Passports, canal boats and Afrikaans - a moral maze of modern fables

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The Independent Online
Today I bring you three cautionary fables for our time.

1. Once upon a time there was a frequent business flyer who loved doing all the things that frequent business flyers do, such as collecting Air Miles, watching stupid in-flight films instead of sleeping and buying unnecessary things in Duty Free at the same price he could have got them elsewhere. He enjoyed life as a frequent business flyer.

The one thing he regretted was not having an old-style big blue British passport. When his passport had come up for renewal, he had got one of the first of the new little claret EU things. He was so resentful of this that he had had his old passport made into a passport holder for the new horrible little pink thing, and when he went abroad he would put his little valid passport into his big old invalid one.

One day he was travelling to Canada and he presented his big blue passport for passport inspection.

"There's no passport in here," said the official.

"I think you'll find there's a small red one inside," said the frequent business flyer smugly.

"I think not."

He looked. The man was absolutely right. He had forgotten to put his new passport inside his old one. This meant he had to go home to get his passport, and that meant he missed his flight and had to get a later one. As luck would have it, the flight he missed landed safely in Canada and everyone on board was saved. But the flight he was forced to take crashed on take-off. There were no survivors.

MORAL: Even if the plane you take doesn't leave the country, you should still have your passport with you for identification in the aftermath.

2. Once upon a time there was a man who lived on a canal boat with his family, and did everything that an ideal citizen should do. He saved energy by using a wind-powered generator. He saved petrol by cycling to and from the boat. His wife taught the children at home on the boat and took some strain off the schools. By using herbal remedies from the fields and woods they never fell ill and never bothered the NHS. But when it came to general election time, he found that neither he nor his wife was allowed to vote.

"You see, you haven't got a fixed abode," said the election official at the town hall. "You've got to have a fixed abode."


"Because those are the rules."


"Because we have to know that every voter actually lives in the constituency he intends to vote in."

"But I do live here."

"Ah yes, but you can't guarantee that you won't move your boat before the election, can you? You might cast off and go down the canal to another constituency and register there and vote there as well. That wouldn't be fair to people with only one vote, would it?"

"Yes, but it won't be fair to me if I can't have any vote at all, will it?"

"I'm sorry about that, sir," said the official, "but I suppose that's the price you pay for being a floating voter."

MORAL: You may be a model citizen, and you may have a real grievance against the laws of the country, but it won't stop bureaucrats from making stupid jokes.

3. Once upon a time there was a young man from South Africa living in London who overheard two people in the London Underground discussing a trip that one of them had made to South Africa.

"I didn't like it at all," said the person. "The Afrikaners are so rude and unfriendly. The natives go into a shell when they see the colour of your skin. It's dirty and dangerous in the middle of Johannesburg and you can't even go out at night. I'm glad to be back, I can tell you."

The young South African was so furious at this unfair description of his country that he was about to intervene, when he heard two other passengers talking in Afrikaans tolerably well.

"I don't know why people like London," one was saying. "I hate it here. Everyone is so rude and offensive. Even if they might be nice to you, they clam up when they hear your South African accent."

"And it's bloody dirty and bloody dangerous," said the other.

"Especially at night. I can't wait to get back to Cape Town."

The young man, who had been listening to their conversation and who came from Cape Town himself, felt all warm inside at the thought that there were two people like him on the same train in London. He turned round and would probably have greeted them had he not realised in time that they were both black.

MORAL: You could always try talking Welsh.