The passing of Baroness Thatcher yesterday was yet another reminder of what dementia can do to a vibrant mind. Without doubt, Margaret Thatcher was one of the outstanding politicians of her own or any other generation. I use the word outstanding in its literal sense – she stood out from a mass of grey (mostly) men. We couldn’t escape a knowledge of what she stood for.
Don’t get me wrong. I was no fan of our former Prime Minister, though I do credit her with nurturing my abiding interest in politics. Her conviction, so widely-used as a term of praise in yesterday’s stream of obituaries and tributes, struck my teenage mind as divisive and damaging. My opinion hasn’t changed, though her contribution to and impact on British life can’t be under-stated.
Fear not. I’m turning this blog into a political rant. I was struck a few years ago by extracts from a book by Carol Thatcher in which she talked about her mother’s failing memory, a failing memory which was the precursor of dementia. It’s impossible not to be moved by accounts of how Margaret Thatcher had to be told over and over again about the death of her husband Denis because she was unable to remember he’d gone. How she couldn’t distinguish between the Bosnian War of the 1990s and the Falklands conflict a decade earlier, a conflict which had done so much to establish her as a dominant political force, and not just at home.
There are probably very few similarities between Mum and Margaret Thatcher, beyond gender. I remember listening to the radio under the blankets on election night in 1979 at the age of 14 as Britain’s first female prime minister was elected. I remember – too – Mum (never overtly political) being quite enthused with the outcome. It was probably something along the lines of “she can’t do any worse than the men…” but nevertheless, it was one of the few times I remember Mum commenting on anything political.
Fast forward 30 years though and Mum and the Baroness did have something absolutely fundamental in common. Dementia. I’m currently putting together a collection of Mum’s favourite music in the hope that it will bring her pleasure and it will perhaps unlock some memories which seem so deeply buried. One of the selections will be Perry Como’s “Magic Moments”, a song I’ve had cause to mention before in my ramblings. It was one of the few records Mum passed on to me when my interest in music was stirred very early in life. I used to play it on the family Bush record player. I still have the original 78, though sadly not the record player. There is one for sale on Ebay but I’m not sure how popular a purchase that would be……. .
Mum and I sang along to “Magic Moments” as we travelled to Wales on holiday a few years ago. The line which always comes back to me is the one which goes:
“Time can’t erase
The memory of those
Magic Moments, filled with love.”
I’ve always taken that as gospel truth. Whatever happens, we have those memories. But it isn’t true is it? Margaret Thatcher, the dominant post-war politician, couldn’t remember her “finest hour”, and Mum can’t remember much about anything, however those countless moments remain filled with love for her family and friends.