Richard Ingrams' Week: Surely a case for staying at home with the children

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The Independent Online

Delving into the new archive of The Times, Matthew Parris has unearthed what he thinks is that paper's first-ever profile of the former Tory leader Margaret Thatcher, headed "Minister with enough time for family commitments". Published in 1961, two years after Thatcher made her maiden speech in Parliament, The Times's profile was complimentary and supportive: "Often it is said that for women, family life and a political career are incompatible. Mrs Thatcher's progress demonstrates that this is not so."

Nobody nowadays would have the nerve to suggest that for women family life and a political career are incompatible. But way back in 1961 it was still a big issue.

The BBC's recent play about Thatcher's early career, The Long Walk to Finchley, took liberties with the facts, even introducing a preposterous suggestion that in her early career she fancied Edward Heath, who was predictably horrified by the idea.

The play was probably right, however, in suggesting how difficult it was then for a married woman to be adopted as a Tory candidate. Time after time she was asked by the selection committee how she would hope to combine the roles of mother and Member of Parliament.

These objectors were made to look foolish and old-fashioned in the light of our equal-opportunities society. But one wonders whether the fuddy-duddies might not feel a little bit vindicated when considering the career of Sir Mark Thatcher, once again in the news this week over his role in the abortive plot to overthrow the leader of Equatorial Guinea.

Sir Mark's career to date has been a story of unmitigated disaster. Scarcely anyone has a good word to say for him. He has been involved in all kinds of stories linking him to shady Middle East arms deals, not forgetting his getting lost in the Sahara desert.

Would things have been different if mummy had been at home full-time? We can only speculate. But it might make a better play than the one the BBC put on.

How to save money and feel smug

Those with long memories are currently thinking back to the 1970s when we had a serious economic crisis caused by a sudden increase in the price of oil. There was inflation then; there were strikes and some people worried that there might even be a revolution.

Economists are busy trying to reassure us that things are very different this time round. For a start, the trade unions which caused a lot of the trouble then – culminating in the infamous winter of discontent – have been rendered pretty well powerless by the measures taken by the Iron Lady.

But those of us who followed the recent strike by the Shell tanker drivers may well have their doubts about this particular analysis. Not only did the management give in to the union, but the public, when advised not to panic, seemed only too ready to do so.

Meanwhile, with the 1970s as our guide, we have been inundated with advice from journalists about how to cope with rising prices by making little economies. Is the price of food going up? Then here are some helpful tips about how to grow your own vegetables.

All this will make those not directly affected by the economic crisis feel better about themselves. As my old friend and mentor Malcolm Muggeridge once put it: "There is nothing that gives the well-to-do greater satisfaction than to be asked to economise for the good of their country. The money saved gratifies their avarice: the fact that in saving they are performing a public service adds a glow of self-righteousness."

* The current popularity of writers such as Richard Dawkins suggests that a great many people share the professor's dislike not just of religion but of any phenomenon that cannot be scientifically explained.

For that reason I have always welcomed the annual arrival of the crop circles, which although they have been appearing in our fields now for at least 20 years, are still defying the scientists to tell us how they got there in the first place.

And it looks as if every year they become more and more complex in their formation. This week pictures of the latest circle were published showing a huge and elaborate circular pattern near Barbury Castle on the Berkshire Ridgeway. Mathematicians have recognised what they call a coded image representing the first 10 digits of pi. Some years ago a couple of chancers calling themselves Doug and Dave went on TV and showed how they had made a crop circle crushing down the crop with a large wooden plank. Since then the accepted wisdom has been that all the crop circles are the work of hoaxers.

One difficulty was that there were an awful lot of the circles. So was there a whole army of hoaxers at work? And why would they make them in out-of-the-way spots where they could be seen properly only from the air? More importantly, how could men working by night produce such complex patterns and do so for 20 years or more without anyone ever catching them at it?

It is altogether easier to believe that they are the work of little green men in flying saucers.