbroken and this is certainly not that. But I do have some things to thank her for. I feel determined to show her at least some of the respect in death that she didn't show me, my family, or my community in life. So I stand with dignity as a small crowd forms.
The usual anti-war protesters are seated on their chairs with signs. I wonder if they are glad to have a bigger audience or feel infringed upon?
It's 9:45am now, and Big Ben bongs while he can. "Is this the bell which summons me to heaven or to hell?" I wonder. Now the police seem to be multiplying in force. I see three soldiers in desert fatigues with green berets on. A brown-and-white spaniel sniffer dog is off the leash.
"It's a moment in history isn't it?" says a young Asian woman officer to a lady from Italy.
With ten minutes 'til the top of the hour, a helicopter appears overhead. At exactly 10am, and with surprising speed, Maggie's hearse, flanked by half a dozen police on bikes, exits the chapel at Westminster. She's punctual and impatient in death as in life, I think. Big Ben stays silent but the Abbey bells peal incongruously. People tutt loudly at this. There are more police than mourners -- their backs facing the coffin, not in protest but so they can keep their eyes on us. There are no jeers, or tears. That's that. Done.
The small crowd starts to shuffle off and a prim pensioner bustles up expectantly only to be told she's too late. An impossibly young constable smiles his best consoling smile and says "You've missed her, madam. She's gone." Gone but not forgotten. Not yet.