‘What on earth is a snow leopard?’ Zeus had to raise his voice by several decibels to be heard over the shrill buzz of the sleek mixer/blender which was Hera’s latest electronic culinary aid. It was voice-activated, and – merely by using her mobile phone – she could switch on a pre-set operation ‘even while doing the weekly shopping at a supermarket’, she had announced proudly, reading from the handbook which accompanied the new gadget.
‘But you never set foot in a supermarket – either Hebe or I do the weekly shop at Morrisons,’ Athena protested. ‘Anything you buy is via the Internet… from one of those king-size warehouses that are bringing high street retailers to their knees.’
‘Well it’s so much easier, dear. And doing it my way you don’t have to stand queuing for ages while some stupid mortal buying a tube of toothpaste, keys the wrong code for her credit card into the saleswoman’s cash register and has to start all over again,’ the Mother of the Gods had retorted.
The brusque exchange had been a week ago. Now. soothed by the mixer’s buzz which so irritated the rest of the Olympian family, Hera smiled happily as she watched rainbow layers of fresh fruits being bent, chopped and whisked into a strawberry-tinted sludge.
‘Did you say something?’ she called through the kitchen hatch to her husband. Zeus was sprawled in the television lounge watching Skye Atlantic from the ergonomic couch which was a recent Ikea addition to his ‘comfort zone’.
‘I asked what a snow leopard is.’
‘It’s an endangered species of big cat found above the snowline in mountainous parts of the Orient,’ Athene answered the question. (Enraged by the glut of plastic rubbish polluting the world’s oceans and by Poseidon’s reluctance to do anything about it, the Goddess of Wisdom had watched every Attenborough TV film and was now widely versed in the creatures heading for extinction.)
‘But why your sudden interest in an animal you can neither eat nor any longer emulate?’ said Hera – waspish as she recalled her husband’s dalliances while masquerading as a bull, a stag, and – of all his idiocies – the swan which seduced Leda, the Aetolian princess who was to become Sparta’s queen. Then her mood perked up as she remembered his return to Olympus smelling of swamp and with his beard a tangle of muddy feathers.
‘I can save one for £3 a month, according to one of those adverts.’ Zeus gestured at the 52-inch flat screen TV in front of which he spent almost as much time as did Athene on her ever-Googled Apple iPad. ‘There’s also a cuddly toy – whatever that is – and regular updates on the progress of my own snow leopard.’
‘Their pelts are so rare that they fetch huge prices… more or less worth their weight in gold.’ Although Artemis had swapped her golden bow for protest banners calling for women’s rights and gender equality, she kept abreast of the shape and fortunes of her old occupation. ‘But, Pops, a few quid, even a few hundred quid isn’t going to alter the fate of a single animal… and anyway, most of the cash these charities collect is swallowed up by advertising and administrative costs.’ Artemis shook her head sadly.
‘Telecasts are littered with that sort of advert,’ added Poseidon, perched on the lintel of the French window opening onto the penthouse’s main patio. ‘You can save a rhino for £3 a month, or an elephant – both much bigger animals than any of the cat species, large or small. Why, for your real money’s-worth you could spend your £3 a month on saving a whale.’
‘Over-worked donkeys come even cheaper,’ said Hebe looking up from the electronic version of The Times crossword and always impishly ready to stir any family discussion into an argument ‘You can help save one of them for as little as £2 a month. Of course, they’re not as visually pleasing as a leopard or cheetah, and have none of the impressive presence of an elephant or a rhino.
‘There’s probably even a charity targeting three-legged injured crocodiles or chameleon’s in need of new tails. And what about greyhounds no longer able to chase mechanical hares around Harringay Stadium, or grey squirrels. Mind you, if you want to save those rodents you’ll have to act fast. I see that London’s chefs in boutique restaurants already have them on their menus.’
‘You could probably find enough of these endangered or damaged creatures targeted by charities to establish your own zoological garden,’ added Hermes as he finished fastening strips printed with the curious Gibraltar PO motto “you promise, we deliver”, to the wings of his sandals.
‘You could crowd-fund the project. Become a 21st Century Noah… change the shape of mortal history… even make the Guinness Book of Records.’ said Athena.
‘You remember Noah, surely, the “Mad Carpenter” from over Palestine way who built the boat to save the animals from the Great Flood,’ she prompted.
For a moment Zeus frowned in thought, then looked up smiling: ‘That was when Poseidon lost his temper in one of his clashes with the Tritons and pinched a couple of my best thunderbolts.’ He chuckled. ‘Couldn’t handle them properly and when he chucked them missed… Instead of hitting a Triton, struck the wall between the Pillars of Hercules. Knocked a ruddy-great hole in it and let the Atlantic pour into the Med.
‘Yes, I remember, from Olympus we could see the tidal wave swooshing towards the bit they called the Bosphorus.’ He stood up, stretched, and sauntered across to the French window, warming to the memory.
‘You really messed up there, boy’. And he dug Poseidon in the ribs. But it would be fun to see something like that again. Wouldn’t it? I wonder how…’ and a beatific smile touched his lips.
‘Climate change…’ said the Father of the Gods. ‘Climate change.’