And now, as the leadership battle reaches its climax . . .

Click to follow
The Independent Online
YESTERDAY I told you how I had spent a recent weekend on an Irish island with three men, and how we had started to assert our roles within the group. The main problem, of course, was one of leadership - it always is with men, isn't it? Peter was the natural choice for leader, as we had gone in his car, and it was his island, and he had been going there for years and years and knew the country backwards. But the fact that one man is naturally cut out to be leader doesn't always make him the leader, does it?

On the contrary. Such is man's devotion to power games that often the potential leaders in a group choose someone unleader-like to lead them, so that they do not feel threatened by the leader. Let us call it the John Major effect.

Let us suppose for a moment that John Major is our PM because all the potential PMs could not get the backing of any of the other potential PMs. Let's say that they therefore agreed to pick a man who was not really even a potential PM . . . let's think about something more cheerful.

Now, if this had come into play on our island, I would have become leader, being the one most lacking in obvious leadership qualities. But I also hold to the Richard Ingrams theory of victory, as practised by him on The News Quiz, which is that if you are not certain to win, it is best to come last - in fact, it is better not to risk victory at all and aim to come last from the word go.

This left Peter, Alan and Eric. Eric and Alan seemed to me to get an early lead because they scored heavily in the anecdotal field. In the old days men used to joust each other to death, and later fight duels to the death, but since these have been made illegal by a soft-hearted liberal establishment, men now have to gore each other to death in competitive story-telling. (I am explaining this for the benefit of any woman readers who may imagine that when a group of men erupts into hoarse laughter, they are having a good time. Not so. They are battling to the death.)

Eric had a natural advantage, as he leads an adventurous life flying planes in the Middle East: he is the one of the few people I know who can create silence by leaning forward and saying, 'Sheikhs are funny people, you know . . .'. He reached that situation in life after an interesting flying and naval career; indeed, unless I am imagining things, I seem to remember him once leaning forward and saying: 'Did I ever tell you about the time I was court-martialled?'.

Alan, however, was ready to come back at Eric where Peter and I were not, as he, although he had not personally been court-martialled or a friend to many sheikhs, had known people who had done that sort of thing and felt, quite rightly, that he could take possession of all the anecdotes told him by them.

So it was that when we got round to disaster flying stories and Eric introduced the topic of what aviators do when they are trapped in a small cockpit and dying for a pee ('I had a mate once,' said Eric cheerily, 'who was forced to use a large glove as a receptacle . . .') that Alan was able to come back with the equally cheery opener: 'Of course, it's even worse when you're at the controls and you suddenly feel sick', at which point Peter and I suddenly felt ill and had to go outside for fresh air.

When we came back, Eric and Alan were way out ahead in another stage of the leadership stakes. This one involves ritual criticism of other people. Not of me and Peter, but of strangers trying to do something you could do better. From the kitchen window where we sat there was a tremendous panoramic view of Bantry Bay, but all we had to see in that vast expanse of ruffled water, apart from gannets and seals, was a lone yacht coming up the bay against the wind.

Alan: 'He's going to have to tack soon.'

Eric: 'Unless he's coming inshore of this island.'

Alan: 'No, I think he's leaving it late so that he can set a course to take him past Whiddy Island.'

Eric: 'He's still leaving it bloody late. Get a move on, man]'

Half an hour later I happened to glance out of the window.

'That yacht is going to make it past Whiddy Island on that tack all right,' I said.

Neither Alan nor Eric even looked up. The boat was of no interest to them as a boat, only as a leadership struggle symbol.

Tomorrow, the final episode: the leadership battle is quite dramatically and unexpectedly resolved.