IT has taken me a while to solidify and articulate my feelings about Margaret Thatcher and her death.
I’ve read a range of personal accounts which are always more about the writer and I didn’t want to be self-indulgent or worse whiney.
But as her funeral approaches – self-indulgent or not – I’ve decided it’s important to me to write down the thoughts swimming around my head; not least because five months ago I became a mother and I would like my little girl to understand how different her childhood is to my own.
My childhood was not unhappy but nor was it easy. I was born in 1980 in Sunderland and thus spent the first ten-and-a-half years of my life as a Child of Thatcher.
For much of that time it felt like we were living under siege as one-by-one the walls which protected us from poverty were pulled down.
As the bricks tumbled, my Mum took me on marches to hear the wisdom of Uncle Arthur, Uncle Neil and the leaders of ‘our side’ of the battle who seemed to be the only people trying to protect us from the rape and pillage of our home town.
My childhood is littered with sad memories. Watching debt collectors going into the homes of my friends on our street; marches which occasionally turned into pitch battles; a schoolmate writing in their news book about the suicide of a family member who couldn’t cope with the shame of being unable to provide for his family.
But I also have memories of the kindness of people around me. The comradeship on picket lines and even though we had little ourselves, my Mam collecting tins and dried foods for miner’s families.
As interest rates soared and wages froze we couldn’t manage anymore and lost our home. We spent the next eight years moving from rented flat to rented flat while on the never-ending council waiting list, lengthened massively by the sell off of social housing.
For many, milk being taken from children was meaningless. At my school we were given the option of taking the milk home “if it would help”. It did help and then it was gone.
I remember watching Thatcher on the news speaking about family values and single parents. Which made me realise to her my single parent family had no value.
Even as a child I had a tendency to internalise and I came up with a plan to write to her and ask whether if I said sorry she would forgive us all.
I couldn’t understand what we’d done wrong and why she hated us so much. Now I know she didn’t. It was worse than hate – we were meaningless. Just specks of dust caught in the wake of her storm; irrelevant and insignificant.
When it was over there was deafening silence. The noise of industry – a lullaby at bedtime in our little house just five minutes walk from the Wear- was suddenly gone.
Also gone was the sound of political activism and rhetoric which had been provided by the unions. It left a void of apathy now being filled by the Far Right. Where once miners stood with banners in Sunderland Market Square now stand the BNP and EDL, pouring poison into the ears of young people disenfranchised by lack of opportunity and work.
When I went to university I mixed with people for the first time who grew up under a different Thatcher. They went to private schools in the South and their Dads had ‘struggled’ under the 90 per cent tax rate for high earners in the 1970s.
My best Uni mate and I laughed the other day when we remembered a conversation we’d had shortly after we met. When Thatcher resigned her teacher insisted on a minute’s silence. We got out early and my Mam cooked our ‘special tea’.
And as these memories have flooded back, I’ve asked myself one important question; what was Thatcher’s legacy over my own life?
Well she made me realise that in the eyes of those in power if you are poor you are dirt, and there is nothing worse than being dirt poor.
Which is why I’ve always been a saver. This enabled my Mam and me to finally buy her a pretty cottage six months ago and hand back the keys to the little council house which became a sanctuary to us and now I hope to another family in need.
I’d like to say the fact she was a woman made me feel like anything was possible for a girl. Certainly my Mam tells a funny tale about me asking whether a man was allowed to be Prime Minister.
But that legacy is firmly my mother’s who prized hard work and education above all and who made be believe I could do and be anything I wanted if I was willing to put the graft in.
Thatcher actually taught me more about the kind of woman I don’t want to be. And while she may have taken so much from my family, we have come out the other side – and with our humanity intact.
And it is that humanity – so lacking in her – which has led me to a decision. I’ve decided to forgive her.
There will be no parties in our home; no downloading of silly songs and we won’t travel to her funeral to wave banners or turn our backs. Because once you forgive someone you don’t want to celebrate their death.
Instead I’m going to take my Mam out for a nice lunch and toast to us and how far we’ve come. And try to convince her to forgive her too.
I’m not holding my breath.