Where was I when Thatcher resigned? On this day in 1990.
Apparently everyone can come up with a distinct recollection of when and where they were when Thatcher announced she was stepping down.
Well, on that day in November 1990…. I was in the Porter’s Lodge of Queen’s College Cambridge – looking for details of where we were to be having a scheduled rehearsal for a production of Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros.
I have a sort of memory of that rehearsal being cut short when we accidentally set fire to some curtains. Or maybe we didn’t set fire to the curtain – maybe we just nearly set fire to the curtains. But in a very Proustian olfactory sense, the memory of Thatcher’s departure is somehow bound up with the whiff of scorched felt. These were tough rehearsals in some ways because Ionesco’s dialogue is harder to memorise than almost any other dramatist’s. Since he wrote almost exclusively in non-sequiturs your “cue” was not really your cue at all – you were responding to something said four or five lines previously.
In Rhinoceros, humanity is faced with annihilation, as everybody becomes transformed into horny pachyderms. And humanity is unable to respond to her own extinction because humanity is too busy wondering whether people are turning into African or Indian Rhinoceri – and which is which anyway – is the African rhinoceros the one with one horn or two…etc. etc. etc.?
I remember feeling less than elated by the news of Thatcher’s resignation. My gut feeling was that the inhumanity of her policies was about to receive a more human and therefore sustainable face. Indeed, I called John Major as her successor very early on.
(My talent for prognostication is patchy. Around the same time, I decided that Carter USM would become the biggest band on the planet. If you had asked me two years ago which backbench Labour MP was least likely to ever become party leader – I would have immediately said “Jeremy Corbyn”.)
When Thatcher still fronted Thatcherism, inhumanity wore its own metallic face. Thatcher was so obviously someone who was more pachyderm than primate – someone who believed that humans should be less than human – should instead be cruder and duller creatures bereft of those qualities compassion and sympathy that are essential for any kind of imaginative and creative existence. The rhinocification of the human race is ongoing and accelerating process of course. Thatcher was a pioneer in the field of “just not caring about anyone outside your immediate family” but for her project to continue to succeed (as it undoubtedly has), she had to step down.
And I think this is what I sort of already knew that strange November day back in 1990, and this is why I wasn’t whooping it up as loudly as others.