Remembering Mrs T

I only saw her a few times in the House of Lords in the past few years. She was, by now, Baroness Thatcher , but there was never a hair out of place in that steel-like hairstyle — which was as iconic as her tough persona.

But of course, she was not well anymore, as her memory appeared to be fading. Yet, she was always impeccably dressed, though frail, as she was guided through the labyrinthine corridors of Parliament. It was a slightly sad picture — because at one stage she must have strode right through those high-vaulted rooms surrounded by the men she dominated with her personality and her ideas.
Like me, everyone in London, and indeed the whole country has been completely pre-occupied by Margaret Thatcher’s life
and death. Even the news of the Boston bombings which came on April 15 did not halt the coverage of Thatcher’s funeral. Though there is a worry whether the London marathon on April 21 will also be targeted by terrorists, little has distracted us from the redoubtable Mrs T.

There have been tributes and rowdy celebrations, both, for her. Unlike in India where we assume that the dead cannot be mocked, the British have no such compunctions. Of course, there are many who loved and respected her — even Chancellor George Osborne was spotted shedding a tear. And equally many among those in the opposite camp who had learnt valuable political lessons from her (for instance former Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Labour Party) who also praised her.
However, in the present harsh economic climate, ordinary British folk and social commentators remembered, afresh, the scars of her harsh economic policies. And those who still bore a grudge pushed for street parties to bury the “witch” — and had elaborate plans to pelt the coffin with milk and eggs.

Yet, as in life , in death as well, Thatcher had her way. Like everything else it seems she had left detailed instructions on how she wanted her funeral to be conducted, and these were followed to a “T”. On April 16 her coffin was placed in St. Mary Undercroft, a small chapel which is situated at the southwest corner of Westminster Hall, the oldest structure in Parliament buildings. This is a splendid baroque chapel with superb illuminated stained glass windows, and I often love to go there, as it normally is so peaceful and quiet. But of course, not this week.
There was a private ceremony, here, for her family, her twins —son Mark and daughter Carol — and the grandchildren. The body lay there overnight beneath the House of Commons while Parliament was in session. I wondered again at the irony of it all. Was she listening to what they were saying about her upstairs in the Commons, through the stone floor?
On April 17 Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQ) were suspended as the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, and many Cabinet members were at St. Paul’s for the funeral service. But even this wasn’t without controversy — as George Galloway, a maverick ex-labour MP from the Respect Party with a large Muslim support base (I had last seen Mr Galloway at the Karachi Literature Festival addressing thousands of his fans) was going to oppose the cancellation of the PMQ. But he never got a chance as other MPs “talked the business out” and the House adjourned.

If Mrs Thatcher was watching the ceremony, she would have been pleased. The British do splendid weddings at Westminster Abbey and stunning funerals at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was immaculately timed to the minute. The funeral procession left Parliament at 10 am and proceeded towards St. Paul’s via Trafalgar Square and the Strand.
It stopped at St. Clement Danes Church and the coffin was transferred from a car to a gun carriage for its final journey to St. Paul’s. The pall bearers — 10 soldiers from across the battalions involved in the Falklands campaign — were listed in the newspapers. The Royal Marines Processional Band played along the way. The carriage was drawn by six horses of the King’s Troop Horse Artillery and followed by an Escort Party of nine from the three armed services. Four hundred members of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force lined the route. The reason I am listing all this is because this is precisely how the steely Prime Minister had wanted it.
There was a thin crowd along the way which got thicker nearer the final destination up the Ludgate Hill past Fleet Street. There was no protest, no eggs thrown, no one “mooned” (a polite way of saying that they had wanted to flash their backsides at the coffin). There was even some applause as the coffin reached St. Paul’s — but it was difficult to read any meaning into it.

The highlight for me was the granddaughter reading a lesson from the Ephesians section of the Bible. This is a passage which is read out at funerals of all who have received the Order of the Garter which Thatcher had. The sight of this young girl, daughter of a British father and a Texas mother, reading the lesson calmly to a gathering of 2,000 leaders from around
the world was very impressive as was singing of the hymns. Obviously she has her grandmother’s genes!
Mrs Thatcher was cremated at Mortlake and her ashes will be scattered at Chelsea Royal Hospital where veterans of the First World War in their splendid scarlet uniforms, Chelsea Pensioners, as they are called, live. Mrs Thatcher used to visit them regularly and there is a Margaret Thatcher Infirmary there which she opened…
Yes, she would have been pleased. It was a perfect funeral, conducted with military discipline.

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