Monday, 14 July 2008

Tramp the dirt down

Today, Bastille Day, is forever associated in my mind with the beheading of Margaret Thatcher. For it was on this day in 1989 that my aunt, who is French, set up a giant guillotine at the front of her house in Southampton to mark the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. I’m not sure what the neighbours made of the tricolour flying in southern England. But they came to the party, some of them got very drunk on French wine, and some of them joined in when the family (or at least those parts of it who didn't secretly vote for her; the rest sat quietly with their knitting) carried out a ritual beheading of the then prime minister.

That was the same year that Elvis Costello released Spike, which I still think is possibly his best album and certainly contains some of his best and most varied songwriting. As well as the spine-tingling anti-capital punishment ballad about Derek Bentley, ‘Let Him Dangle’, there’s ‘Veronica’, ‘Coal Train Robberies’ and ‘Any King’s Shilling’, to name but five songs that still have the power to move me today.

And then there’s ‘Tramp the Dirt Down’ (‘When England was the whore of the world Margaret was her madam / And the future looked as bright and as clear as the black tarmacadam’) with its chilling refrain:

Oh I'll be a good boy, I'm trying so hard to behave

Because there’s one thing I know I'd like to live long enough to savour
That's when they finally put you in the ground
I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down

People who weren’t adults at the time sometimes find it hard to believe the extent to which Thatcher divided Britain (and families, including mine). I won’t tramp the dirt down on her, or anyone else’s, grave. But the optimist in me still hopes that I’ll live long enough to see, one day, her social and political legacy well and truly buried.

1 comment:

alan said...

Agree about Spike. Haven't some of the Boneheads said they're organising a street party when she goes?