‘This was not a good idea… that man Rajoy has a lot to answer for,’ Zeus whispered. Hera, who over the millennia had become used to her husband’s verbal non-sequiturs, merely nodded, refraining from pointing out that the decision to visit their Roman relatives had been his and had nothing to do with Spain’s prime minister. But the other 320-something passengers on the easyJet flight from Gibraltar to Gatwick peered nervously at the flaps of the overhead lockers which had sprung open simultaneously, and threatened to cascade hand luggage onto anyone seated next to the aisle..
That was the trouble with Zeus’ whispers. They could cause mountaintops to tremble. And the effect on a passenger plane – even a Boeing 707 built to withstand massive turbulence and lightning strikes – roused even those in the cockpit as instruments moved erratically and the aircraft jolted suddenly off course by 31 degrees.
Zeus noticed none of this. He was preoccupied with his intense discomfort. Not only had he been pressed into wearing an off-the-peg suit, bought hurriedly in the January sales (which, each year, started some two months before Christmas), but wore a constricting collar and tie – clothing totally alien to the toga-like drapes of his normal wear.
And to make matters worse, the space between the easyJet seats was clearly designed for dwarfs, for his knees were squeezed upward almost touching his chin. And though this was an uncomfortable way to travel for any mortal taller than 5ft 9in, those familiar with Praxiteles’ statute of the Father of the Gods will know that Zeus stood considerably taller than this.
Despite the airline’s name, this was to be no easy flight, Hera reflected – consoling herself with the anticipation of the onward flight from Heathrow to Rome which should be pleasant and promised the ‘luxury’ of first-class travel with Emirates.
The decision to visit Rome and ‘clean the slate’ of millennia-long animosities had been taken in a euphoric moment of New Year Resolution when the ever-belligerent Ares wondered ‘how those upstart pretenders’ spent Christmas. And Apollo, whose daily global spin took him over the ‘Eternal City’, was quick to tell that a candle-clutching crowd had gathered in the city centre where they were addressed by ‘a bloke in white robes – a bit like yours, Pop, but cleaner. Apart from that, it was a bit like here, only noisier… and a hellish lot more mortals.’
‘It’s a pity we ever fell out with them,’ Hera sighed, ‘Juno had some interesting recipes we didn’t get round to sharing.’
‘How did it all start?’ asked Artemis. ‘I remember a row with Diana about which of our arrows, had brought down the phoenix, but it can’t have been that.’
‘Something Jupiter said, or did, but blow me if I can remember what,’ the Father of the Gods rumbled through a mouthful of left-over Christmas pudding.
Though, if anything, his dislike of Christmas had hardened since leaving the relative isolation of Olympus for the over-crowded Rock; but after discovering ‘Xmas Fayre’ (as one of Gibraltar’s more pretentious restaurants described it) he was hooked. Not only hooked, but temporarily lulled into an uncharacteristic mellowness.
So it was that in this a-typical spirit of goodwill that Zeus chuckled and said: ‘Let’s all forgive and forget – even if we can’t remember what it is we are forgiving and forgetting. We’ll make that a family New Year’s Resolution, and spring a surprise visit on Jupiter, Juno and their brats.’
‘That’s a resolution that won’t last ‘till breakfast-time,’ Poseidon muttered.
But it had.
And, though their offspring pled a variety of excuses as to why they couldn’t accompany them to Rome, here were Hera and Zeus crammed uncomfortably into seats B and C of row 15 on an easyJet flight to Gatwick..,
Other than a brief contretemps with a Customs Official at Heathrow who attempted to confiscate a brace of thunderbolts in Zeus’ hand luggage, the onward journey with Emirates was halcyon.
However, Leonardo de Vinci Airport was swathed in rain; its ground staff were on strike following the rejection of their demand for triple pay over the holiday period, and by the time the celestial couple reached the shelter of the arrivals hall, they were drenched. They passed through the bureaucratic barrier unchallenged, but the heavy suitcase which had been consigned to the aircraft’s hold (and which contained changes of clothing, Zeus’ formal robes, and a batch of presents for their Italian relatives) was missing – though it would arrive on the following day’s flight.
‘Right from the start, I said this was stupid idea. We should never have come.’ Zeus began a litany of complaint that continued all the way into Rome, across the Tiber, and up to their suite in a five-star hotel overlooking the Borghese Gardens.
Slightly mollified by a tumbler of Amaretto from the mini-bar, and the thickly comfortable bathrobe that had replaced his sodden suit, Zeus peered through the French window at a rain-veiled Rome.
‘We can’t really tell Jupiter we’re here until we’ve got their presents – the toy monkeys, the T-shirts, the baseball caps, and the sticks of Gibraltar rock,’ said Zeus as he watched two raindrops racing each other down the window. ‘And we can’t go out until we’ve a dry change of clothes, so I suppose we should order something to eat in the room. I don’t suppose they have fish and chips?’ he asked hopefully as Hera scanned the room service menu.
There seemed to be every sort of pizza and every shape of pasta a mortal chef could concoct: a range of healthy salads; club sandwiches with a multiplicity of fillings; burgers with melted cheese; burgers with bacon and lettuce; burgers with cheese, bacon and lettuce… but nowhere on the menu was Zeus’ favourite – fish and chips.
They settled for tagliatelle a la carbonara and bottles of a red and a white Chianti, but after a couple of mouthfuls, Zeus put down his spoon and fork and wiped a strand of pasta from his beard.
‘They say “when in Rome do as the Romans do”, but if this is what the Jupiters eat, it’s not surprising that they’re so bloody-minded. We should have stayed in Gibraltar like I said we should.’
‘Oh do shut up,’ said Hera. ‘Eat your pasta, and be thankful the plane didn’t crash. Tomorrow the sun will shine, we will get our lost luggage, and we’ll sight-see and visit the Jupiter family.’
And, sure enough, the next morning the sun glinted on the dome of St Peters, sparkled on the Tiber, and warmed the pavements and stones of Rome. The Olympian couple were re-united with their luggage and set off to visit the distant relatives in Rome, which – the Fates and Furies willing – we will tell you all about next month…