She Who Would Valiant Be
I stood opposite the Law Courts. The flag at half mast dancing in the spring breeze . It was thirty minutes before the coffin on the gun carriage left the St Clement Danes 400 metres up the road. I looked across at the GE Street’s Law Courts and remembered as a school boy being paraded triumphantly around Master Thompson’s office. His largely female staff worshipped him and I basked in his reflected glory. Much later I found out what he always knew, that he wasn’t my natural father. It made me sad. GE Street also built my darling local church, All Saints, Putney.
The RAF band came down. Then came the troops and they took up their places. An officer came down and measured their placements with an enormous divider which measured exact footage. They shuffled into place.
I took my place just outside the Temple,my neighbour was a hotel manager from Finchley. The great lady had often been a guest at functions in her constituency. He confided in me”She called us her people”. Like his two friends and many others he was wearing a suit and black tie. My tweed jacket was feeling a little casual. On the other side were two ladies from Ealing “ We loved her she made us proud again.”
The crowd was suitably subdued and respectful. So it was easy to hear the commands as they echoed down Fleet Street. The soldiers went through their drills which ended with their rifles up side down and their heads bowed. We do ceremony so well.
Two very grand Guards officers,busbied and bemedelled, on their heroic mounts walked by. More commands came from the church. The soldiers drilled again. We heard the first bars of the Death March. We could hear the drum, the funeral note.
First came the police on their horses. Then came the Royal Marine band and then the soldiers followed by the Union Jack draped coffin. The coffin so grand as it was pulled slowly by an immaculate troop of the Royal Horse Artillery.
I had been discussing with the hotel manager the fact that at Nelson’s funeral held in the same place 207 years ago ,as the coffin passed there was a wave like sound as the 100,000 present that day showed their respects and took off their hats. Few today wore hats. Today as a sign of respect people raised their camera/phones and took a life long memory. Others without phones clapped. I have clapped in cinemas and now I have clapped a corpse.
So what were we celebrating.? A leader with convictions. Tory triumphalism. Others have seemed, to be successful politicians, for whom becoming Prime Minister was just another mark on a CV designed to make them as wealthy as possible. As a nation in decline we have in recent years taken to building monuments to anything and everything and having parades for every sporting triumph. Those who die in football stadium disasters and those who are killed by terrorist bombs are given the same pomp and circumstance as those who died as volunteers at the Somme, discovered America and colonised Australia. As our history becomes less significant so we celebrate it more. Everyone likes a parade especially if its on television.
Thatcher showed that even a nation in decline can make one last effort. And maybe that was what we were celebrating. Our one last effort both internally and externally .The debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, the banking crisis and the gentle submerging of Europe surely mean this was the last effort. Although the privatisations stand as successful monuments to Thacherism,one third of the council homes sold off are now in the hands of private landlords, in many areas the reactionary ,corrupt unions have been replaced by complacent managers and greedy and corrupt bosses and the entrepreneurial miracle seems as far away as ever. Our best and brightest children still prefer the law and accountancy to creating new wealth.
On the way home on the tube ,I sat next to someone in a morning suit who had been to the service. He turned out to be Barry Henderson who had historically been an English born Tory MP representing Scottish constituencies under Thatcher for nine years. He told of what a great and kind woman she had been.
Mrs Thatcher once said that any man over 28 who travelled by public transport was a failure. Barry and I are both over 65. She at least had been a success. And that day she didn’t travel by public transport.
PS Later Vivien would see the coffin pass by the end of our road on its way to the crematorium. Ashes to Ashes, the paths of glory lead but to the grave.