In the wake of a famous person’s death, their legacy is zealously evaluated. In Margaret Thatcher’s case, her sheer momentousness on the political stage, plus her personal vigour, have spawned all manner of “Thatcher urban legends.” In the interests of histrionic accuracy, we’ll use this opportunity to clear some of them up.
- Thatcher did not technically evade the Brighton IRA bombing. Rather, she threw her adamantium exoskeleton over the device, absorbing the brunt of the blast. It is estimated that the bomb was powerful enough to destroy the Grand Hotel in its entirety otherwise.
- Thatcher did, in fact, invent the popular “Mr. Whippy” method of portable ice cream extrusion. However, it was originally intended as a method of dispensing more precise amounts of caviar to Britain’s entrepreneurs.
- In 2011, declassified military documents revealed The Falklands War to be a lamentable mistake, caused by Thatcher’s GCSE-learned habit of confusing The Falkland Islands with the far closer and more useful Isle Of Wight.
- 1984’s brutal clashes between the police and the National Union of Mineworkers owed a lot to ongoing deregulation of British industry, but the inciting incident is now known to be a particularly vicious game of Twister between Margaret Thatcher and union president Arthur Scargill.
- “We are a grandmother,” Thatcher’s legendary exclamation of joy, was widely panned as a sign of her burgeoning third-person megalomania, but is in fact a common pattern of speech amongst the insectoid hivemind of her race.
I’ve been told to take it all in one gulp. We practised with a plastic wine glass, which I thought was a bit patronising until my trembles made me spill it down my jumper. I thought god, I’ll never live this down, which made me laugh hard enough to spill the rest.
As I hold on to my cup of the real thing my hand takes a surer grip, as though it knows the import of what it’s holding. Surely that’s ridiculous though; if my hand knew what I know about sodium pentobarbital it would throw the cup across the room, and possibly punch the orderly in his stupid sombre face. He’d take it, too – his blank expression matches his white gown in the illusion that he is a piece of equipment. Mum and Dad wait outside, sent away so that they won’t stop me in the act, and the human cup holder waits in here, all so that I can do my part of the process.
“So, are you a doctor?” I was never good with tension. “Ah, not exactly. I am more of a technician.” His voice has that singsong Swedish quality, like life’s fine and the air is clean, and Good Storage will solve all the world’s problems. Fuck him. “A technician? Like you fix boilers in the morning, and do this in the afternoon?” Bastard. He won’t even smile. “No, just… just this.” “Just this? So how many have you done today?” “T-we’re not really supposed to talk about that.” He smoothens his collar like it’s a job interview, like my opinion of him matters in any way.
“Just a job, right?” Despite the pain, I smile as I ask. “Just a job. Better than telesales.” “No kidding! That’s why I’m here.” He gasps, before his sees me grinning. “Dude, joke.” “Sorry,” he says. “People are generally a bit more serious.”
There’s a single tree in the garden, strategically placed to be visible from my seat. A young cedar, I think, though it occurs to me that now, I’ll never know, despite Dad’s best efforts to teach me. On the wall by the window there’s a picture of the Milky Way, impossibly big and yet squeezed onto a cheaply framed print. I imagine that if you could magnify that picture, really blow it up over and over then it too would be a picture of that tree, and a picture of me and the jumper and the orderly in his gown and Mum and Dad outside the door in their Sunday best, dressed for a funeral they are uniquely able to predict. The tree and the galaxy sit together like hieroglyphs, a sentence made of objects, forcing their meaning upon me. I clutch at the think strands of wool, grandma’s knit, and I feel like her; sitting at the end point of a narrative someone else started writing two years ago in that GP’s office.
Light catches and pools in the glass, and dances on the face of the orderly. “Try to be strong,” he says. And what? I think. But in that liquid, clarity reveals itself.
With a smile, I chuck the poison back. It slides down to its destination, oily and thick. So languid in its travel, as though it has all the time in the world to kill. My throat tickles as I imagine the gentle ice spreading through my body, suffusing the pain, embracing my cells and singing them gently to sleep. Fight’s over. The heart, running for twenty-six years, finally getting its reprieve. Lungs relaxing and deflating and the pain, two years of pain, being satisfied and released. The blazing sine wave that runs through my mind quietening and dying. I can see all these things in that second, and I smile.
The orderly gasps, and Mum and Dad practically fall into the room. Mum gazes at me, her face frozen. I grip the seat tightly enough to tear it off. The orderly opens his mouth to speak-
I was fourteen when I first found Banks: disillusioned by The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole (why does everyone read it at that age?), I headed to the rear shelves of the school library and found a poorly laminated copy of what I read as “Consider Phlasldaibgeibaonsdasda” because why read and try to comprehend a whole title? I liked the idea of a book asking me to consider it, and besides it had the amazing picture of ship crashing into a sea that curved…upwards…
Sue Townsend had had her chance. The unpronounceably-named book went in my bag.
I spend the next six hundred pages not having a fucking clue what was going on, and loving every second of it. Everything was shiny and dark and funny and sassy and clever and exciting. Explosions and chases, and a world that impossibly, incalculably huge. All locked in a small sheaf of pages, and in my head, while everyone else blundered around their daily lives as if they were in any way important. I desperately wanted to have a drone, to play Damage at the eve of destruction, and to escape it all in a ship with a pun for a name.
That was eight years ago, and every time I pick up one of his M books, I still do.
Iain. Your work made me feel you were too big to be mortal. Worse, it feels like we’re losing two brilliant authors at once.