The deep-throated cough exploded across the open-plan communal space of the large penthouse, rattling the sliding doors with their view of the Bay and Algeciras on the far shore, A second, deeper cough set the crystal champagne flutes a-tremble on the shelves of the cocktail cabinet, and brought with it a gust of the ocean – a mix of sea spume and rotting fish which offended the senses.
‘If you can’t do something about that cough, at least take it and the stink onto the patio,’ grumbled Athena, looking up from texting on her 5G Huawei phone and wrinkling her nose at the smell.
Hera nodded her agreement. In spite of the clement Spring weather Poseidon’s bouts of coughing were worsening, and even the self-centred Father of the Gods had expressed concern – though Hera was uncertain whether Zeus cared more about their son’s health or merely was irked by the miasma of kelp and decomposing fish that accompanied the sea god’s coughs.
‘You should go down to St Bernard’s – get a check-up’, offered Apollo, who had taken time off from his global rounds to watch what was expected to be a spectacular lunar eclipse. ‘The guys in A&E did wonders for Pop’s aches and pains. Medical treatments have come a long way since that Hippocrates fellow sat under a tree on Kos dispensing his thoughts. They’re bright doctors at A&E and they’ll find out what’s wrong…’
Medical treatments have come a long way since Hippocrates sat under a tree dispensing his thoughts.
‘I know what’s wrong. It’s those damned plastic micro-fibres. The oceans are full of them, Can’t avoid them,’ Poseidon rasped through a fusillade of hacking coughs, and headed for the patio.
‘Micro-fibres, what on earth are they?’ Artemis asked of her brother’s retreating back. But Poseidon, burdened by his trident and a long-handled fishing net, was wrestling to slide back the patio doors, and it was left to Athena to answer.
‘They’re minute molecules of plastic, so small you need a special microscope to see ‘em, and scientists reckon they are as toxic as the tiny globules formed when plastic bags and bottles and flip-flops degrade in the sea,’ she explained. ‘Fishes and dolphins ingest the globules, and they pass into the mortal food chain. We’ve seen TV programmes about them. Well these are invisible but just as dangerous.’
‘I thought he wore some sort of filtering mask as protection against those plastic bits.’
‘Yes. But there’s no mesh small enough to stop the micro-fibres produced by washing machines. That’s where they come from, a woman MP at Westminster told the British Parliament last month. She said that every week washing machines in Britain alone produce 9.5 trillion of them. They’re washed into rivers and then swept down to the sea…’
‘A trillion?’ Artemis raised her eyebrows in query. ‘That’s a helluvalot of zeros, and if they can’t be seen by the naked eye, who is counting them? Must take hundreds of bureaucrats with microscopes to check that total in a week.’
Every week washing machines in Britain alone produce 9.5 trillion of them.
‘If Brit bureaucrats are anything like the Civil Service, or my colleagues at the parcels office, it would take them a month.’ This, gloomily, from Hermes who still smarted from his latest clash with the TGWU over his speed in sorting and deliveries.
‘It’s more likely to be some sort of scientific guesstimate… or even a figure pulled out of the air. You know what politicians are like – they make up things they think people want to hear,’ said Apollo.
‘Not ALL politicians,’ thundered Zeus stumping into the room, catching the tail end of Apollo’s remarks. ‘My Codswallop Coalition stands for the truth and utter transparency in politics. A new broom sweeping away the cobwebs of the past in a mixture of mature wisdom and youthful enthusiasm. None of the school playground name-calling and spiteful behaviour we see telecast from Westminster PMQs by the BBC’.
Zeus thumped his right fist into his other hand for emphasis – forgetting that he still clutched the loosely wrapped portion of fish and chips he had collected in Casemates. A greasy mix of oily batter and cheap vinegar splattered the white linen jacket – the one he wore on his forays to canvas support for the CC Party in Main Street… and to collect up his daily lunch.
‘Better take your jacket off. I’ll run it through the washing-machine before the grease soaks in’, urged Hera.
Zeus, who had begun picking at the double portion of battered cod and chips, peeled off his jacket – leaving oily finger-marks on the sleeves. Hera sighed, shook her head wordlessly.
‘Rather wash it by hand, so you won’t make thousands more micro-fibres’, Athena muttered as her mother passed en route to the utility room.
‘You should really cut down on you fish intake, Pops,’ Apollo observed as he watched Zeus scoop up a piece of cod and add several chips. ‘Look what a seafood diet is doing to Poseidon… all those thousands of micro-fibres and polluting plastic…’
‘And I’ve noticed you coughing quite a lot recently,’ Artemis added innocently.
‘Micro-fibres? What have they got to do with coughing?’ demanded the Father of the Gods who wasn’t quite sure what “micro-fibres” were, but was damned if he was going to admit not knowing.
So Athena explained.
And yes, Zeus had seen the ‘Blue Planet’ on TV; and of course the Codswallop Coalition was concerned with environmental issues and was tackling these in its manifesto; and he had been concerned about Poseidon’s cough – though this was nothing like his own stentorian clearing of the throat which was brought about by poor quality Cuban cigars.
But as he listened to Athena’s chronicle of toxic marine pollution, Zeus quietly and unobtrusively folded the wrapping over the half-eaten portion of cod.
He would give the remaining chips to the seagulls. That might stop their screeching. At least while he had his siesta.