‘While Dad’s away, the kids can play,’ Athena sang softly to herself as she poured a liberal splash of Baileys over her breakfast Coco Pops. With Hera away from the Rock in distant Rome – well, not quite Rome as it turned out, but far enough away for her rules of breakfast to be ignored – Athena the goddess of wisdom and her siblings could eat and drink what they pleased, and when they pleased.
There was one niggling worry though: their know-it-all mother might wonder how her offspring were managing without her. ‘Very nicely, thank you’, thought Athena; though since her parents’ departure to visit their distant Roman relatives, a lot had happened of which Hera would have disapproved… or even forbidden.
But it was unlikely that the all-seeing powers of the Mother of the Gods would reach as far as Gibraltar from Fiesola, the small town near Florence to which the Roman gods had been banished by Imperial edict. Anyway, she would have directed her attention to the upper reaches of the Rock where the pantheon had made their home since fleeing Olympus the previous summer. And her offspring were no longer there. They had moved, and with them their futons and duvets, Ikea furnishings, ice- and coffee-making machines, the 60-inch flat screen TV as well as the lap-tops and games consoles.
The brood had been driven from their haven atop the Rock, not by the predations of the apes which – emboldened by the absence of Zeus and his thunderbolts – had again begun regular raids on the new Olympus, developing a particular taste for Zeus’ store of Rose’s lime marmalade (though, unlike the Father of the Gods they did not slather it on sardines). Not the apes, it was the weather that had driven them into the city.
An unexpected cold snap accompanied by torrential rains had taken the gods by surprise. On Mount Olympus they had always been prepared for winter’s gales and frequent snows; but this was the Mediterranean, the tip of the Costa del Sol, where – according to holiday brochures – the sun always shone.
So it had been fortunate that Dionysus had nipped in to the Casino to escape the first unexpected downpour (or so he claimed, though Athena thought it more likely that he wanted a few sly glasses of wine before he made his way up the Rock). A casual £1 coin popped into one of the slot machines had hit a jackpot large enough to pay for two-month’s rental of an Ocean Village penthouse owned by someone called ‘Henwy’ and the Olympians had moved in the following day.
That, too, had proved providential, for earlier on that first evening of rain their two sisters Demeter and Hestia had unexpectedly reached Gibraltar after a protracted ‘gap year’ travelling in India and Nepal to ‘broaden their cultural horizons.’
‘We’re back. The coven is reunited again,’ Demeter had called as the two travellers reached the flat rock which served as doorstep to the gods’ home. Apollo had dubbed his five sisters ‘the Coven’ several centuries earlier when his daily travels from Mount Olympus had taken him through a town called Salem – a small, strait-laced community which burnt women thought to be witches, he told the gods on his return. Hera and Hestia had be disgusted; Zeus, seldom surprised by mortal folly, thought it strange to use women as winter fuel; while Poseidon, glaring at his sisters opined it ‘a good idea if we burnt our own damned witches’.
‘A-ha, a coven of five,’ Apollo had quipped. And the name stuck…
Hestia, more talented even than her mother as a home-maker, took to the penthouse as sweetly as Aristophanes’ proverbial wasps to nectar and brought an order to the family’s life that Hera would have envied. No longer were Dionysus’ empties littered across the floor, or Poseidon’s nets and fishing lines draped carelessly across futons and Posturepedic chairs – potential hazards to the unwary. The empties were taken daily to the bottle-bank, and the nets, along with two tridents and a recently-acquired spear-gun, were stored in a corner of the roof garden.
‘A woman’s touch,’ grumbled Ares at his most macho – though like his siblings he enjoyed the greater comfort and a sense of peaceful normality Hestia had brought to their home, he wasn’t going to admit it.
But, as the winter rains resumed their onslaught, the tranquillity of the evening was shattered.
‘Ruddy yobbo drivers! The government should do something about them… and sort out the pavements and gutters.’ Hebe exploded into the penthouse , shaking water from the hem of her dress. ‘It’s a bleeding disgrace.’ Hebe, usually demure and well-spoken, had picked up a smattering of slang from the chatter of local college students passing the bank where she had become an advisor on wine investments. But she seldom swore; and even the mildest expletives indicated a level of anger that among most mortals would provoke a string of F-ing and S-ing.
‘What’s up, Sis?’ asked Aphrodite, looking up from painting her nails a fashionable emerald green and fluttering her heavily mascaraed false eyelashes. (With Hera still in Italy, the Goddess of Love could indulge in all the excessive maquillaje which her mother would have damned as ‘unladylike’.)
‘What’s up is the broken pavements and atrocious drainage in Glacis Road, that’s what’s up,’ snapped Hebe. ‘Whenever it rains, the water collects in long wide pools and those young drivers with blaring radios drive deliberately close to the pavement throwing up a wave of water that soaks passing pedestrians.’
‘In England motorists can be fined £1,000 for that sort of behaviour,’ remarked Hermes, who had learned from a brief visit to London that his winged heels could lift him above the threat. ‘This ain’t bleedin’ England,’ Hebe’s slang became more pronounced.
‘You’d think someone in government would do something about it – after all, Ministers must get splashed, too,’ said Demeter. ‘Dream on,’ retorted Hebe. ‘They’re driven everywhere. Have you ever seen one of them on a bus – saving money, or cutting carbon footprints by using public transport! Not on your Nelly! The only time they walk is up and down Main Street when they accompany some visiting Big-Wig.’
‘You could get up a petition, or at least do something about it at the next election,’ Apollo suggested.
‘But they aren’t on the electoral roll,’ Hermes pointed out.
‘But we will be! It’s time for votes for goddesses,’ chorused the five sisters.