Britannia — chained to a radiator
Held hostage by a group of fanatics for twelve years, another change of the gang’s leader means the future doesn't look great for a country at the end of its tether.
Twelve years is a long time to be held captive. A country could have done quite a lot in twelve years if hadn’t been shackled to a radiator by a political party. Who knows where Britain would be today if it hadn’t been snatched by desperate fanatics?
Given such lengthy incarceration, it’s only natural that our world has grown smaller over that time. It’s what they promised as a result of “taking back control”, after all — the country cut free from outside interference in exchange for lower expectations.
No one said that Britannia would be locked in an attic by those same liberating forces, however. Twelve long years in captivity, over which time our horizons have melted, memories have faded, and ambitions have rusted in the fetid air. The only suggestion that time is even passing is the autumnal shift in tone of the bruises around our ironed wrists.
It is often said that time feeds animosity, but that’s not strictly true. While we remain as firmly chained to the radiator as the day our captors first grabbed us, ambushed in a smokescreen of false promises, a relationship of sorts has developed between the captors and us.
Over the years, our incarceration has prompted bemusement, anger and boredom. At times, the sheer ineptitude of our kidnappers has caused hysterical laughter, which has at least provided some relief. And despite years of mistreatment, we have always responded warmly to even the most short-lived of attempts at appeasement, and with nothing to lose, we have placed our faith in new members of the group who have come along and promised to improve our circumstances, only to be disappointed every time.
A condition one of us diagnosed as ‘Stockholm Syndrome on Thames’ has even permitted a small amount of sympathy for those who have kept us locked up. At our lowest, we have excused our captors’ behaviour as an understandable response to events, even if they were of their own making. “It’s not their fault”, we have reasoned through refrain while rocking from side to side and picking at wounds that ache to be closed.
In lighter moments, when the sun shines into the room, we even dare to persuade ourselves that incarceration isn’t all bad. The odd, shared cigarette of an Olympic event, a Royal Jubilee or even a state funeral may have brought us closer to our captors on occasion and helped us forget the abject misery of our imprisonment.
But increasing disagreement among those who hold our lives in their hands brings new fears. The vicious infighting caused by the departure of a recent group leader and the resulting struggle for power presents a new and scary turn of events.
The quiet one we named ‘The Accountant’, who whiles away his time playing sudoku, always seemed sympathetic to our plight, yet even he no longer returns our smiles. His attempt to take control of the group a while ago failed, and he’s become unpopular with the others, who say he is too soft. This isn’t difficult, given our captors seem to be in perpetual competition over who can be the meanest and who is the strongest believer in the ‘cause’.
That cause has become unclear over time, and members of the group now interpret their purpose very differently. In fact, the group is so riven by rivalry and split by ideology that it doesn't represent a group at all, but a series of separate factions all pulling in a different direction.
Despite their differences, all treat the group’s founder, the so-called ‘Iron Lady’, with a reverence bordering on idolatry. So while there is no single aim that now binds the group, and newer interpretations of their cause grow ever more extreme, no one questions the founder’s importance to the project. To do so would be dangerous.
As their aims have changed, so too has the make-up of the group. While in previous years our tormentors would stick around for a while, allowing us to at least acclimatise to their own particular brand of sadism, the faces now change so frequently that it is hard to keep up. Judging by the rapid change of guards most recently, there is another political vacuum at the head of the group, and our captors are jostling for position once more.
The Accountant must surely still have a shot at the leadership of the group, which would clearly be the choice of us captives — in the admittedly absurd scenario where we have any say over our choice of captor.
We’re not sure what the woman who joined the gang halfway through our predicament does every day, or what she even did to merit her place in the group. Despite her inexperience, she is also keen to take control of the outfit, having tasted power when she briefly sat in for the most recent leader, who disappeared as quickly as she arrived.
Heaven forbid the shrill one who dreams of others’ discomfort to secure her own untroubled sleep takes control. She dismisses our aches and pains as ‘woke’ nonsense, a harsh judgment given we have learned to sleep with one eye open, alert to the next assault.
No, the one who really worries us is the former leader of the gang, a man who left in disgrace only a few months ago. Some said he left to undertake training in the desert, having fallen out of favour with his fellow kidnappers for lying about what went on in the back room on the ground floor.
Although he is capable of great charm, he clearly believes himself to be above the rest of the group. Cocksure and dismissive of the few rules the group manage to agree on, while they may not trust him, the group values his ability to instil a passion for their grand project, whatever that may be.
We thought he was now disinterested in the wider aims of the group, his boredom threshold surpassed, and his eyes now fixed on a suitably king-sized ransom — but apparently not. He could be coming back, which strikes terror in the hearts of all of us.
Given the changing dynamics at play among the group, their intentions for us are also uncertain. While they fight over who gets to keep the padlock keys each night, we hope we will continue to be of more value to them alive than dead. But they seem not to know – or care – that toying with our minds and torturing our limbs have left us close to death, anyway.
Who knows what the future will bring? Where it was once united in its aims, the gang is now a loose group of sociopaths, brigands and thieves, and we are their playthings. They despise each other almost as much as they despise us, yet they will not let us go. There seems to be no purpose in our continued incarceration other than feeding their own desire for power. Any of their grander plans seem to have faded, replaced by extreme yet empty gestures whose sole function is to signal ideological purity to each other.
We are hostages to hate, and most of us expect to spend the rest of our days on a cold, hard floor, even while new tormentors join the group and jockey for control of our lives. Our future extends no further than four walls, and any agency we have amounts to tapping out SOS messages on pipework.
It’s a sorry state of affairs for a once-free country, but it’s one that has come to define us. In abjection, we find our truest form.