“What after all, is a halo? It’s only one more thing to keep clean.”
The Lady’s Not for Burning, 1948 play by Christopher Fry
Margaret Thatcher was very aware of her likely place in history but she was not into hagiography or housework. Being dubbed the Iron Lady by the Soviets was a red badge of honour but being satirised as the Ironing Lady went down like an iron balloon.
As a young teacher I once had a front bench view of Thatcher thermodynamics before she became the Conservative Leader. She took over a lesson I was teaching.
Cashmere High School used to attract more than its share of visiting VIPs. The foundation principal was the redoubtable Terence McCombs, a former Labour Minister of Education who subsequently became High Commissioner and was knighted.
His connections and the reputation of the school he founded attracted more than passing interest. In my 12 years at the school members of the Royal Family visited the school twice as did-separately- two U.K. Secretaries of State for Education and Science. The first, in 1972 I think, was Margaret Thatcher, a member of Edward Heath’s 1970 Cabinet.
I was teaching a junior English class at the time, not one of my main subjects. The lesson took place initially in the semi dark, with candles flickering to background music (Blowing in the Wind?) to ignite some creative writing and discussion amongst earnest third formers.
The Headmaster brought our guest into my classroom part way through this pedagogic process. I was more than a little in awe: I was well aware of her soubriquet “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher”. She would later write in her autobiography: “I learned a valuable lesson [from the experience of abolishing free milk in schools at the behest of the Treasury]. I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit.”
Mrs T was an agenda setter and not a spectator. With the lights up she quickly took over the lesson, waxing eloquent. I was no match and couldn’t hold a candle to her. In fact she had stayed well away from the flickering focal point. The Lady was not for burning.
I can’t remember if she had a handbag but no doubt she did. She was already in full dress rehearsal mode to become the Leader of the Conservative Party, which she was from 1975 to 1990 and then Prime Minister for eleven dramatic years.
In the meantime another visitor to Cashmere High and my classroom was Shirley Williams, Secretary of Education and Science in James Callaghan’s Labour Government from 1976. There was comprehensive interest by the Brits in our education system then. The terms of trade seem to have changed more recently.
One question still blowing in the wind: is Hekia Parata the Antipodean inheritor of the metaphorical Thatcher handbag or did Julia Gillard beat her to it?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIgFqOgADtQ Margaret Thatcher – Pt 1 The Making of Margaret (Telegraph)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrQ4saKGI5k Bob Dylan Blowing in the Wind
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0PKcKbjlKg Elton John – Candle In The Wind (Diana)