Margaret Thatcher - we all know she polarised opinion during her lifetime and continues to do so after her death.

The policies and the leadership style - you either love her or hate her, eh? How interesting then to read a memoir by a young Scot whose feelings about Maggie are not so clear-cut.

Damian Barr is a successful journalist, based in Brighton, who seems to have a dream life. Recruited by The Times straight out of university, he writes for a range of national newspapers and glossy magazines. He hosts a literary salon in Shoreditch, runs reading weekends in country hotels, and was one of the first hotel “readers-in-residence”, available for guests to book for an hour to read to them. How fabulous, fragrant and fun.

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And what a contrast to his early life, which he documents in his brilliant new memoir, Maggie & Me. Born in 1976, Damian grew up in the shadow of Ravenscraig, where his father worked. After his parents split up, he was subjected to barbaric cruelty at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend. Brainy, gangly, gay and asthmatic, he was bullied at school. He experienced the full impact of Thatcher’s school-milk swiping, Poll Tax- imposing, ‘care in the community’ philosophy.

And yet, unlike everyone he grew up with, he didn’t and still does not, hate Thatcher. In the middle of an utterly chaotic - at times brutal - childhood, she was a constant, and, yes, a source of inspiration: an outsider, battling on, impervious to criticism. Undoubtedly, many readers will be riled at the thought of this positive spin on Thatcher, but Barr is writing from his own, unique perspective - he knows she almost screwed his life up completely, but also acknowledges that she was a glimmer of light in the darkness.

It’s a compelling read, which I thoroughly recommend, but it also highlights a vital point, as the independence debate heats up. Writers like Barr and comedians like Susan Calman must be able to be express their opinions, be honest, barbed, funny - whatever - without being subjected to attacks by censoring cyber-bullies. I look forward to more jokes, satire, cabaret, songs, plays and art in the run-up to the referendum. If we’re not free to be honest and yes, have a laugh, we really are the sick man of Europe.

 

It’s hard to believe that the south side of Glasgow does not have a cinema. Make the most of the next week, then - southsiders and those from other airts and pairts - as the Southside Film Festival is running until next Sunday, the 19th of May.

Screenings and events are happening in a range of venues including The Glad Cafe and the Pollok Ex-Servicemen’s Club. You can watch a film about caravanning in a scout hall and a music documentary in a gig venue. There’s even a screening on the last night of Battleship Potemkin with live Wurlitzer Organ accompaniment. It’s staffed by brilliant volunteers, so show your support. Full details at www.southsidefilmfestival.net