‘Why would anyone want to live in the countryside?’ Zeus tossed the question lightly across the Olympian breakfast table. He asked it quietly, as though he really was interested in the opinion of others, with none of the usual stentorian bark accompanying a rhetorical question to which he would give his own damning reply. ‘Cities, even towns, have so much more to offer, yet people flock to the countryside… not just for holidays and weekend breaks, but to actually have their homes there. It beats me.’
‘Ah, but it also works the other way too,’ said Apollo. ‘Villagers and even people from smaller country towns move to the cities or bigger towns. I’ve seen it often on my daily travels – there are villages dying for want of inhabitants, not just in Spain but in other European countries – in Wales, in Austria – as well as in the America’s and China…’
‘So many Chinese want to live in cities that they have to keep building new ones, but not through any development process as most cities do – you know… villages, becoming towns, then slowly growing into cities and, eventually, megalopoli,’ Athena interrupted her worldly-wise brother. She had her eye on China. The possible trade war between Beijing and Washington was having a serious impact on her bitcoin investment.
‘Chinese prove my point,’ said Zeus with uncharacteristic reasonableness. ‘They move to cities for a better quality of life; all the things they can’t get in the country. Or start whole cities so they can get ‘em.’
How swiftly the aged forget – even we, oldest of all immortals.
How swiftly the aged forget – even we, oldest of all immortals, thought Hera as she listened to her husband’s argument.
‘We lived in the countryside for millennia,’ she reminded him. ‘What do you think Olympus and its environs were, their landscape hardly touched by mortals? They were a Utopia. A Nirvana. No towering office blocks or concrete canyons of apartments. There was clean, healthy air. And…’
‘And look at what all that got us,’ Zeus barked as memories of their former home prodded him back to his usual self. ‘It got us a climate which was too hot in summer and too cold in winter… hard marble benches and thrones which were uncomfortable to sit on, or unreliable clouds to sleep on… an endless dull diet of manna, nectar or ambrosia… little to do other than squabble among ourselves or interfere in the lives of mortals… and an endless stream of those mortals pleading for our help in their wars, with their crops – and even in their attempts to manage affairs of state.
‘That was country life, Hera. But here’ – and he swung his arm in a gesture that took in the large penthouse apartment and the patios with their views of the Rock and Marina Bay – ‘we have Comfort and with a capital C. Comfortable chairs and sofas, comfortable beds, a choice of cuisine, hundreds of TV channels for our entertainment, and Google and Facebook to exercise our minds. That’s progress. So – why would any mortal turn his or her nose up at that? Why do they want to live in the countryside, particularly when they seem to want to change it when they get there?’
Here we have Comfort and with a capital C.
‘Perhaps they prefer clean, healthy air untainted by carbon monoxide and exhaust fumes,’ said Artemis who – irked at the lack of progress among the Sisterhood seeking to bridge the very real male/female pay gap and dismantle the ‘glass ceiling’ – had turned her attention to the ‘Green’ cause with the same boundless energy that she had hunted stag and boar centuries earlier.
‘Maybe they prefer food with fresh, healthy ingredients, rather than a diet of fast-food burgers and pot-noodles… or even fish and chips,’ added Dionysus. ‘Though, for myself, it wouldn’t matter whether it was country or town – as long as I could lay my hands on a bottle of decent rioja or a stiff gin and tonic.’
‘There no surprise to that,’ sniped Hebe. ‘But why the sudden interest in where mortals choose to live, Pops?’
Zeus frowned at her use of the slang diminutive. His children’s adoption of mortal attitudes and lack of old-fashioned values – particularly, such as respect for parents – was one of the few things which he missed, lost from the past in the Olympians’ emigration from Greece to Gibraltar.
‘I was thinking about the French village whose mayor took one of his neighbours to court because he had refused to fill in his fish-pond. In-comers from the city had complained about the loud croaking of frogs which shared the pond with his carp and koi. The mayor wanted it filled “for the good of the community”, he claimed. ‘But the pond had been there for centuries, and no one had ever complained before.’
‘I suppose that, next, someone will complain about being awakened too early in the morning by the crowing of cockerels,‘ suggested a sarcastic Poseidon, who had spent the night under water collecting Red Sea barnacles – particularly tasty morsels, he had decided – from the hull of a tanker arrested by the British and Gibraltar authorities while en route to deliver Iranian oil to Syria in defiance of an United Nations ban.
‘That’s precisely what did happen,’ Zeus told the sea god. ‘Another in-comer said that a cock’s cowing next door so disturbed his daughter’s sleep patterns – she had not slept soundly enough on the eve of her exams – that she had done badly in her baccalaureate.
‘But that complaint didn’t get far. The mayor has the largest shareholding in the biggest local egg co-operative.’
‘Ho-hum,’ said Apollo. ‘Town or country – doesn’t matter where you live; wheels within wheels and business as usual, then.’ He looked at his Rolex. ‘Must dash, I’ve an appointment at No.6. Fabian wants to make sure that the sun shines on September 10. Can’t imagine why… but it’s probably something political.’
‘It always is, with Fabian,’ Zeus muttered.