I Met A Traveller From An Antique Land
by Tom Byam Shaw
I met a traveller from an antique land. He said two vast and trunkless legs of stone with leopard print high heels stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies. Whose frown and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command tell that its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, the hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal thesewords appear: “We will provide strong and stable leadership for Great Britain”
Since they announced it, I’ve been a nervous wreck. I’ve spent the past month having an extended breakdown and heart attack. Democracies should relish the opportunity to choose, should relish the opportunity to participate in society. But we’ve been trained to hate and fear elections, like a dog does a stick. Almost every election in the past year or so has been a miserable experience: a harrowing, painful, and abject humiliation that doesn’t even have the good grace to make me hard.
But towards the end things looked like that might be OK, the morning after the Conservative rent-a-vampires getting slugged spectacularly in live TV. Count Chocula herself became an omnipresent absence from every media not carefully curated beforehand. I’ve been rocking back and forth in my room, growing my fingernails and triangulating statistics, like a Roman priest reading chicken guts. It might be OK in the end, mightn’t it?
Of course it won’t. This is hell, remember? You died and went to hell. Nothing can improve, nothing is good, because you’re in hell and have been for some time. Maybe you slipped on an ice cube before one of the many voting days. Maybe you choked on some undercooked frozen chicken. Maybe you had some kind of internal rupturing accident while you were getting pegged. Maybe, and this is the most plausible explanation since we’re all here, a gamma ray burst has decided to surprise-fry our entire cosmic neighbourhood and every lifeform in a several-light-year range was instantly and painlessly obliterated.
It doesn’t matter, we’re all in hell now and no matter how good it looks you shouldn’t start getting optimistic. Your hope only intensifies future torment. Now that you reason like this, it starts to make sense that we’re all dead and in hell. Our political landscape is heavy with ghosts. Theresa May, Margaret Thatcher in all but name: Thatcher took the milk, now May’s back for the cereal. Paul Nuttall, now falling into thankful obscurity. Tim Farron is clearly some kind of prehistoric mollusc-reptile thing, the final proof that animals have spirits too. Even Jeremy Corbyn, with his sad smile, and his allotment, and his jam, is your favourite grandfather: the one you don’t remember, the one who your parents said really liked you.
We should be moving on to acceptance but we’re still in denial. We still have stupid democratic hope, that things might be better, that we might be able to change things with voting. I went down to the polling station that day butt I didn’t have any illusions about my ballot being a long stream of piss ejected straight into the wind. In a way I can’t wait: I can’t wait until that final atom of hope is blasted out of me, until I’m clean. We’ve got an eternity of this after all, what with this being hell and all, so we should start getting used to it. Misery, forever, with no change. At least things can’t get any worse. At least my expectations sit at the very bottom of the Ninth Circle, strong and stable in utter despair.