‘Brexit? Brexit? Sounds like one of those laxative breakfast foods… bran flakes or something. It’s all that this bunch of humans seems to talk about – that and a general election’ grumbled Zeus father of the Olympian gods. He gestured with a liver-spotted hand at the distant spread of Gibraltar’s apartment blocks, and dismissively slurped his morning goblet of celestial nectar.
‘No! No, Pop, you don’t listen, do you,’ said the ever-wise Athena, ignoring the frown provoked by her casual use of ‘Pop’. ‘I’ve explained it all to you. It means that Britain is leaving the Euro-something or other – a sort of alliance like Athens and Delphi and Sparta banding together to fight the Persians – only these states just squabble among each other. And the general election is a democratic way to help sort it out – the sort of thing old Socrates was always on about…’
‘And a fat lot of good it did him,’ her father pointed out. Zeus had little regard for the Greek philosophers – a bunch of free-thinkers, who failed to recognise his role in guiding human fate.
‘But Britain? Isn’t that the cold, damp island where fish and chips comes from?’ he asked, frown dispelled and his interested awakened. Brought up from a stall in Casemates by Hebe the cup-bearer, fish and chips – preferably doused in sharp Spanish vinegar – was a newly acquired taste, infinitely preferable to ambrosia cakes, which, at best, were difficult to obtain anywhere beyond Macedonia.
Macedonia, he shivered at the memory. The endless tidal wave of refugees, the racket they made as they passed Olympus, and the trail of litter they left behind had been one of the main reasons the family of gods had fled west to the Pillar of Hercules. Their constant din was far worse than the occasional plaints and requests of Spartans, Athenians or Boetians which had plagued the gods before the Romans came to Attica. And, of course, there was the dreadful failure of the Greek economy which had left the locals so poor that they no longer left wine, or fruit, or nuts as pious offerings for the gods.
The slump in the Greek economy was the final straw as far as Bacchus and Hebe were concerned. Free food and wine – simple pleasures obtained with no effort. And they had little difficulty in persuading the Father of the Gods (as fed up with the clamour as were his brood) that emigration was the logical solution. Zeus liked logical, but where should they settle?
‘There’s quite a decent mountain – more of a huge rock really – at the western end of the Great Sea,’ suggested Apollo, whose daily wanderings took him over a wide area. ‘Plenty of caves, good access to the Underworld, lots of sunshine, it’s one of the Pillars of Hercules, used to be at the end of the known world.’
‘Not any longer,’ muttered Poseidon from the cloud where he had been sulking and picking at his nails with his trident after being ticked off by Hera for trailing seaweed over her brand new celestial carpet of stars and constellations, specially designed for her by Urania. ‘I was forced ashore there once after being bumped by a nuclear submarine. Got motherless on duty free booze.’
‘Sounds like a good place,’ said Bacchus.
‘What’s its name? I’ll Google it.’ Ever since Hermes had done a deal with a Czech conglomerate to establish an Olympian link to something called the ‘Internet’, Athena spent much of her day surfing the world-wide web, trawling Cyberspace for human oddities and foibles. And she found plenty of those to talk about… endlessly… so that meals at the marble table set among the clouds of Mount Olympus were no longer punctuated with tales of the millennia-old doings of heroic mortals, but the more banal activities of 21st century humans and questions about terms or acronyms with which the gods were not familiar.
Months before the Olympian family had immigrated to the New Olympus, Zeus and Hera had begun to dread meals with their offspring, and the accompanying trivial chatter. And, since the move, lunch and dinner centred on fast-food burgers, fries and Indian or Chinese ‘take-aways’ – now as much the diet of the younger members of the Olympic pantheon as the pious ‘offerings’ of mortals in their old home.
Strong traditionalist that she was, Hera insisted that breakfasts of celestial nectar and ambrosia cakes remained sacrosanct – conceding only that Zeus could spread roses lime marmalade on his. But as the posturepedic mattresses and down-filled duvets, discovered by Bacchus in Ikea during one of his rare visits beyond Gibraltar’s bars, ensured that, usually, most of their brood were such late risers that the ban had little impact.
‘Hey, Pop, you must read this report in the Chronicle – just up Artemis’ street,’ Hermes glided to his father’s stony seat, a newspaper tucked under his arm.
Zeus’ frown deepened. Among the many irritations caused by the move from central Greece to this particular Pillar of Hercules was the dwindling respect shown him by his family. From the ‘Mighty Father’ of Olympian days, he was now an Americanised ‘Pop.’ And it wasn’t only that… There had been so many other changes since the millennia of Olympic indolence; golden thrones… marble tables…swansdown chaises longue… Now, it was all fold-away futons and plasticised garden furniture on an uncomfortably rocky mountain-top which frequently trailed a depressing levanter.
The children had changed too. Hebe, ever the most dutiful daughter, no longer served a steady flow of nectar or votive wine – instead, she spent hours in an Irish Town vintner’s discussing the relative merits of Californian Chardonnay and Spanish Rioja. Artemis no longer hunted – seagulls and cats were not suitable prey for a goddess, she insisted – and had, instead, embraced her other interest – women’s rights and the Feminist Cause.
Bacchus was no less a disappointment. Always over-fond of his wine, he now lived in a perpetual semi-stupor – fuelled by easy access to quantities of duty-free booze in the town. And Ares had joined some Spanish protest group opposing the presence of nuclear submarines in the Mediterranean – a stance which had infuriated Poseidon who saw this as interfering in waters which were his own.
Hermes waved the paper under his father’s nose, reading out a headline: PwC survey points to cracks in women’s glass ceiling; but in Spain and Germany parity is a century away.
‘What’ asked Zeus, ‘is a PwC?’
‘Sounds like a euphemism for something hung-over humans do when they’ve had too much to drink,’ Bacchus muttered, as he mixed his own hangover cure – a Bloody Mary washed down with a beer-mug of Cava.
‘You mean like getting sick all over the pavement,’ Artemis’ attention had perked up at the mention of “women’s glass ceiling”.
‘No. Like… what they do, and where they do it. If you say the first letter out loud on its own and then the other two letters together, you’ll see what I mean.’
‘That’s disgusting,’ said Hera, looking up from the Spanish cookery book as she tried to discover whether manna could be substituted for rice if she made paella for lunch.
‘Don’t bother making any for me,’ said Artemis peering over her mother’s shoulder. ‘I’ll pick up some tapas in Cordoba on my way to Madrid. These Spanish senoras need to put aside their clicking castanets and get organised. Waiting another hundred years for equality! We’ll see about that… Bang a few heads together including Rajoy’s.’ Incensed by this new revelation about Spain’s failure in the field of women’s rights, she strode determinedly across the Rock towards the cableway.
‘Oh oh… never a good idea to meddle in the affairs of mortals,’ said Zeus – as ever the classic role model of Hypocrisy. ‘Nothing good can come of it. When gods interfere, it always ends in a mess. And humans can usually do that for themselves… without our help.’’
words | Peter Schirmer