There were always going to be eruptions of ire, anger and glee when Margaret Thatcher died. Last Monday I was in an Oxfam bookshop in a posh corner of London, buying a collection of short stories from a middle-age man in a luminous pink pullover, when he was suddenly distracted from the job in hand (so to speak) by another fellow, all dressed in brown, who announced ‘Have you heard – Thatcher is dead’ in a sad voice. Mr Pink and Mr Brown began commiserating with each other, while the few of us browsing the shelves listened in. But when Mr Brown said quite forlornly of the just deceased, ‘you know I loved her,’ I could no longer keep silent.
‘But I hated her’ I said loudly.
Mr Pink and Mr Brown turned and stared at me.
‘The 80s were such a boom time!’ said Mr Brown. ‘Everyone had a job! And there was money to burn!’ He looked quite misty eyed.
‘I’m from Liverpool’ I said, ‘and there were no bloody jobs there in the 80s.’
‘Where’s Liverpool?’ Asked Mr Pink, with a sly grin.
His answer was a perfect soundbite of of the time, mocking the north/south divide and those raging inequalities that set the tone for anti-Thatcher fury; and I laughed, not even bitterly. So did Misters Pink and Brown. After all, we were in Hampstead.
I think much of the public anger that’s been vented over Margaret Thatcher is people attempting to lance the furious impotence so many of us felt during her regime. She was incredibly divisive, reveled in promoting personal selfishness and greed, and bullied those who did not conform to her narrow right-wing view of the world. But I wouldn’t have gone to a street party to celebrate the death of an old lady with Alzheimer’s: the way to conquer Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is to do our damnedest to make sure another prime minister of her ilk – and I’m not talking about her gender – never gets elected again. Maggie would have loved the street parties; she’d have seen them as a warped triumph. But the most fitting tribute of all would be to dump the Tories in the political wilderness, for at least the next eighteen years.
Meanwhile, my trip to Central Africa is still on hold: over the weekend seventeen people were killed in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), where I am hoping to go for a while. The ‘Seleka’ rebels, who overthrew the CAR government just a few weeks ago in a swift coup, are not in control of the country, and the death toll is climbing slowly. Central Africa is a fold in the map, a place that rarely sees the news, which is exactly why I want to go there. It hasn’t yet descended into the cataclysmic horrific that has bedeviled its neighbours (The Democratic Republic of the Congo, North and South Sudan and Chad) and I’m clinging onto my fragile optimism that the country will cleave back a semblance of peace: so that ordinary Central Africans can get their lives back. And I can finally go and meet ‘our man in Bangui.’
Last word: two years ago today an Italian was killed in Gaza. His name was Vittorio Arrigoni, and he was strangled by extremists Gazan jihadis who knew he loved Gaza, and wanted to use him to make a sick political point. Vic, as he was known, had a booming laugh, great tattoos and he used to write a ‘Guerrilla blog.’ He was not a friend of mine, only an acquaintance. But he was a great friend of Gaza, and we all still miss him.
Salamat, as we say in Gaza; see you soon