Editor's note: The historical fiction pieces in our Namesake series were originally submitted as part of the Namesake Competition at The King's College. As such, they follow certain guidelines used in the competition. One of these requires them to have an annotated bibliography of sources used in the writing of the story. We have reprinted these bibliographies at the end of each piece. This piece, "Crawfie," received second place in the writing portion of the competition. It was submitted on behalf of the House of Margaret Thatcher.
by Helen Healey
My uncle Nile must have said, “Cynthia, that kind of talk is very unbecoming” at least twelve times on the night we had Margaret at my home in Worcester.
It was 1999 and I hadn’t seen Margaret since November 22, 1990, her last day at 10 Downing Street, when I packed her bags. I was her personal assistant since her first day as Prime Minister, but I quickly left to care for my husband Ray, who’d had pneumonia for several weeks. Our meal was almost over and Uncle Nile was sweating through his seersucker blazer, which was already stained with Marinara sauce. I wouldn’t have invited Nile, but he had been living with me for several months between employment, and Margaret’s visit was last-minute. The most important public figure Nile had ever encountered was Alderman Brown, from whom he tried to get a recycling bin on his block in 1953. I told Margaret that she had meatball in between her front teeth and Uncle Nile almost choked. Margaret fingernailed her teeth and asked, “Did I get it?”
Nile, like all of Britain, the international community, and Margaret’s closest confidants knew a Lady who lived by Tiffany’s table manners, even in the most private settings, and wore a royal blue skirt suit with a perfect hem. As her assistant, though, our friendship was grounded in those small moments at 6:30 in the morning, both of us staring into her full-length oval mirror, when I told her that her makeup wasn’t right.
Nile stood up to clear our plates. “Thank you so much, my friend,” Margaret said to him. We heard Tony Blair’s voice on the telly in the adjacent room say, “Milosevic will have no entry on this veto of international force.” She looked down at the table and swept some crumbs into the palm of her hand. “What do you think about Kosovo?” I asked. She said only that the whole thing was barbaric. I could tell she didn’t want to waste our time together talking about Kosovo.
Nile brought us tea. He said, “Lady Thatcher, your presence has been an honor. Thank you for such lovely conversation.” His hands shook as he laid our tea on the table. He had prepared the Wedgewood service for us--the whitest and thinnest porcelain china I’d seen since I lived with Margaret at Downing. He kissed her hand and retreated to his bedroom. Margaret gave him a smile, but we both thought the hand kiss uncalled for, sloppy and very awkward.
Blair’s words brought up for me an image of Margaret. She was looking at herself in her bathroom mirror. But we weren’t at Downing. Through a crack in the bathroom door, I watched her stare into her own eyes for about ten minutes, which she never did. Her morning routine was very precise and short.
“What are you thinking of, Crawfie?” Margaret asked.
“I’m thinking of you staring into a mirror,” I replied quietly.
“What a strange thought. Where am I?” she asked.
“It looks like a college dorm,” I realized.
We were at Lewis Police College. I had spent the night there with Margaret on October 11, 1984. We stayed at the College because, at 2:54 that morning, a bomb exploded inside of the Brighton Hotel, where Margaret just finished writing a speech she was set to give the next morning at the annual Party Conference.
Those who sought to kill Margaret, the Irish Republican Army, had misplaced the bomb-- she got off with only a few scratches. The first thing I did after the bomb went off was gather her vanity case, a blouse and two suits. She shoved her Conference speech into her black handbag. She then checked on some of her secretaries in another room. One of them got an electric shock from a photocopier, but that’s all. We were driven to the police station in silence, wondering whether anyone died.
We woke up to a picture on the television of Norman Tebbit, Margaret’s Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, being pulled out of the Hotel rubble. He was alive, though, and the newscasters caught a dull throaty moan with their microphones. Later that day, after Margaret spoke at the Conference, we heard four of her friends died, crushed under the weight of glass and cement.
I was not surprised that Margaret’s eyes didn’t even begin to redden when she saw Tebbit, a man whom she drank tea with almost daily while discussing her favorite subject, on the telly. I’d never said a word to Tebbit, personally, but of course I cried while I packed her day bag.
But, Margaret and I are different. I remember that no matter the tragedy or frustration, she was first concerned to find a solution. Today though, as Margaret sat across from me in my own home, I remembered the way she looked at herself in the bathroom mirror at the College, a moment of superfluity by her standards. I’d studied her every morning for five years. Every morning was the same: her alarm rang at 6:00 AM, she sat up in bed, she stood up to turn off the alarm (she kept it on a small armoire across the room), moved to the bathroom, brushed her teeth, washed her face, all of which took no more than five minutes, but this morning I saw her stare at herself for ten whole minutes. I knew for sure that not only was her routine different, but she also felt something she could not overcome or conceal.
Margaret looked at a glass figure of an owl, which I bought while on vacation in Morocco, that hung above my television.
She said, “Yes, we stayed at the college after Brighton.”
“Can I ask you Margaret...,” I explained the mirror thing.
She looked at her feet and began:
“You’ll remember, Crawfie, that we only slept for an hour or so. We had been up writing a new speech and I remember my body felt heavy and sore, even though hardly a drop of debris had fallen on me. I tried sleep, but the cot in the dorm was cold and I wondered whether any of my staff was dead. I eventually fell asleep, but not all the way. You know, Crawfie, that your most sensory dreams come when you’re not completely asleep. I dreamed I was a child. I was a child and I was wearing penny loafers, a white collared shirt and a jumper. My hair was in a braid, the way my mother braided it for Sunday school. I stood over a man I didn’t recognize. First, I could only see his face. His skin was a purple-grey and his cheekbones were jutting. He looked like a corpse come to life. I could soon see that he was tied to a wooden chair by his wrists and his ankles.
He kept trying to meet my eyes, but I made a vigilant effort to look away, anywhere else I could. His eyes were racing to catch up with mine. I was comfortable standing over him, so long as our eyes never met. He looked almost like Frankenstein’s monster, without the screws, but I wasn’t afraid. All that mattered were his eyes, and whether they looked into mine. I dreamed about my eyes running away from his for about an hour, I guess.
But his eyes got tired of following after mine and began to bleed. I began to cry. I wanted so badly for his bleeding to stop. I knew I had to look to save him, so I did. Our eyes met and I fell to my knees. I felt ashamed, as if I were naked in front of a crowd. I felt afraid, as if a rabid dog were showing me his teeth. The man in whose eyes I stared, I knew, was Bobby Sands.”
Five years prior, Margaret announced on public television that she didn’t care whether Sands starved to death in Her Majesty’s Prison Maze. He died on May 5, 1981 after a two-month hunger strike. Margaret was always frustrated talking about Irish terror because she knew no one could ever really understand it.
I didn’t understand her dream. I knew, when she stood publicly against the terrorists, that she meant every word--she wasn’t just acting strong. Sometimes after a long press conference, late at night while I unclasped her pearl necklace, she’d say under her breath, “There is no excuse for terrorism.” I told her I didn’t understand her dream.
“So what were you thinking of when you looked into the mirror,” I asked.
She said, “For children, looking someone in the eyes is supposed to be easy because there are no barriers. Children look strangers in their eyes while they pick their noses. A child would pick her nose in front of a terrorist. Children have no evil, and so they can’t see it in others. In my dream, I had the body of a child, but was afraid of something I shouldn’t have been.”
I was still not sure what she meant.
“I didn’t see a terrorist. I saw a man, made from the same stuff as me, which made me want to forget myself.”
I will admit with some embarrassment that I am Margaret’s best friend. She has seldom made anyone laugh and finds gossip and relaxed conversation tedious. Her essence is political, revealed in her favorite conversational platitudes: “Never do anything because someone else is doing it,” and, “We must first always protect democracy and the rule of law.” It has taken twenty years for her to be fully comfortable removing food from in between her teeth in front of me or admitting that her eyeliner is flawed. Her dream revealed something severe: her fear that politics, impersonal by necessity, had drained her of her humanity, and the ability to see someone face-to- face. For ten minutes, looking into her own eyes in the mirror, Margaret saw Bobby Sands and not a terrorist.
“So what you felt was guilt?” I asked.
Margaret replied, “Yes, but then I was confronted with the very fact that I was alive. And not in any provincial sense either. I don’t believe God spared me and took others instead. I knew only that I was alive, despite the terrorists’ plans.”
“We’re all glad for that, Margaret,” I said.
“I didn’t feel glad. I asked what, given the fact of my life, do I do now?” she said.
“And what did you come up with, Margaret?"
The morning after the bombing, Margaret stood at the Conservative Party Conference
podium, as planned, in her royal blue suit and pearl necklace. Her eyes were clear. Her hair was permed. Her voice was strong: “And the fact that we are gathered here now, shocked but composed and determined, is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.”
As I sat in the audience--second row—I noticed that my kneepits were sweating. The room smelled like hairspray and cologne, and wasn’t nearly large enough to accommodate Margaret’s audience. I was mushed between two large shoulders. I was humbled, to be here, to be alive, and for the moment, to be safe.
Crawford, Cynthia. “The Margaret Thatcher I Knew, by her personal assistant.” The Guardian. 8 April 2013. Web. 15 February 2016. Cynthia Crawford reflects on her friendship with Margaret Thatcher, to whom she served as personal assistant throughout Thatcher’s 11-year premiership. She notes that he was one of Thatcher’s most trusted friends.
Gardiner, Nile, and Stephen Thompson. Margaret Thatcher on Leadership. Washington: Regnery, 2013. Gardiner reflects on Thatcher’s leadership style, specifically her strength in the face of terror following the 1984 bombing, wherein Thatcher was a target of the Irish Republican Army. He analyzes her Party Conference Speech, a focus of this story.
Harris, Robin, ed. Margaret Thatcher: The Collected Speeches. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. Print. This collection of Margaret Thatcher’s speeches includes her fully transcribed “Speech to the Conservative Party Conference, Brighton, 8 October 1984,” which is quoted directly in the second to last paragraph of this story.
“The Blair Doctrine.” Narr. Tony Blair. PBS. 22 April 1999. pbs.org. Web. 16 Feb. 2016. Transcript. British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave this speech on Kosovo in 1999, the year in which this story takes place, in Chicago. Blair’s speech is quoted directly in the fourth paragraph of this story. Thatcher’s dismissal of political conversation shows how greatly she valued their time together.
Thatcher, Margaret. Margaret Thatcher: The Autobiography. New York: HarperCollons, 2010. Print. In her autobiography, Margaret Thatcher reflects on her childhood, recounts the events of the IRA bombing, describes the conflict between Northern Ireland and Britain, and provides a defense of her strong public opinion against IRA terrorism. Her account is both personal and political.