Marooned in Bantry Bay - without a publishing contract

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The Independent Online
FOR THE past couple of days I have been telling the incredible story of how four men survived on an uninhabited Irish island in Bantry Bay without once coming to blows, electing a leader or even playing Scrabble. People have been coming up to me and saying: This incredible tale of you four men surviving on an island - why are you going on about it day after day? You didn't do anything] You didn't even eat each other. Everyone eats each other in survival movies these days, for starters . . .

I should have thought it was obvious why I was persevering with the incredible story of how four men spent three days on an island without turning on a TV set to see who had won the Eurovision Song Contest. I am trying to write a best- seller. This is how best-sellers get written. You let drop a few episodes in a paper. Some publisher gets in touch. Hey presto, 'A Weekend In Bantry Bay' is born.

That's how Peter Mayle's A Year In Provence was born, I'm told. Apparently the Sunday Times ran a diary by Mr Mayle on the cruel heartaches of having to watch French workmen renovate your old French house and moments later it had been published in book form and John Thaw was about to make an idiot of himself. And if that's not an indictment of the Murdoch press, I don't know what is . . .

Anyway, I have been confidently expecting all this week that some greedy publisher would ring me up and suggest that I expanded my diary into a sort of Peter Mayle experience. Or a Jerome K Jerome experience, maybe - Four Men On An Island? Or a Robert Bly experience - Four Real Men Talking Very Seriously About Their Fathers On An Island? Or a book of interviews: Four Men On An Island Without Lynn Barber.

There's something about an island, you know. Think about Treasure Island, and Robinson Crusoe, and Castaway, and Mutiny On The Bounty. And there are best-sellers that got away. I am thinking of the Scottish island on which King James I is said to have marooned two children with their nanny, and condemned them not to get in touch with civilisation. The book from that could have been a number one.

King James was a bright spark, you know. He not only wrote the first really effective pamphlet against tobacco, but he also gave his name to the best English version of the Bible, which I think makes him just about the last British prince to show any burning interest in literature, until Prince Charles gave birth to The Old Man of Lochnagar. But the reason that James marooned these children was less to do with literature, more to do with his interest in the origin and evolution of languages.

How, he wanted to know, would humans communicate if they were not taught any language? If they had to work out a method of communication for themselves, what would they come up with? To find out, he put on the deserted island these two children, not yet talking, in the charge of a deaf and dumb nanny, the idea being that the instigators of the experiment would go back 15 years later and find out what had evolved out of innocence.

Now comes the bad news. I don't know what happened. I don't know if they died, or if King James died, or if they went back and found the children speaking perfect French with a Scottish accent, and decided to drop the whole thing. I am sorry. What I do know is that if that sort of experiment took place nowadays, it wouldn't be in order to find out the origin of language. That would be far too interesting. No, we would be more likely to maroon children on an island to see if, after 10 years, the girls were doing all the cooking and the boys all the hunting and fighting. There would be TV cameras too.

In the old days they weren't so interested in all the sex and gender things. Daniel Defoe got a very good book out of poor old Alexander Selkirk being marooned on a desert island without once mentioning sex. Nor once, as I remember, does Crusoe ever reflect on his lack of physical contact with the opposite sex. Mark you, if Robinson Crusoe were published today, the publicity would probably get round that by saying: 'The racy tale of two men together on a desert island - and their passionate master-slave relationship]'

But back to how we four men managed to pass a weekend alone on an Irish island and leave it on Monday still speaking King James's English. All the details tomorrow, then, unless a publisher gets there first and signs me up.

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