Afternoon on borough beat for the PM
The Army's Postal and Courier Service, now based in Mill Hill, celebrates its centenary next year … and there are discussions at the moment to mark the anniversary by a Freedom of the Borough of Barnet ceremony to the Royal Engineers next July.
The Prime Minister was told of the anniversary plan when she toured the postal depot on Friday during a punishing afternoon of engagements in the borough in which she met and talked to hundreds of people, made three speeches, presented a minibus for disabled people, unveiled a statue outside the town hall … and ignored a handful of demonstrators who ohanted “Thatcher out” and annoyed far more people than they impressed.
It was a typically full day in the life of the Prime Minister, who is at pains to maintain her constituency and borough links and combine duties as MP for Finchley and Friern Barnet with those as a world leader.
“From Ottowa to Edgware—and only five minutes late,” said Councillor Mrs. Rita Levy, Mayor of Barnet two years ago, when the Prime Minister arrived at John Grooms estate in Edgware Way to present the Paul Jackson minibus for the disabled and to tour the estate.
The money for the bus was raised during Mrs. Levy 's appeal for holiday homes for multiple sclerosis victims during her Mayoral year.
The appeal committee, led by Councillor Mrs. Ena Summers, raised £28,000—and the £12,000 minibus, which Mrs. Thatcher was horrified to learn took six months to deliver from Dagenham, was the final presentation.
The appeal had previously handed over a caravan now based in Dorset, and being maintained by John Grooms Association for the Disabled, and a motorised caravan.
Mrs. Thatcher, making her first-ever visit to the estate, was welcomed by the Mayor of Barnet, Councillor Mrs. Rosa Freedman, Lord Bethell, the Euro-MP for London North-West, Mr. John Gorst, MP for Hendon North, and Mr. Frank Willows, the chairman of John Grooms.
On the platform party was Mrs. Valda Jackson, widow of 24-year-old Mr. Paul Jackson after whom the minibus was named. Mr. Jackson and his family were the first users of the holiday caravan provided by the appeal—but who died a few months ago.
On her way into the hall Mrs. Thatcher stopped for a personal word with Freeman of the Borough Mrs. Clara Thubrun, a former alderman and Mayor of Hendon.
The Prime Minister told the guests that the minibus would open avenues of communication for many.
During her hour and a half stay at John Grooms the Prime Minister visited the swimming pool, visited disabled residents in their rooms and watched 20-year-old thalidomide victim Lorraine Braysher transfer from one wheelchair to another with powered steering and a middle-wheel drive.
Mrs. Thatcher tried using the powered wheelchair herself and, as she slid backwards, advised those of us watching: “I'd get out of the way if I were you.”
Despite her security entourage and a police presence Mrs. Thatcher saw nothing but friendly faces at John Grooms.
It was slightly different when she arrived at the Town Hall, Hendon, to unveil the statue, Family of Man, which has been donated to the borough by the Rayne Foundation to commemorate the twinning of Barnet with the municipality of Ramat Gan in Israel.
Among the crowds in The Burroughs waiting to see the Prime Minister and the unveiling were a handful of demonstrators with 12 posters on behalf of Nalgo and the TGWU protesting, among other things, at cuts in the library service.
The Union Jack and the Israeli flags proudly flew over the town hall and an Israeli television crew was on hand to record the unveiling for transmission that evening.
Inside the town hall as Councillor Frank Gibson, chairman of the Friends of Ramat Gan, welcomed the Prime Minister there was nothing but applause and goodwill as representatives of two nations stood side by side.
The Israeli Ambassador, Mr. Shlomo Argov, was there. So was the Mayor of Ramat Gan, Dr. Israel Peled. They heard Mr. Gibson say there were some 1,000 municipal twinnings, but this was probably the first time, two towns had twin statues. A duplicate was unveiled 3,000 miles away in Ramat Gan in May.
Mrs. Thatcher said she had been to Ramat Gan … “you have made a marvellous choice of twin towns.”
After the unveiling, Mr. Gibson said that the present Mayor and her escort, Mr. Joe Freedman, a Freeman of the Borough and a former Mayor, had actively supported the twinning.
He jokingly introduced Mr. Freedman as “Barnet's Denis Thatcher,” adding: “But ‘Anyone for Joe’ doesn't seem right.”
Among the speakers was Councillor Norman Hirshfield, another former Mayor of Barnet, the originator of the twinning in his Mayoral year. He is life vice-president of the Friends of Ramat Gan.
Among the guests at the town hall were Barnet's two Euro-MPs, Lord Bethell and Mr. John Marshall, and Lords Rayne and Goodman, trustees of the Rayne Foundation. Lord Rayne, who lives in Barnet, was accompanied by Lady Rayne.
Mrs. Thatcher— “what we are making is good news and it won't be reported nationally” —was presented with a replica of the statue. “It will be in my study at Downing Street,” she reported.
The Mayor referred to the statue as “This remarkable piece of sculpture.” She said she hoped it would stand as a symbol of independence and tolerance.
One informal note was struck when Mr. Hirshfield was speaking. His grandson, Ylan, ran across the front of the VIPs to stand alongside the councillor and Mr. Hirschfield recovered to say how pleased he was to have his Israeli grandson at his side.
The Family of Man statue was fashioned by a well-known Israeli sculptor, Mr. Itzhak Ofer. The entire cost of the statue, its transportation, siting and landscaping was met by the trustees of the Rayne Foundation. There was no cost to Barnet.
The 7ft-high statue, cast in bronze and finished a durable matt black, has a simple design. Basically it is a solid column with a swirl going upwards and at the top there are four domes for symbolic heads in slightly varied sizes and height.
Although the commercial value of each statue is between £10,000–£20,000, Mr. Ofer charged no fee for the design or his work in production.
After the chanting mini-demonstration outside the town hall, Mrs. Thatcher received an almost Royal welcome from the soldiers, wives and children at Inglis Barracks. Youngsters lined the streets waving to Mrs. Thatcher as she drove past.
She stayed more than two hours at the barracks, being shown around the postal and courier depot by the commandant, Col. Rolph James, and Major Bill Whiting, officer commanding the postal wing, and then chatting to groups of Servicemen and their families over tea and cakes in the junior ranks canteen. During her tour WO2 Jim Donovan presented her with an album— “I shall treasure that,” she said—and she signed a first-day cover which could eventually be worth £500.
Six hours after she started her visit to Barnet Mrs. Thatcher seemed as fresh and as interested as when she arrived, although she confessed that although she wanted to take her hat off she could not in case her hair “looked a mess.”
I complimented her on her energy, saying: “My feet are killing me following you around all afternoon.”
Mrs. Thatcher smiled. “Your feet are killing you?” she replied.
She then drove off to her final engagement of the day, a private cocktail party at a constituent's flat in Finchley where she had to meet another 150 guests.