I grew up in England from 1973-1986, and Margaret Thatcher was in power there ’79-90. She had a profound effect on the society around me; it wasn’t until today that I realised just how much. On hearing she’d died (while I’m normally a compassionate and sensitive person), I felt gleeful and relieved! And I wanted to talk about it with Dad.
He was an entrepreneur and sharp businessman. He thrived in the eighties, and travelled the world while he built up his company in France. He was from solid working-class stock; his Dad had owned corner stores and milk delivery runs. But he had a sense of fairness that I always admired, and was a positive person who made friends wherever he went.
In contrast, as I reflected today on how damaging I believe Margaret Thatcher’s policies were to the UK, I realised that in essence she took away my Hope. When I was sixteen in 1982, and should have been full of excitement about what I could do with my life’s path, instead I had felt defeated before I even tried.
Britain was full of a lost generation in 1985, as I saw it and felt it. Tens of thousands of young people who couldn’t get jobs, couldn’t get better education, couldn’t aspire to success on any scale.
There was my brother’s friend Pete, who stopped training in soccer because the scholarship he’d dreamt of was cut. I used to see him kicking his ball against the wall outside the Amusement Arcade, smoking cigarettes and getting drunk to give him something to do.
There was my sweet friend Anthony, who wanted to be a carpenter, but lost his apprenticeship, so his only option then became to join the army. He wanted a wage, and structure, and a sense of purpose. Fair enough. After three months training he got sent out to the Falkland Islands, which Maggie had decided to go to war over (we had never even heard of them before), and then used to send me letters home about how scared he felt. He came back in one piece, yes, but his eyes had a new hardness that saddened me, and he wouldn’t talk about it.
Tens of thousands of little stories like these; of dreams wasted, of minds damaged, of lives restricted forever. Yet I was lucky: my Dad stepped in, and offered me a return ticket to Australia for my eighteenth birthday. I landed in this new, bright, hot country, and suddenly realised Life had possibilities, and potential… I felt the freedom to re-invent myself, to dare to dream, to try and succeed, and it was exhilarating. I felt Hope. Australia gave me Hope, and still does. I still live every day here feeling grateful for my life. I still have hope that my son will grow up happy and fulfilled, that my best friend will win the Oscar he deserves, that I will gain funding for my latest puppetry performance, that I will publish the first of my books, that I will find True Love. I hope that I will catch up with my family in Sydney again soon, that dear friends from Melbourne will come to visit, that we will all grow veggies and ride bikes to work, create world peace and marriage equality… My list of Hopes goes on…
But it didn’t in England in the Eighties. I vividly recall the mood of despair that fogged my local school and streets. The only good thing to come out of Margaret Thatcher’s rule as far as I’m concerned were all the protest songs written, especially around her treatment of the striking miners!
And I’m sure Dad would be upset at this entry of mine. He’d want me to be more compassionate, to practise some Buddhist detachment and generosity. I’d love to have been able to call him as soon as I found out about her death. We were together in Vancouver when Princess Diana died, and we sat glued to the television in disbelief, along with everyone else, tears rolling down our cheeks. Dad kept shaking his head, and saying ‘I can’t believe it, poor woman, and in Paris too, oh the French are never going to hear the last of this from the English, poor woman.’
We were together again (sort of) for another monumental world event: Barack Obama’s election as first black US President. Dad had died 3 days before, on the island of Kuauai, and we had all flown over; I sat in front of the television, tears rolling down my cheeks, shaking my head and saying ‘I can’t believe it, how amazing is this, Dad would have loved it, I can’t believe he’s just missed this.’
[Dad’s ashes, facing his last sunset on Kuauai]
Now I’m shaking my head again, thanking Dad for getting me out of the 1980s UK so that I could live this life full of adventure, creativity, and most importantly, Hope. I have no sympathy for the woman who took so much of that away from so many people, even though I know Dad would be prouder of me if I could. But I can’t.