De mortuis nil nisi bonum

Ever since the announcement of Margaret Thatcher’s death last Monday, I’ve been thinking that I should write something about it and her part in my downfall. But I’ve held off, mostly because if I had started to write something it would probably have ended up as some long, incoherent, rambling screed. I thought of writing some kind of poem instead, which was sort of unusual for me, as it’s not something I’d normally do. In the end, in a fit of very un-Teesside ponciness, I wrote this, not about me, but relevant all the same.

A crisp Spring morning.
Faces turned toward the watery rays
Of an attenuated sun,
Waiting for the grim procession.

And then it passes:
A blur of metal and glass
shielding cowering scabs;
Ploughing through a turbid sea of malice,
Faces bent in seething hate.

Hurled missiles arcing through the sky,
Blood and bone spattered in the bus’s wake.
Brothers turned against each other,
To serve some secret, distant scheme

A crisp Spring morning.
Faces turned toward the watery rays
Of an attenuated sun,
Waiting for the grim procession

And then it passes:
Inching its way through the streets of London
Divisive to the very last
Just a fading memory now,
Ferried to her final rest

At her end a frail old woman,
Watering the roses, all alone,
Swaddled against the lives she damaged
By her own declining years

De mortuis nil nisi bonum,
Speak no ill of those who’ve passed.
Best some dead are just forgotten
And let old, raw wounds heal o’er at last.

I read the war poem of Wilfred Owen at school, and remember being struck by the venom in the words of Dulce et Decorum Est. I wanted something of that same feeling, but also for the last verse to be a little more conciliatory. A woman is dead, and not in battle. It’s best to keep a sense of perspective. So I spent a bit of time finding this one. It has a literary pedigree of sorts, so I think it’s justified.

I wanted to contrast the relative quiet (including the fact that protests were silent), with the violence of the Miner’s Strike, a time I remember well. The footage of places like Orgreave have stayed with me, so I wanted to remember that as all the fulsome (in its original sense) encomiums were being trotted out. There’s nothing like a death to bring out the hypocrisy in people.

I don’t like the word scab very much. It reduces a lot of very complex thoughts into a single, deeply unpleasant, insult.  These were men who had to make difficult decisions about what to do in the most trying of times. And they’ve had to live with the aftermath of that decision and its consequences for a very long time. I’m only glad it wasn’t my family that was affected by such things.


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