Who among us can honestly say that our children have never done anything a little bit naughty in the past? Sneaking a chocolate from the second layer in the box when no one was looking; going into next door's garden to get their ball back without asking; funding military coups in Third World countries with an eye to making an illegal fortune. No child is perfect, and they grow out of these things; he's only 51, for goodness' sake.
The news that Sir Mark Thatcher had been arrested for alleged involvement in a botched coup attempt seemed to chime with the other headline of the week that boys are finally catching up with the girls. Unless, of course, Carol Thatcher suddenly gets caught flogging AK-47s to Colombian terrorists in order to secure lucrative cocaine-smuggling contracts; nothing would surprise me anymore. Frankly, I blame the parents.
News first leaked out six months ago of an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. Early details were sketchy, though first reports suggested that it was possibly in Africa or maybe in South America -- oh, hang on, that's Ecuador and Guyana, isn't it? Anyway, no one in the newsroom had ever been there on holiday, and since no Americans were involved the story was quickly forgotten.
But recently it emerged that the ex-Etonian organizer of the coup was an old friend of Mark Thatcher (they were joint winners of Upper Class Twit of the Year 1982), and from his cell in a high-security African prison, he wrote a letter demanding that the son of the former prime minister help get him out. That'll teach Mark to put his details on Friends Reunited. Sir Mark was arrested on Wednesday morning in his pajamas at his home outside Cape Town, and if found guilty of involvement in the conspiracy could face a lengthy jail sentence.
Lefties in the '80s sought inspiration from prisoners in South Africa, so look out for Tories at next month's party conference sporting T-shirts saying "Free Sir Mark Thatcher!" Incidentally, a large payment to the leader of the coup was made by someone with the name J. Archer, and it has been reported that Lady Thatcher is "extremely distressed" at the news of the affair. It just gets better and better.
However, this African adventure does leave the rest of us wondering if we lead rather mundane lives. None of my old school friends has ever asked me to lend a helicopter to assist his ex-SAS mercenaries stage a Third World coup with a view to making millions out of oil reserves. I was invited to a bring-and-buy sale to raise funds for the new rubber matting under the school swings, but somehow it didn't have quite the same dangerous glamour.
Sir Mark (who owes his knighthood to his mother's inspired idea of bringing back hereditary honors just before she herself retired) has never been very far from controversy. Despite the thousands spent on his education at Harrow school, he only managed three O-levels and then failed his accountancy finals three times. Apparently, examiners were not impressed with the way he answered every hypothetical funding problem with the answer: "Just get mummy to have a word with them."
Yet he has since accumulated a fortune of around 60 million pounds with no one being very sure where any of it comes from. Perhaps he just cuts a lot of money-off coupons out of Take-a-Break magazine. Heaven forbid that he might have ever used his family connections to secure any dodgy business deals. The allegation that he was in Oman in 1981 to act as an intermediary for a 300 million-pound deal secured by his mother is completely without foundation. No, he just happened to be in the Middle East because he took another wrong turn in the Sahara Desert.
Neither is there any truth in the allegations that he made 12 million pounds in commissions on the al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia, signed by his mother. No, he was on a CND demo at the time. Of course, by the time Mrs. T. was thrown out of office, America also had a leader with a stupid son who seemed to make a curiously large amount of money out of some rather shady deals, so I suppose we should just be grateful that Thatcher Jr. hasn't followed his mother into No. 10.
In fact, episodes like this remind us of the type of morality that prevailed during the greedy Thatcher years. Thank heavens things have moved on. Can you imagine our current prime minister being associated with the sort of people who'd embark on some ill-thought-out military adventure because they hoped to install a regime that would allow them to get their hands on the country's oil reserves? It's completely unthinkable.