“The handles on her coffin”

John Rentoul

attlee 300x190 The handles on her coffinI think I may have inadvertently broken my own embargo on She Who Used To Be Obeyed by replying to someone on Twitter this morning. So I might as well say that the evidence from the extracts from Charles Moore’s book in The Daily Telegraph is that the early life, as so often in biography, is interesting.

Lorna Smith, a fellow sixth-former at Kesteven and Grantham Girls School recalls a conversation with her in 1942:

She remarked that, really, she didn’t think she could believe in angels. ‘Oh, why?’ I asked, wondering what Alderman Roberts would think. ‘Well,’ she replied, ‘I have worked it out scientifically that in order to fly, an angel would need a six-foot-long breastbone to bear the weight of its wings.’

In a letter to her sister, Muriel, from Oxford in 1944 she asks for advice:

I still weigh about 10 st 4 lbs . . . The slight decrease in volume doesn’t seem to have made much difference to the mass . . . Can you recommend . . . anything from the medical point of view for reduction of the area of the seat and control of the tummy muscles – oh and also reduction and uplift of bust?

Then there is the £7-3s handbag bought for her in 1949 by an admirer, Willie Cullen, who later married Muriel. Margaret again wrote to her sister: “I quite loftily say it’s not ‘very expensive’ – it’s about twice as much as you or I would pay. But compared to some of the others (£15-£20) it’s quite reasonable.” £7-3s is the equivalent of more than £200 today.

Also, while I was maintaining the SWUTBO embargo, Geoffrey Howe paid a characteristically ambiguous tribute worthy of note:

Napoleon is alleged to have remarked that the greatest happiness that can befall any politician is, one hundred years after his (or her) death, still to have enemies. Margaret would hope for and expect no less.

And Danny Finkelstein pointed out that her funeral was no grander than similar ceremonies for other prime ministers (lovely Pathé newsreel footage here). In particular, Clement Attlee had an elaborate service of interment in Westminster Abbey (pictured). When it was objected that the Queen did not attend Attlee’s service, that Attlee had no pallbearers, that Parliament was not recalled and that Thatcher was accorded military honours, Finkelstein replied:

A. Attlee was not the Queen’s prime minister; she hardly knew him. She saw Mrs Thatcher once or more a week for 11 years. B. Because he had a public interment and not a public funeral there were no pallbearers. C. There was a procession and the House was adjourned. D. Many prime ministers (MacDonald, Bonar Law for instance) had military honours. Her funeral was a totally standard ceremony for a prime minister in historical context. No it wasn’t the same as Attlee (she wasn’t an Earl and isn’t buried in the Abbey, he had a private procession) but it was of the same class and this argument is just people who didn’t like her complaining about her funeral showing her too much honour which I regard as deeply tacky, I’m afraid. You can hate the poll tax without complaining in effect that the handles on her coffin were more expensive than those on the coffin of Neville Chamberlain.

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  • KoalaKilkenny

    Best graffito award goes to “Thatcher” but with swastika in place of “e”.

  • Junius

    “‘Well,’ she replied, ‘I have worked it out scientifically that in order to fly, an angel would need a six-foot-long breastbone to bear the weight of its wings.’”

    I am not remotely knowledgeable on the subjects of aerodynamics or heavenly messengers, but in the time-honoured tradition of blog commenting shall not be deterred from pitching in my tuppence-worth. It is crystal-clear to me that angels are launched from clouds in much the same way as aircraft are launched from carriers – using catapults. Once airborne they glide down to earth, the Almighty’s Wonders To Perform, running errands and suchlike and undertaking hits when assigned to Vengeance of the Lord duties. On completion of their missions they return to Celestial Head Office by jumping off tall buildings and hitching lifts in thermal columns in much the same way as do gliders and large birds.

    Those advancing an alternative hypothesis will be wasting their time as my mind is quite made up, firmly closed to confusion by unwelcome fact and sweet-reasoned counter argument. The commenter is not for turning.

  • greggf

    Sounds appropriate Koala.
    The (right facing) swastika has been a Buddhist and Hindu sign of peace since ancient times, Wikipedia says it’s Sanskrit and means “to be good”……….!

  • Junius

    I first encountered the right-facing swastika in my early childhood during a Saturday-morning cinema club, displayed on a chief’s headdress in a cowboys-and-redskins western. At the time I took the symbol as signifying a baddie, just as the villain always wore a black hat. Certainly it would not have brought its wearer much luck in the climactic firefight, as the palefaces invariably triumphed.

  • frances smith

    Interesting, though the most obvious flaw in the thatcher argument is revealed in her letter to her sister about her own weight. Angels probably don’t have the same weight issues as earth based animals, not being burdened by this mortal coil, and their body mass would be lighter, therefore they can, if they exist, fly more easily.

  • greggf

    Must have been the ABC minors Junius, I saw him too!

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