Before Margaret Thatcher met Philip Larkin, someone thought it would be polite if she read his poems. She tried but failed to remember Larkin’s piercing description in The Less Deceived, of a raped slum girl contemplating her ruin.
“All the unhurried day,
Your mind lay open like a drawer of knives.”
“Mrs T told me she liked my wonderful poem about a girl,” Larkin told Julian Barnes later. “My face must have expressed incomprehension. ‘You know,’ she said. ‘Her mind was full of knives’.” Larkin was charmed rather than insulted by her ignorance and said he would still “kiss the ground she treads”.
I am putting it gently when I say that few other artists of the time would have pressed their lips to that sacred sod.
When Thatcher dies, Britain’s cultural institutions will be lucky to find one significant piece of work in their archives which treats her sympathetically.