Friday, April 12, 2013

She Died?

I had nonsensically assumed that she would just keep on getting older and older.

Above, one might say the two local NYC broadsheets were politic in their coverage of Margaret Thatcher's death: the Wall Street Journal saluted her on page A1 above the fold; the New York Times slotted her slightly less gloriously, below the fold.

Thatcher's death sparked off a stream of vivid, indelible memories in my head. She was the Prime Minister during my growing up in Northern Ireland. I was seven when she was elected, an event I do not remember, although I do remember front page newspaper photographs of President Jimmy Carter in tears after he lost the election to Reagan. (Carter's and Thatcher's times in office overlapped by about a year).

And I was 18 in 1990, when she was kicked out of power by her own party: she ruled over those most formative years, and I cannot but imagine that barely a day would pass without hearing or reading some reference to her in the media. I have very mixed feelings about Thatcher, especially in her relations with (Northern) Ireland, though it is too complex a matter for me to bike down to Red Hook and wave these while guldering tunelessly:

I can remember clearly being nine years old during the Falklands War, and thinking the whole affair was the most exciting thing ever, especially as 'we' won. It perhaps also occurred to my childish mind at the time that having a war that did not turn into a thermonuclear holocaust, meant that perhaps some wars weren't so bad after all... An even earlier memory for me is not the specificity of a national leader or an event like an election, but my first grasping of the feeling of enormous dread of nuclear war, and what that might mean. I had no reference point for vast, fiery man-made destruction (does anyone?), but I remember distinctly that around 1980 (January 1980 to be exact) the National Geographic arrived at my home and the cover (below) showed a new view of the planet Jupiter, which I glimpsed and thought was an image of our Earth, burning to death. 

This image (I cannot stress this enough) terrified me for years after, and I was 17 or 18 before I saw it again, read the cover and sort of... shrugged... sighed. 

But anyway, getting back to Maggie... As I said, growing up in a (nominally Protestant, or at least, not Catholic) Northern Irish household, I initially thought Thatcher wasn't so bad. One day at high school, I found - somehow - a book of poems by the Jamaican-born poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, who spoke as the voice of protest of many black British people out of Brixton, the London neighborhood that erupted in anti-Thatcher rioting in 1981:

Maggi Tatcha on di go
Wid a racist show
But a she haffi go Kaw,
Right now, African
West Indian
An’ Black British
Stan firm inna Inglan
Inna disya time yah

and, most memorably:

Inglan is a bitch 
Dere´s no escapin it 
Inglan is a bitch 
Dere´s no runnin´ whey fram it

And so it is no surprise that her death prompted, not an Irish Wake for Maggie Thatcher as took place here in NYC, but a much more blunt Margaret Thatcher Death Party in Windrush Square, in Brixton:

(In a gloriously ironic moment, the local cinema was in the middle of an Argentine film festival!)

I could, of course, witter on all day, but one final image (above) permits me to ask the following question: why would a young man at a party celebrating Margaret Thatcher's death be handing out free cartons of milk? I wonder how many American readers could answer this trivia question? 

Answer:˙"ɹǝɥɔʇɐus-ʞןıɯ 'ɹǝɥɔʇɐɥʇ ʇǝɹɐbɹɐɯ" ǝןʇıʇ ǝɥʇ ɹǝɥ ǝʌɐb ǝןdoǝd ˙ʎɐp ʎɹǝʌǝ ןooɥɔs ʇɐ uoıʇɐɹ ʞןıɯ ǝǝɹɟ s,uǝɹpןıɥɔ ɟo buıpunɟ ɔıןqnd ןǝɔuɐɔ oʇ pǝıɹʇ ʎןsnoɯɐɟ ǝɥs uǝɥʍ 's0761 ǝɥʇ uı ɹǝʇsıuıɯ ʇuǝɯuɹǝʌob ɐ sɐ ɹǝʇsıuıɯ ǝɯıɹd oʇ ʇuǝɔsɐ ɹǝɥ pǝʇɹɐʇs ɹǝɥɔʇɐɥʇ ʇǝɹɐbɹɐɯ