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. A balding, middle-aged man in a white coat pushed 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 and 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 new orderly push the trolley toward Fiona Scott and stand before her. The bald, white-coated man coughed. When Fiona didn’t stir from her sleep he shook her by the shoulders and she startled awake.
“Medication time,” he 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 for her to take it from him. Fiona’s mouth dropped open like a baby bird waiting to be fed. He tipped the capsules into her mouth, pushed them to the back of her throat with his fingers, closed her mouth, then forced 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 was a post with the heading Thatcher Day 30 that caught his interest, so he 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 middle-aged orderly 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 orderly 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 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.
He nodded, then 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 he was released.
“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, okay.” The orderly 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 orderly. He swallowed the four pills, one at a time, while the man stared down at him.
The 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?”
He 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 man asked, folding his arms.
“I’ll need some water,” Colin said, “me throat’s dry.” The orderly grunted and passed him the beaker of water Greg Lomax had used. “You’re new, yeah?” Colin asked.
“Yeah, started today.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, so? What’s it to you?”
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 orderly 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.