Every year, on the anniversary of the death of hated 1980s prime minister Margaret Thatcher, the elderly residents of State Retirement Home SY-379 hold a festival of celebration. Balloons and bunting go up, raucous punk music is played, memories are relived by those who still have all their faculties, and a good time is had by all.
With the thirtieth anniversary of Thatcher’s death coming up in just a few weeks, Colin Baxter decides to make this year’s Thatcher Day something to be remembered. He contacts octogenarian punk band Sick Bastard and books them to play live at the retirement home, promising to pay them in free beer.
There’s just one problem: how to get the band, their equipment, and the beer, past the Gestapo retirement home manager who lives upstairs?
Colin Baxter strained to hear a Rezillos song above the incessant chatter of the other residents sitting around the communal lounge. Why everyone had to shout at each other when their armchairs were only a foot apart was beyond him. And if everyone was so deaf, or their tinnitus was so loud they couldn’t hear themselves converse at a normal volume, why did the music piped into the retirement home’s speakers need to be so quiet? It was barely audible.
Colin sighed. He looked down at his entoPAD screen and prodded the Silver Punkers Community Forum icon. He waited for a video advert to finish playing, then scrolled through the subject headings with his gnarled index finger. Most of the posts were adverts for garishly coloured mobility aids. Leopard-skin patterned walking sticks with skull and crossbones handles, pink and yellow mobility scooters with the words Boredom or Nowhere printed on the front basket. Colin wished there was some way to filter out all the nonsense to make the genuine content easier to find.
Frank Sterner shuffled by with his walking frame, making his third trip around the outskirts of the retirement home lounge that morning. Colin watched his slow, ponderous movement past a set of French doors leading out to the back yard. Frank paused in the doorway and looked out before continuing his journey.
Near the lounge door, Fiona Scott sat asleep in her armchair with her mouth hanging open. A line of saliva dripped from her chin. Sitting next to Fiona, Sharon Baker smiled at her entoPAD. She laughed, and held the screen out to Louise Brown on her left. Louise looked, smiled and nodded to Sharon, then turned her attention back to her own entoPAD. Louise wore a pair of headphones, and her white-haired head bobbed from side to side. Her lips formed a string of obscenities as she sang along to whatever it was she was listening to.
Colin wished he had thought to bring his own headphones into the lounge, then he could listen to his own choice of music at whatever volume he liked. But he had left them behind in the dormitory when he got up that morning, and couldn’t be bothered going to fetch them. Besides, his bad knee was giving him gyp and he didn’t want to put any unnecessary weight on it if he could avoid it.
Colin looked at Greg Lomax, sitting on his right. Greg stared into space, the left side of his face drooped and immobile. The old man hummed tunelessly to himself, only pausing to take a wheezing breath.
“Oi Greg,” Colin said, “have you got your headphones on you?”
Greg stopped humming and looked at Colin. “Nrr, Err lrrft thr in thr brrdrrm,” he said.
Colin leaned forward so he could catch the attention of Tony Harris, who sat in the next armchair along from Greg Lomax.
“Oi, Tony, have you got your headphones on you?”
Tony shook his head. “No, mate, sorry.” His voice sounded muffled beneath the oxygen mask strapped over his mouth and nose.
“No worries,” Colin said. He turned to his left, where Dave Turner sat peering at his entoPAD screen through thick jam-jar-bottom spectacles. Dave’s hearing aid whistled like the feedback of an electric guitar, in harmony with Greg’s humming. Colin decided not to bother asking Dave if he could borrow his hearing aid. Once Colin finished looking through the new posts on Silver Punkers he would just hold the entoPAD against his ear and listen that way.
“Fucking smart,” Dave said to himself.
“What’s that, mate?” Colin asked.
Dave held his entoPAD out in one shaking hand. Colin glanced at it and smiled. A young child on the entoPAD screen swayed on the bottom rung of a climbing frame surrounded by soft foam mattresses. The child’s face was obscured by a full-face safety helmet with chin-guard, and Colin couldn’t tell from the thick padded clothes it was wearing whether it was a boy or a girl. Nearby, a young woman in her mid-twenties hovered with her hands outstretched to catch the child should it fall from the climbing frame.
“That’s me great-grandson,” Dave said. He grinned at Colin through gapped, yellow teeth. “He’s three, and he’s a right fucking terror.”
Colin nodded and smiled back. “Yeah, he looks it.”
Dave prodded the young woman on the screen and the video zoomed in on her anxious face. “That’s me grandson’s missus. Not done too bad for himself, has he?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Shame they’re always so fucking busy, I wouldn’t mind meeting them one day.”
Colin combed his fingers through strands of white hair on the left side of his otherwise bald, liver-spotted head. He nodded and looked back at the screen of his own entoPAD.
“Yeah. That’s the way it goes though, innit? Mine are no different. I used to look after my granny, you know? Back in the day, that is. She’s long gone now. Different times, back then. Good time to be young though.”
“Fuck, yeah,” Dave said. “The best. I wouldn’t want to swap it for what the youngsters have got now.”
Colin smiled. “Yeah. Their music’s shite for one thing. And there’s no dole, so you can’t even enjoy yourself like we did.”
Dave nodded. “Yeah, good times. You remember that fucking security guard in Woolworths? The one with the limp, reckoned he was in the SAS or somesuch?”
“Yeah, Sergeant Hoppalong. Me and my mate Bri had loads of fun with that cunt. He had a thing about Action Man, used to go fucking ballistic if you messed about with them.”
“Yeah?” Dave said. “Wish I’d known that. We used to put on fake Irish accents when we knew he was hovering around. That wound him up no end too.”
The lounge door banged open. Colin looked up and saw a bald, middle-aged man push a trolley into the room.
“Looks like another new one,” Colin said to Dave. “I bet you a biscuit he’s on the fucking workfare.”
Dave smiled and shook his head. “You must think I’m fucking daft. Of course he will be.” He looked down at his entoPAD, went back to watching family videos.
A Lurkers song started playing through the lounge speakers. Colin nodded his head in time with it while he watched the bald man push the trolley toward Fiona Scott. The bald man coughed. When Fiona didn’t stir from her sleep he shook her by the shoulders. She startled awake.
“Medication time,” the bald man said. “What’s your name, granny?”
Fiona looked up, but said nothing.
“That’s Fiona Scott,” Colin called out. “She doesn’t really say much.”
The man looked at Colin and grunted. He rifled through paper medicine bags on the trolley and picked one out. He tore it open, took out two blue capsules, and dropped them into a small plastic cup. He held the cup out to Fiona. Fiona’s mouth dropped open. The man sighed and tipped the capsules into her mouth. He pushed them to the back of her throat with his fingers and closed her mouth, then tilted her head back until she swallowed them.
Colin shook his head and looked down at his entoPAD. He swiped his finger up the screen to scroll through message headings on the Silver Punkers Community Forum. Hidden among the adverts he noticed a post with the heading Thatcher Day 30 and prodded it. Despite only being posted an hour ago, it already had over two hundred replies.
Thatcher Day celebrations, 8th April 2043. Post your memories of that fucking evil bitch here. Never forget, never forgive.
Colin checked the day’s date on his entoPAD clock. He smiled when he saw how close it was to the best day of the year.
“Thatcher Day again soon, Dave,” Colin said.
Dave looked at Colin. His eyes widened. “What, already? Fuck me, that’s come around again quick, hasn’t it? It only seems like a few months since the last one.”
“Yeah, time’s spinning by these days. It’s the thirtieth anniversary this year. We should do something special to mark the occasion.”
Colin shrugged. “Dunno. I thought maybe you might have some ideas?”
Dave scratched his head and frowned. A cloud of dandruff settled on his shoulders. “None at all, mate. We could give Thatcher a good kicking?”
Colin shook his head. “Nah, we do that every year. We’ll do that as well, of course, but I was thinking something really special. Something we haven’t done before.”
“What about setting fire to her? Like we did that first year, when the news first broke. Remember that?”
Colin smiled. “Yeah, Ding Dong the Witch is Dead. We had a fucking great party that night at our council estate. Even the little kiddies joined in, it were fucking magic. Maggie Maggie Maggie…”
“Dead, dead, dead!” Dave replied, smiling.
“We’re not going to burn Thatcher though. What would we do next year without her? She’s the star of the party, for fuck’s sake.”
“Yeah, good point. I never thought of that.”
The bald man pushed the medication trolley across the lounge and stood before Greg Lomax. “What’s your name, granddad?”
Greg looked up and spoke slowly, with deliberation. Only the right side of his mouth moved, the left drooped down in a frown. “Ir Grrr Limmurr.”
The bald man frowned. “You what?” He raised his voice, as if addressing a naughty child. “I said what’s your name, granddad. What’s. Your. Name? Do. You. Under. Stand. Me?”
“Grrr Limmurr,” Greg said, raising his voice to the same volume.
The bald man sighed and shook his head. He turned to Colin and jerked a thumb at Greg. “What’s this one’s name then?”
“Greg Lomax,” Colin said.
The bald man flicked through the medication bags and pulled one out. He tore it open and tipped two white pills and two blue capsules into the palm of his hand. He pushed Greg’s head back, prised his mouth open, and dropped all four onto Greg’s tongue. Greg spat them out into his right hand as soon as the bald man released him.
“Err cnn drr ir mrrr srll, yrr crnt,” Greg said. “Brr ir nrr srrm wrrter.”
The bald man looked at Colin.
Colin smiled. “He says he can do it himself, but he needs some water.”
“Right,” the bald man said. He picked up a water jug from the trolley and filled a small red plastic beaker. “Here. You. Go. Some. Water. For. You.”
“Frrr urrrf yrr crnt, err nrr strrpird,” Greg said. He pulled a hard plastic straw from his pyjama shirt pocket and popped it in the side of his mouth. He took the beaker and raised it to the straw, sucked up a mouthful of water and glared up at the bald man. He swallowed the four pills, one at a time, while the bald man stared down at him.
The bald man grunted, then took the beaker from Greg. He put it down on the trolley and turned to Colin.
“So which one are you then?”
The bald man found Colin’s medication and handed him two blue capsules in a small plastic cup. Colin took them and rolled them around the cup’s base.
“You going to take those or do you need help with them?” the bald man asked. He folded his arms.
“I’ll need some water,” Colin said, “me throat’s dry.” The bald man grunted and passed him the beaker of water Greg Lomax had used. “You’re new, yeah?” Colin asked.
“Yeah, started today.”
The bald man shrugged. “What of it?”
Colin glanced at Dave and smiled. He turned back to the bald man. “Just wondering.”
“Yeah well, just take your medication and don’t give me any shit, granddad.”
Colin held the man’s stare while he tipped the two blue capsules into his mouth. He didn’t know what they were for, the only regular medication he had ever needed before moving into the retirement home was for hayfever.
The bald man glared while Colin took a sip of water to wash the capsules down. He nodded, then took the beaker from Colin and put it down on the trolley. He turned to Dave Turner and asked his name.
Colin raised a fist to his mouth and faked a cough as he spat the blue capsules out. He glanced at the bald man, saw he wasn’t watching, and transferred the capsules to his dressing gown pocket for later disposal. He looked up and saw Louise Brown watching him from across the room. She smiled and winked. Colin smiled back and nodded.
* * *
Later that night, Colin looked up from his entoPAD when he heard hobnail boots clumping down the hallway toward the dormitory he shared with the other male residents. The retirement home’s manager, the only permanent member of staff, on his regular night time prowl before retiring for the evening.
Colin glanced at the clock in the corner of his entoPAD screen, surprised how late it was. The manager was usually tucked up in bed by this time, or doing whatever it was he did up there alone in his upstairs accommodation.
Colin shuffled himself down the bed and lay on his side as the footsteps stamped their way closer to the dormitory door. He slipped his entoPAD under the bedcovers and closed his eyes just before the door creaked open on rusted hinges and the manager shone a torch into the room. The torch’s beam flicked from bed to bed, pausing on each resident in turn. When the light fell over Colin he pretended to moan in his sleep and rolled over away from it. He opened his eyes when the torch beam flicked across to Dave Turner’s bed.
“Fuck off, you cunt,” Dave mumbled. He pulled the bedcovers over his head.
“Get to sleep, Turner,” the manager said. “You too Baxter, I know you’re still awake.”
The manager made another sweep of the dormitory with his torch and turned away. The door creaked shut and his boots echoed away down the hallway. Another door creaked open.
“Louise Brown, what do you think you’re doing? Get into bed this instant!”
“Fuck off,” came Louise’s defiant reply.
Colin smiled and struggled upright in bed. He put his entoPAD face up on a table by the side of the bed and switched on his bedside lamp. He swung his legs out of bed and directed his feet into a pair of Sex Pistols slippers. He reached for his walking stick and pushed himself upright with a grunt. The muscles in his legs ached in protest, and he winced when he felt his bad knee pop. He hobbled over to Dave Turner’s bed and sat down on its edge. He reached over and pulled the covers down from Dave’s face.
“Dave, you awake?” he whispered. He nudged Dave’s shoulder when there was no reply. “Fucking wake up, you old bastard.”
Dave snorted and rolled over to face Colin. His eyes flickered open.
“What?” he asked. He peered up at Colin. His hand darted out and fumbled for a pair of spectacles on his bedside table. The spectacles dropped to the floor when his fingers brushed against them. “Fucking hell, now look what you made me do. Who is it anyway?”
“It’s me, Colin.”
“What? Speak up, I can’t hear you.”
“For fuck’s sake Dave, put your fucking hearing aid on. If I talk any louder The Gestapo will be back, wanting to see what’s going on.”
Colin sighed and shook his head. He picked up Dave’s hearing aid and hooked it over the man’s ear. The hearing aid whistled while Dave sat up and fiddled with the volume control.
“I don’t like this thing,” Dave said, “it makes my tinnitus louder.”
“That’s because it’s a cheap piece of fucking crap mate, same as everything else they give us in here.”
“Is that you Colin? I can’t see without my glasses.”
“What’s up?” Dave asked.
“I’ve had an idea.”
“What we can do on Thatcher Day.”
Dave rubbed his eyes and yawned. His elbows cracked when he stretched out his arms. “What the fuck time is it?” he asked.
“Never mind that. I’ve been reading the Thatcher Day posts on Silver Punkers, and you’ll never guess who was on there.”
“Well yeah, there was quite a few of them. But I mean real people, not fucking nob-heads pretending to be some dead junkie. Only fucking Biffo Ratbastard. He were going on about this gig Sick Bastard did on the tenth anniversary on Parliament Square.
Says they only got through two songs before the coppers smashed everything up and carted everyone off down to the cop-shop for a kicking. Anyway, that’s what gave me the idea.”
“Which is?” Dave asked.
Colin smiled. “I sent Biffo an entoMAIL asking what the chances are of Sick Bastard coming here to play live on Thatcher Day.”
Dave shook his head. “Nah, The Gestapo would never allow that. Besides, it’s probably not even the real Biffo Ratbastard, it’ll just be someone pretending to be him.”
“Nah, mate, it’s deffo him. He’s got a verified identity icon next to his avatar.”
“Yeah well,” Dave said, “even if it is really him, why would Sick Bastard want to come to a dump like this? Anyway, I thought they’d split up years ago. Didn’t their drummer die or something?”
“Yeah, but look how many drummers they had, it was a different one on each album. They probably just got a new one.”
“So what did Biffo have to say about it then?”
“Well he hasn’t said nothing yet, I only sent the message a few minutes ago.”
Dave sighed. “Fucking hell, so why wake me up then?”
“Because if Sick Bastard do come to play I’ll need some help organising it, and there’s not many other people here with a full set of marbles.”
“Yeah well, until you hear from Biffo there’s no point even talking about it, is there? I doubt he’d be interested anyway, someone like that. They were headlining the Blackpool Punk Festival for years, for fuck’s sake, playing to massive crowds. Why would they want to come and play in a shitty retirement home in front of thirty coffin dodgers after that?” Dave took off his hearing aid, dropped it to the floor next to his spectacles, and lay down with his back to Colin.
Colin sighed and cracked his knuckles. He stood up with a grunt and went back to bed. He reached over to pick up his entoPAD from the bedside table and pulled a pair of headphones from a drawer. He prodded the entoPAD’s screen to open entoTUNES, and swiped through the shortcuts to his favourite music. He settled down to listen to The Astronauts’ It’s All Done By Mirrors until he fell asleep and dreamed of being young.
* * *
Biffo Ratbastard sat in his ground floor flat, his bare feet up on a fluffy pink foot-rest, listening to Oi Polloi on his entoPAD. The music was fed to a pair of large wireless Jammo speakers placed either side of his armchair, and was cranked up so loud he couldn’t hear his young upstairs neighbours banging on the ceiling. Not that it would have made any difference if he could hear them. What Biffo did on his own property was nothing to do with anyone else. Especially a bunch of snot-nosed students.
A half-empty can of Special Brew vibrated its way toward the edge of one of the speakers. Biffo reached out for it and took a long drink, draining the can. He crushed the can in his hand and tossed it at a round waste-bin in the corner of the room. The can hit the side of the bin and bounced off to join three more crushed cans on Biffo’s thread-bare carpet.
“Bollocks,” Biffo said, and took an electronic cigarette from his Motorhead dressing gown pocket. The end of the plastic cigarette glowed blue when he sucked on it. He exhaled the vapour with a sigh and closed his eyes as the nicotine rushed to his brain and mingled with the alcohol already swimming around in there.
Retirement life was fucking good, Biffo decided. He should have done it fifty years ago while he was still young enough to enjoy it.
Biffo was luckier than most people his age. He owned his own flat, and received regular monthly payments from entoCORP for his share of the advertising revenue each time one of his songs was streamed to a user’s entoPAD. So when the government declared State Pension unsustainable due to advances in health care and an aging population, then abolished it completely along with all other state benefits, Biffo had managed to survive with his independence still intact.
He had to cut down on his fuel bills, wrapping himself up in thick clothes and blankets through the winter months instead of turning the heating on, and could only afford to drink Special Brew once a week by rationing the food he ate, but at least he hadn’t been forced to move into one of the State Retirement Homes like so many of his generation. Death Homes, Biffo called them. Somewhere the government puts you out of the way, while they wait for you to die so they can seize whatever assets you’ve got left.
Biffo looked down at his entoPAD screen when one of Oi Polloi’s Gaelic songs started playing. He prodded an icon in the corner of the screen and the lyrics were translated in real-time into Pidgin English that made no sense. Something about frogs dancing on a scientist’s experience and systematic destruction of intercourse. Biffo sighed and put the entoPAD down on the arm of his chair. He struggled to his feet and padded into the kitchen for another can of Special Brew. As he opened the fridge door Oi Polloi were cut off mid-song and replaced with a female robotic voice.
“You have new entoMAIL. You have new entoMAIL. You have new entoMAIL.”
Biffo pulled out a can of Special Brew and cracked it open. Oi Polloi resumed from where they had left off. From the kitchen he could hear someone upstairs yell “Turn that fucking shit down!” Biffo took a long drink of Special Brew and belched, then returned to his armchair. He put the can down on top of a speaker and picked up his entoPAD. The screen flashed a message, You have new entoMAIL. Biffo prodded the entoMAIL icon and Oi Polloi were cut off once again, replaced with a video advert informing Biffo of the miracles of plastic hip replacements and how affordable they were with low monthly payments.
“Apply now and receive a free pen,” a young woman in fishnet stockings and red suspender belt and bra said with a wink. “You know you want it.”
The advert ended and Oi Polloi resumed playing. A text message displayed on the entoPAD screen, sandwiched between advertising banners extolling the joys of Viagra and live entoSEX, read:
All right mate, saw you on Silver Punkers and was wondering if you might be wanting to do something for Thatcher Day this year? 30 fucking years, can’t believe it’s been that long since the old witch snuffed it. Anyway, what do you reckon about Sick Bastard coming to play here or something? We can’t afford to pay nothing, but there’d be free beer and stuff if you want?
The message was signed Punk76, and the sender used a red anarchy symbol as their avatar. Biffo Ratbastard shook his head and sighed. Why couldn’t people use their real names? He could think of at least twelve people he knew who could have sent that message, and ticked off in his mind the ones who had died in the last few years. That left five possibles. Three if he discounted the ones with severe dementia.
Biffo read the message again and nodded to himself. Whoever it was from, the more he thought about it the more he liked the idea of being in front of an audience again. One last gig before he shuffles off forever, just like the last surviving member of the Sex Pistols did. There’d be no golden handshake, no million pound payout from entoCORP for the rights to record the gig for posterity. But free beer? Who could refuse an offer like that?
Biffo saved the message so he could reply to it later, and quit the entoMAIL app. He lowered the music’s volume and heard a few thumps on the ceiling, followed by a cry of “About fucking time, you old bastard!”
“Fuck off,” Biffo yelled, and opened the entoFACE app. He scrolled through his contacts and tapped on a photo of Steve Snitch. Connecting, the screen informed him. Biffo waited. And waited.
“This is Steve Snitch, leave a message and I might get back to you if I can be bothered. If you’re just selling something, fuck off, I’m not interested.”
Biffo sighed. “Snitchy, I’m thinking of getting the band back together. Let me know what you think when you hear this.”
He returned to his contacts list and prodded Mike Hock’s photo. Mike answered within a few seconds, and grinned out from the screen.
“All right Biffo, how’s it fucking going?”
“Not bad mate, how’s life treating you?”
“Can’t complain. Well I can, but there’s no point is there? No fucker cares.”
“No, mate,” Biffo said. “Anyway listen, I got a message from someone putting on a gig for Thatcher Day. What do you reckon about getting your bass out of storage and giving it another thrash for old time’s sake?”
“Sounds good to me. Is Snitchy up for it?”
“Couldn’t get hold of him, but I’ve left him a message.”
“Yeah, he’ll be tucked up in bed by now. You know they moved him into a retirement home?”
“No I didn’t. Shit, when did that happen?”
“Fuck, it must be about six months ago now? He had to pay for emergency surgery and fell behind with his rent. They kicked him out and the rozzers picked him up sleeping rough and stuck him in a retirement home.”
Biffo shook his head slowly and sighed. “Man, that’s fucking bad news. I hope he’s okay.”
“Yeah he’s fine,” Mike said, nodding. “In fact he’s fucking loving it. Says there’s a few old Sick Bastard fans living there, he strums his guitar for them every night and they just lap it up.”
“Good to hear. You kept up your playing too? Only we probably won’t get much of a chance to practice before the gig.”
“When is it?”
Mike laughed. “Just like old times, eh? It’s not on fucking Parliament Square again, is it? I’ve still got the scars from that one.”
“Yeah, me too. No, it’s at one of the Death Homes. Not sure which one, I haven’t confirmed it yet. Just wanted to sound you guys out first.”
“Well I’m definitely in, and I’d be surprised if Snitchy wasn’t too. You got a drummer lined up, or is it going to be an acoustic set? Old Vile would be a hard act to replace.”
“Fuck acoustic sets, they’re for dead hippies. I’d rather slit my fucking throat. We’re a punk band, not a bunch of fucking Morris Dancers. You just leave finding a drummer to me and get practicing on that bass of yours. I’ll send you the details when I’ve got them, and we’ll get together somewhere for a practice.”
“Look forward to it mate,” Mike said. “Laters, then.”
“Yeah. See you soon, Cocky.”
Biffo quit entoFACE and cranked up the volume on the Oi Polloi song. He reached for his Special Brew and took a swig before opening the Silver Punkers Community Forum. Mike was right, Peter Vile would be hard to replace. He wasn’t Sick Bastard’s original drummer, but he was their longest running one and the best they had ever had. When he died five years ago, after contracting an infection following open-heart surgery, it had effectively ended the band’s musical career. Drumming was a dying art, quite literally, with so many of the remaining punk bands having to resort to using electronic, computer-controlled drum machines instead.
Biffo composed a new message asking if anyone knew of any drummers in the Shefferham area who would be available to play on Thatcher Day. Own kit essential. Experience, don’t give a fuck either way.
He drained the rest of his Special Brew and threw the can at the waste-bin. This time he hit it dead-centre and the can dropped in with a clatter.