CASH CRUNCH – Whom the gods wish to make mad – they pay in cryptocurrency


The gods were breakfasting. Since leaving Greece, this had become the only meal where the Olympian family sat down together. Hera had insisted on it – the last remnant of the old ways. And though CocoaPops, over-sweetened cereals, Seville orange marmalade and Nescafe had replaced traditional nectar and ambrosia, the breakfast gathering had remained sacrosanct.

Punctuated by arguments, complaints and petty rivalries, breakfast was the time to share news and views of the world seen and experienced from the New Olympus. A very different world from that which they had fled. A world of mobile phones and lap-tops, of posture-paedic mattresses and duvets (which all agreed were considerably more comfortable than the marble benches and drapes of cloud that for millennia had furnished their bedrooms).

And it was a world where there was a need for hard cash. But the gods were broke…

They had taken wealth with them when they emigrated – part of the treasury of Delphi which the Oracle had guarded and archaeologists had not found; the gold they had ‘borrowed’ from Croesus’ hoard; and a chest of gold and silver trinkets provided by petitioners over long millennia. But when changed into sterling and euros, this had seeped away – frittered on electronic gadgets, various furnishings from Ikea, fast foods (which his children preferred to nectar and ambrosia) and the duty free drink that abounded in Gibraltar.

The gods had left Olympus and settled on this particular Pillar of Hercules to escape the constant noisy throng of refugees who flowed through central Greece leaving a trail of litter and discarded life-jackets in their wake. And – as Hera frequently reminded him, in the nagging sort of way wives seemed to have – to escape the crippling austerity of their once-rich homeland where local poverty had reduced the sacred offerings of fruit, wine and the occasional sheep or goat to a level that would bring tears to a family of mice.

So, encouraged by Apollo (who, after finding the Rock on one of his daily travels, often stopped for a night-cap in one of Gibraltar’s numerous bars as he journeyed back to Olympus) and Athene (who had researched Internet entries and found that ‘Gibraltar’ was a ‘tax heaven’), they had emigrated from cloudy Olympus. No one was sure what ‘tax’ meant, and though their Attic ‘heaven’ had been dilapidated and in need of repairs, they could all remember its balmier halcyon days.

Attempts to earn the cash they needed had not been successful. Hermes, briefly had held a job with the GPO. But his eons of experience as the Messenger of the Gods, gave him a speed delivering mail that his fellow workers could not match. And when management called for them to equal Hermes’ efforts, something called a ‘trade union’ intervened – an organisation whose main purpose clearly was to ensure that workers received maximum pay for minimum effort. Threatened with ‘strike action’, the GPO had ‘dispensed’ with Hermes’ services.

Poseidon had been similarly unfortunate. His application to become a diver at the Naval Dockyard had failed because he lacked ‘the necessary papers’ (whatever these were). And when he turned his trident to fishing, his catches soon threatened to exceed Spain’s EU quota. And, under pressure from local fishermen, markets refused to buy his fish.

So the meal that morning was glum. The celestial piggy-bank was empty – and it seemed that each of the younger gods wanted to buy something. Hermes needed an expensive pair of Adidas trainers; Athena had been fascinated by a new electronic tablet; Hebe had been offered the ‘absolute bargain’ of a dozen bottles of Moet; Artemis, who had given up hunting to become a vegetarian’ and now supported Women’s Lib, intended to make a large donation to a charity for down-trodden Somali women; and Apollo reckoned his daily travels would be more comfortable on a Honda.

Zeus merely wished to satisfy the craving for fish and chips, doused with coarse Spanish vinegar, which stemmed from his sole visit to Casemates Square soon after the Olympians had arrived on the Rock. Unlike his offspring, the Father of the Gods had refused to wear modern garb, and had drawn prolonged stares from the horde of shoppers and cafe customers – escaping detection only because he seemed little different from the straggle of Spanish buskers in Main Street.

Of course, any one of the family could have exercised their Panagaeic powers to transmute into pounds sterling and pence the leaves and pebbles which Hera swept out from their living quarters twice a day; but from their earliest days in Gibraltar, it was accepted that – no matter what befell – there would be no magic-making, nothing to attract the attentions of mortals…though it was permissible to exploit any human foibles they encountered.

‘The last thing we want is to draw the attention of the Tourist Board’, Zeus had thundered. ‘They would turn us into a crowd-pleasing attraction…like an Aristophanes comedy or these bloody apes’. And had glared at Bacchus (several jugs of Pimms already under his belt) when he muttered: ‘Aristophanes has already done that in “The Frogs” and “Lysistrata”.’

But that morning, as the family conjured increasingly outlandish ideas on raising money, it was Bacchus – forced to sobriety by his personal cash crunch – who offered a workable solution.

‘Bitcoin!’ he shouted suddenly. ‘We can mine Bitcoin, and pay for everything we want!

The gods looked at him blankly. However, as he explained the improbable concept, their interest and excitement grew. Only Zeus seemed unconvinced.

‘I’m not quite sure how it works,’ Bacchus admitted. ‘It’s what they call a crypto-currency, and it represents money that doesn’t exist – except as a series of algorithms. Mortals mine it and use it to pay for goods and services.’

‘If it doesn’t exist, you can’t mine it,’ Zeus interrupted. ‘You can mine gold, and silver, and that black stuff they use for fuel but you can’t extract what isn’t there.’

‘Aha, but that’s the point Pop. What they call “mining” has nothing to do with digging ore out of the ground, it’s a mathematical process and when they find it, the non-existent money is gathered into a “blockchain”… or I think that’s what happens…and then the blockchain is launched into cyberspace and used to pay for things.’

‘Bitcoins? Blockchains? Cyberspace? I’ve never heard such a load of bollocks,’ said Zeus. ‘Though he doesn’t look, or sound drunk,’ he muttered to Hera.

‘No, Pop’ (that dreadful Americanism again) he’s quite right. It exists because they believe in it – just like we exist, because Plato and Pericles and Sophocles believed in us…’

‘Mortals,’ grunted Zeus, ‘I don’t suppose I’ll ever understand ‘em.’