Although the sky was shrouded in thick rain clouds, it rained only briefly during Margaret Thatcher’s funeral: there was a light shower that cooled the warm spring air, and seemed to suggest that, if the clouds were at all sad about the Baroness’ passing, they weren’t prepared to bawl. I was standing outside St Paul’s cathedral as the service took place, along with the mourners and the gloaters—though the latter group were much smaller than the BBC’s coverage suggested they might be. Neither a supporter of Thatcherism nor somebody who agrees with heckling a deceased person at their own funeral, I was there merely as a casual observer, having found myself in the area with an hour to spare.
I had arrived outside the cathedral at half eleven, after walking along through Bank, where the barriers separating off the road began. I was able to stop just across the street from the cathedral, where the number of people who were waiting to watch the procession was reasonably small, far fewer than I expected. Most carried on with their days, showing only a passing interest in what was taking place, and the ones who did stop, didn’t seem to know what they were stopping for, myself included.
In amongst those who had decorated their faces with what they must have mistaken for the union flag, and the hardcore crazies, who were already pacing and struggling not to voice their bizarre thoughts, I started to wonder why I had decided to venture up the street at all. Then, only adding to these doubts, a lady holding an iPhone approached me with what she regarded as heart-warming news: it appeared that George Osborne’s eyes, like the grey sky above, had also been raining. Yes, inside the cathedral, mere meters across the street from us, the chancellor—his doughy face caked in thick makeup—had apparently silenced his critics by leaking actual human tears. The man who once delighted in announcing enormous welfare cuts had proven that he was not made of steel at all, by crying at the funeral of a woman who was notorious for being brutally callous.
“Aww,” the lady with the iPhone said to me. “So sweet.”
I nodded politely.
As the area began to fill up, the attendees started to seem less strange: many, most likely employees of the offices nearby, wore suits; a few were reasonably old, well-dressed individuals; and several others appeared to be students, some quite young, some in school uniform. One group of about seven teenagers, two of them girls, all of them in blazers, leaned up against the barrier in front of me. They were obviously the pupils of a private school, although I tried not to make further judgements. A man to my left, meanwhile, used his enormous camera to position himself as close to me as possible, and then decided to make the most of our intimate situation by shovelling crisps into his mouth and failing to breathe out of his nose.
No one that I saw there looked as if they were going to riot, protest or surf on Mrs T’s coffin as it travelled down the street. There was also no sign of Elvis Costello, and therefore no cause for the mourners to fear that he might suddenly “tramp the dirt down”. Only one person seemed at all suspicious, in fact: a small teenage girl, who was rather rebelliously wearing a t-shirt with the words “FUCK NEOLIBERALISM” written on it, but she was hardly a threat. As far as t-shirt slogans go, hers was up there with a shocking Slipknot hoody that I once saw, which moaned—in the form of a misanthropic equation—that “people = shit”.
Shortly before twelve o’clock, a woman in her early forties approached me. “What do you people hope to see?” she asked, speaking in such a way that, at first, seemed friendly, until I considered that she had just referred to me as “you people”.
I couldn’t think of decent response, and so I replied: “I’m, uh, not sure.”
The lady laughed, shaking her head at my obvious stupidity—although peculiarly she remained standing nearby, perhaps just in case I wasn’t as stupid as I looked and in fact knew more than I was letting on. Then about a minute later something did happen: the car carrying Thatcher’s body away from the cathedral drove by, travelling at some speed. A union flag, nothing like ones painted on several of the attendees’ faces, was sprawled over coffin, which was clearly visible, even from a fair distance. Clumsily, I grabbed for my phone and to take photograph.
“We love you!” shouted all of the male private school pupils who were in front of me, applauding, waving and whistling in unison. Their two female friends resisted joining in.
It seemed an odd thing to holler at a moving vehicle carrying wooden box that contained a lady, who, by this point, had long since expired. But, then, I’m not sure what is the appropriate thing to say during such an occasion. One wouldn’t lean over the coffin of a recently deceased loved one and bellow “We love you!” or even “We Loved You!” I would have thought a knowing nod would have sufficed, or a smile, or sympathising headshake. Perhaps they didn’t know she was dead.
In a blur, the car was gone and a strange sort of awkwardness filled the air. The two female private school pupils looked sore; their male friends had surely blown their chances of pulling by confessing their undying love for the stone cold Baroness. No one really said much afterwards, and slowly the attendees began to go about their daily lives again. “So that was that then” everyone appeared to be silently thinking, apart from one of the mildly crazy ladies, who actually said these words aloud. And with that, the crowd dissipated, and I walked back along through Bank.