In the five months since Zeus and the pantheon had moved from Olympus to the Rock, much had changed. So much so, as Hera remarked settling into her favourite armchair, finished with the last of her morning chores, that neither Homer, nor Sophocles, nor even that king of comedy, Aristophanes, would recognise them.
She and Athene had chased the last of the apes away from the washline, and sat chatting over a cup of Redbush tea, to which they had become addicted after watching a DVD of Ladies No1 Detective Agency. Life away from the clatter of the constant flow of refugees and an impoverished Greek economy was better than anything they had known on Olympus.
It wasn’t only that they had adopted Western dress and the comfortable trappings of the 21st century after millennia of robes, clouds and marble; that they now watched the passage of the world, both real and fictional, on wide-angle TV screens; or that nectar and ambrosia had been replaced by fast foods and the offerings of the supermarket shelves. And while their view of mortals had not mellowed, interaction with the inhabitants of Gibraltar had given the gods a better understanding of human thought processes and motivations.
For though the gods long since had decided they no longer would intervene in the affairs of mortals, going through a neurotic and scratchy span of centuries as slowly they relinquish this ancient enjoyment, they had retained a keen interest in the antics of mankind. Particularly, those of the small community which lay spread below them. For it reflected much of the world’s goodness and its ills; its wisdom (if there was such a mortal state, Apollo remarked) and its follies…
And, at last, their financial situation was improving. Zeus’s decision to join the mix of the human statues and add his begging bowl to the caps, boxes and violin cases on the pavements of Main Street had not lasted long. In the comfort of the new Olympus, surrounded by his family, he found it difficult enough to remain silent for more than a few minutes and even more taxing to remain motionless. But on Main Street, where gormless children dribbling ice-cream over their clothing pulled faces and attempted to provoke him into movement, it was almost impossible to remain frozen. He longed to administer the well-deserved clip around the ears that their parents failed to deliver.
What was more, as he explained to his wife and brood after returning to their home atop the Rock from his first day’s begging, with a catch of £4.20, 2€, 5 worthless ten peseta coins and a US dime, he was constantly tempted to intervene and rebut many stupidities of the passers-by.
‘The older ones talk about nothing other than politics and parking; the youngsters about pop-singers, who is “snogging” whom, the merits of football teams, or which party they’re going to that evening,’ he grumbled. ‘And then, there are the squadrons of pram-pushers, old and young, who barricade the streets when they stop to admire each other’s offspring. When they move, they’re as bad as those clutching i-pads and smartphones who are so intent on the small screens that they’d knock you down without a second’s thought. I could go on and on…’
‘And you do. Oh, how you do,’ muttered Dionysus. He was nursing a hangover acquired at the opening of yet another re-named watering hole in Ocean Village. For in spite of his reputation of an unquenchable thirst, Dionysus continued to find work in the city’s bars, largely, because of the frequent changes of their names and ownership. In fact, during his three months as a jobseeker, he had worked for three different employers, in three differently named establishments, all in the same premises.
He was the only god competing with Spaniards and Moroccans in the low-paid ‘grey market’. His siblings had been more fortunate. As followers of the Olympians’ Gibraltar chronicles will recall, in their first eight weeks on the Rock, the gods had lived lavishly, spent their savings as swiftly as non-QROPS pensioners, and sought ways to maintain their lifestyle, eventually resorting to work as a source of income.
Though their initial efforts were marked by a string of failures, several were now employed in comfortable Civil Service sinecures. ‘Once you’re in, mate, you’re made for life, as long as you never take a decision, always pass the buck, and don’t make waves,’ a seasoned bureaucrat told newcomer Artemis who had been employed by Social Services to deal with women’s issues.
This certainty of long-term tenure was not the only attraction of working for the government. As the sun shone, and the days stayed long, the gods found the unique and outmoded tradition of ‘summer hours’ across Gibraltar’s bureaucratic structures fitted well into what had been their own hedonistic lifestyle.
‘It’s ridiculous that a third of the workforce of a city which claims to be an international finance centre knocks off after lunch, leaving empty offices when most of the financial world is going at full tilt,’ said Ares whose lack of numeracy had been no barrier to a clerical post in the Tax Office.
‘That’s probably something which they caught from the Spanish concept of siesta,’ Hephaistos observed envious of the short summer working day, because his job in the Fire Service meant shift work.
‘At least the Spanish return to work in the late afternoon,’ Ares pointed out. ‘We do diddley-squat… Not that I’m complaining.’
Though neither Zeus nor Hera worked, and Athene’s enthusiasm for the Internet had led to an open-hours IT contract with Bet Victor, only Hermes was still unemployed. Followers of their antics will recall that although Hermes had been first to find employment, he had been sacked at the insistence of Unite the trade union – because his rapid work rate had put his fellow postmen at a disadvantage when management urged them to emulate the newcomer.
‘If only I’d known about a bureaucratic philosophy of indecisive slowness, I would still be there,’ he complained. He had been rejected by department after government department when his reputation for rapids hard work was uncovered.
‘You should try for something in the private sector,’ Hebe told him. ‘Most of the white-collar local firms encourage hard work. Some even pay something called a bonus.’
Shortlisted for a junior job with SG Hambros, her interview had led to overnight promotion when management realised the extent of her invaluable knowledge of wine. After a series of phone calls to Societe Generale’s head office, she had been invited to head a new banking venture – offering investment in vintage wines to the bank’s wealthier customers.
Poseidon, too, had found work in the private sector; as a diver at Cammell-Laird where, posted to the dry dock, filled infrequently with an inflow from the sea, he spent most of his days lolling in a discarded deck chair sipping cups of coffee thus combining the best of both worlds – bureaucratic and private.
illustrations | Sophie McCarthy