Terence Blacker: I'm feeling sorry for Lady Thatcher

It was at this point that Carol, exercising the twin's right of revenge, stepped into the spotlight
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The end of the year must be approaching because a mellow, generous perspective on major current events is beginning to set in. Edwina Currie has another diary on the go in which she promises to tell us even more about her affair with John Major, and that is just fine. It is also excellent news that the BBC has found a new Queen of Chat in Davina McCall and that she is going to be paid a million a year. As for the reports that a TV highlight this Christmas will be the unveiling of Rolf Harris's portrait of Her Majesty the Queen, I personally can hardly wait.

All the same, one involuntary surge of seasonal warmth and sympathy has taken me by surprise. I find myself feeling rather sorry for Lady Thatcher. It is not her decrepitude and ill health that are tugging insistently at the heartstrings, so much as the deplorable behaviour of those closest to her. For a decade, she led a government committed to the idea that, as she put it, "children need to be taught to respect traditional moral values", and what has happened to her in her dotage? Her children have thoroughly misbehaved.

It might be said that, since her short-term memory is in seriously poor shape, she will be unaware of the antics of her twins. Some people might even argue that, while Mark leaves a lot to be desired, at least Carol, having eaten a kangaroo's balls on TV, is well on the way to becoming a national treasure. But, ominously for her mother and perhaps for the rest of us, Carol Thatcher has now declared her intention to "do some more telly" and grab what "adventures" she can. This can only mean one thing: she will be soon be in competition with Neil and Christine Hamilton, Cannon and Ball and Vanessa Feltz for the panicky-middle-aged slot on future reality TV shows.

Not so many years ago, the Thatchers, with all their imperfections, represented the trials and strengths of family life. Dad was a sweet old duffer, Mum a brutally effective battleaxe. Between them, they had produced a rotter and a good egg. The rotter went on to make a load of cash and marry a blonde while the good egg had her heart broken by a cad, Jonathan Aitken, before going on to work in a solid, unflashy fashion in the media. It was all as it should be. A raffish sort of achievement on one side, a good-hearted muddle on the other: the duality of the twins presented a satisfying dramatic unity.

Since then, the picture has become more complicated. There had always been something faintly comical about Mark Thatcher, the dodgy Old Harrovian forever ducking and diving and falling flat on his face. To be a successful bounder, one needs not only to be shameless but to have charm and something approaching a brain. Apparently lacking these attributes, Mark was more Pooter than Flashman.

His African adventure, an involvement with a ludicrous coup planned for Equatorial Guinea, might have read like something out of an Evelyn Waugh novel, but the fact that it involved real guns and real lives took the edge off the situation's humour. Mark Thatcher, guilty as charged, divorced, rattling around from one country to another, has become an embarrassing, even rather pathetic, figure.

It was at this point that, exercising the twin's right of revenge, Carol stepped into the spotlight. The British love a strong middle-aged woman - it appeals to their innate craving for Nanny - and, now that she is a reality star, it only remains for Carol to choose which off-the-peg celebrity type she would like to be. Christine Hamilton has bagged the battleaxe role, Jennie Bond the toff, while Edwina Currie plays the mutton-dressed-as-lamb part to perfection.

The signs, depressingly, are that Carol Thatcher will be the woman who has overcome domestic dysfunction and disappointment to come through as a real person, a terrific sport who can eat a wallaby's penis on TV and laugh about it afterwards. Since she was crowned ITV's "Queen of the Jungle", we have had references to a chilly childhood, and her brother has been publicly blamed for causing Lady Thatcher additional suffering, the details of which she has also shared with the nation. She has no idea which country Mark has reached, does not have her mother's telephone number, but feels that her fifties are time to have a bit of fun.

One twin a failed spiv, the other a garrulous celebrity: how confusing it must be for the woman whose political career is remembered in the unwittingly cruel phrase "Thatcher's children". In a 1988 essay for The New York Times, the late Malcolm Bradbury offered a vivid description of that generation:

"They work hard, own stocks and shares, take out large loans to buy their own homes or apartments ... They generally practice serial monogamy, take their 1.9 children to the art gallery on Sundays, trade domestic chores because both halves of the couple are working professionals, are computer-literate, carry around beepers and portable telephones and tote their plastic money in leather-bound organisers that also contain the address of their acupuncturist. This is Britain's New Class. And not since World War II have we seen anything like their bustling seriousness, their designer style and their confidence in the future."

At the time, the values of these people, the greed-is-good gang, were regarded with derision. Now, when one considers the careers and ambitions of Thatcher's real children, they seem rather grown-up and enviable.