BREAKFAST TABLE TALKS – about academics and alcohol


Where do they get the money from for all this scientific jiggery-pokery?’ Zeus jabbed a finger at a crumpled page of The Times in which last night’s supper of fish and chips had been wrapped. The gesture added a streak of Rose’s lime marmalade to the brown stains of harsh Spanish vinegar which mottled the newsprint.

‘What money?’ asked Hebe, who since joining SG Hambros was fascinated by all things financial. ‘What jiggery-pokery?’ added Hera, who associated the term with her husband’s former, frequently amorous, essays into the world of mortals, rather than with scientists, who – along with politicians – seemed to attract so much contemporary media interest.

‘A typical start to the day’, thought Athena eyeing her parents and siblings seated at the glass-topped table beneath the dark veil off the Levanter trailing above the Rock of Gibraltar; the cloud depressingly persistent at this time of the year and as predictable as Dionysus’ hangover or Hera’s preoccupation with the niceties of modern etiquette, and her determination that the Olympian pantheon should share at least one daily meal; breakfast.

Conversations at the breakfast table invariably centred around the bizarre antics of mortals – whether seen on the state of the art wide-screen Japanese TV; discovered in any newspapers which found their way to the top of the Rock; or observed among Gibraltar’s canyons of high-density buildings spread out below their new home… and where most of them now mingled daily at the workface.

Since their flight from Mount Olympus – from the clamour of passing refugees, the crumbling Greek economy, and the diminishing numbers of the faithful whose offerings until recently had kept the gods in the magnificent style to which millennia had accustomed them – breakfast had become the sole meal at which they all sat down together.

Zeus swallowed a Morrison’s breakfast kipper smeared with marmalade before reading out the headline which had drawn his attention to this new academic foible: ‘Pop of cork makes wine taste better!’.

‘Where does money come into that?’ Hebe asked.

‘This Oxford academic wanted to know whether wine tasted better from bottles with corks or those with screw caps, and had 140 people sampling Medoc – which must have required a considerable quantity of wine… a couple of dozen amphorae… and they won’t have come cheap.’ Hebe nodded a knowing acceptance of his reasoning.

‘Can give you a nasty hangover, too much Medoc, kick of a mule,’ said Dionysus, his interest piqued. He knew all there was to know about hangovers.

‘Hangovers will soon be a thing of the past,’ Apollo joined the discussion. ‘There’s this Professor David Nutt at Imperial College London who claims to be on the verge of marketing an “alcosynth” – something which has the same effects as alcohol, but doesn’t poison the liver or lead to a morning-after hangover. He’s been trying to invent it for the past 20 years and, at last, has made a break-through, They say it threatens the whole basis of drinking, and won’t be welcomed by the booze industry…’

‘Proves what I said,’ rumbled the Father of the Gods. ‘Another bloody academic with too much time on his hands and neither inclination nor motivation to do an honest day’s work,’ continued the inveterate idler (whose only attempt at work – as a ‘human statue’ in Gibraltar’s Main Street – had lasted for less than a week). ‘And with a surname like Nutt, what do you expect.’

Hebe, who had maintained her legendary interest in wine even after exchanging her role as cup-bearer to the gods for her position on the management team at Hambros, leant across the table to retrieve the crumpled sheet of newsprint. She smoothed it out and silently read:

The cork versus screw debate has raged in the wine industry for decades, with experts, sommeliers and producers from across the world deeply divided in their opinions. The experiment is claimed to be the first empirical demonstration that a cork closure provides a more positive drinking experience.

Author of the report was a Professor Spence an experimental psychologist.

‘Where DID he get the money from,’ she wondered aloud.

‘Probably from that money tree which British politicians keep talking about,’ said Poseidon, who had recently done the rounds of party conferences pressing the flesh as he continued his efforts to have Britain’s nuclear submarine programme scrapped. ‘You know – the tree Jeremy Corbyn is going to shake to fund all the things he has promised the Brits if they make him Prime Minister, but knows he can’t deliver. A crypto-communist Trot, the stupid git…’

‘I thought you admired Corbyn,’ Artemis raised a quizzical mascara-ed eyebrow.

‘No! I can’t stand his politics, his anti-Semitism… but I like his ideas about scrapping submarines and reducing the Royal Navy’s fleet. It’d improve the water quality no end. Even fools occasionally get things right, darling.’

‘Who are you calling “darling”?’ Artemis bristled. ‘That’s an offensive and sexist remark and, if you weren’t my brother, I could expect a fulsome written apology and possibly damages – like that woman in England got. She was upset when some shopkeeper whom she didn’t know called her that, and reported him to the equality commission, or police or local council…’

‘You’ve got to be joking,’ said Hermes, flicking a speck of coco-puff from his tie.

‘Read it in the Sunday Telegraph.’

‘You shouldn’t believe everything you read in newspapers,’ her brother retorted.

‘And, that woman wouldn’t have lasted long in Gibraltar. Everyone down there calls you “darling” or “love” – nurses, waitresses, shop assistants… I bet even a Gibraltar policewoman arresting a tobacco smuggler or robber would say “Sorry darling but you’re nicked!”’

‘The woman is probably another bloody academic,’ muttered Zeus, who had finished breakfast and was ready to get on with the serious business of the day – watching Gibraltarians going about their daily grind. ‘She’s probably a disciple of Germaine Greer.’

‘Professor Greer is brilliant, fabulous; where would Women’s Lib be without her! She has really changed the way the world thinks, and…’

Yes. A typical start to the day, thought Athena… and started to clear the table.