‘Homing seagulls… fast, racing seagulls… that’s where there’s money to be made.’ Zeus jabbed an index finger at the pages of the Daily Mail spread across his lap to protect his new cream suit from the inevitable fat and vinegar splatters of his morning snack of fish and chips. His voice, several decibels louder than in usual conversation, set glasses clinking on the cocktail cabinet shelves.
Hermes looked up from Athene’s iPad, (borrowed to play electronic patience while she and Hebe were shopping), and Hera poked her head through the serving hatch between the kitchen and the lounge with its 50-inch plasma TV screen, to stare at her husband. ‘What new fancy had drawn the attention of the Father of the Gods?’ each wondered silently.
‘It says here’ – and again he poked his finger at the paper for emphasis – ‘that a Belgian racing pigeon called Armando has sold at auction for nearly $1.5 million, more than three times the world record after a bidding war between Chinese billionaires. That’s big money in anyone’s currency. And, if a mere pigeon is worth so much, imagine what price a strong racing seagull would fetch…’
‘Sounds good,’ said Hermes. ‘And that sort of money would be more than enough to fund the Codswallop Coalition’s election war chest. It’s a brill idea, Pops’.
The Olympian family was sharply divided over Zeus’ decision to establish a local political party he would lead to campaign in the general election due at the end of the year. Hera, Athene and Artemis were set firmly against the idea, but Hermes and Dionysus were enthusiastic converts. And, following the failure of Zeus bid to launch the CreosusQuid on GBX, were as desperate as their father to find alternative funding for an election campaign.
‘Could buy quite a few votes as well,’ Zeus smiled, prepared in the face of his winged son’s enthusiasm, to overlook the disrespectful use of the diminutive ‘Pops’.
If a mere pigeon is worth so much, imagine what price a strong racing seagull would fetch.
‘But why can’t you just breed pigeons?’ asked Hera, as ever a voice of moderation and sanity honed by millennia of her husband’s follies. ‘There’s an abundance of the birds in Casemates, and they’ll be far easier to catch and handle than seagulls. Those yellow beaks could do a lot of damage – even to a god or goddess.’
‘Nah. Seagulls are stronger and have a bigger wing-span – ergo they’re faster. We can build a seagull loft on the patio; Hermes can help me train ‘em – he knows a thing or two about speed and wings; Dionysus can stir up interest, create a market in the local pubs – perhaps even in Spain – and I’ll get Poseidon involved, too. After all, seagulls sort of fall into his sphere of influence.’
‘And the Casemates pigeons are the wrong kind anyway,’ Hermes pointed out, clearly sharing his father’s new enthusiasm. ’You must have seen them, they hardly ever fly… don’t even flutter… just flop about scavenging bits of food dropped by tourists and other pedestrians.’
Hera sighed and drew the glass shutter across the serving hatch. Over countless millennia she had come to accept that when the Father of the Gods embraced a particularly madcap idea, there was no stopping him. Project Seagull would fail; Zeus would become more cantankerous than usual for a fortnight, and then come up with another idiotic project. At least while he was planning political strategies, her husband wasn’t chasing ‘floosies’. Anyway, he was getting too old for that particular folly.
The wisest of the Olympians switched her attention to the spread of groceries Hebe and Athene had unpacked on the kitchen worktop – the results of their weekly foray into the shelf-maze of Morrisons.
Desultory snatches of conversion drifted through the hatch.
‘We’ll set up a captured shell company to collect and market the eggs,’ Zeus rumbled. ‘There’s a world expert here in Gibraltar called Q.C. Feetham and we’ll consult him.’
‘I think his name is Nigel and actually he’s an expert in “Protected Cell Companies”. Nothing to do with eggs or shells.’ This from Hermes.
Hera shook her head. ‘Madness,’ she muttered. Then: ‘More madness,’ she rumbled as she looked at some of the labelling on her daughters’ supermarket haul. She reopened the hatch.
‘What will those creative con-men think of next?’ she called, her voice dipping disdain. ‘Of course, “100 per cent ground beef” hamburgers are “gluten-free’. So are “oak-cured smoked Norwegian salmon.” You only get gluten in some cereal crops – oats. wheat, barley….
‘Perhaps they feed barley to the cattle, and it’s retained in the animals’ systems,’ Hermes suggested, laughing.
‘Or they feed oatmeal porridge to the salmon. The Scots love their, porridge,’ Zeus chuckled.
Hera ignored their frivolities.
‘And “no added sugar” or “sugar-free”, what does that mean? Why would a cannery add sugar to tinned peaches? Or a soft drink be labelled as free of sugar.’
‘A wonderful word, perfect for a political slogan.’
‘They’re just catch-phrases, pandering to many mortals’ current obsession with diet… what’s good for them… what isn’t,’ said Artemis coming in from the patio for more sun-cream. ‘No added this or that, or something-free. They don’t actually say anything, but they’re reassuring. A sort of flummery. Meaningless.’
‘Flummery’, Zeus rolled the word around his tongue savouring it. ‘A wonderful word, perfect for a political slogan.’ He stretched out his hand, forming an O with his thumb and index finger in a gesture he associated with America’s Donald Trump.
‘Our party believes in transparent politics, flummery-free politics,’ he said firmly, testing the sounds of the words. ‘Lovely… convincing, but meaningless. Just the job. It sounds good, and that’s what politics is all about. As long as what politicians say sounds good, the words don’t have to mean anything. And “flummery-free” is spot on – it doesn’t mean anything.’
‘Actually, it does have a meaning. Two in fact,’ Athene had recovered her iPad. ‘I’ve just Googled the word and this is how the Oxford Shorter Dictionary defines it: “A sweet dish made with beaten eggs, milk, sugar, and flavourings”.’
‘That’s perfect. No-one is going to bother to look up the meaning of a word like that. The majority, the hoi-polloi won’t be bothered, and it’s their vote that the Codswallop Coalition is looking to win.’
‘There’s also another definition’, said Athene. ‘Meaningless or insincere flattery, or conventions,’ she read from the iPad.
‘Damn. Damn. Damn’, Zeus frowned. ‘That’s far too accurate a description. We can’t use it.’