My Thatcher Years 14

I am not one for talking politics, but I was sat in the car listening to Jane Garvey on Radio 2 (much better than Jeremy Vine incidentally) discussing what people thought of Margaret Thatcher last week and it really got me thinking.  I understand that she polarised public opinion and there is a real North South divide when it comes to her and the politics of the era in question.    In some ways it wasn’t a North South divide, but a class gap, which even shows in my home and the opinion MadDad and me have of The Thatcher Years.


I am a child of the eighties, I was born in the early seventies and lived on the North East coast with my Mum, Dad and Grandad.  My Dad and Grandad both worked in the shipyards.  Both were in management positions and my Mum was a SAHM.  My Dad had gone to Grammar school and college and apprenticed at the “Dock” in the Engineering department.  My Grandad was a blacksmith and had worked there from leaving school at 14, so you could say that shipbuilding ran in my blood.  All the other males in the family either worked at the Docks, the steel yard or the chemical works.  I grew up in Teesside an area of heavy industry born from iron and built of steel.

My parents were the first in their family to buy there own house and we lived a relatively good life.  As a family there was two incomes coming in to the house and my mum was a stay at home mum from when I was born, so we never really wanted for anything.  We ate well, had great holidays and life was fab.  I remember riding my bike after school to meet my Dad on the way home from work.  We would get half way and he would stop the car and put the bikes in the back and go home together for a meal that my mum had cooked.  We spent many a summer evening on my Granddad’s allotment where he grew vegetables cutting flowers and kept chickens   We would often build dens in the nearby nature reserve.  Life was uncomplicated.  My Dad was often to be found in the garage repairing car’s for friends or doing up one to sell for some extra cash.

I remember homemade clothes, family get togethers and riding my bike everywhere.  I remember having to be home for 4.30pm for dinner as Dad and Granddad got home at 4.15 and a meal was on the table at 4.30 every night.  There was band practice twice a week and my Dad got his license so he could drive the Band Bus on a weekend to cpmpetitions.  I remember sitting with my tape recording in the bedroom I shared with my brother taping songs off the radio trying to pause it before the presenter spoke, so that I could make mix tapes for the weekends journeys on the bus.

I went to a good primary school and an even better senior school and my Mum became a School Crossing Warden or LollyPop lady.  We walked to school on our own from about seven years old and could often be found in the park after school fishing for guppies in the beck, carrying on at the golf links, crabbing at the boating lake or messing around on the beach.


Then things changed.  My parents tried hard to hide it from us, but it soon got out that the Shipyard was to be closed and thousands of men were to lose their jobs.  Their livelihoods gone, just like that.   Yes there was to be a decent redundancy package, but there were clauses about not being able to work for any other Shipyard for a set amount of time.  These things I didn’t realise at the time.  It was as though someone had ripped out my Grandpa’s heart.  Both my Dad and GrandDad had long service awards.  I remember my Dad going out looking for work.  I remember him traveling 60 miles each way everyday for work at Sunderland.  I remember the hushed conversations about tax and making sure the mortgage got paid.  I remember my Dad telling my mum that he wasn’t too proud to do any work, but he was not going to sign on.  He never had and he never would.  I remember the mornings that my Mum got up at 5.30 am to go and clean the local British Legion Club before coming home to get our breakfast before school.

My Senior School “merged” with another “not so good” school, but in reality, my school closed and the other school remained open crammed to the gills.   I went from loving school to hating school in one foul swoop and became rebellious.

You know what, my Dad was one of the lucky ones.  He eventually got full time permanent employment, but not in his field.  Not doing what he trained all those years for and in an industry and position that eventually killed him (he died in an Industrial Accident in 2000).  Many people were out of work for years.  Families torn apart and lives shattered.  It is hard to find employment when the jobs do not exist.

As a family we survived, we didn’t thrive like some people.  But we were lucky, we had the allotment, which meant that we had lots of fresh veg   My Dad repaired the fishermans tractors and boats in exchange for fish  and seafood and my mum was an amazingly thrifty and resourceful woman.

Love her or hate her, Thatcher stirred things up in the UK.  She was the first female prime minister in the UK and that is something to be proud of.  Growing up I never thought it was odd to have a female in this position it just seemed like the normal thing to me and for that I am grateful.

So that is my Thatcher years.  What are yours?


14 thoughts on “My Thatcher Years

  • allotmentmum

    Hi Jen, first of all, I’m so sorry to read about your dad. Secondly, it’s lovely to hear about your allotment memories. Whatever else happens in life there should always be veg – especially home grown ones! I hope my children will remember my allotment as fondly as you do yours.
    As for politics: I think we were probably born around the same time but grew up at opposite ends of the country. I was in a fairly deprived part of the South West. There were lots of family struggles, but I don’t know how much of those were to do with Thatcher and how much just to do with my parents (I suspect more the latter.) but if you’ve time I think this excellent article sums up my views really. If you’ve any preconceptions about Russell Brand, don’t let that put you off reading it .

    • Jen Walshaw

      allotmentmum » Wow, what an article. I think that as Sally said Thatcher decimated the care system and that it must have been so sad that her family left her in the UK on her own. Very sad indeed

  • Midlife Singlemum

    I haven’t really got anything to say about my Thatcher years as I grew up in London – far from the industrial north, my Dad was self employed with a small shop in the West End and my Mum was a teacher. We were very proud to have a woman PM and could afford to be true blue Conservatives I suppose. Another reason was that my Mum never forgave Labour for getting rid of the Grammar Schools.

    • Jen Walshaw

      Midlife Singlemum » I still think that the times must have effected your childhood in some ways. We do not have grammar schools either!

  • Sally

    I grew up in a family where most of the adults worked with vulnerable groups of one sort of another – my parents, my aunt and uncle were in social care, my grandmother worked in nursing, my brother worked in domestic care in the community, and later as a support worker for students with disabilities.

    What I remember most of the Thatcher years is seeing those people lose their education, their homes, their social lives, their security and – in one or two very sad cases – their lives – because of the dismantling of the social care system, under the guise of “care in the community”.

    My parents were in good, stable jobs and we had a very secure, happy childhood but their jobs gave me such a powerful insight into the lives of those who – through no fault of their own – weren’t so fortunate.

    I think those years were a bleak time if you were old, if you were poor, if you were impaired in any way whatsoever, and if you believe (as I do) that a society can be judged on how it cares for its most vulnerable members, then the Thatcher years aren’t something I can look back on fondly, from a political perspective.

    • Jen Walshaw

      Sally » This is really interesting Sally and just goes to show how our upbringing effects us all. I completely agree about society caring about its most vulnerable members. Care become a dirty word in the 80’s.

  • Rachael

    Your Comments
    Hi Jen,
    I must have grown up quite geographically close to you and at a similar time. I started secondary school in 1986. I agree that having a female prime minister seemed normal to me and I think that must have had an impact on women of our generation, whether we liked her or not! My parents were both teachers so their jobs were very secure. I think, in that respect I was quite insulated from the worst aspects of the Thatcher years, I certainly didn’t really take in the changes that you describe in the Teesside area.
    My Dad took full advantage of the selling off of BT etc and invested in shares. He was fairly pro-Thatcher, mainly, I think because he felt she had saved the country from the mess of the late 70’s. He didn’t agree with all her policies though and felt that market principles shouldn’t be applied to the likes of the health service and other public services.
    I remember watching the miners strike on TV and really not understanding it at all. As far as I was concerned I couldn’t understand why all these people desperately wanted to be miners – it looked like a horrible job to me. In my innocent mind I thought they should all go off and get ‘other jobs’. Don’t ask me what I thought they should do!
    I clearly remember the end of the Thatcher era. I thought that by this point she really had to go, it seemed that she couldn’t listen to anyone else’s point of view. I suppose I’ve got a sneaking admiration for Mrs Thatcher, though perhaps not all her policies. Anyone who can be that dedicated, focussed and clear minded in what she is trying to achieve is a force to be reckoned with. And wouldn’t we all like to achieve so much on four hours sleep a night?

  • Alice (@mumsmakelists)

    Your Comments

    I just snuck into the ’60s so grew up in the 70s and although, I hated Thatcher at the time – I actually wrote her a letter when I was 11 advising her to resign 🙂 – but do think it is easy to forget the darkness of the 1970s.

    I grew up in a small town in the west Midlands and there was a wonderful local community spirit that gave us an idyllic childhood but I also remember really strongly the “darkness” that ran along side that – from the power cuts when mum had to cook tea on a camping stove, the army being on the streets during the Fireman’s Strike of ’77 and the rubbish not being collected in the Winter of Discontent all mixed up with the IRA bombings, the Ripper, Denis Neillson etc.

    Although, amazing community spirit had remained from previous generations the 70s was a violent decade and I think a lot of what she did – rightly and wrongly – was the product of that.

    The north – south thing was also a bit more complicated. We lived in Nottingham in the 80s – which definitely thinks of itself as the north – and because they were against the strike and Scargill, a lot of very working class families did end up having more sympathy for her than they were otherwise.

    For all the massive, massive things she got wrong, there is a part of me that has more time for her than the current public school or Hampstead intelligentsia educated male mediocrities of my generation who are our current political “leaders”.

  • Emily

    Jen I absolutely loved reading this post! I can picture your childhood so clearly! As a child of the 80’s, born in the 70’s like you I can empathise so much.

  • sripurnab

    Your CommeI loved reading your personal story of life during the Thatcher Years. It is interesting to hear a real story about what it was like when Thatcher was ostensibly pulling Britain out of economic doldrums.

    I have written a bit about Thatcher’s funeral. Have a read! I have just started blogging so be kind.

    I am trying to make news relevant to people! feel free to leave a comment and follow if you like

  • Donna @ Little Lilypad Co

    This is a really topical post and with so many differing opinions on “the Thatcher years” its interesting almost to see it from a child’s perspective. As you have said, love her or loathe her she was a strong woman and with all political opinion aside, she was also a mother, wife and grandmother. May she rest in peace.

  • Liz Burton

    We are from the same era and recognise many things from your childhood in mine.

    I grew up in the south and my dad worked all his career in car building so not so very different. Despite all the cuts he kept his job and we were lucky.

    My parents were staunch Socialists and active members in the local Labour party. I remember collections and care packages for the miners.

    I remember the Falklands war, the milk cuts, the privatisation of the railway – an industry I worked for 10 years in, joining at the very tail end of BR.

    I personally can not celebrate Thatcher for anything she did. Despite being the first female prime minister I believe she did more to harm women (and men for that matter) than the good she did as a ‘role model’.

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