As a ten-year-old boy it seemed to me that I had solved the problem of politics rather well. My father, a schoolteacher and parish councilor in our English village, a beige place called Byfleet on the bus route to somewhere with a cinema, had always told me it was important to take a view on things, to have an opinion, to not become one of those people who care about nothing, and I took this as a challenge to hate Margaret Thatcher as much as he hated her. The Iron Lady. Madame Frit. Milk Snatcher. Attila the Hen. Oh, I was willing to hate her—to hate all the different versions of her I’d heard about. I wanted to be a clever, heavy-haired, playful, opinion-holding Margaret Thatcher hater. That my mother loved Maggie—and considered her a savior of our islands—did not present a problem. I understood early on, as all children do, the importance of taking sides.
Trouble was, Mrs. Thatcher looked so intelligent. She spoke so confidently. She was a grocer’s daughter who had made a great ascent. She seemed, surrounded by the monied old men of Westminster on our little black-and-white TV, colorful and sharp and assured. She talked about the individual being responsible for his or herself, for working his or her way towards something better, and I looked at the house I lived in, and at the bigger houses all my friends seemed to live in, and I understood, or thought I did, that Mrs. Thatcher was telling me to go ahead and try and ace all my exams.
What I remember is her mouth. I had begun already to dream of mouths. She seemed, on screen, always to be suppressing a smile, the corners of her lips looking not upturned, exactly, but always lively, always on the verge of lifting, as if her mind were toying with the idea of expressing a hitherto-contained hilarity at the world. She looked like she knew things other people didn’t know. I wanted to know things other people didn’t know. She was Prime Minister. No one said of what. I assumed of a large area.
My father said her days were numbered. In November I sat in front of the television with him and watched the BBC reporting on what they called the Leadership Challenge. He had that look of thickly-focused concentration he wore during games of pitch and putt on weekend visits to Brighton—hazy sunshine; hazy sea; the roofline of the Grand Hotel with its two Union Jack flags whipping in the wind. A man called Geoffrey Howe had resigned from the government. Mrs. Thatcher no longer sounded defiant. Her eleven years in power were coming to an end. She had been a leader, my father pointed out, for longer than I’d been a human. When I came downstairs one afternoon from a few grueling hours on my Atari 520 ST, my father—or was it another voice, my uncle’s, that day?—told me that Michael Heseltine, who I knew had a truly magnificent movie-star face, would be the next prime minister. I felt I could believe in someone with that chin.
In the end it was John Major—dead in the mouth, dead in the eyes, pale as an un-sinister cop-show corpse—who took over control of the country. I watched Maggie in tears leaving Downing Street. I watched Mr. Heseltine touch his spectacles as if to better see what had happened. My mother was upstairs in bed reading her holiday brochures: glossy publications full of hotels she’d never stay in, resorts she’d never visit. Was there something of Margaret Thatcher in her? She seemed always about to laugh. I watched her as she planned her escapes.
Photo © Homer Sykes, whose book Patrick Procktor and Friends was published in January by Cafe Royal Books
He advertised that he regarded women as playthings. He was my best friend. I kept a cross-indexed record of his transgressions, ready for citation, in my head. I wrote him long letters excoriating him for the harm he had done to himself and others.
Perhaps her work, which she spoke of with grim tolerance, had become positively loathsome, or perhaps her ardor for books simply overwhelmed her. At any rate, she quit, and she began haunting the stacks of the Anna Centenary Library at Kotturpuram.