LONDON — Normally staid and unruffled British commuters talked about it on the London Underground. Office workers partied and bookmakers reported a booming trade in bets on Margaret Thatcher's successor as prime minister.
London was in the midst of an air of disbelief and celebration today, a resignation hangover.
Thatcher, the long-lived Iron Lady of British politics, was effectively history, and whether or not they agreed with her policies, people felt a gap in their lives--the loss of a favorite hate figure or a cherished leader.
Hundreds of bouquets were laid at the gates of Westminster during her farewell speech in the British Parliament. Fans spoke movingly of her importance as a role model, even though her political ideologies may have never made a dent in their lives.
Bookstores reported a booming trade in instant Thatcher memorabilia.
"The telephone has not stopped. It's remarkable. They want Thatcher mugs, T-shirts, postcards, anything they can get their hands on," said Keith Read, manager of a bookstore near Westminster.
Office workers in The City, London's financial district, reported a festive atmosphere after Thatcher's resignation.
"We've had two days of partying in the office. A lot of it is 'ding-dong, the witch is dead' sort of stuff," said Julia Meehan, an analyst with a consultant firm.
Many said that Thatcher's surprise resignation Thursday morning, after announcing she would continue to fight for her Conservative Party's leadership position the night before, would rank as one of the most memorable public moments of their lives, comparing it to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that fell by coincidence on the same date, Nov. 22.
"My first thought was, 'Gosh,' " said a 24-year-old office worker, recounting the moment when she saw the news splashed on the headlines of the mid-morning tabloids. "I just never thought she'd go."
The young woman felt no personal allegiance to Thatcher's brand of economic reform, but said she was sad to see her go. "It's going to go downhill. People don't know how to run the country anymore," she said.