The parable of Uncle Lance

David Bullard writes on when you should know you've had enough



It used to be so easy. Whenever you got a bit edgy about South Africa’s future prospects all you had to do was get out a blank sheet of A4 paper and jot down the names of other countries that might be more appreciative of your expensively acquired transferable skills.

The names on the A4 list back then would probably have included the UK, the US, various European countries, Australia, Canada and, for tax reasons rather than quality of life, the UAE.

These days you can draw a line through most of those names. Brexit and its resultant uncertainty is bound to do lasting damage to the UK and, anyway, a small two bedroomed flat in Wimbledon will cost you the equivalent of R8mln.

Europe is in disarray and you wouldn’t have wanted to pop over to Paris pre Christmas to do some last minute shopping at Galeries Lafayette. Riots on the streets are happening all over France and are now in their third month with no end in sight. Germany loses Chancellor Merkel in 2 years time and the political future of one of Europe’s strongest economies is hazy to say the least. Greece and Italy effectively have no government to speak of and the forthcoming EU elections in May take place amidst a rising tide of disillusioned voters.

Whether you decide to call it populism is irrelevant; the truth is that many European citizens are utterly fed up with the current clutch of politicians. The political forecast for Europe has to be stormy and many more long suffering Euro citizens will take to the streets in the months and years to come. So unless you’re planning to retire somewhere sunny and have made adequate financial arrangements, the UK and Europe don’t offer great prospects for a better life at the moment.

But there’s always the US of A. Providing you don’t mind living in a country run by one of the most ridiculed and unpredictable leaders of the “free world” you’ll be fine. Which leaves nanny states like Canada and Australia where you might enjoy some quality of life if you can still get in. Both countries have raised the bar for entry over the past few years and unless you bring specific skills (and money) you can draw a line through those two names also.

Which leaves you with a blank piece of A4, an uncertain future in SA and nowhere to run to.

Fortunately we are in an election year which makes it all the more delicious that the Zondo commission is producing hard evidence that the rot in the ANC goes back way beyond the arrival of Jacob Zuma.

So, as election day approaches, allow me to offer this parable to help guide where you should NOT place your X on the ballot paper.

A family decided one Sunday to invite someone whom he had just met into their home for lunch. His name was Lance and he seemed a decent enough man. He came to lunch and sat at the table making complimentary comments about the food, he chatted to the children and told funny stories about his adventures overseas. At the end of lunch he thanked his hosts and took his leave.

“You must come again” said the head of the household.

“I’d love to” said Lance, “and next time I’ll bring some toys and books for the children”.

A few months passed and the family decided to invite “Uncle Lance” (as they had decided to call him) back for another Sunday lunch. He had been such a delightful guest the first time around and so appreciative of their hospitality. The children remembered that he had promised toys and books and, being children, they thought that a good enough reason to invite Uncle Lance back again.

Sunday duly came and Uncle Lance arrived. To the children’s dismay he had “forgotten” to bring the toys and books but he promised faithfully that they would be delivered the following week.

They sat down to lunch together and a bottle of wine was opened to go with the food. Uncle Lance evidently enjoyed wine and emptied his glass with such regularity that a second bottle had to be found and opened. As lunch wore on Uncle Lance’s speech started to slur and his stories didn’t sound quite so funny. Just before dessert was about to be served Uncle Lance gave a huge heave and threw up all over the table cloth.

The children were sent to their rooms and an apologetic Uncle Lance was cleaned up and encouraged to drink some water and sleep it off on a sun lounger on the stoep where he could do no more damage.

A few hours later he came round, apologized profusely, thanked them again for their hospitality and went home.

“The poor man probably isn’t used to so much wine” said the head of the household. “We will invite him again and make sure he paces his drinking”.

It had been explained to the children that Uncle Lance hadn’t been “very well” at lunch but the children’s main concern was the delivery of the promised toys and books. A few weeks passed and nothing arrived so the family decided to jog Uncle Lance’s memory by inviting him to lunch again: an invitation which they noticed he was always available to accept.

The Sunday arrived and Uncle Lance turned up empty handed yet again. The children were in tears.

“You promised us toys and books Uncle Lance” they cried.

“Yes, I’m sorry but when I went to look for them I found them missing. I promise I’ll bring you toys, books and sweets next time.”

“Promise” said the children, their tears drying.

“Promise” said Uncle Lance.

When the time came for lunch to be served Uncle Lance couldn’t be found. The head of the household went to wash his hands before the meal and was surprised to find Uncle Lance in the hallway going through his wife’s handbag. Uncle Lance didn’t seem at all apologetic about his behaviour though.

“I thought I saw a cockroach climb into your wife’s handbag” he explained.

They sat down to lunch and, as usual, Uncle Lance tucked into the food and wine taking time to lean across and give his host’s wife an appreciative pinch on the bottom. This time he managed to keep his food and wine down but demanded that his host serve a decent sized brandy to go with his coffee at the end of the meal. The children had become restless during the long meal and they were sent to their rooms to play. Which was just as well because Uncle Lance decided it was time to tell bawdy stories and give his wife’s host a few more friendly pinches on the bottom.

By seven that evening the head of the household decided to call a taxi for a very worse for wear Uncle Lance. After he had gone his wife discovered R1000 missing from her handbag and told her husband.

“It must be the children” the head of the household said. “It can’t be Uncle Lance because he has pots of money of his own.”

The family never discovered where the R1000 had disappeared and eventually the householder’s wife decided that she must have spent the money and forgotten all about it. Even allowing for his obvious eccentricities, there was surely no possibility that Uncle Lance was a thief.

A month later, and no toys, book or sweets later, it was decided to invite Uncle Lance for dinner rather than lunch. This would give him a chance to make things right for the children and spend more time regaling his adult audience with his many heroic stories.

The great day arrived and Uncle Lance knocked on the door. This time he was not empty handed. Although, to the children’s disappointment, he had completely forgotten his promise of toys, books and sweets yet again, he had, clutched to his bosom, an impressive bouquet of flowers picked a few minutes earlier from a neighbour’s garden.

“For your lovely lady wife” he said pushing his way in and pouring himself a generous measure of malt whisky from a decanter kept for special occasions.

“I thought I’d save you the trouble” he explained to his surprised host. “After all I know where everything is by now; I may as well help myself”.

This particular evening they were joined by other guests and there were 10 around the table, including the recently graduated 22 year old daughter of a prominent academic. Uncle Lance noticed that place names had been put on the side plates and he sidled over to see who he had been placed next to. Obviously not happy with the seating arrangement he deftly switched two place names and put himself to the left of the 22 year old daughter.

The meal commenced and an inebriated Uncle Lance dominated the conversation, shouting other diners down, swearing, misquoting Shakespeare and showering anybody within range with spittle. The guest on his right was evidently unimpressed and excused herself from the table to get a glass of water in the kitchen. Minutes later Uncle Lance declared himself also thirsty for water and disappeared to the kitchen. A short while after a woman’s scream came from the kitchen and the head of the household ran in to find Uncle Lance with his trousers around his ankles. The poor girl was badly shaken but unharmed.

The next morning, after clearing up the debris of the previous evening, the head of the household addressed his wife.

“You know, we’ve given this guy so many chances and he’s constantly disappointed us. He lies, steals and is a lecher. His behaviour just gets worse and worse. I really think we must stop inviting him.”

His wife nodded her head in agreement. “Finally, you’ve got the message” she thought to herself.