Dabbler Diary – Thatcher’s Children

To London again. Seen from Lambeth Bridge, the Shard seems both very tall and not-really-that-tall-considering. Something to do with the tapering shape. The London Eye always looks massive because the brain doesn’t expect a ferris wheel to be that size, especially when placed opposite Big Ben. I’ve only been on the Eye once, back when it was the Millennium Wheel, and though it’s a great experience I wish they hadn’t plonked the thing by Westminster Bridge. It trivialises Parliament, which is one of the most edifying edifices in the world.


So Maggie T still causes division, even amongst the Dabblers. Well we can debate her legacy until we’re all heartily sick of her and each other. I’m one of the generation that could be called Thatcher’s Children. For a good while I assumed that ‘Prime Minster’ was the feminine for ‘President’, as ‘actress’ is to ‘actor’. National power was matriarchal, being shared between the Queen and her dark alter ego, Mrs Thatcher. For it was also the absolute orthodoxy in my formative years that Thatcher was evil incarnate; her name was a byword for it, like ‘Dracula’. Everybody knew this (inexplicable really, that the British electorate kept voting for her).

These days I tend to think that political leaders in general have far less ability to either improve or damage a vast, elusive thing like ‘society’ than they’re given credit for (eg. globalisation and cheap Far Eastern manufacturing were what really did for the dockers). So you’re left with the person: a grocer’s daughter who kicked the male Establishment’s arse for over a decade. What’s not to admire? That said, there was an exponential increase in comprehensive schools on her watch as Education Secretary, equality of opportunity has plummeted partly as a result, and now politics and the top level of virtually every sphere of public life is dominated by the kind of toffs she used to wallop about Westminster with her handbag. Crickey Moses, she’d have drunk wets like Cameron, Clegg and Miliband for elevenses.


Jonathon Green’s post on the unreliability of ‘official’ etymology was a salutory piece, and now I learn via The Spectator’s Dot Wordsworth that the real origin of the term ‘Paralympics‘ is simply a combination of ‘Olympic’ and ‘Paraplegic’. The official line, and they must know it to be false, is that the ‘para’ refers to being ‘alongside’ the main Games. The coverage has been very good, and the late-night Last Leg programme was a pleasingly Channel 4-ish dose of irreverence, which rendered the attention-seeking ‘jokes’ of Frankie Boyle irrelevant. The normal process of watching a Paralympic event is: astonishment; involuntary laughter; speechless admiration. Did you see the amputee high-jump competition?


What is the Londoniest place in London? I’ll nominate Baker Street tube station. There’s a sad, rich griminess about the bricks; it reeks of  Sweeney Todd and the Blitz. Gerry Rafferty chose his song title wisely. If they ever tart up Baker Street tube station then London as I’ve known it will cease to exist. Though I suppose the city always changes and everyone’s London ceases to exist eventually.


Sad to hear of the death of Terry Nutkins. My most devastating claim to fame, at least amongst fellow Thatcher’s Children, is that he once came to my house. My sister and his daughter were briefly classmates (the Nutkinses moved around a lot, so it didn’t last), and he came to collect her after a visit. He was huge, and entered our abode in a sort of looming semi-crouch, as if it were a house in a model village.


An email both intriguing and shattering dropped into the editorial inbox this week, concerning Sweeper!, the postmodern literary masterpiece attributed to football manager and former Manchester United player Steve Bruce. A man purporting to have worked for the publisher came across my review and had this to say:

I have been having a laugh while reminiscing about some fun times I had when was younger, and remembered a project I had been involved in many many years ago. The Paragon books, Striker, Sweeper and Defender “written” by Steve Bruce.

All 3 books were published by Paragon Publishing in Huddersfield. They were written by the owner of the company, a guy called Reggie Sharpe. A former headmaster, who was trying to make money as a publisher … He wrote each book in about 3 days, and then had them printed. Steve Bruce had nothing to do with any of them, I doubt he even read them cause they really were drivel. I think he got paid around £2000 per book for having his name and image used, and attending a book signing at Waterstones in Huddersfield. …The whole affair was a money making scheme, designed to sell Paragons books. Bruce was nothing but a paid figured head who’s fame was used to create awareness. But I think that the sales were poor, with only a few hardened fans parting with their money. The rest of the copies were pulped I believe. Sorry to shatter peoples images of Steve the author, but he really wasn’t.

Reeling, I shared this potential bombshell with fellow Bruce enthusiast Jon Hotten. But after some discussion we agreed that it couldn’t possibly be true, at least, not entirely. Certainly I can believe that Striker! was ghost-written (I haven’t managed to get hold of Defender!) as it has an entirely orthodox use of grammar, syntax, spelling and contains the rudiments of a plot. But Sweeper! is a very different beast. Sweeper! contains lengthy digressions about Steve Barnes’ favourite football tunnels, and his wife’s fondness for shopping and whether a pork chop is an essential ingredient in a cooked breakfast. And it contains this passage:

The gun was level with my belly. So this was what it was like to die. There was no doubt I was going to die. And not even in Newcastle. Not even Premier League. In Halifax, of all places, with a club in the third division.

Sorry, but no ghost-writer is that good.


There’s an improbably excellent pub tucked away at the top of Paddington station called The Mad Bishop and Bear. When I have a hour or so to kill before my train I can generally be found inside, availing myself of its commendable selection of Fuller’s ales. So there I was this week with pint of Discovery, trying not particularly hard to not eavesdrop on an interview that was taking place on the next table. A very-obviously American lady was interviewing an English academic for some PHD she was doing. Towards the end of the conversation the academic asked her if she was from Australia. She laughed. You bloody ignorant fool, I thought to myself, of course she’s not from Australia, that’s the most American American accent you could ever hear, you absolute plonker. “Wow, do I sound Australian?” she said [no you don’t, I thought, you sound incredibly American]. “ I’m not Australian, though I did live there for a bit,” she continued. “No, I’m actually from Canada.”

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.
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13 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – Thatcher’s Children

  1. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    September 10, 2012 at 09:46

    So, along comes this burd, not even posh, not even connected, married, two kids, hubby in trade for goodness sake, father a shopkeeper, a shopkeeper, now that’s really not on, thinks the art establishment are a set of self-serving pooftah’s and the BBC a bunch of parasitic wankers, poor old Robin is in denial, really! bloody kulak. Well, old chap, we’ll sort out the uppity bitch, one thing though, she thinks the unions are a bunch of self-seving two plank thugs, let’s pretend that she’s one of us for a while, then put a stop to her little game. Good old Cecil y’know, trying to get inside her knickers, well, hope he succeeds, sort her out, that will.

    Perhaps they thought that they could incarcerate her in Hatfield House, kind of wrong, what-what, I say, pass the port Geoffrey.

    What really got up the noses of the left, right and the porridge scoffers was the fact that she wanted to balance the books, balance the books, effing peasant.

    Yes, yes I know, she in the end, cocked it up, they all do, many do right from the start, If Thatcher had not done the business in her early days you, I and a good number of others would be eating lunch at the soup kitchen today.

  2. Worm
    September 10, 2012 at 11:02

    woah, you met the Nutkins! Kudos!!

    Nobody I knew in Cornwall as a kid thought Thatcher was evil, she was universally admired, whilst also thought to be a terrifying battle axe, but definitely not evil. But I guess we didn’t have any mines or factories closed down in Cornwall so it all seemed very far away and involved exotically angry northern types who wore donkey jackets and had luxuriant facial hair.

  3. jgslang@gmail.com'
    September 10, 2012 at 12:19

    ‘For it was also the absolute orthodoxy in my formative years that Thatcher was evil incarnate; her name was a byword for it, like ‘Dracula’. Everybody knew this (inexplicable really, that the British electorate kept voting for her).’

    I think Mr Mencken serves, as he does so often with things political:

    ‘Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want – and deserve to get it good and hard’.

    • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
      September 10, 2012 at 13:06

      Could have been worse Mr Slang, we might have had Heath or heaven forfend, Kinnock.

      Dracula eh? Mrs Nosferatu, going for Arthur’s jugular, now there’s a thought for you at bedtime tonight, Maggie with Scargill’s blood coursing through her veins. Beware the midnight hour.

  4. danielkalder@yahoo.com'
    September 10, 2012 at 13:47

    I grew up in Fife, Scotland which had a communist councillor (for the village of Lumphinnans) into the 90s, I believe. Definitely into the 80s. Needless to say, Mrs. T. was not popular and by the mid 1990s the Conservatives didn’t have a single councillor in the region. Even Labour voters admitted that you could put a red rosette on a donkey and people would vote for it. And yet Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator is about my age and comes from just down the road, and in 2006 the Labour majority for Dunfermline and West Fife was overturned for a while. It wasn’t the conservatives who won, however, but rather a useless Lib Dem. Mrs. T remains unpopular- poll tax, cutting heating allowances for Scots, etc.

    • Brit
      September 11, 2012 at 16:02

      Much of my family hails from Merseyside, where she’s still very much on a par with Satan. There was a funny episode of Question Time a while back when Charles Moore attempted to praise Thatcher in front of a Liverpudlian audience. Didn’t go down too well.

  5. joerees08@gmail.com'
    Joey Joe Joe Jr.
    September 10, 2012 at 14:02

    For a good while I assumed that ‘Prime Minster’ was the feminine for ‘President’

    I suppose then I must be one of John Major’s children, because that reminded me I used to think ‘Major’ was the title bestowed on the Prime Minister. My expressed desire to be ‘John Major when I grow up’ was, mercifully, short-lived.

    Your Paragon friend who ‘worked for the publisher’, Brit, is clearly just trying to drive down prices of the book (Defender costs £200 at amazon!) by spreading malicious rumours about Steve Bruce’s (non)authorship, so he can snap them all up before revealing his hoax. I hope you’re not in on this scheme too?

    • Brit
      September 11, 2012 at 16:05

      No, and I wish I was clever enough to come up with such schemes.

      Your Major theory brings to mind the character in Catch 22 called Major Major Major, who is promoted to the rank of Major purely to make life simpler for the administrators..

  6. mcrean@snowpetrel.net'
    September 10, 2012 at 15:03

    I guess Mrs T only makes sense when you consider what awful creeps all her colleagues were. If Alec Guinness had ever made Kind Hearts and Cabinet Ministers, he would have played every one with stunning effect. Dennis Price could have played the man from Whitehall. Not sure about Baker Street even though it has that “sad, rich griminess”. It’s too close to Madame Tussauds. Easy to imagine a Tube train arriving there with a only wax hand stuck to the controls, the body having melted somewhere far below Holborn.

    • Brit
      September 11, 2012 at 16:07

      Terrifying image. The proximity to Madame Tussaud’s (and even more, the Planetarium back in the good old days) only adds to its essence of Londinium, because you go there as an impressionable child.

  7. Worm
    September 10, 2012 at 15:12

    I think Baker st is definitely one of the best tube stations. I have to use it every time I’m in London and I’m particularly fond of that big black WW1 shell moneybox thingy next to the circle line eastbound platform

    not only that but it also has the awesome sherlock holmes tiles

    • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
      September 10, 2012 at 17:24

      Frau m used to work in the old Abbey National HQ at 221B Baker St, frequently had to disappoint American tourists, ‘yes, he did, just a character in a book though.’

  8. info@shopcurious.com'
    September 10, 2012 at 22:47

    Mrs T actually achieved something – namely structural transformation and economic progress.She wasn’t just a smarmy spin vessel like Blair. Plus she was, oops, is a woman – and an inspiration for power dressers the world over. I loved the recent film too – the biopic that everyone else seemed to think was awful.

    Londony places hmmm… Tower Bridge, The Houses of Parliament, The Tower of London, Smithfield, St Pauls (possibly not the O2 or the Wobbly Bridge, though they are up there with Baker Street).

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