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September 20th, 2014

Insight

Down here on a visit

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published August 20, 2014

Down here on a visit Taylor Jones, El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico
It was one of those faux Ye Old English Tea Shoppes serving tidbits as inauthentic as its spelling and typography, neither of which would have passed muster in Shakespeare's first folio. But any port in the downpour outside, and there wasn't a Chinese restaurant in sight, my usual island of serenity in a passing storm.

The dainty little menu, doubtless assembled with your maiden aunt from Dubuque in mind, offered a variety of just what you would expect: crumpets, tea cakes, and jam-and-clotted cream to go with your days-old scone. Let's just say it wasn't Twining's on the Strand. Or even the Empress in Victoria, B.C.

But, thank the Lord, who is surely English and a gentleman at that, there was a wide variety of imported teas that not even this tiny latter-day establishment (founded 2013) could tamper with.

Ah, yes, a good strong breakfast blend was called for, one that would wash away the aftertaste of the latest mediocre editorial I'd just committed. Writing on deadline, if it can be called writing at all, is scarcely the way to serve you, Ever Indulgent Reader. "Nothing can be more useful to a man," said Thoreau, "than the determination not to be hurried." Clearly he was not in the newspaper business.

The place had all the usual accouterments of a poor imitation of a real English tea room: an adjoining gift shop full of tchotchkes no decent shoplifter would bother to steal, an aged waitress in good serviceable shoes (the only authentic feature in the room), and an atmosphere -- excuse me, ambiance -- that you knew it would be a relief to leave behind in half an hour. But tea is tea, necessity is the mother of desperation, and ... goodness, who was that over in the corner looking out the window with a properly concealed disdain?

She seemed familiar, the hair as fixed in place as the neutral expression on her face (Never Let 'Em See You Sweat), the tailored suit she wore more like a suit of armor, the single strand of pearls to go with the brooch and earrings (expensive but durable rather than showy), the standard fussy pussy-bow blouse worn like the uniform-of-the-day every day, and the solid, matronly bag placed carefully next to her proper Englishwoman's gloves on the other chair at the table to ward off the curious ... all together an ensemble that Hyacinth Bucket of the BBC's "Keeping Up Appearances" would have approved. But, no, it couldn't be ... not the Iron Lady herself.

"Lady Thatcher!" I couldn't help exclaiming. "Forgive me for interrupting, but I was so surprised to see you again. What on earth, or maybe heaven, are you doing here? I thought you'd had a previous engagement some time ago...."

"Down here on a visit," she explained. Politely but, as always, distantly. The lady, and Lady, hadn't changed a bit. "I had to get away. All those Heavenly Choirs singing Bach, you know. They can get heavy. I'm told that at the end of the day, which up there can last for an eternity, and finally getting to retire to the servants' quarters, they play Mozart, which must be a relief. A change is as good as a rest, you know, if one can manage it without being recognized.

"And, no, I don't give out autographs. Never did like it, and now I can indulge a few preferences of my own. I'm just here for afters. And would much prefer my own company, by your leave. One must be resolute about such matters. Or as I told one of your presidents, 'Look, George, this is no time to go wobbly.' It never is, you know, or you won't do the job you set out to do, which is to deter aggression. If you don't, some little Hitler or Stalin will become convinced the West doesn't have the leadership or guts to stop him. No, we can't very well fall at the first fence, you know. Or he'll think he's cracking our resolve, and then the first crack will become a bigger crack and the whole world will come a-cropper."

"Look what's happening now with your current president. My, I do miss your Mr. Reagan -- I would never call him Ronnie -- even though I had to stiffen his backbone from time to time. As in that late unpleasantness over the Falklands, which are definitely not the Malvinas and never will be as far as I am concerned. There will always be an England, you know, at least if they'd listen to me. As for your current president, he's nothing but wobbly, is he? Except when he's wobblier. What a contrast with Mr. Reagan, like Clement Attlee succeeding Winston Churchill. If the trouble with liberals' fiscal policy is that they eventually run out of other people's money, the trouble with appeasers' foreign policy is that they eventually run out of other countries to sacrifice."

"Lady Thatcher, it's been more than good of you to visit with me, and I'll trouble you no longer. But before I go out into this vale of tears again, just one more question. It's the inky wretch inside me. Could you tell me how I might sum up the essence of your foreign policy? Like your domestic one, it changed the world's whole impression of Britain as in inevitable decline."

"Constancy of purpose."

And brevity of speech, I thought. But before I could tell her so ... she was gone. But someone like her never quite is.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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