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  • We worked for peanuts at my first newspaper. My wage barely covered my single bedroom rented in an old lady’s house, my petrol, and my food. But we had this perk: Mrs Thatcher. Mrs T would occasionally sashay through her constituency, Finchley, meeting and greeting, holding gala dinners, and throwing the local reporters a bone.
    I’d come from Seattle where politics took place thousands of miles away in Washington DC. I loved England for its smallness, for my ability to stand in front of the Queen’s house after a short train journey. I loved how the capital was only ever a day away by public transport, and in a pinch, you could walk.
    When Great Britain got pissed off and decided to riot, everyone took the train into London, pouring into the streets to vent and smash windows. The Government never had to guess at the popularity of its policies.
    Even in America, where we’d never heard of Gloria Hunniford or Cilla Black, we’d heard of Mrs. Thatcher. She strode over the world, wielding order with her black handbag, her cloth coat, and her sensible shoes.
    At first I wasn’t allowed to cover her visits. The Senior Reporters, or the Chief Reporter herself, scoffed up Princess Diana visiting AIDs victims at the hospital, or Gloria cutting a ribbon at a new shop. But as staff turned over at the paper, I became moderately more important. And finally it was my turn to go.
    The IRA hated Mrs T, and regularly demonstrated this by blowing people up. I remember going to my car on the way to that first visit, and checking underneath like I’d seen them do on The Old Bill. Not that I’d know a bomb from an important car part – it all looked like dusty gray spaghetti to me - but for the first time in my reporting career I felt vulnerable. By covering her stay, I became part of her machine, and that made me a target.
    What struck me most about the event – cocktails for loyal followers - was the lack of security. I’d been used to seeing a heavily-guarded President, surrounded by his human shield. But she worked the room, shaking hands, smiling, while Dennis held his martini glass and chatted. Anyone could go up to them, if you had something to say.
    I don’t remember that I did have anything to say. What could the people of Finchley possibly want to know, that she wouldn’t reveal in her own time? Although she had famously allowed a local reporter to once break a national story, her conversation with me was anodyne, totally forgettable. Pitching to the troops, refusing to get off message. A wall.
    I met her once more, a few years later. I don’t remember the occasion, only her heavy wool coat and skirt, her black shoes, her nylon stockings that orangey color they called American Tan. I tripped along behind her, and admired her sturdiness. She’d turned her country upside-down. Sold off the council houses, privatized the industries, created the Poll Tax.
    As a young woman who struggled for the basics – a living wage, paying off my student loans, getting up in time for my job – I wondered how she’d had the courage to buck the system. To be a human earthquake, shattering Britain’s institutions into a new kind of 20th century, her way, by God.
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