The outbreak began on Monday 8th April 2013 when Baroness Thatcher (87) died after a stroke, but reached its peak on the Wednesday of the following week (17th April) – the day of her funeral-with-full-military-honours. Describing the proceedings, many journalists fell victim to the metaphorical bug. They could not help writing about the big beasts of the Iron Lady’s Tory cabinet; they just had to mention the death of the eighties and, sitting in St Paul’s cathedral, the Back to the Future generation of elder American statesmen. Not content with referring to particular details in metaphorical terms, afflicted journalists went on to turn the whole affair into a metaphor of (a) Britain’s exceptional talent for creating the perfect ceremonial occasion (Really? With the Union flag failing to cover the coffin fully, revealing a brass flywheel and a lewd triangle of rich brown wood); and (b) the deceased’s unique capacity for getting exactly what she wanted, even now that she is, indeed, deceased. Yet in regard to Margaret Thatcher all such recourse to metaphor is singularly inappropriate, since it fails to appropriate that when in power she was the most literal of prime ministers. Absolutely primary, of course (even big beasts were turned out of the cabinet if they turned out bigger than their boots). But more importantly, in her purview, Great Britain must be seen to be greater than other countries, e.g. Argentina, which could only be lesser because they are not called Great. Likewise, there was no such thing as society because, at the literal level, there really are only individuals. And there will be no extrapolating from here to where society also really exists on much the same plane as metaphor, i.e. that faraway place – a stretch of the imagination – where the two of them have commonality in common. No, said Margaret, the price of bread is the price of bread; and that is the beginning and end of it. The alpha and omega. The quick and the dead. But the last two of these, she would hardly have said.
News prefers dead people who don’t talk back. Preference this week for a partic pic of the pasty-faced junior Philpott posse, before their wholly detached parents (now jailed for manslaughter) torched their semi-detached council house causing all five boys and a girl to die of smoke inhalation. Painted it black. Small white coffins funeral black. Six rascals who never got the chance to turn into scallies or neds or bus drivers or doctors and nurses. Never looking after us or coming after us now: we can talk over them, drowning out whatever they might have said. I say, I say, I say: in the pic that’s all over the news this week, they look the way the ‘ello darling boy sounded. You’ve heard the clip? Pre-teen kid in a Billericay hospital broadcast saying hello to his darling girlfriend, followed by a dirty laugh he’s learned from someone lots older. Famous soundbite; but the boy was never heard of again, despite the BBC’s best efforts. Died in that hospital, probably; and now if I want to I can put him next to the Philpott Six and freely associate a whole mortuary of Artful Dodgers. Other adults having their way with these children include the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer (gone a bit Billericay hisself recently), describing the Philpotts as victims of their father’s welfare dependency. At this the shadow chancellor cries ‘cynical’; meanwhile Derby County Football Club uses the Philpott kids to get the crowd crying, asking everyone to remember children they never knew. Even Derby police have to give vent to their feelings. They are reported as saying ‘this has to be one of, if not the most upsetting cases any of us has ever investigated.’ (Perhaps their written statements make grammatical sense.) But there I go again, abusing the freedom to sound off. When Brian Clough was alive and kicking as manager of the Rams, and working class people counted for something in Britain, surely these dead children would have been allowed to stay dead: eyes closed instead of staring out from a family photo; covered up in respectful silence.