Thursday, April 18, 2013

"Strange days indeed - most peculiar, mama..."

We may not quite all be Thatcherites now but the ‘iron lady’ so incessantly described this past week as ‘divisive’ managed yesterday to unite friend and foe in posing together for pictures at least.
Rival groups gathering in Paternoster Square bearing placards variously declaring ‘Our greatest PM’ and ‘Our thoughts are with the victims of Thatcherism’ stood side by side, each trying to Photobomb the other.
Curious onlookers captured snaps, just as many did throughout the day - whether peering across the procession route at Baroness Thatcher’s coffin or the St Paul’s steps for any famous faces.
The hoisting high of so many cameraphones and iPads called to mind the Kinks’ ‘People Take Pictures Of Each Other’ - say, ‘just in case someone thought they had missed it, and to prove that it really existed’. 
One of those jostling amid the squeezed middle of the pack outside St Paul’s wondered: ‘So who d’you think’s won: those coming to pay their respects, or the nutters?'
While less-than-PC about those others dubbed ‘protesters’ - and a few gave rather more scathing labels - he left out all there not necessarily as Thatcher admirers or enemies, but simply keen on an occasion.
Workers glad to take a few hours out of the office mingled with miners sacked in Lady Thatcher’s 1980s heyday as well as businessmen and women crediting her for their better fortunes.
Her coffin initially set off from the Palace of Westminster, outside which some enthusiastic fans had been camping since the previous evening to ensure a good view for her send-off.
Crowds were rather sparser along Whitehall and The Strand, with almost as many police officers apparent - and their main role seemed to be less about security than directing people to the nearest still-open road crossings.
An incongruous sight and sound on a traffic island opposite Trafalgar Square was an Irish jig danced by kilt-wearing, defrocked Catholic priest Neil Horan.
The eccentric cleric who previously disrupted the 2004 Olympics marathon carried a banner bearing the message: ‘Margaret Thatcher was courageous and patriotic - but she was flawed, like all politicians.’
Margaret Pearce, 74 and from Shepherds Bush in west London, was more strident, saying: ‘I’m here to pay my respects to a great lady.
‘She was the most marvellous prime minister - and she was a woman who wasn’t afraid of any man.
‘The people protesting are disgusting. They’re mainly youngsters who weren’t when she was in power and the cost is only so high because of what they’re threatening.’
Two young women there less from anger or acclaim were secretaries April Robinson, 24, and 27-year-old Charlotte Bury - prompted by curiosity and convenience, thanks to an office around the corner.
Ms Bury, from South Kensington in west London, said: ‘We were a bit too young to really be aware, but she seemed to do some good.’
Ms Robinson, from nearby Tottenham Court Road, added: ‘She was a big part of history so I wanted to check out the atmosphere. But I’m a bit shocked how un-busy it is.’
Space on pavements proved trickier to seize towards St Clement Danes, however, especially as the coffin approached for handover into a military-led gun carriage.
‘Is that it?’ - ‘Yes, that’s it’ was one rather nonplussed exchange, as the coffin approached to the soundtrack of non-Big Ben bing-bongs from the RAF chapel.
After Westminster’s Great Bell was silenced in Lady Thatcher’s honour, her cortege also managed to remain out of earshot from St Clement Danes’ custom of chiming ‘Oranges And Lemons’ on the hour.
But despite a rousing rendition of ‘Jerusalem’ as she passed, this section of the journey did strike some notes of discord.
There were angry exchanges outside the Royal Courts of Justice as ex-miners unfurled a flag declaring ‘Rest In Shame’.
A workman wearing a high-visibility jacket as he wandered past described the scene to someone on his mobile phone, adding: ‘I hope they die.’
Smartly-dressed old gent Brian Glynn, also making his way along, provoked protests by telling one flag-bearer: ‘Shame on you, you piece of s***.’
The 69-year-old office equipment company manager had travelled to London from the Isle of Man to honour the woman he first voted for back in 1979.
He said: ‘Those protesters should be deeply ashamed. Apart from everything else, she was an elderly lady and she deserves to be honoured.
‘This is a free country - but I too exercised that right and told them what I thought, and 99 per cent of the people standing around would’ve agreed.’
Paul Birch, 45 and from Manchester, said: ‘She did a lot of things, some good and some bad - but it looks like a few here just want an excuse to kick off.’
Among those beneath the ‘Rest In Shame’ flag was 53-year-old Stephen Tugman, who both went on strike and was sacked while a miner in Scotland in the 1980s.
He travelled down from Bathgate in West Lothian yesterday, saying: ‘This is the woman who ended the family allowances for miners and now we’re paying £10million for her funeral. It’s offensive to the working classes.’
Sue Losh, 52 and from Liverpool, said: ‘The communities she wrecked have never been the same since.’
Other pockets of dissent could be found along Fleet Street - eagerly pressed upon by the Press - as they called out ‘Shame’ and turned their backs, while others craned their necks, on the passing carriage.
A half-hearted attempt at a chorus of ‘Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead’ faltered, though the wannabe song-starter merely grinned when told: ‘You’d faint at seeing a bar of soap.’
But all raised were voices rather than fists, while the only items thrown on to the road were flowers instead of milk or other missiles.
Some demonstrators’ fears that those not pre-arrested could be ‘kettled’ by police appeared to prove unfounded.
Why, one helpful officer even had to correct himself when telling a lost-looking protester: ‘The main aggressive, sorry, “anti” group is down that way.’
There were indeed many chanting angry slogans in the streets and squares around St Paul’s - plus solitary preachers promoting religious fervor, alleged miscarriages of justice and or threatened local hospitals.
Most spectators, however, had at least more nuanced views - uniting in applause for the military personnel marching by while pointing and cooing towards familiar politicians and TV presenters.
That anti-’nutters’ onlooker may have wanted a final scorecard - perhaps in keeping with Lady Thatcher’s own winning spirit.
Yet in the disparate hubbub as crowds quickly drifted away, respects or grudges duly paid, the atmosphere in both city and City felt neither sombre nor seething - merely returning to business as usual.

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