The Mummy Returns

By Wilson, Bee | New Statesman (1996), June 4, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Mummy Returns


Wilson, Bee, New Statesman (1996)


BEE WILSON on how Maggie spent her good old British pound

It was an eerie, anomalous moment when Lady Thatcher appeared recently at her first Conservative general election rally since 1987. "The mummy returns," she joked, and the Daily Tele graph cheered. The genius of Thatcher, as well as her failure, depended on the image she created of herself as a "mummy", the manager of a limited budget, a trimmer of shopping lists and a decisive but ruthless carver-up of pies. She was always a British housewife, spending her good British pound on cheap British mass-produced food, none of that foreign Euro muck.

When still in her early twenties, Margaret Thatcher (nee Roberts) spoke to a ladies' luncheon club about women's rights. "Don't be scared of the high-flown language of economists and cabinet ministers, but think of politics at our own household level," she said. "After all, women live in contact with food supplies, housing shortages and ever-decreasing opportunities for children."

To be a "young married woman" in the 1950s was, accord ing to Thatcher, "very heaven". The late Fifties were a blessed relief after the Spam, snoek and socialism of the austerity years. In her memoirs, she goes all misty-eyed about the era of "Murray Mints" and "frothy coffee", when "bananas, grapes and fruits I had never heard of suddenly reappeared in the shops". She also relished the attention to detail involved in being married to Denis. His breakfast grapefruit always had to be segmented meticulously, and he insisted on marmalade with chunky strips of peel in it before setting off to work in his Jaguar.

Such details were second nature to Margaret, having grown up in a grocer shop in Grantham. The sign outside proudly read "A ROBERTS Family Grocer and Provision Merchant. If you get it from Roberts' s... you get... THE BEST", although a cruel biographer tells us that A Roberts was not, in fact, considered the best - indeed, not even the second-best - grocer's in town. But Margaret, loyally, always described the shop as a "specialist grocer"and claimed that her father sold "the best-quality produce". A serious little girl, she helped weigh out sugar, tea, biscuits, lentils and dried fruit from their big sacks and boxes into smaller 11b and 21b bags. She watched as butter was shaped into neat pats, and later remembered "wonderful aromas of spices, coffee and smoked hams". …

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