‘Too old, and my beard needs trimming. I travel a thousand stadia… spend six hours crammed into uncomfortable easyJet seats… pay out a small fortune to a brace of taxi drivers… and get to the address only to be told that I’m too old.’ Zeus’ face was beetroot red and his anger so apoplectic that the decibels of his thundered rage shattered half a dozen glasses before outstripping the scale and dwindling to little more than a whisper.
Hera cast a knowing glance at Athena, who smiled, shrugged her shoulders in sympathy and returned to her laptop screen where a British politician – she couldn’t remember his name but he was something to do with a labour group – seemed to be as furious in his rantings as the Father of the Gods. Oddly, he too had a white beard (though neatly trimmed) and a manic glint in his eyes.
His thundered rage shattered half a dozen glasses.
It had all seemed so simple when, a fortnight earlier, Zeus had spotted an advertisement in the newsprint wrapping his of his fish and chip lunch. ‘FATHER CHRISTMASES’, it read ‘…needed for toy department of busy Oxford Street store. £15 an hour.’ And went on to detail how and where job-seekers should apply.
‘I might have a go at that,’ the Olympian had said. ‘I would make an excellent Santa.’ waving the scrap of paper to shake off vinegar spills before handing it to his wife. Hera had scanned the advert, and immediately began to worry.
‘Do you know where Oxford Street is?’ she had asked.
‘Of course I do… somewhere near the Rock Hotel, I think.’
‘No. It’s in London,’ she had pointed out.
And that should have ended the matter. But, after the failure of his Codswallop Coalition in the October election Zeus had lost interest in politics but found nothing to replace it. And – constantly under foot, except for his noon-time forays into Casemates for fish and chips and gossip with his former caucus members – Hera had urged him to find ‘something new to occupy his mind’. Poseidon could take him fishing… or he could, perhaps, find a job.
The Olympian family had argued lengthily – and inconclusively – as to what sort of work was best suited to an octo-millennial god who voluntarily had shed most of his supernatural powers. His early efforts as one of the begging statues on Main Street had failed, as had his attempt, in an unregistered partnership with Hermes and Dionysus, to establish a celestial fund of funds to invest in promising start-up ventures. It was too late to join the crypto-currency stampede, and, for all his gravitas, the Father of the Gods was plainly too shifty for a job selling second-hand cars, let alone something in financial services.
The few of his coterie of caucus members who still could pull strings in the civil service were not going to waste favours owed to them on Zeus – in Gibraltar family came first; nor were any of those in his own family who had found honest employment willing to risk their own positions by recommending that a vacancy be filled by someone they knew to be stubbornly lazy and occasionally dishonest.
‘I would make an excellent Santa.’
So Zeus had remained listless, disgruntled, and underfoot, until, by chance, he spotted the ‘smalls’ advert seeking Father Christmases. To Hera’s dismay the fact that the job was in London didn’t dent his sudden enthusiasm; nor did the recollection (prompted dissuasively by Hera) of the previous Boxing Day when, mistaking the god for Santa, a gaggle of youngsters had roundly berated and abused him for failing to deliver the presents they had requested.
The Olympian offspring were divided about the venture. Apollo – the only Olympian who had retained his godly powers – to run his daily circumnavigation of the earth – bluntly refused his father’s plea for a lift. Artemis opposed the plan, though from a strictly feminist viewpoint, arguing that a person bringing Yuletide joy – or disappointment – to children should be a ‘Mother’ Christmas. Though, dressed in a red coat and floppy red hat, he would ‘look the part’, she admitted reluctantly.
Dionysus and Hebe agreed that the experience would be ‘cool’. Hera fretted that, left to his own devices in a city the size of London, Zeus would get himself into trouble – though she didn’t specify what shape the ‘trouble’ would take. Poseidon considered ‘the whole Christmas fussification’ an annoying interruption of the fishing season, and Aphrodite urged her father to ‘take your mobile and e-mail pictures of the latest cosmetics’.
But in the end – as was so often the case in Olympian affairs – Zeus had had his way and Hebe had scurried off to Blands Travel to book an easyJet flight to Gatwick… with an open return date.
So, Zeus had flown – from dry, sunny warmth of the Rock to the wet cold of Britain’s capital city where everyone seemed to wear a long face and the only topic of discussion was the coming Apocalypse of Brexit.
It had not gone well, he admitted to Hera when he returned on the late flight 48 hours later. Roadworks and traffic jams had slowed taxis to a crawling pace or standstill as he watched the meters ticking up. The young man in the HR section of the department store had attempted to wave him away with a remonstrance that they did not want ‘rough sleepers’ (whatever these were); and the young woman fitting him into an over-sized red overcoat had stabbed his buttocks several times as she tried to pin the coat into shape.
The final indignity had come when an even younger woman had squirmed on his lap and poked a half-sucked lollipop into his face – apparently playing the role of the sort of fractious child Santa would have to deal with – and had screamed when he slapped her and unceremoniously tumbled her off his lap.
And that was when the spotty youth from HR had told the god: ‘You’re too old, and your beard needs a heavy trimming. We haven’t a job for you’.
Back on the Rock, Zeus had sulked for days… until this explosion.
‘Did you know,’ Hebe asked her father, ‘that the Trafalgar players are looking for people in their pantomime? I’m sure they would find a part for you. It doesn’t pay but you’d have fun. Lots of pretty girls…’
Zeus nodded and smiled.
Perhaps the Olympians would have a happy Christmas after all, thought Hera.
And crossed her fingers.