It’s been a funny week that has inspired me to put pen to paper for this recollection. Of course Mrs T died and I was thinking of her impact on me and my life over her period as PM. Then I attended several events at the Words Together literary festival starting with Ben Mellor who was incredibly creative and inspiring followed by Monkey Poet Matt Panesh who was mind blowing and finally I sat with my good friend Jason Winstanley as we watched his first play “The Travesty” performed. It was intriguing, funny and thought provoking.
The funny bits were my neighbour telling me I am Adam Brown. He had downloaded the Tunein radio app so he could listen to my radio show and it still comes up with the previous presenter’s information. I’m not complaining as Adam is younger better looking and has a better radio voice than I do. The Words festival linked to an interview I had done with Jason Winstanley and the picture was of me instead of Jason so people now think I am him also and that I am a playwright. Finally when we got to the theatre to watch Jason’s play the lady on the desk didn’t know who he was and he asked if he needed to pay to enter. That really made me laugh, life is funny and absurd in equal measure enjoy it whilst you can.
Me and Mrs T a personal journey 1979-1990
The year nineteen hundred and seventy nine what a year that was as Dickens said “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Of course whether it was the best or the worst of times for you personally depended very much on your class, where you lived and your job if you had one.
It was the year Margaret Hilda Thatcher became prime minister of a not so Great Britain. We had suffered 5 years of turbulent times with the oil crisis, the three day week, no electricity, lots of strikes and industrial unrest, IRA bombings and the potential threat of world war three.
I was aware of all this but it mostly passed me by as I was a teenager and I was having the best of times. I wasn’t rich or famous and I wasn’t powerful but with that youthful exuberance I felt the world was my oyster
In 1979 I was 21; I bought a house, got married and started my HNC (Higher National Certificate) in electrical engineering. I had an old banger it was a Humber Sceptre and me and my mate Ian stripped it down and rebuilt the engine and hand painted it two shades of blue in his dad’s garage.
We went to pop festivals and watched great bands in local pubs; we built our own hi-fi systems and DJ equipment. We listened to adaptations of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Lord of The Rings on the radio and went on battle re-enactment weekends.
We were working class but aspirational as would be said now we didn’t know that at the time we were just curious about life, love, science the universe and everything. We had a thirst for knowledge and doing things, experiencing life and life was good for us. Our parents worked and we were lucky and had jobs, yes jobs not careers we didn’t know what one of those was.
The year started with everyone doing the Y.M.C.A and we all wanted to be one of the Village People and as with George Michael to come in the Eighties none of us knew they were gay. If you were having a gay time in 1979 you were having fun, oh how innocent we were back then.
On the 4th May 1979 Margaret Hilda Thatcher became the first woman prime minister of our wonderful country. It was a time of celebration and a new beginning it was apt that Art Garfunkel’s Bright Eyes was number one as Mrs T’s eyes shone out from posters, papers and on our three TV channels.
The Eighties were around the corner, technology was moving on and things could only get better right? I felt sorry for the candle makers they had all become rich in the seventies what would they do if the power stations kept running and the lights stayed on? The seventies ended with Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall (PTII) was it a dark side reminder of things to come?
I had a Fonzie moment in the Eighties as I failed the maths module of my HNC twice and unfortunately in those days you had to go back and do the ENTIRE course again the next year, so I had 3 years of the second year of my HNC. My tutor at the time Henry Cadman christened me brainless because my middle name was Brian. He was happy many years later when I worked for the council and he was a councillor and I told him I had gained an MBA. Of course it was down to him that I achieved it or so he said. I had a daughter and sadly got divorced, sold the house and lived in a crumbly student type flat.
I became a new romantic and then heard a show on Radio Caroline in 1982, where the host Tony Prince played records that were mixed together – wow. After going to Ibiza in 1984 and listening to the DJ’s in the West End clubs mixing nonstop for six hours I just had to learn to mix.
So whilst DJ’ing and studying for the HNC I also became a shop steward at work. At the time no one wanted to do it so we took turns and now it was mine. I took up the mantle and joined my brothers for the regular Friday meeting of the EEPTU (Electrical, Electronic, Plumbing & Telecommunications Union). I also joined a class that ran the first microprocessor course at my local college on the Intel 4040 chip.
All this was against a backdrop of TV programme Boys From The Blackstuff, The Jam’s A Town Called Malice and Punk Rockers. We were a nation divided and the divide was getting wider the rich got very very rich; those of us in work weren’t doing too badly but those without a job were feeling more than a pinch.
We celebrated in true brit style and got drunk a lot we had won a great victory in the Falklands, Mrs T negotiated a rebate from the EU and Charles and Diana got married. They came to Wigan as did the Queen our mines may have been closing but the road to Wigan Pier was open and paved with a little gold. Like many northern towns Wigan had its fair share of mines as did the North West and I knew a lot of miners. For many, mining was a family tradition. It was an emotional time to see many proud men after a lifetime of hard toil in the dole queues.
I joined the picket lines and collected food parcels for the striking miners who were not entitled to the dole until they had finally been made redundant. Whilst I felt huge empathy and sympathy for individual miners and their communities I have to confess I saw little difference between Mrs T and some of the miner’s leaders. I felt in many ways they were political pawns who in some instances were being used as cannon fodder by their leaders and the opposition were happy to blow them up.
I suppose I was all right jack I was still having a whale of a time whilst this and famine in Africa and strife in the USSR was going on and of course the French, well they were being French just as you would expect. They were sick of Britain, our language, beer, behaviour, Mrs T and they wanted our fish, oh and our football team were rubbish as well. Maybe it was because I was a shop steward or was it because I was growing up but all this political and financial stuff was now firmly in my head.
Then there he was Mr “Greed is Good” Gordon Gekko its 1987 and Wall Street is making a killing at the box office. The Bee Gees are in the charts with “You win again” and Mrs T had but for many Boy George’s “Everything I own “ was a poignant reminder that when someone wins you just might lose your job, home and life. Of course if you could afford it you could now buy your council house and Mrs T now had her eye on local government which of course was causing all the country’s problems. Well according to her anyway as they just wouldn’t do as they were told anyone would think they were French.
It was just before the EEPTU were expelled from the TUC (Trades Union Congress) in 1988 as they wouldn’t do what the TUC wanted and kept providing scabs during the printers strike at Wapping that I attended a conference at the unions London headquarters. It was attended by Frank Chapple and Eric Hammond and a young Derek Simpson who for the year 2010-11 was paid £510,659 that made him the highest paid union boss in the country. Nice work if you can get it brother.
I digress but I noticed how my union brothers treated the staff at HQ basically they treated them like s**t, on speaking to several staff they confirmed this to be the case. I wasn’t impressed the brothers seemed to be acting like the very people they allegedly despised. On my return to Wigan I was going to relinquish the shop stewards role but stayed on as the government was introducing CCT (compulsory competitive tendering) into local government contracts.
I found this interesting as in the first round I was negotiating from the employee’s perspective and in the second round from the employers. Lots of people in local government didn’t like the idea at the time including myself. Human nature kicked in I was being asked to do more for the same amount of money. But CCT did bring down lots of barriers and red tape and for the first time local government direct labour organisations had to compete for work against the private sector. We found to our surprise that the harder we worked the more money we could make.
Tax as ever always on the minds of government was about to cause a riot with the introduction of the poll tax and as Jason Donovan sang Too Many Broken Hearts Mrs T’s popularity slid down the tubes.
I had remarried and bought a detached house at the beginning of 1990 and as we moved in with a huge mortgage my wife found out she was expecting. It was an exciting and anxious time I worked hard and earned more at the time than friends who were in professional jobs. Learning to mix had paid off and I was in demand as a DJ and had a spell writing for music magazines, nothing was impossible.
It was a great year the world was in motion England didn’t win the world cup but Gazza was spectacular and so was the weather and my son was born. Interest rates were 15% at the time we were entering another recession and for many it was the worst of times. Including Mrs T who in a scene reminiscent of the long knives was finally ejected by her friends for being a little to hitler’esque.
I was born in a labour ward, of a labour town, of a labour constituency and I didn’t agree with many of Mrs T’s policies, some I did. My parents had a work ethic and my father was a great believer in education increasing your life opportunities. My employer for many years was Wigan Council and Mrs T even at the height of her labour bashing praised the organisation for its financial management and held it as a beacon for other councils to follow.
These things have helped to shape me and whilst others suffered greatly in the Thatcher years there but for the grace of god go I (Richard Dawkins please insert your own line here). I had a job, I worked hard I studied hard and I played hard. For me they were great years for the country they were years of upheaval and struggle, pride and prejudice.
Mrs T will be remembered, revered and hated in equal measure long after the eunuchs who govern and aspire to govern us have been forgotten. She was the last British leader who was a real person and actually cared and believed in what she did and right or wrong was either your cup of tea or not. I much prefer that to the choreographed sound bite of the career politicians who are just looking for their next job. Would Teresa May or Yvette Cooper have more cojones than their male counterparts?
This has been my personal journey though Mrs T’s time in office and it’s brought back some fond memories and various emotions and I hope it’s stirred yours and may 2013 be the best of times for you all.