At 10 AM on the first full day of the cruise
entitled In The Wake Of Odysseus Dr Alex Stanford was about to
speak. This would be the first in what the Classic Quests brochure
described as a series of talks delivered by a World-famous Cambridge Professor
to enhance the cruising experience for a modern-day Legendary voyage visiting
the Actual Places where the great Greek Hero Odysseus had the Astounding
Adventures recounted in Homers Odyssey. In fact nobody knows where
Odysseus might have had the vast majority of those adventures; and the very
expensive and in no sense legendary cruise would just visit spots where some
have speculated that he had them; and Alex Stanford was not world-famous or a
professor. But apart from those few minor considerations the statement in the
brochure was entirely true.
Alex had acquired his PhD (on late Latin
poetry) over a year ago, but hadnt landed even a temporary position in
the academic Armageddon of the university job-market. So he responded to the
London tour companys advert for a speaker as a last resort and a chance
to utilize in a marginal way some of the knowledge acquired during his seven
long and costly years of hard work as a student. He was honest at the interview
and pointed out that Homers Greek verse was outside his particular area
of expertise, but the Armani suit informed him that this was simply an
alternative specification and it didnt matter at all so long as he had a
Cambridge PhD and could say something about Homer.
When he got the job Alex was elated, and he
put a lot of time and effort into preparing his seven talks. He felt it would
be an honour to elucidate one of the greatest of the ancient Greek poets, the
revered author of the epic masterpiece called the Odyssey. And he should really
earn his pay (meagre though that was), and he could help his audience get more
out of their holiday than just sex, sun and a surfeit of food and drink. Who
knew, he might even manage to get them interested in Homer's poetry. Hed
urge them to read the rest of the Odyssey and then move on to the supremely
Alex was a bit nervous, never having addressed
a non-academic group before. Could he engage them with a talk that wasnt
pop and superficial? Would the little jokes hed put in for light relief
succeed in making his presentation more palatable? He looked round the Calipso
Suite glumly. Only five people had bothered turning up. There were two old
ladies in the front row who had brought their knitting with them. They were
like sans-culottes at a guillotining, and he could well be the one for the
chop. He mustnt lose his head, ha ha. The other three people there were
playing with their phones and looked like they didnt want to be
distracted. Alex felt adrift in a flat and featureless sea of indifference. He
took a deep breath to steady himself. Hed wait another minute or two
before starting. Some people might turn up who were genuinely interested in
learning about Odysseus and his exploits rather than giving him a tenth of
their attention to get their moneys worth.
A handsome and imposing man in his
mid-thirties with a broad chest and shoulders strolled in. Alex thought he
looked like Kirk Douglas in his prime. The man gave him a friendly smile, sat
down at the back of the room and crossed his arms, making his powerful biceps
bulge. Then the Biggins family made their grand entrance, replete with food and
drink from the champagne breakfast. The head of the family, Colin Biggins,
remarked loudly and smugly: I wonder what the poor people are
He was five feet six inches tall, with a
jutting jaw and a full head of dyed black hair. He also had a boozers
conk, pork sausages for fingers, a big arse and a bulging belly of legendary
proportions. He led in behind him his spoilt twenty year old son, his despised
son-in-law and his downtrodden wife and daughter. They were all wearing navy
blue T-shirts with THE BIGGINS FAMILY and underneath that BIG IN BRICKS printed
on the front in white letters. The father also had on a skippers cap with
EL CAPITANO inscribed on the peak in gold.
He surveyed the room masterfully and his gaze
lingered on the buxom young blonde in the corner. He strode over, stripped her
and had her on the floor, in his mind. Its got a cracking pair of
knockers, he decided. Then he said, largely for her benefit: Mind you, El
Capitano wasnt all that impressed by the breakfast. Vintage
champagnes all well and good, but El Capitano prefers black velvet, he
likes something with a lot of body to it. And he didnt think much of the
eggs benidorm stupid bloody name for it. And the bacon was too crispy. I
expect better for the price Im paying for Gold Class. It cost a bloody
packet for you lot
Still I can afford it, a hundred times over. Right,
Phil, sit next to me, lad. You sit on the other side of your son, Penny. And
you and useless Eustace can sit behind us.
Alex cleared his throat to attract attention,
but Colin Biggins smartphone rang and he answered the call, making no
effort to talk quietly: Jerry, hows it going?... You what? Fucking
hell, what the fuck are you playing at? Its - Ive only been gone
five minutes. It was all set up, I thought I could leave you to hold the fort -
you are supposed to be me junior partner and now this bollocks
no, no, I dont want to hear this. I tell you what: why dont you
unzip your forehead, take out the shit thats in there, and then zip it up
again? You know how much this contracts worth if we get the planning
You what? Fuck me, the pillock! No, I will not go for 3%
affordable housing, he agreed 2%. Bloody, fucking mayor, who the fuck does he
think he is? I didnt give him that season ticket and all them posh meals
and escorts out of the goodness of me heart. Tell the bugger that
dont give a toss about the scummy fucking tenants living there now, they
can drop dead and disappear off the face of the fucking earth for all I
Look, this development will revitalize the city centre, bring in
businesses and shops and all that. We need some social cleansing there, and
Ill do it for him on the cheap
Oh bollocks to that! Listen, Jerry,
just cause youve got hair round your mouth doesnt mean you
have to talk like a cunt
Yes, yes, try that. Just keep the fucker sweet
till I get back. Or itll be your head, literally. Right? Right!
Alex cleared his throat again. Colin Biggins
looked at him and barked: Whats up, son? Got a cough or
Er, no. Id just like to start the
Biggins waved his right hand and said
expansively: Go ahead, start, feel free. But this better be
Alex gulped and said: Right, thank you.
If people could switch off their phones and put them into the silent mode, that
would be most appreciated.
The rest of the audience complied, grudgingly,
but Phil Biggins was exercising his considerable intellect in a game of Pacific
Pyrates and was sinking enemy privateers with loud broadsides in between
discovering buried treasure on desert islands and buying bigger and better
galleons with virtual doubloons.
His mother hissed: Phil, wont you
switch that off?
No, snapped Phil.
Leave him be, said his father.
This is me vac assignment for Computer
Studies IIIA, protested Phil. Its important for me overall
grade. The most he was prepared to do was put in ear-buds while he
continued his game.
His father smiled at him affectionately. Then
he turned to his wife and said with a sneer: A bloody cultural holiday
you wanted. So you could go one better and show off to your friends. Whining on
and on about wanting it as an anniversary present. Well I dont blame our
Phil. And if this talk is a load of crap, Im not staying, and nor are
you. Ive got better things to do with me time than listen to airy-fairy,
Alex sighed and murmured: Thank you,
Attila the Hun. Then he said out loud: Im sure you all know
that in the Trojan War it took the Greeks ten years to capture Troy and get
Helen back youll have seen the garbled TV and film versions of
that. What you may not know is that it took Odysseus another ten years to get
back home to his wife and son on the island of Ithaca. It was a long and
arduous journey by sea, on which he and his men encountered storms, shipwreck,
monsters and giants. It took all of Odysseus famous intelligence and
resourcefulness to overcome the various hindrances and obstacles. It was all
very difficult and dangerous on that voyage. But then, as Odysseus said to his
men, ship happens.
Alex didnt hear any laughter at that,
but he did hear Colin Biggins yawn ostentatiously. Alex was a polite young man,
so he ignored that and went on: Odysseus sailed from Troy with a squadron
of twelve ships. His first encounter was a battle with some people called the
Cicones, which went well initially, but it all ended in tears. Things turned
bad when his men disobeyed his order to leave and started celebrating their
victory, by gorging on the food and drink theyd seized as booty, until
more Cicones turned up and attacked them, killing lots of the Greeks and
finally driving them off. We know all this from Odysseus own lips: in
Homers Odyssey he recounts his story later on to some people who give him
hospitality after hes shipwrecked and ask him to tell them his adventures
Alex paused to clear his throat. Hed
worked particularly hard on this presentation because it was his first talk to
the group, and hed rehearsed it several times, but he was still
worried about making a mistake or missing something out, so he consulted
his notes every now and then as he went on: Odysseus says that after
their departure from the land of the Cicones they were blown off course as they
rounded the southern tip of Greece. Winds carried them far away into a remote
and remarkable region, an area of marvel and mystery, an astounding never-never
land yes, it was Blackpool
No, seriously, their first encounter in
this bizarre and uncanny zone was with the Lotus-eaters, who offered some of
Odysseus men their flowery food (the lotus), which made them forget all
about going home, made them want to stay there, peacefully browsing on the
lotus. Something which our hero did not allow to happen. The Lotus-eaters
present an insidious threat and provide an unsettling introduction to this
whole dangerous and treacherous tract.
Alex looked up and saw that the friendly man
at the back of the room was nodding in agreement. Heartened by this, he
continued with greater enthusiasm, his voice rising in pitch: This brief
episode, in which so much is left unclear, is tantalizing and rather
Erm, nobody knows who the Lotus-eaters were, where they lived,
what their land looked like or what kind of a plant the lotus was exactly. By
suppressing details like this Homer creates a dreamlike vagueness and an
imposing air of mystery, and invites us to be creative and fill in the picture
We can also see an extra dimension here and view the
Lotus-eaters and Odysseus as symbolizing two different life-styles. The
Lotus-eaters represent the allure of dropping out, rejecting the hassles and
hard work of the mundane world and indulging oneself in a relaxed environment.
The hero stands for the man of action who forges on with drive and
determination, facing difficulties and dealing with them
is deceptive, and in his account of this episode Odysseus deceives his audience
just as he was deceived himself. So theres an effective mirroring. See if
you can spot the deception in the opening lines as I give you my version of
Alex picked up his translation and read it out
with a quiet intensity:
From there I was carried along for nine
days by those accursed winds
over the fish-filled sea. But on the tenth day
we set foot on
the land of the Lotus-eaters, who eat a
We went ashore and drew water there, and my
quickly had a meal beside the swift ships.
When wed had something to eat and
I chose two of my comrades and sent them
along with a herald, to go and find out
who lived there which men who eat
Off they went. They soon encountered the
The Lotus-eaters had no intention of killing
comrades, but gave them some of the lotus to
Those who ate the honey-sweet fruit of the
no longer had any desire to report back or
but wanted to remain there with the
feeding on the lotus, without a thought of
their journey home.
I forced them back in tears to the hollow
dragged them under the rowing-benches and tied
Then I ordered the rest of my trusty
to embark on our swift ships in a hurry,
so no-one could eat the lotus and forget his
They quickly went on board, sat down in their
on the benches and churned the sea to foam
with their oars.
Alex paused, and then asked hopefully:
Did you spot the deception there? The only response was a loud fart
by Biggins, who remarked with a smirk: Another angel gets his
Alex waited a few more seconds, and then
pointed out the deception for them. He said: After nine days of violent
winds theres a real sense of relief when the Greeks finally escape from
the sea and their landing is unopposed. Our first introduction to the
Lotus-eaters here shows them in an unthreatening light; and the allusion to
flowers is actually appealing. The feeling of calm is developed further in the
following lines by means of the slow narrative pace (not much happens in those
lines, and the activities are peaceful and mundane drawing water,
eating, drinking and so on). Also Odysseus sends only three men to reconnoitre,
which implies that he feels theres little or nothing to fear.
Theres still no sense of menace when they first encounter the
Lotus-eaters, who look like kind, hospitable people; and the lotus seems to be
something delightful. Its only after that, when the Greeks dont
want to go home, that the lurking danger is revealed. Then the narrative speeds
up abruptly, when Odysseus briskly drags the men back to his ship.
Alex stroked his chin as he gathered his
thoughts. Then he leaned forward, peering eagerly over his spectacles at his
audience, and went on: After the incident with the Cicones, when the
refusal to obey orders resulted in disaster, Odysseus is determined to be
firmly in control here. He views their departure as vital, and is peremptory in
ensuring it. He does have his comrades best interests at heart, as he
sees them, but there is also an element of personal interest, as he needs men
to get his ship back to Ithaca. Obviously to his way of thinking there is
efficient leadership here, but some modern readers with a democratic outlook
might wonder if he did the right thing in ignoring their wishes and not
allowing some of his men to stay on, lazing around and eating the lotus
no doubt in the lotus position
But shouldnt a commander command,
after deciding whats best? Some people might query whether trying to get
back to Ithaca was really better for his companions than staying there, where
theyd have lived on, happy and relaxed. Then again wouldnt those
who remained there have lost their identity and become mindless addicts?
These are tricky issues for us to
So, what does anybody think about those issues? Before I move on to
Odysseus next adventure, an encounter with a one-eyed cannibal giant
which he handles with his usual resourcefulness and cleverness, what does
It appeared that nobody thought anything at
all, as Alexs question sank in a great gulf of silence. He felt
dispirited at being unable to arouse a response, which left him standing there
looking foolish. After several seconds Biggins snorted and said:
Ill tell you what I think. I think its a load of bloody
Id have to defer to your superior
knowledge there, as youre obviously an expert in that particular field,
thought Alex. He said nothing, just raised an eyebrow to encourage the man to
justify his penetrating critical assessment of one of the most revered poets of
Biggins continued: Thats not an
adventure nobody gets killed or even wounded, he doesnt get any
treasure or even knob a woman. Not a patch on Game of Thrones. And there was
nothing clever or resourceful there.
No, not there, said Alex. He
was brisk and commanding there. Its with Polyphemus that hes
And none of it happened anyway.
Its not true. There werent any heroes, Odysseus never existed,
hes just a made-up character, and he had no adventures.
Ah, thought Alex, there speaks the voice of
culture, sappy as the grass is green. He said: Does it really matter if
it actually happened or not? In any case scholars -
Shut up, you! shouted Biggins,
jabbing a stiff index finger at Alex. Im talking. Youve
talked long enough, more than, and a right load of boring bloody shite too.
Homer was obviously a shit poet cause this is a shit bit of poetry. I
mean, boring fruit wouldnt enchant people, make them stay there a
double cheeseburger with chips might, but not fucking fruit. Unless it was a
nice pair of juicy melons maybe, know what I mean?
Well, its not just any fruit,
its a singular and mysterious -
Mysterious my arse. Its all crap,
ridiculous made-up crap. Fucking poetry! No bloody use to man or beast. I could
write better stuff than that meself
Whats the time?
He raised his wrist and consulted his
yellow-gold Rolex Cosmograph Daytona and said: Right. Valuable drinking
time is being wasted here. Were going.
As Biggins angled his wrist towards the other
people in the room so they could see his flashy watch, Alex reflected that
personally he wouldnt care to impress anybody who could be impressed by
the kind of watch he had. Penny Biggins started to protest feebly, so her
husband snarled: No, were going. Be told. Get off your fat arse and
follow me. Now, Penny!
He marched out of the room, and the rest of
the family trooped out after him. Now that the cabaret was over, the other
members of the audience returned to their knitting and furtively switched on
their phones, unimpressed by Alexs presentation, apart from the man who
looked like Kirk Douglas. Hed been listening with great pleasure to
Alexs translation of the lines from Homer and his interpretation of them.
Hed been angered by Biggins outburst and glared at him as he left.
Then he looked at Alex and gave him an encouraging smile and nod. The young man
had been crushed by Biggins attack, but now that he had at least one
attentive hearer, he proceeded with his talk and moved on to Odysseus
Biggins spent the rest of the day drinking,
eating, catching up on Naked Attraction, Coronation Street and Love Island,
sunbathing by the huge pool and ordering his women around (getting them to
fetch his sunglasses from the cabin, rub suntan cream on his back and so on).
By the time the sun was slowly setting, lingering low in the west, he was very
drunk and all on his own. His family had retired to their cabins, because
hed been insufferable at dinner - claiming that their conversation was
boring and telling them to talk about something else, barking at waitresses,
telling crude jokes and devouring a whole chicken, tearing it limb from limb
and spraying out gobbets of food as he laughed at his own coruscating quips.
Hed gone on deck following the blonde
hed seen at the talk that morning, but she had disappeared. He was
lurching around in search of her when he suddenly became aware that he
wasnt alone. The man who resembled a young Kirk Douglas was at the prow.
He was standing still and looking down, holding some sort of staff in his
hands. Then he looked up, fixed his gaze on Biggins and opened his mouth. What
happened next was phenomenal, fantastical: snowflakes poured out of his mouth.
Biggins rubbed his eyes and looked again, but he still saw a swirling mass of
snowflakes pouring out of the mans mouth. Biggins muttered:
Fuckenell, must be more pissed than I thought - hallucinating, like.
Either that or that blokes got fucken bad dandruff, dandruff of the
mouth, should have a gargle with some Selsun, hur hur.
He was still chortling at that when the man
was abruptly at his side, standing over him. Now it was words that poured from
his mouth as he said in a deep voice: Ive been watching you,
waiting to catch you on your own, so I could have a word with you, you nasty
Who the fuckre you? slurred
Biggins, who was sensitive about his height.
Me? Im Nobody.
Oh aye? So howd you do the trick
with the snowflakes then? What the fuck was that all about?
That was a rather neat allusion to the
Iliad, to get your attention, and divert you momentarily from your eternal
quest for naked ladies in wet mackintoshes. To quote another poet.
You what? Mackintoshes? Im not
into computers, I leave them to Jerry.
The stranger sighed, shook his head and
continued: How very improbable. Priceless
another epic reference for you. Im really rather good at them, not
surprisingly. Do you see that land over there on your right, which this ship
cruising in the wake of Odysseus is blithely sailing by and
The man indicated the land with a sweep of his
right hand. Biggins peered, and then nodded. The stranger went on: Now
you have to be able to see those three mountains in the distance with snow on
their peaks, and the river flowing from them towards us. And the valley in
front, with the cliff above and the slender stream running down from it? And
those figures down in the meadow by the beach? No? Oh well - perceptive as
ever. I tell you what: why dont you utilize the telescope thoughtfully
affixed to the rail there for the paying customers. Feel free.
Biggins squinted through the telescope,
swivelled it about and eventually made out a group of figures by some strange
trees. They had mild eyes and melancholy faces. He grunted: All right, I
can see them. So fucken what?
Any idea who they might be? asked
the stranger, raising his right eyebrow.
No. Not the fucken foggiest.
Oh do come on, said the stranger,
with an amused twitch of his lips. See, theyre picking fruit from
the trees, and the fruit has flowers attached to it, and theyre eating
the flowery fruit
Any vague stirrings in the grey matter up there? Is
there any grey matter up there?
When the baffled Biggins shook his head, he
went on: Think back to those absolutely splendid verses you heard at this
mornings talk, where you demonstrated so memorably your acuity as a
literary critic. Im sure a lancet mind like yours will now grasp the
No? Astounding. All right, Ill give you a
teeny-weeny clue: the fruit is called the lotus. And look - some of the men are
eating it, and others are holding out the fruit to us, offering it to us
So, what do you think they might be called? Any inkling, any faint glimmering?
Go on, have a wild guess, you preposterous purblind person, you.
Dont know, muttered Biggins,
scratching his head in perplexity. Fruits? They look like a bunch of
fucken fairies to me.
Oh profundity! Do you think that by any
remote chance they might just possibly be the Lotus-eaters?
The stranger tutted and said: A rival
poet, a later and lesser versifier called Tennyson, also wrote about the
Lotus-eaters, in a poem imaginatively entitled The Lotos-eaters, and he
described them and their land in some detail. He says of them appearing at
sunset: With faces pale, dark faces pale against that rosy flame, the
mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came. And he says this of their land:
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon; and like a downward smoke,
the slender stream along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem.
And also: They saw the gleaming river seaward flow from the inner land:
far off, three mountain-tops, three silent pinnacles of aged snow, stood
Theyre rather melodious lines, I must
admit, and I dont know who his sources were, but they were quite
accurate. You can see all those geographical features, I take it?
Aye, said Biggins.
So what do you make of that, my good
coincidence. Sheer bloody
coincidence. You cant fucken fool me.
They are the Lotus-eaters. They do
exist, still, they are real.
Lotus-eaters my arse, scoffed
Biggins. Youre pulling me leg. Pull the other one - its got
bells on. I come from up north, and were hard-headed realists up there.
You cant pull the wool over our eyes, we know when someones talking
bollocks, making shit up, like that silly cunt Homer. Whose poetry is shite, no
matter what that arty-farty, southern, Cambridge ponce says. Big girls
I suppose you do realize youre
speaking from a position of complete ignorance?
No. What? Whatre you on about now?
I have no idea -
Quite. My point exactly.
Oh up your arse with a wire
Thank you, Oscar Wilde, lord of
language, and master of wit and repartee. Right, enough of all this. You need
to stop denigrating the immortal Odyssey - I have to take your criticism of it
personally. Stop it, or Ill bring home to you the veracity of the verse
rather more forcefully. So do cease and desist, theres a good
Why should I? Fuck off! shouted
Biggins, and nutted the stranger in the face. Or tried to. His head passed
straight through the face with no impact, and the impetus carried him on and
sent him sprawling.
The stranger looked down at him and remarked
loftily: The renaissance artist Cellini wrote that he was once sitting by
the fire with his father and saw a salamander in the flames, and was watching
it with fascination when his father whacked him on the ear, very hard. When he
asked him why on earth he did that, his father said: So you will always
remember the salamander. This is your last warning from me about
attacking the poetry, and Id like you to remember it. Even though
youre very drunk. So heres something from one of my favourite
passages in the Iliad which just might get through that thick skull and the fog
With that he rolled Biggins over with his
foot, lifted the staff that he was carrying and struck him on the back and
shoulders with it, chanting Dont attack Homers Odyssey!
and timing the blows to coincide with the stress on the words. After a minute
or so he hit him on his fat head and knocked him out.
Biggins came to at dawn the next day thanks to
some young women playing with a beach-ball nearby. One of them threw it to her
friend, who missed it, and it fell into the pool. They all shrieked at that,
waking him up. He remembered very little after dinner the night before. He had
a vague sense of disquiet, and a headache and a sore back, which he attributed
to his hangover and sleeping on the deck. Shit, he joked to himself, someone
must have put alcohol in me drinks. Then he looked up and automatically ogled
the young women, before deciding they were too flat-chested to be worth
bothering with. He went back to his cabin, where he had a shit, a shave and a
shower, and felt a bit better for that. As he dressed, yanking drawers open and
knocking a coat-hanger off the rail in the wardrobe, he woke his wife up.
Colin, she said, where were you
last night? Have you just got back in?
Yeah, he grunted.
Where were you all night? Off with some
Shut it, you, or Ill break your
But I was worried sick about -
Im warning you, Penny: Ill
fucking kill you if you keep this up. Bloody women - always on about some shite
or other, yap yap yap. What I do is my business.
When his wife started to cry, he shouted:
And you can stop that. Youre making me headache worse. Im
feeling a bit rough, and I dont need you exasperating me
She sniffed, and he glared at her and snarled:
I wasnt with anyone else, as it happens. But who could blame me if
I was? You had a decent body when I first knew you, but look at you now - tits
down to your knees and pubic hair down to your fucking ankles.
Youre not exactly a big turn-on any more, are you, not Kim Kardashian,
like? Ive been thinking of trading you in for a new model for a while
now, so watch it. If you dont like the set-up, you can piss off and leave
me. Ill get an expensive divorce lawyer and leave you with absolutely
fucking nothing, you stupid bitch. Id have done it already if I
wasnt so fucking busy at work. There wont be any designer dresses
then, or posh restaurants or fucking cultural cruises with champagne breakfasts
and artisanal cocktails. Whatever the fuck they are when theyre at home.
So just bloody think on, and have a bit of sense for a change. Be warned. Or
face the consequences.
As he said this, he pointed a finger at her
menacingly. Then he added: Right, Im off for a hair of the dog and
some breakfast. Then Im going to phone that fucking fool Jerry and see if
hes still faffing and farting around with his thumb up his bum or has
actually got the bloody mayor back on track. Get up now, get the others up and
tell them youre all going to join me at the near end of the pool in one
hour. Exactly. Without fail. Then Ill decide what were all doing
Come on, Penny, do as youre fucking well told. Shift that
enormous lard arse, girl, chop chop!
An hour later, after yet another unanswered
phone call to his mistress (who hed actually fallen in love with) and
another disturbing chat with Jerry (about rival bids for the contract this
time), Biggins was joined by his family at the pool. By now in an even worse
mood, he said: Right. Did you hear over the PA about the ship stopping
off at Naples after lunch? No? Well, it is. Theyve cancelled the cultural
tour to Pompey that you fancied, Penny, cause there were no takers, so
well go off on our own. Well go and have a mooch round town. Fancy
a change of scenery, something different to take me mind off things, try some
of the local vino maybe, which is supposed to be good. And I hear Naples has a
good red-light district Sid Norris went for a mini-break there last year
and shagged his bloody brains out in positions hed never even heard of
before. They say travel broadens the mind.
See Naples and die, intoned his
son-in-law in a doom-laden voice.
You what? rasped Biggins.
See Naples and die. They also say that.
Its a well-known phrase or saying.
Oh is it? And whats it mean,
Mister Clever Clogs?
Dont know really.
Its just something people say.
Well its not something I say.
Were going into town no matter what, and if youve got any more
cheerful little quotes like that, you can keep them to your bloody self. I
dont need some fucking smart aleck coming out with a load of bollocks.
Lord god, turn him into a tampax! Ooh, I forgot - he already is one. Fucking
Useless Eustace and his -
To divert Biggins from his attack on her
husband, his daughter broke in: Dad, dad. I did hear the PA say
theres a talk this morning by that Professor Stanford bloke. Its
about some monsters called the Sirens or something, that lived near Naples.
That Odyssey blokes supposed to have had an adventure with them. Should
we give it a try? I know its just poetry, but monsters sounds more
interesting than yesterdays stuff - you know, like Alien - and itd
kill a bit of time until lunch.
As his wife started to show interest, Biggins
quickly said: You must be fucking joking, my girl, if you think Professor
Moriarty is ever going to come out with something interesting. He wouldnt
recognize something interesting if it pissed in his ear. Cambridge cunt! No,
itll be more shite, cause theres no such thing as monsters,
or heroes, come to that.
He experienced a vague sense of unease, felt
he should hold his tongue, but over-rode it and added: I keep on telling
you, none of that Odyssey shit is true, its just fantasy, arty-farty
poetry shite. So youre not going to that talk, none of you
well stay here and work on us tans and have a few jars till lunch, then
off to Naples. And instead of making stupid suggestions you can go and order me
a beer. And get me Amber Solaire while youre at it. Go on, hurry up,
dont be so fucking idle, girl.
As he stretched out for a snooze, he
didnt notice the stranger from the night before, who was sitting in a
nearby deck-chair and had listened to his words with a scowl. The man settled
back in his chair to think, and presently the scowl changed into a sardonic
The ship reached Naples an hour after lunch.
By that time the rest of the family apart from Biggins had come down with a
stomach ailment and retired to their cabins in misery. Hed told them they
should have the orange duck like him, but theyd all insisted on having
the fucking fish, which must have been off, and he felt theyd got their
come-uppance. It served the stupid bloody buggers right if something dire was
happening in their rears and the world was falling out of their bottoms. He
despised weakness of any kind and was not at all sympathetic. In fact he was
annoyed that they were spoiling his plan for them all to go into Naples.
Hed go by himself anyway. As his wife bent over their lavatory vomiting,
and farting as she heaved, he said to her back: Thats disgusting,
that is, dead fucking common. Ah, Im fed up to the back teeth with the
lot of you. Youre a bunch of fucking wimps, weak. Right, you miserable
bastards can stay here, puking your guts up. Im going to Naples to have
some drinks and some fun. And Ill really enjoy meself without you lot in
tow, cramping me style, Useless Eustace never putting his hand in his pocket to
pay for a round tighter than a nuns nasty, he is. Ah fuck it,
Ive had it with you lot, Im off.
In Naples he went to a couple of bars, but
didnt think much of the pissy bloody wine. He went to a strip joint too,
but gave up after the first stripper on stage. Her breasts werent very
big, and they were grubby; they looked like theyd been groped by a
gardener with soil on his hands. Biggins was pissed off that hed paid out
good money just to see mucky tits. It put him off going to see a prostitute,
well for the time being. He wandered back down to the bay, looking for another
bar, and then something put it into his head to hire a boat and go for a little
trip along the coast. Hed been thinking vaguely about taking a step up
and buying a yacht after the big development went through, and this could be a
trial run. Hed see how you handled one and if he got sea-sick on a
There were lots of boats for hire, but he was
particularly taken by a yacht called Thelxinoe, which had an eye-catching
figurehead - a naked woman with enormous breasts. The For Hire sign also stated
that it came with a very experienced skipper and unlimited free wine. That was
perfect, he thought, just what he wanted, the dogs bollocks.
He shouted out cheerily: Ahoy there, me
hearty! and a man emerged from the cabin at once, smiling. Biggins
thought the face looked familiar, but couldnt work out where hed
seen it before. Then it hit him: the man looked like a young Kirk Douglas. And
he seemed a nice friendly bloke, what with that smile and all.
The skipper beckoned him on board and ushered
him into the cabin. While Biggins was goggling at all the pin-ups on the wall,
he was handed a wooden bowl containing a rich red wine with a honeyed sweetness
and a heavenly fragrance. The man said: Drink. See if you like the wine.
Id value your opinion of it.
Biggins downed the bowl in one, smacked his
lips judiciously and said: Hmm, a precocious, zippy little wine with an
intensity of red berry fruits and mineral, flinty notes
No, Im just
pissing about. I read that on a bottle on the cruise ship. Your wines not
bad, but a bit sweet. Rather have a Guinness, or even a Newcastle Brown.
Dont suppose youve got one of them though, have you? Thought not.
You Ities arent really into beer, are you, not real connoisseurs like us
Brits? Still, never mind, Ill make do with the wine, as its free -
well, included in the price. Actually I quite like a Mateus Rose now and then.
Though I prefer a Blue Nun, ha ha
So hows about a little boat ride
then, eh? Id like that. I like riding, on a boat or on dry land, know
what I mean?
Yes, Ill take you for a
ride, said the skipper with a wry grin.
The wine had got Biggins in a good mood. He
felt relaxed and mellow. He clapped the skipper on the back and said cheerily:
Good. Ill hire the boat for the afternoon and be back here by
tea-time. Right, how much? A hundred doubloons? Or do you prefer pieces of
eight? Er, I tell you what - Ill give you a hundred euros. Cant say
fairer than that. Cheap at half the price, right? You can take me to see the
sights, and when were out at sea you can teach me to steer and all that,
let me get me hand in. I like getting me hand in, know what I mean?
Agreed. Youll learn a lot - pathei
mathos, said the skipper with quiet assurance, and handed Biggins another
bowl of wine, which he downed in two swallows. Coming on top of all that
hed drunk before, the wine immediately went to his head. He had to close
one eye to focus, and muttered: Fuckenell, that shits quite strong.
Sort of creeps up on you, dead sneaky like. OK, lets go. Splice the main
braces and all that. But first give us some more wine, please.
When Biggins began to sing What Shall We Do
with the Drunken Sailor, the skipper drawled: Oh, well think of
something. Then he gave Biggins another bowl of wine and a knife-like
Whats your name by the way?
You can call me Polymetis.
Poly-what? Ill just call you
Polly. Funny name that, for a bloke. Sounds like a girls name, or a
parrots. Ha ha!
The skipper also laughed, for an entirely
different reason, and then cast off. As they sailed out of the bay, Biggins
lurched out of the cabin, plonked himself down in and drank some more wine. He
felt totally at ease and completely indifferent to where he was being taken,
and he lay back to enjoy the trip. The sun was hot, the wine was strong and he
soon passed out in a pot-bellied sprawl, an overgrown bubo in a deckchair.
After a few minutes he belched in his sleep, bringing up a few strands of meat
mixed in with the wine, which dribbled down his chin.
He woke up again when the skipper prodded him
with a gaff and said: We are now approaching the Sirens. You should be on
your guard against them, Im warning you.
The Sirens. Have you never heard of
Erm, Ive heard of factory sirens,
These are rather different, and rather
The name does vaguely ring a bell, said
Biggins. Then he laughed and said: Or a hooter.
Heres what an ancient poet said of
them. This is a warning given by the sorceress Circe about the dangers ahead
for Odysseus on his voyage home: First you will come to the Sirens, who enchant
every single man who comes to them. If anyone draws near to them in ignorance
and hears the Sirens voices, theres no homecoming for him, no wife
and little children beaming by his side. Instead hes enchanted by the
clear, sweet song of the Sirens, who sit in a meadow, surrounded by -
Here, did you say Odysseus? asked
Biggins, slow on the uptake after all the alcohol. Thats fucken
Homer, isnt it? Dont you start and all, Polly. More bloody
Actually Homer was a great poet, a
soaring intellect, very important to us Greeks, to me in particular. And that
was a very useful warning about those monstrous females, vital in
He was a shit poet, who made up shit.
Theres no such fucken thing as monsters. Or heroes. Im sick to
death of fucken Odysseus.
Dont even try it. Or youll
Try what? asked Biggins, squinting
at the skipper.
Dont try fucking Odysseus. I say
this because I am Odysseus. And I want no kind of carnal connection with you,
in any shape or form, on any level, in any dimension.
What the fuckenell are you on about
Odysseus put his hands on his hips and
breathed in, inflating his great chest. Then he said in a ringing voice:
An indomitable spirit like mine refused to die. Especially when Id
seen the Afterworld, and how dull and dreary the place is. So I (my spirit)
live on, still restless and roaming far and wide, seeing the cities of many
peoples and learning their ways. And I must say Im not overly impressed
by your ways, your uncivilized, barbaric ways.
You what? Are you calling me
uncivilized? Me? asked Biggins, with an incredulous half-laugh.
You really are an absurd little man,
arent you? You question my exploits and my very existence, but all that
Homer said about me and my adventures is true (though he didnt do justice
to my sense of humour). All those events took place, in a much more interesting
world than todays. He came at the end of a long line of bards, beginning
in my own day, who passed down the story of my deeds, and in fact he surpassed
all his predecessors with his sublime epics.
Oh bollocks! Go and put the kettle on,
Polly, said Biggins, and chuckled at his own wit.
Homers lines about me are largely
responsible for my immortal renown, which has always been rather important to
me, and which is dwindling these days, in this largely illiterate, uncultured
age. So Im not having an intellectual jelly tot like you denigrating him
and undermining that. You have been warned about that; but you tend to ignore
warnings in your arrogant way, dont you?
Who the fuck are you to give me a
warning? Youre mad, you are, thinking youre Odysseus. Youll
be telling me next youre Napoleon. Youre pulling me leg,
Im not. You doubted my cleverness
and resourcefulness. Well, Ive devised a neat way of simultaneously
proving the veracity of Homers verse and ending your attacks on him,
unless you recant publicly.
What? What bloody way? snorted
Oh here we go again. Monsters is it?
Brown trousers time? Supposed to shit me shorts over non-existent monsters
named after factory hooters? Pah! Thatll scare the chocolate out of me
Very well, said Odysseus with a
gleam of amusement in his eyes. If you insist on ignoring Homers
warning about them, and mine, its your funeral
Why dont you
take over the tiller, El Capitano? Do you see land up ahead, over there? Yes? I
must say, thats remarkably perceptive for you. That is the lovely island
of Anthemoessa. The breeze is taking us in that direction, so just keep the
ship on a steady course. If you really want to land there and put Homers
words to the test.
Biggins clambered up out of his chair, lurched
across the deck and said loudly: Oh Im dying to land there, and
prove Homers a liar, and a silly twat and all. Right, Ive got the
tiller, El Capitanos taken over, Im in charge now. So just you do
as I say and stop talking shit, or Ill keelhaul you for being a mutinous
dog, avast and belay there, Jim lad.
Biggins laughed loudly at his own joke. The
yacht sped towards the island, borne on by the breeze. The closer they came to
it the clearer it became that this was an exceptional, exquisite islet. A
sapphire sea was breaking on rocks of bronze; the air swooned from the perfume
of rare blooms; and shimmering, glimmering lances of light came glancing from
It reminds me of Ibiza, said
Suddenly and uncannily, as they neared the
island, the wind fell and the sea was stilled. The ship drifted on to within
shouting-distance of the shore, and then the Sirens began their clear, sweet
song. In the midst of the silence their unearthly voices were enticing,
enchanting, entrancing. They sang: Come here, Colin, irresistible Colin,
the Pride of the North. Beach your ship, so you can listen to our voices.
Nobody has ever sailed by on his ship without listening to the honeyed words on
our lips, and then going on his way a happier and wiser man. We know every one
of your rivals bids and your partners scams; we know every thing
that your mistress has done, is doing and will do; we know every way of making
money and making love.
Whos that? asked Biggins,
Could that just possibly be the
Sirens? asked Odysseus, cocking his head on one side. Do you know,
I believe it really might be them. They sang something rather similar to me
when I encountered them a little while back.
Well, if that really is the Sirens, they
sound kind of interesting to me. Not dangerous at all. And theyve got
quite nice voices too.
The yacht drifted along parallel to the shore,
and the two singers suddenly came into view. They were sitting in the deep,
lush grass of a meadow, quite a way off, but Biggins could make out that they
were naked and had very large breasts. They seemed to him to be seated among
some white rocks, but it was their chests that seized his attention. He
whistled and said: OK, Polly, so maybe youre right, maybe there are
Sirens after all. But if theyre Sirens, any fool can see that
theres nothing monstrous about them. Well, apart from the knockers.
Christ, those are fucking epic tits.
The Sirens waved to him and beckoned him over
vigorously, making their breasts judder and jounce.
Right, said Biggins, licking his
lips, El Capitanos putting in here. Biggins likes big uns,
and theyre begging for it - talking about all the ways of making
They want you, said Odysseus with
a malicious grin.
And theyre going to get me, all of
me, all six inches.
More than that.
OK, OK, seven inches. Didnt want
to brag. Dead modest, me. Im landing.
Do you know, Biggins, if you had two
brain cells to rub together and could control yourself and your animal lust for
one second, you might reflect that this is perhaps not the best of all possible
plans. The Sirens are reliably reported to be pretty dangerous after
What - Ill live to regret
it? scoffed Biggins.
Actually no, you wont live to
Well, there you are then. No problem.
Im putting in. And then Im putting it in, know what I
I suppose it would be a total waste of
time if I pointed out to a towering intellect such as yours that they will kill
What - shag me brains out? said
That hardly seems feasible.
No, I dont think so either. I can
cope with them, easy. But what a lovely way to go.
If you say so, said Odysseus with
a shrug of his shoulders. Now, further to the veracity of the verse, you
didnt let me finish quoting Homer before. He went on to say that they sit
in a meadow surrounded by a great heap of rotting men - skeletons with shreds
of shrivelling skin on them.
Oh dont talk shite! What is this -
Silence of the Lambs, Texas Chain-saw Massacre or something? Theyre just
a couple of girls, and girls looking for a good time, wanting to have a bit of
fun. Well, theyll have a lot of fun with me, Ill see to that.
Christ, tits like that - Ive got a hard-on like a bloody beer
Theres a bit more to them than
just breasts, said Odysseus in a languid voice.
Biggins looked lustfully at the Sirens again
and asked: Oh aye? Got nice hairy bushes too, have they? I cant
wait to get my hands on them.
And they cant wait to get their
hands on you, believe me.
Oh I do, I do. Who could resist me? You
can tag along if you like. And watch. I might even pass one of them on to you
when Im finished with her
No? OK, all the more for me. Good stuff!
So, lets have a nice Siren sandwich, now!
As he said this, rubbing his hands together,
the yacht veered close to the shore of its own accord. Biggins whooped and
shouted: Right. Im getting off here. Sure you wont come? OK,
you stay here if you dont want a piece of the action, if youre
afraid of a couple of feeble females. Ill show the little ladies what a
real mans made of, how a real man performs in the sack. Theres
enough of me for both of them.
Yes, just about, and theyre
watering at the mouth, positively drooling.
Biggins jumped overboard and started to wade
ashore. Youre right, theyre obviously up for it, and so am
I, he said, pointing to his bulging crotch. They can start by
gobbling this down, make their luncheon of my truncheon.
Odysseus replied with a smirk:
Theyre picky eaters, youll find, and they like to play with
They can play with my dick to their
Oh they will, they will. And other bits
too, said Odysseus to the mans departing back as he splashed
through the shallows. Then Odysseus switched the engine on and roared off,
leaving Biggins behind in his wake.
Biggins emerged on to the shore and waddled
across the meadow as fast as he could, calling out in a cheery voice:
Cooee. Hello, girls. Its the Pride of the North. OK, who wants
first go with me, whos got the wettest pussy?
His gaze had been focused on their breasts,
but as he reached them he suddenly realized that they were beautiful females to
the waist, but had a birds body below that. Then he took in that they
were surrounded not by white rocks but by skeletons of their former victims,
exactly as Homer said. He gulped and abruptly halted.
The Sirens examined him with avid glittering
eyes and began to talk to each other. Thelxinoe said: I bag the
testicles. And that teeny-weeny willy, which has suddenly shrivelled up, for
some reason best known to itself.
OK, said Ligeia. You can
have them if I can have the eyes.
All right. But I want the
No, you have the jelly-belly and those
monumental buttocks instead! I want the liver. You know its my favourite
delicacy of all time.
And mine! said Thelxinoe with a
menacing edge to her voice. I love the taste of liver in the evening. It
tastes of victory.
I tell you what, said Ligeia.
Should we do that wish-bone thing with his legs, to decide who gets the
liver? Then she added with a giggle: And give him a split
Yes, lets do that
big boy. Time to keep your word and let the little ladies see what youre
Biggins had been listening to all this in
shocked silence. Now he emitted a terrified squeak and turned to run. The
Sirens fluttered up, swooped down and pounced.