The flat at 11 Downing Street is notoriously detested by chancellors’ wives – those five bathrooms with no one else to clean them, civil servants blandly opening the front door and using the lavatory just inside. (‘And I have to go to Sainsbury’s to buy their lavatory paper and Harpic’ was a running irritation for one wife.) Edna Healey sailed serenely through these vicissitudes.
Yet there’s something odd about this beautifully written book. Did we not know of the Healeys’ exceptionally happy marriage, we might wonder if Edna was using two of these three wives to deliver to her own famous husband an elegant punch on the nose. Deadpan, she describes the ‘invisible’ Mary Livingstone and Jenny Marx with a vividness that should send even non-feminists pounding to the barricades.
Edna Healey has never, so far as I know, espoused the feminist movement. For herself it wasn’t necessary. This lovely looking, lovely natured, clever daughter of a Forest of Dean crane driver was not about to be an invisible wife. No likelihood of Denis, a Ia Dr Livingstone, calling her