Does a BA point to anything other than the first two letters of a bleated ‘baaah’? Academic research into the cognitive abilities of sheep stir memories of the Olympians’ past.
‘Where do these academics get their weird ideas on what to research… and who is daft enough to finance them?’ Frowning, Zeus looked up from a page of The Daily Telegraph in which his fish and chips had been wrapped. The print had been stained by vinegar, and smears of oily grease partly obscured the news item which had attracted his sudden interest in the stranger ways of academe.
Dribblets of Roses Lime Marmalade joined the grease and vinegar as he jabbed his index finger at the report which read: ‘Sheep can be trained to recognise human faces from photographic portraits, according to new research from scientists at the University of Cambridge’
‘Ridiculous… Beggars belief,’ the Father of the Gods rumbled, as Hera leant across the breakfast table to read what had incensed him this time. Millennia of experience had taught her how easily her husband could be provoked to thunder-bolt hurling anger by happenings – or something that caught his eye – to which even the most irascible of gods or mortals wouldn’t blink an eye.
She read on: ‘The study is part of a series of tests given to the sheep to monitor their cognitive abilities. We’ve shown that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys.’ No thunderbolts in this one, she decided.
‘What’s got your goat this time, daddy-o?’ asked Dionysus as he stirred two Alka-Seltzer tablets into a tumbler of cava – in the latest of his ceaseless searches for a hangover cure.
Zeus’ frown deepened. In the year since the gods had left Mount Olympus and made a new home on the Rock of Gibraltar, his brood had not only adapted to daily interactive relationships with the local mortals, but their conversations had become punctuated with both bits of the local vernacular and phrases gleaned from popular television programmes. And nothing irked him more than the less-than-respectful terms in which so often they now addressed him.
‘Daddy-o, ‘Pops’, ‘Pappy’ were anathema. Zeus would have tolerated the Latin ‘Pater’ which Jupiter’s offspring used when speaking to their father. He had envied, though only slightly, his Roman relative for there seemed an element of respect to the term lacking in those gleaned from ‘EastEnders’ and its American equivalents.
‘Sheep,’ he retorted, glaring at Dionysus. ‘Sheep are what got my goat, as you so crudely put it. Some Cambridge don or other, claims that sheep can recognise people from photographs!’
‘Why would they want to do that?’ Hebe looked up from applying black varnish to her nails.
‘Ah, I read about something like that on the BBC website,’ said Athena, who was addicted to the new technologies and frequently scanned various news sites seeking material for her on-going crusade for women’s rights. ‘The sheep could choose one of two exits – one with a photo of President Obama, the other… I can’t remember who. But they all chose Obama.’
‘That’s not very flattering to the millions of Americans who voted Obama into the White House – comparing them to sheep, which are such incredibly stupid animals.’ Hermes joined the conversation.
‘No. It had nothing to do with politics. According to the BBC the sheep chose Obama because he had a friendly face.’
‘I suppose if it had been Donald Trump, the flock would have fled the other way.’
‘Sheep are nothing but trouble,’ grunted Poseidon. ‘Can’t abide the creatures.’
Hera gave a mental nod of sympathy. It had been many millennia since the sea god’s youthful dalliance with the beautiful mortal Theophane had led to the birth of the golden-fleeced ram Krios Khrysomallos and the enforced separation of the couple that followed, but her son had never stopped mourning his lost love.
She glanced across at Aphrodite who was attacking a huge breakfast bowl of Coco Pops, surprised that her daughter seemed so indifferent to the conversation. Though never admitted, she, too, must have unfortunate memories of the woolly creatures. Possibly even remorse. The penitence she had forced on a blameless Psyche – jealous, when her own lover Eros had fallen for the red-headed Athenian – had been extreme even by ancient Olympian standards in the eons before the gods had adopted the Human Rights Act. The young woman had been commanded to collect wool from a flock of vicious sheep. Their bites were venomous and Psyche had been so badly bitten that she had survived only through the intervention of Apollo’s son Asclepius the healer.
And these mishaps were solely with sheep. A history of muddles and disasters caused by her children’s – as well as Zeus’ – misalliance with creatures of the field, forest and sky had proved how catastrophic the mix could be. And as a family they finally had learned their lesson – no longer was history repeated.
How fortunate, too, that the Olympians’ lengthy saga of passionate relationships with mortals had come to an end… though she sometimes worried that the regular daily relationships which the children had formed with mortal Gibraltarians – in the workplace and elsewhere – might lead to a return of the old ways. Hera hoped not.
A shriek of mirth drew her attention back to the conversation.
‘…well what can you expect of people who believe that an octopus or a cat in fur bootees can predict the outcome of the World Cup?’ laughed Dionysus, whose new hangover libation appeared to have lifted his spirits.
‘Did I hear someone talking about sheep?’ Hephaestus called from the doorway as he kicked off his fireman’s boots and hung up his helmet. ‘Did you know there’s a shortage of mutton in the butchers’ shops? Not a leg or chop to be had, because all the sheep are in Parliament.’
‘Better watch your words boy,’ Zeus rumbled. ‘That sort of talk won’t go down well in Madrid.’
‘Nor in No 6…’ Hebe added under her breath.