Snowed in and marking student essays today, I was reminded that the latest release from the National Archives revealed, according to news reports, that Margaret Thatcher was prone to writing things like ‘No!’ and ‘This will not do’ in the margins of draft documents written by civil servants – although I suppose it would have been more surprising and newsworthy if it had emerged that she sprinkled the margins with encouraging words, kisses and smiley faces.
Of course, now we are living at the end of the consumer revolution in higher education initiated by Mrs. Thatcher – under the latest regime announced by Lord Mandelson, university courses will be tagged with dropout rates and student feedback, modelled on a supermarket food labelling system – ‘No!’ and ‘This will not do’ are the very last things one should ever write in the margins of student essays. Not that I would ever want to.
There is a great Billy Collins poem about marginalia which you can read at
More on Billy Collins anon because he is coming to my uni this year, hooray.
I did a piece about Mass Observation for the Faber website – they are republishing some of the MO books – which you can read at