In the early 1980s, I was on holiday in Italy. We were enjoying a leisurely lunch in a back street in Sienna. At the next table was an Italian chap, a bit younger than me. Would we mind if he practised his English on us? After a bit of practice, he asked us if English ladies always wore "hets"? From this we got to Mrs Thatcher. She always wore a "het" he remarked. Yes I said, but did he know that she was actually a man in women's clothes? His brown Italian eyes grew round and new English words were exchanged. Behind us there was an explosion. Another Italian, eavesdropping, collapsed into his soup. He didn't know Mrs Thatcher was a bloke either…….
I nearly met her once. One Saturday afternoon, I was scheduled to give her an intelligence briefing on cruise missiles. Unlike most politicians, in my experience, she was not happy to talk about something she knew nothing about. I was warned to speak normally, answer all questions and be prepared for a lot of them. All prepped up and wearing my best suit I arrived at the Cabinet Office just after lunchtime on Saturday. Only to be told that her flight to Washington had been brought forward and the briefing cancelled.
What's this all about you ask? Well, everyone else is writing about her and most of them never met her, let alone nearly gave her a talk on cruise missiles! Going back to the first paragraph, I met lots of foreigners, Americans, Canadians, Frogs and various other sorts of Europeans. All of them admired her AND us for electing her. Would we like to swop they asked; her for half a dozen of their leaders.
In my opinion, her greatest achievement was to change the national mood. In 1979 we were depressed and depressing. She changed all that. Far too many people have forgotten what it was like pre-Margaret, and many of those with an opinion are rather too young to hold it. Before she came along we had a long line of depressing male plonkers ruling over us. Since she fell, we have had more of them.
God bless Mrs Thatcher and please, God, send us another one!