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Thatcher had us barking - and chirping.


When we first moved into Balsall Heath in the late 1980s there was a welcoming sign, painted on the railway bridge across Brighton Road. It read: "Thatcher out, Mandela out!" Within a year or two, both of those pleas had been answered, and the two leaders' lives diverged forever. They would not be meeting on Brighton Road again.

A couple of weeks ago it seemed as if time was about to unite the two of them randomly once more. But Nelson Mandela - much to the surprise of most of us - survived his brush with the Grim Reaper; Baroness Thatcher, on the other hand, did not.

For my students, Margaret Thatcher is a figure from the distant past; most of them had not even been born when she left office. To me she feels much more like a member of the family, a constant presence in one corner of the sittingroom.

I still have the Spitting Image toy of her we used to give to the dog. I recall with wistful nostalgia our mild-mannered and timid retriever excitedly chewing on the prime minister, and the plaintive squeals she made in protest.

"In the words of St Francis..." she would begin, but the rest was lost in ravenous jaws. It was all part of a dog's political education.

The budgie was equally welltrained.

He had all the usual stock phrases, declaring that he was a pretty boy and that you should call him Bobby. These would be more appropriate to the present generation of political leaders.

But my father had also taught the bird to say "Maggie out!" And Bobby uttered it with such conviction that you half expected him to fly off to the nearest polling-station on election day.

I'm not sure a budgerigar today would feel as strongly about current politicians, and "pragmatism" is a much harder word for a budgie to get its beak round.

Alas, they have all passed from us, the dog, the budgie and the prime minister. A state funeral for one, eternal rest beneath the apple tree for another, and a hole in the flowerbed for the third. I'll leave you to work out which is which.

Dr Chris Upton will be popping down the pet shop tomorrow with the words of the Internationale
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 18, 2013
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