The Art School I attended was opened by Thatcher in the early 1970s when she was the notorious Milk Snatcher in Heath’s Government..
Not long after I found my way there, she had became Prime Minister and somebody, somewhere decided that a plaque should be commissioned and the woman herself invited to unveil it. The college, it was rumoured, had originally been designed as a Borstal (a story I’ve heard about many a school or college over the years, students love the idea that they are being held against their will by the state). Certainly the windows in some of the studios were unusually small considering that it was an Art School, indeed in third-year graphics we had no natural light at all.
As students we were members of the Student Union, but as most of us were under 18, there wasn’t a bar, and consequently the Union had little sway over our day-to-day college lives. When the great day arrived, we stepped over the few protesters from a neighbouring University and made our way past the policemen to our studios for another day of colouring-in and a bit of cutting and sticking.
The plan, apparently, was to have Thatcher come in, do a bit of unveiling and then have a tour of the facilities. For some reason the third-year graphics studio was chosen as the venue for the meet and greet. Which meant that we had to clear up the studio and our personal workstations, which consisted of a drawing board on a desk with drawers underneath. I swept the debris on my desk into one of the drawers below and went to the refectory as there was no chance of getting any work done until The Thatch had been and gone.
With coffee and cigarettes in hand I ventured into the student common room where I encountered a fellow art student, who offered a cure for my disgruntledness. He rolled up and we partook in some herbal muscle relaxant as armed police patrolled outside the window. This was the way to show contempt, that and the fact that most of the student population were wearing red.
This was before Facebook, Twitter or email. There had not been a campaign, I don’t remember talking to anybody about it. I donned a red jumper, borrowed a red shirt from my brother and I was ready for the day. The refectory looked like a scene from Carrie. Who would have thought that students would be so rebellious yet a little bit creative?
My desk was at the rear of the studio, in front of the door to the darkroom and to the right of the office. As you came in there was a passageway between two rows of desks that lead to the office, you could walk down then around my space and back down the other side of the studio. The television cameras were set up, the photographers were waiting for Britain’s first female Prime Minister. Because of my position opposite the door, as Maggie walked in, I would effectively be waiting to welcome her. I was moved. A long-haired heavy metal guitarist wearing denim was placed in my seat. She was obviously a delicate flower and would be offended by my scarlet attire and short hair.
On the local news that evening I could just be seen, pushed to the side, red arms folded, red eyes squinting. Ironically I was too young to vote for or against her, my eighteenth birthday falling after her first infamous victory. A couple of years later when Sir Reginald Pothesby-Smythe, our local MP, died, I finally had a chance to exercise my right to vote.
My hometown was (is) a very safe Tory stronghold; Labour and Liberal would lose their deposit. My friends and I hatched a plan to form a ‘Bring a Bottle’ party and I would stand for election, but lack of funds and too much inertia saw that this brilliant plan didn’t come to fruition. The Labour candidate was a fresh-faced lawyer on his first campaign, served up for the rout and duly slaughtered, although he must have impressed as he gained a safe Labour seat at the General Election in 1983 and went on from there. The Tory MP who defeated him resigned years later when he’d been caught with his hands in a big brown envelope.