Sunday, March 09, 2008

The lady's not for interring

It seems that God is not yet ready to meet Margaret Thatcher. (Pause for pantomime style cheers or hisses). However, the Sunday Telegraph, in very respectful style does a dry run for her death by running three pages of eulogies encomia.

Sometimes, though, these tributes do not have the effect that the bedazzled admirer intends. Take Andrew Roberts's effort, for instance. In a bid to convince her that her mind is still sharp and that the Iron Lady is not yet eaten by rust, he includes several anecdotes which don't necessarily support his assertions.

There is the alarming detail that her pet cat is called "Pussikins" – a name that whiffs of old person, of sentimentality combined with an inability to think except in the most literal terms. Even Roberts concedes it does "not sound very Thatcherite"; one would have expected something like Pinochet or Tebbit.

But he says, despite "some short term memory loss" (the some is an interesting description):

As a historian, I am much more interested in Lady Thatcher's long-term memory than what she had for breakfast that morning, and when she talks of her childhood, the Second World War and life in Grantham in the Thirties, she has what seems like total recall.

This is pretty typical of the very aged. Their earlier memories stay vivid even as the rest of their mind descends into confusion and fog. Then there's this anecdote.

Introduced to Lord Dalmeny, whose ancestor, the Earl of Rosebery, had won the Derby whilst prime minister, she suggested that the three living ex-prime ministers - herself, John Major and Tony Blair - should each buy the leg of a horse and try to win it again. When I pointed out that that would mean Gordon Brown buying the fourth leg, she thought about it, before saying: "He doesn't look as if he'd enjoy that kind of thing very much, does he?"

Her assessment of Brown proves she's not totally gaga, at least, but to me it doesn't quite convey what Roberts wishes. The image of him patiently and slowly getting her to understand something which even a child would grasp – that horses don't have three legs, do they?, you haven't thought of what to do with the fourth, come on, try a little and you can complete the metaphor – evokes nothing so much as my 98-year-old grandmother on one of her bad days.

Leaving the temptation to sneer to one side, despite Roberts's best attempts at stiff upper-lipped, teary admiration, there is something rather sad – pathetic in its true sense – about it all. Sic transit parliamentaria gloria or something like it.

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