‘Fish and chips may seem an unlikely source of political policy-making, but there’s the proof,’ Athene nodded towards the chaise longue where Zeus was jabbing an arthritic index finger at a page of newsprint splattered with the grease and remnants of his lunch.
Hermes raised a questioning eyebrow: ‘Explain?’
‘You must have noticed just how many of the ideas for Pop’s election manifesto are sparked by items he reads in the wrappings of his take-away lunches. In fact, those old newspapers from the Casemates chippy are all he reads – other than competition entry forms on packets of breakfast cereals.’
The Goddess of Wisdom and her wing-footed brother had spent the morning on the penthouse patio reluctantly taking to pieces the seagull loft that Hermes and Dionysus had built to house the racing gulls which Zeus had hoped to breed and sell to fund his election campaign.
It had all begun so well. The previous week, half a dozen mackerel, speared by Poseidon and laid out on the patio, had attracted a squadron of squabbling seagulls, five of which were easily netted and confined in the lath and chicken-netting loft.
Surprisingly, in millennia punctuated by improbable muddles, the first step in Zeus’ funding campaign had gone as planned. But, where gods’ interventions could tumble the best laid plans of mice and men, so mortal intervention could upset the Olympian apple-cart.
Although the inhabitants of Marina Bay were used to the cries and squabbles of gulls, the incessant cacophony of the five captives prompted a string of un-neighbourly complaints…and, in an urgent response 72 hours later, a town planning official armed with a clipboard and an array of multi-coloured biros, arrived at the penthouse to inform the Olympians that their seagull loft was ‘an illegal structure’ and must be removed ‘forthwith’.
[However, by then, not only had the decibel levels dropped to the murmur of traffic on the streets below, but even the usual avian activity in the vicinity of the penthouse had stopped. It was as though the birds were deliberately avoiding Zeus and his offspring, Hera remarked.
And the loft at the heart of the neighbours’ complaints was empty, for, as Zeus was forced to admit, gulls clearly did not share the homing instinct of pigeons.
Half a dozen mackerel had attracted a squadron of squabbling seagulls.
Helped by a friendly fisherman, Hermes and Poseidon had taken the captive birds to open water west of Europa Point, and released them. But, instead of flying back up the Bay towards Ocean Village, the gulls had headed on a course to Morocco.]
Two days later, Zeus’ angry response to the town planner’s demolition demand was ignored, and even a waved fist clenching a clutch of mini-thunderbolts was met with a ‘say’s-who’ sneer. Long after the bureaucrat had left, the Father of the Gods continued to seethe and fume, ranting against ‘tin-pot authorities who allow the development of ugly concrete canyons which are filled with lethal exhaust fumes, but bar ordinary citizens permission to own a simple aviary.’
And the outburst against ‘ecological criminals’, ‘bureaucratic wrong-doers who issue permits’ and the resultant ‘high-rise monstrosities’ had rumbled on…
Now, like some volcano about to erupt, Zeus continued to rumble, his plaints now centred on the news report which he continued to jab,
‘It says here, and I quote’, he rumbled – savouring the phrase he had come upon during a foray into doorstep canvassing – ‘and I quote (he repeated) “One million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction, with alarming implications for human survival, according to a United Nations report. More plants and animals are threatened with extinction now than any other period in human history,”
‘That sounds really serious,’ said Artemis looking up from her iPad, where she was preparing a pamphlet urging female emancipation in Anatolia. ‘And I bet it will be the men who are to blame…’
‘Well it doesn’t specify sexual responsibility, though you’re probably right. Male mortals are not much use when it comes to multi-tasking.’ Hera had joined her husband, and was peering at the newsprint. ‘What it does say – and I quote – is that “Nature’s current rate of decline is unparalleled, and the accelerating rate of extinctions means grave impacts on people around the world”,’ she read aloud.
‘I heard about the UN report on the BBC,’ said Athene from the patio door. ‘It links the loss of species to human activity and shows how those losses are undermining food and water security, as well as human health.’
A waved fist clenching a clutch of mini-thunderbolts was met with a sneer.
‘But it has nothing to do with gender’, said her brother. ‘Ouch!’ as a piece of the coiled chicken wire snagged Hermes’ ear. ‘Something to do with carbon footprints – whatever they are.’
‘Carbon dioxide emissions,’ said Zeus firmly. ‘And they come from everything – from the concrete used for high-rise buildings, to the exhaust fumes of cars and scooters that clutter the streets, high-rise buildings are anathema (another word to be savoured from the party-canvasser’s lexicon) they are…are…’ – Zeus searched for a word to fit the occasion – ‘they’re a blasphemy. Against nature,’ he added quickly.
‘How anyone permits them to be built amazes even me… I who have seen so much of mortal folly and idiocy, heard it from the lips of Sophocles and Aristotle when there were arguments among the Athens hoi-poloi about the ecological impact of building the Parthenon. And as for those who inhabit the high-rise apartments – they’re as guilty as the builders and town planners. They should be lined up and…’
‘But Pops, we live in a high-rise…and one with a luxury penthouse to boot,’ Hermes interrupted his father’s rant.
‘Well, we’re not mortals, so it doesn’t apply to us. We are an exception…There’s always exceptions which prove the rule,’ said Zeus firmly. ‘Without the concrete and the exhaust fumes and town planners, Gibraltar’s Rock would be as perfect a home as was Olympus three millennia ago. And when I move into No6, one of the first things the Codswallop Coalition Government will do is to close down the town planning department.’
‘Dad is right about things changing for the worse,’ said Artemis ‘But forget the millennia, I’ve seen photographs showing what Gibraltar looked like only 30 or 40 years ago. There were a few low apartment blocks, but not a high-rise to be seen. Beautiful,’ she sighed.
‘You could say that what has happened here is a classic example of how nature can be butchered…’
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.’