Arthritic fingers aren’t much fun to lick.
‘It was the time of sniffles and snuffles, of coughs and chills. In their old home on Mount Olympus, the gods had enjoyed a mild climate throughout the year, and, even when the Boreas blew cooler winds from the icy north, the air was dry, unthreatening. But as autumn drew to a close in their new home, Gibraltar’s humidity was playing havoc with Zeus’s joints, while thickening knuckles pointed to the first signs of what the Father of the Gods had dubbed ‘arth-wrongis’. This digital awkwardness not only affected the accuracy of the smaller thunderbolts which his tantrums provoked, but interfered with the tactile enjoyment of licking his fingers after a tuck-in of fish and chips.
‘The government should do something about it,’ he frequently thundered – though quite what ‘it’ was, he did not explain.
His natural grumpiness – even in the most halcyon and trouble-free days – was aggravated by the frequent levanters and the constant damp rising from the ill-drained streets around Ocean Village.
As her husband’s coughs and snuffles worsened, a concerned Hera had pondered the potential of half-remembered ancient remedies. A potion of dictamon and mandrake root (regarded by the Furies as a universal panacea); an unguent of myrrh, beeswax, balsam and young laurel leaves to ease swollen finger joints – a remedy as old as thyme itself; or a decoction of honey, aloe vera and herb-rich hyrax droppings. She would have dispensed and tested each of them, but half the ingredients were not available at this end of the Mediterranean. Nor could she remember the vital proportions of each recipe.
So Hera had bowed to the inevitable and sent her husband – grumbling and more cantankerous that usual – to St Bernard’s Hospital for the free flu jab offered to elderly mortals by the GHA as a caution against pneumonia… or worse.
Persuasion had not been easy, for Zeus’s dislike of crowds was equalled only by an openly expressed distaste for anyone who was ahead of him in the stolid queues, which seemed an inevitable part of anything related to Gibraltarian bureaucracy. But Hera, with millennia of experience to draw on, gradually had overcome his resistance – stressing the likely presence of ‘plenty of pretty young nurses’ in the surgeries and wards. Zeus, she knew, was a sucker for a well-turned calf or ankle…
‘At least for a few hours we’re spared Pop’s coughs and complaints,’ Dionysus whispered as the door of the penthouse apartment closed behind his father.
Hera smiled and flipped placidly through the pages of ‘Hello’, enjoying a spell of quiet celebrity spotting – free from Zeus’s customary chauvinist appraisal of hair-styles and cleavages of the famous, offered with his usual stridency as he peeked over her shoulder. What bliss.
But among the Olympian family, silences seldom last long.
‘Which game does Theresa play – rugby or soccer?’ Hermes tossed the question towards the futon where Hebe and Aphrodite sat comparing the decorations on a set of false nails bought in a sale earlier that morning.
‘Who on earth is Theresa, and why should it matter what games she plays?’ wondered Aphrodite.
‘Theresa May, of course… Britain’s Prime Minister. She’s been given…’ Hermes started to explain.
‘I’d have thought she was too busy with Brexit, the Chequers Plan, that dreadful Junker man, and her dance steps to have time for games,’ said Hebe.
Hermes jabbed at a news photograph in the Chronicle in which a portly local politico presented a red sports shirt emblazoned with the numeral 10 to the British premier.
‘If it’s for rugby, the number indicates that she is to play fly-half, the pivotal position in the team. A good fly-half can dominate the game,’ Hermes explained. His sisters yawned. But he went on; ‘If, on the other hand it’s a football strip it could indicate any position on the field – except goalie, though probably a defender’.
The word ‘strip’ had caught Aphrodite’s temporary attention. ‘If it’s a piece of clothing, why call it a strip? That means taking things off, not putting things on.’
‘Well, you would know,’ muttered Dionysus, ‘you’ve done it often enough’ – and drew a baleful glare from his sister.
‘It could be symbolic; a sort of political pun,’ said Apollo looking up from the met report he had been studying on his iPad and joining the conversation for the first time. ‘She’s hardly a right-winger and that jumped-up Commie Corbyn would be the left-wing of any team…’
‘There’s nothing wrong with Corbyn, he is dedicated to making the world a better place for everyone – refugees, unmarried mothers and down-trodden railway workers.’ Since being made redundant by SG Hambros, Hebe’s political views had switched dramatically from enthusiastic capitalism to underdog socialism.
Her enjoyment of the famous interrupted by the rising strident voices of her brood, Hera closed out aside her magazine.
‘It’s just a gimmick to tickle the interest of Gibraltar’s electorate,’ she announced. ‘The number 10 represents Theresa May’s Downing Street address and the portly Chief Minister thinks the gesture – a present of a Gibraltar international football shirt – will charm her into continued support for Gibraltar in the Brussels Brexit talks.’
‘In other words, it’s a sort of bribe,’ Dionysus remarked.
‘A bit like the offerings which mortals used to leave for us in the old days of Olympus,’ added Apollo.
‘Yes,’ said Hera. ‘That’s what politician’s do – they bribe the electorate. Only they have a euphemistic phrase which makes it sound less crude. They call them “manifesto promises.”’