The Aged Empire

The first one I lost was a long time ago. To the Yanks, of course, back in ’78. That’s when I lost it, I mean, in 1778. I didn’t have it completely off until ’83, I think, but it was certainly the first.

Wait, I tell a lie. Before that was Bermuda, then Suriname. Memory fails to serve, you know. Too much time, too many big gins. You’ll forget yourself someday. But those fingertips, earlobes — trifles. Not worth remembering nor committing to paper. Youthful indiscretions, you could call them. Not like America. Not like the Yanks. That one was the first one that hurt.

Little did I know at the time, you see. I’d have fought like the dickens had I thought otherwise, you can believe that, and put no regard to that lot of overpaid Prussian bunglers. You think you can get by without a leg. You’ve got two, after all. They had wood back then, though now it’s all plastics and what have you. Prosthetics. In the heat of the battle you feel nothing but the sting of the shot and you think, how bad could it be? Losing one leg. Well, a bird never flew on one wing and there’s truth. But how could I have known? Pray God you never have to make such a choice.

But damned if I hid out in a tower, or confined to a bed-sit like some timid invalid! I had the wood put to me and was back on the battlefield in no time. I shan’t deny it hurt. I shan’t deny that when I walked, the shaft would pain me, because they cauterized it with a bottle of grog. But I was there to perform the duties of Empire, not to whinge like a schoolboy, and I did it. In the next hundred years, the bloody Yanks could wave my lost gam around their pathetic little mess of a country, while I strode the world like a colossus with the oaken replacement. Those were the days, when the sun never set.

It started setting come the twentieth century right enough. The century of progress, they call it; bollocks and best done with, I call it. It was a fierce one and no mistake, and I’m glad to see the end of it.

Ireland was the start, of course. Ungrateful, grudge-holding, stubborn curs. All we’d done for them and they pay us back with blood and fire. I lost an eye, half of my scalp, two toes and a lung there, and even then they had the gall to not say thank you and ask for seconds. They won’t get it, by my remaining eye: the North belongs to us and I’ll hang before I see it back in Irish hands.

Not that there’s much left to hang. Everything went downhill after the Troubles. Afghanistan was a disaster; I lost a hand there. Any man who tells you that you can lose a hand and still be in your finest flowers after that tells a lie. And not just the hand, but my right ear and the rest of my remaining foot, with bugger all to show for it. Egypt came next, the swine, and after the Great War and Suez put together I was all oak below the waist and with ears of tin. Literally, I mean. Hardly had I gotten out of the Royal Hospitals than when I was called to Iraq; ten years it was but it went by in an eyeblink, which is deuced quick even when you’ve only got one eye. After that, I must admit I softened. All I wanted was a sun suit, a fresh bandage on occasion, and a drink in the shade of my hard-earned labors.

I didn’t get it. Fifteen years on, the bubble burst. The unthinkable happened: we lost India. That poisonous little wog. We should have shot him when we had the chance. Passive resistance, my Aunt Fannie: tell that to my other leg. And my lower jaw. My arm up to the elbow. And the right side of my chest. Right on the heels of that debacle came Palestine, although to be fair we’re probably better off without that one. After that, it all started to come apart, just like I did: I lost a whole arm in Nigeria, the rest of my legs and a kidney in Jamaica, most of my digestive tract in Kenya, and the back of my head in Rhodesia. Rhodesia was ugly. Whoever said the sixties were the love generation didn’t see one of those darkies munching on my medulla oblongata.

Mauritius may have been the worst. Audrey adored Mauritius. The real cost wasn’t great — all I lost was my upper plate and part of a lip — but after that, we had to vacation in bloody Spain with a bunch of suntanned, singing Germans. Time continued to pass and after a while I lost track of what they were taking out; I started to give them a by-your-leave and didn’t even ask questions anymore. My tongue and right cheek I lost in Tuvalu and my nose in Kiribati, and I don’t know where the hell Tuvalu and Kiribati even are.

I thought I’d put all the ugliness behind me when the Falklands unpleasantness came about. People said, leave it be! After all, what have you got left? Make due with Canada, make due with Australia; you’ve lost so much, why make a fuss? Well, sir, the England I was made in does not lay back and think of itself while a filthy lot of mestizo roughnecks shoves a big fat insult up its junction. I fought; you’re damned right I fought. It cost me my remaining scalp, other cheek and a hunk of brain, but in the end we held fast. And though it cost me my remaining torso in a losing effort to battle for Hong Kong, battle I did, and was proud to do so.  But now even the bloody Gambia has told us to go toss.  “Imperialist” they all said, like it was a curse and not a blessing.

What comes around goes around, they say: the Yanks are finally getting a taste of what they’ve been ladling out. They were the first to deal me a foul card. Not that I was pleased when they had their fingers shot off; I know how much that hurts. But there’s some justice in seeing that none shall scape whipping. I’ll remain vigilant, in every war, at every battle: make no mistake. I’ve got one good eye left. It’ll see how you like it.

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