Zeus glared at the clusters of multi-coloured icons spread across the laptop screen; as incomprehensible as Celtic runes, the Phaistos disc, or Egyptian hieroglyphs. For the past 90 minutes Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and most dutiful of all his brood, had attempted to teach the Father of the Gods the basics of computer technology – but was making little, if any, headway.
‘The circle with all the coloured segments is for Google, so click the cursor on that and you open the door to all the social media sites you will need – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn… the lot,’ she explained. Her father straightened an arthritic index finger and for the umpteenth time poked at the key-pad, willing the cursor to settle on the coloured plate. And, to the surprise of both of them, it did and a new set of icons flickered slowly onto the screen.
‘The little “f” is for Facebook, and the outline of the white bird on the blue square is for Twitter,’ Athena returned to her task.
The Great Olympian’s interest in Facebook and its ilk had been sparked by a report in the Financial Times outlining the ways in which social media was used to influence public opinion and by presidents and premiers, and apparently had even aided the election of the blonde mop-head in the White House.
It had been Zeus’ first encounter with the heavy-weight broadsheet which journalists affectionately termed the ‘Pink ’Un’ – not from any upward intellectual aspirations, for his intake of international news was limited to an occasional visit to the Sky News channel as he looked for a watch-worthy soap on the 54-inch TV screen, or the comments of his wife and children on events beyond the Rock. But there was the infrequent snippet which caught his attention on pages of the Daily Mail or Sun, used by the Casemates takeaway to wrap the battered cod and chips soused in Spanish vinegar, which was Zeus’s favourite lunch.
To the surprise of both of them, a new set of icons flickered slowly onto the screen.
But a particularly busy National Day had diminished the takeaway’s stock of newsprint and the owner/chef had turned to the nearest available source of wrapping paper – a bundle of discarded Financial Times.
‘FACEBOOK IN STORM OVER CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA’. Zeus had read the headline aloud in between mouthfuls of cod and chips. And – after Hera and Athena had explained the whys and wherefores of the ‘storm’ – the old curmudgeon had grinned happily and announced that this was ‘just what the Party needs’ as it prepared for a December election. The fact that Trump, the Governor of Gibraltar, and Boris Johnson all were regular tweeters, and that the President of Brazil had used Twitter to excoriate ‘that dreadful man Macron who should be in the Elysee Palace’, was an added bonus… as was the ability to tweet convincing ‘false news’.
‘Social media’, Zeus had licked the tip of his pencil and added the words to the thumb-worn page of Codswallop Coalition foolscap headed ‘Important matters’. The page was covered in notes – outlines of policy for the Codswallop election manifesto; a list of potential MP candidates which Zeus and his Casemates cronies added to – and subtracted from – every time they met; arras of poor governance by the current occupants of No 6; and an analysis of Government spending on travelling expenses prepared by Hebe who drew on knowledge acquired during her spell with SG Hambros as an advisor on wine investments.
The page was dotted with words printed in black marker pen, underlined and followed by several exclamation marks. ‘Chewing gum!!’ ‘Bus courtesy!!!’ ‘Sales girls!!!!’ ‘Jobs for pals!!!!!’ ‘Pavements!!!’ and ‘War chest!!!’ The punctuation marks represented the number of times each topic had been discussed by the Olympian family – and then taken to the Codswallop party caucus for possible inclusion in the Coalition’s manifesto.
After a busy morning delivering mail to the letter-boxes of the South District, Hermes had first placed chewing gum on the agenda.
It apparently had even aided the election of the blonde mop-head in the White House.
‘You should ban the chewing of gum in public places. Better still, tax it so heavily that people stop using the stuff,’ he urged Zeus, as he scraped gobbets of grey discarded gum from the wing of one of his sandals. ‘Just from walking down Main Street,’ he gestured with the knife he was using to scrape. ‘Every cobblestone in the street and across Casemates has ugly black patches from gum that people have spat out or dropped when they’ve finished chewing…’
‘I thought they had a special steam-cleaning machine to remove gum from the stones,’ said light-footed Apollo whose feet – even when shod in mortal trainers – seldom touched the ground he crossed in his daily international stroll.
‘They do. They do. But it’s been broken for months and they’re waiting for a replacement part from America – where the authorities are taking their time in granting an export permit… in retaliation for Fabian allowing that arrested oil tanker free to sail off to Syria.’
‘But that wasn’t Fabian’s fault,’ Hera joined the discussion. ‘The Iranians promised it would not break any embargoes.’
‘Anyone who trusts anything the Persians say or promise needs to see a psychiatrist,’ muttered Poseidon, who had never forgiven the Achaemenid emperor Darius whose flagship trireme had struck and broken the Sea God’s left scapula as the Persian fleet swept across the Aegean. The healed shoulder-blade still ached in hot dry weather.
‘Never trust a Persian… Alexander knew it, the Spartans knew it, the Athenians knew it…,’ Zeus agreed.
‘But someone gave Fabian a letter – an official letter,’ argued Hera who liked what she saw as the ‘cuddliness’ of the Rock’s Chief Minister.
‘Tell that to Trump. The assurances, the letter – fake news as far as he’s concerned,’ said Hermes as he wiped the knife blade on his G.P.O. delivery satchel.
‘Anything he doesn’t like is fake news’, added Apollo. ‘And if his trade war with the Chinese escalates – as my friends in Washington and Beijing agree it will – there will be larger international pot-holes and bigger global bumps in the road ahead.’
‘And then there’s Brexit…’Athena began.
‘Forget about Brexit,’ Zeus thundered. ‘You need to show me how to Twitter about children on No 5 buses who don’t give up their seats to the elderly.’
Hera shrugged sadly. Somehow the world might be better off without social media – whether the twee came from Trump, Johnson, His Excellency the Governor…or the Great Zeus, who still had much to learn of politics – and politicians.