Phil Garvey's Aunty Maureen said there was a Saturday job if he wanted it. At Ratco's, where his cousin Lisa had been working since she'd left school at 16 a year before.
‘This Saturday?’ said Phil. ‘I’ll be there, Aunty.’
Ratco’s was where Phil’s mum went when she just wanted the odd thing she’d forgotten. A tin of pease pudding for Phil’s dad, something like that. His mum normally went to Nicebury’s, a further ten minutes’ walk away. It was better stocked than Ratco’s and the meat wasn’t as rank.
Phil turned up at Ratco’s at 8.25 on the dot. Lisa was outside already, smoking a cigarette.
‘Here he is, my little cousin,’ she said, through a cloud of smoke.
‘I can’t wait to get my hands on those tins of pilchards,’ said Phil.
‘Sarcy,’ said Lisa. 'Ratco’s stock only the best pilchards. Pusscatlyck. They’re bloody gorgeous, Phil.'
Lisa smacked her lips against her fingertips.
‘Well I can’t wait to get my hands on ‘em. Stack ‘em. Price ‘em up.’
Phil wasn’t looking forward to the day. He’d never worked before and he never wanted to work in his life. Yes, he wanted to meet girls but he’d seen Lisa’s friends from Ratco’s and they weren’t his type. They were boring and normal, not intelligent. Phil prided himself on his intelligence. He wanted a girl he could listen to his music with, a prog rocker, not a soppy girl who was into sentimental pop songs. Phil was serious about his music and if a girl couldn’t appreciate Steve Milton’s fretwork she wasn’t the girl for Phil.
‘Who the fuck is that?’ thought Phil. The girl was a punk. She had pink, spiky hair.
‘Watch out, Phil!’
Lisa’s warning was too late. The girl had spat a greenie into his hair. His freshly washed long hair.
‘What the fuck?’ said Phil, pulling at the grollie. ‘What the fuck did you do that for?’
The girl who had come out of nowhere gave Phil a withering look.
‘I’m a punk. And you’re a boring old fart,’ she said. ‘A dinosaur. Part of the bloated establishment.’
‘You spat in my hair!’ said Phil.
‘Clever clogs,’ said the girl-punk.
‘This is Belinda,’ said Lisa. ‘She’s new at Ratco’s. Started on Wednesday.’
‘But she’s a punk. Punks are outside of society. Punk bands can’t play their instruments,’ said Phil.
‘I’m still ‘ere, you know,’ said Belinda, lighting a cigarette. ‘Who’s she? The cat’s mother?’
Phil wiped the mucus onto his handkerchief. It made him retch.
‘Ratco’s wouldn’t let you serve the public. Would they?’ said Phil.
‘Ratco’s are very forward-thinking and with-it,’ said Lisa. ‘It’s their new employment policy.’
‘That’s bollocks,’ said Phil. ‘Lord Reece wouldn’t allow it. He’s an old Tory.’
Lord Reece was the chairman of Ratco's. The firm had been founded by his grandfather.
‘But Lord Reece’s son is in a punk band. You’ve heard of The Knob Cheesers?’ said Lisa.
‘The band that got banned on the radio?’ said Phil.
‘They said the ‘c’ word on the Bill Munday Show,’ said Lisa.
‘Drunk old pervert,’ said Belinda. ‘I bet he wanks off to pictures of punk girls on the King’s Road.’
Two weeks previously The KCs, or Knob Cheesers as they were known by the kids who read the music papers, appeared on the Bill Munday Show along with a few of their girl-punk fans. Munday was obviously drunk and up for an argument. The Knob Cheesers’ guitarist was one Mickey Mucky, a skinny working-class urchin with a penchant for speed and fast chord changes. Phil had seen them on a late-night programme called In The Ear presented by ex-hippy now punk fan, Nigel Goodman. Phil thought they were a noise who had first picked up their instruments only recently.
‘Lord Reece’s son can’t be in The Knob Cheesers,’ said Phil. ‘He’s an accomplished session guitarist. He played on Brian Winsome’s Last of the New Borders.’
‘All I know is what we’ve been told by management,’ said Lisa. ‘Ratco’s has gone punk, a new punk ethos, they said. And it’s all down to Mickey Mucky being Lord Reece’s favourite son.’
‘I can’t believe Simon Reece is Mickey Mucky,’ said Phil.
‘He saw the light,’ said Belinda.
The store manager arrived and opened up. He was a 52 year old balding depressed-looking man by the name of Peter Durnley.
‘Hello, girls,' he said, then opened the door and went straight to his office.
‘Am I invisible?’ said Phil to the two others.
‘He’s been very within himself recently,’ said Lisa. ‘He's losing interest. He’s pissed off about the direction Ratco’s is going in. This punk thing is too much for him. Come on. I’ll introduce you.’
Lisa knocked on Peter’s door.
‘Come in!’ said Peter.
Phil followed Lisa in. Peter held his head in his hands, looking down at a ledger half the size of his desk. Behind him was a certificate awarded to Peter as Ratco’s Store Manager of the Year, 1972.
‘This is my cousin, Phil,’ said Lisa.
Peter looked up, looking at Phil with defeated eyes.
‘You’ll have to get your hair cut,’ he said. ‘The new punk ethos ‘n’ all.’
‘Lisa hasn’t cut her hair,’ said Phil.
‘I wear one of these,’ said Lisa, and produced a multi-coloured mohican wig from her bag.
‘Oh, no,’ said Phil. ‘You’re not getting me wearing one of them.’
‘What if I were to say to you your manager wears one,’ said Peter. He produced a mohican wig of his own from his desk drawer.
Peter put the wig on his head. Lisa put hers on her head. Phil was the odd one out in a room of fake punks.
‘What Lord Reece says goes,’ said Peter. ‘You may not like it, I may not like it, but when he gets a bee in his bonnet, it don’t go away.’
‘And then there’s the uniform,’ said Lisa.
‘Not bondage gear?’ said Phil.
‘Lab coats,’ said Peter. He went to a cabinet and took out a coat for Phil. It was a long lab coat, dyed orange with a silver anarchy symbol in the middle of the back.
‘Lord Reece’s design,’ said Peter.
Ratco’s logo was silver on an orange background. It was designed by Lord Reece’s father when the company was re-invented in 1927. Bold colours for a bold, forward-thinking company. Ready for the space age. Phil thought it looked cheap and tacky and these anarchy coats looked like an experiment gone wrong. Why associate a successful retail business with a worldview that there should be no political structure in society? How could Ratco's exist in a world without rules? Lord Reece’s father was eccentric but lucky with his logo. He'd tripled turnover in the year after introducing it. But the current Lord Reece had lost all business sense, surely?
‘What do the customers think?’ said Phil. His mother hadn’t been to Ratco’s for a couple of weeks so wouldn’t have known about the changes.
‘What do you think?’ said Peter. ‘They hate it. They’re nervous of the outfits and the hair. You can see the fear in the eyes of some of these little old ladies. All they read about in the papers is how the youth of today have lost all respect for their elders. And they come in here and instead of getting service with a smile they’re getting bad attitude. Staff spitting in their blue rinses. It doesn’t make my job easy. I’m used to running a tight ship with staff who would bend over backwards for the customers. You know that saying ‘The customer is always right’? Lord Reece has us thinking the customer is a 'boring old fart'. A 'dinosaur'. There is 'no future'. What kind of a message are we sending out? How do we expect to hold onto our customers? We used to be a respected part of the community, somewhere where local people could buy cheap products and not feel guilty for their lack of status. Now we treat people like scum.’
‘Wow,’ thought Phil. This was the manager talking, the man who was supposed to instil a sense of discipline into his staff. What had he walked into? Surely Lisa would have told his Aunty Maureen what was going on. But she never mentioned the punk thing to his mother at all.
‘It’s time I opened up,’ said Peter. ‘Uniforms on, everyone.’
Peter walked out of his office and headed for the front door. Phil and Lisa put on their lab coats and mohicans.
‘I suppose we’re lucky really,’ said Lisa.
‘Lucky?’ said Phil.
‘Lord Reece is anti-drugs. Just imagine if we had to take something, too. Though it might make the day go quicker.’
‘Christ, what have I let myself in for?’ thought Phil.
About Brain of Britain, again
17 hours ago