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I’m enjoying this!19 January 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
I already knew two Margaret Thatchers, but recently another one has been added. Now it’s a case of three Margaret Thatchers. It’s not that they continually hit me over the head with a handbag, but they are powerful women.
Two are family and the third is a girl of my own age, and although I love all three, they can also be quite bossy. Normally I hate being disturbed by anyone, but I don’t mind being phoned by any of these three, even if it’s the middle of the night.
For example, when doing the dishes I follow her instructions on how to put away the crockery. However, one should not take this too far.
Margaret Thatcher triggers a wide range of emotions. For example, with people who review the film The Iron Lady: ‘It should have concentrated more on her policies, but Meryl Streep was marvellous.’
Others write: ‘At the time I was very much against Margaret Thatcher,’ to make sure everyone knows the writer was on the right side, ‘but after all she was the first female British prime minister.’ Or even worse: ‘I get the impression that Margaret Thatcher may have been a decent person.’
The English language has a beautiful expression for this phenomenon: faint praise.
In The Downing Street Years Thatcher wrote: ‘I was always asked how it felt to be a woman prime minister. I would reply: “I don’t know: I’ve never experienced the alternative.”’
I don’t think Angela Merkel has ever been asked the same question. Margaret Thatcher was a strong personality yet very feminine, which makes some people even angrier.
Actually, she isn’t special because she was the UK’s first female prime minister, not even because she was an outsider, the daughter of a grocer in Grantham, a paragon of social mobility.
No, she’s really special because she was a politician with a vision, who looked for people to support her. Not the reverse: a bit populist in form but not in content. When watching the film, I was most moved by the scenes which showed her as PM.
I became acquainted with England at the moment Thatcher became prime minister. England was still a land of grubby sheets on washing lines, coal heaters, strikes, skinheads, graffiti and peeling paint, a Butlin’s holiday camp in the pouring rain on a deserted coast.
If you want to know what England looked like, read The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux. It was published in 1983, the year Thatcher was re-elected for the first time.
‘It was so awful, I wanted to stay,’ Paul Theroux wrote about one of the towns he visited. Thatcher’s task had barely begun.
England slowly changed during her time as prime minister. Lots of people bought their first house, at last there was decent wine in the shops, England became merrier and London was swinging.
Some people look upon Thatcher’s policies as the start of unabashed capitalism. I think her actions led to an enormous increase in prosperity. It turned sour much later on, because people had forgotten about balancing Maggie’s housekeeping book.
‘I’m enjoying this!’ Margaret Thatcher announced the last time she spoke in parliament, acknowledging supporters left and right.
When I was growing up I wanted to be prime minister. I, too, had hardworking parents who wanted their children to get on in life. Margaret Thatcher is the prime minister I never became, and also every woman who domesticates me. In other words, they release the Denis Thatcher in me; I want to protect them.
By the way, the girl of my own age doesn’t resemble Meryl Streep; she looks more like a younger Helen Mirren.
If you’re a bit annoyed with me now because I admire Margaret Thatcher, this is my reply: ‘I’m enjoying this!’ I’m even considering buying walking shoes, because she insists.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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