BANTRY Mussel Fair had been in full swing when we arrived in the west of Ireland on 7 May, so Eric had dived into the shops to buy lots of mussels, langoustines, garlic and many another thing, to take on with us to the island. The Famous Four Go To A Desert Island And Have A Gourmet Weekend, by Enid Blyton, that's what it felt like.
'What are you going to cook?' Alan asked innocently.
'You'll find out,' growled Eric.
What Eric was engaged in was not just cooking, you see, but power cooking. You've heard of power dressing? This was the culinary equivalent. Eric was about to make a bid to cook his way to the top.
There was a time when, if you were not a chef, male cooking was all sausages and steaks and lots of frying, and no fancy elaboration. But the image of cooking has changed out of recognition and when a burly character like Eric takes over the kitchen with bowls of mussels and langoustines, he is making a statement. This is: Get out of my kitchen. This expression of power has been used usually by wives over the centuries. Now it can be said to men by men.
Dusk fell. Eric slaved over the mussels. Alan poured him a gin and tonic. Later, he poured him another gin and tonic. Was Alan just keeping him refreshed? Or was this power cocktail shaking? Was Alan drink-mixing his way to the top? Surely not . . .
'I'm just going down to the foreshore to get some seaweed,' said Eric, hands dripping. 'Let's hope it's the right seaweed for what I'm cooking.'
He vanished into the dark. Alan and I looked at each other. Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said. We had just been outseaweeded. The only way Eric could falter now was if the dish failed, but no such luck; the shellfish cauldron was magnificent, and the fish soup that was to come out of it was even better.
I did my best to upstage Eric by falling ill the next day. When Eric reappeared at breakfast time with a pan to growl 'One egg or three?' (had he spent all night in his apron?), I said I was retiring to bed to die, trying to make it sound as if I was being murdered by one of his mussels. It didn't work. Eric, Alan and Peter discovered during the day from Finn, who runs the shop and post office at Adrigole, that mussels will give you severe gut-rot if combined with whisky, and I had indeed had a small nightcap of Jameson's the night before. Self-inflicted misery was the verdict, which seemed to cheer everyone up but me.
Peter had been confidently quiet all this time, as befits the man whose family owned the island. He showed no signs of being fazed by Eric's power cooking, Alan's power drink-mixing or, indeed, by my power suffering. He wasn't even unduly perturbed when the only boat that could take us to the mainland and back was found submerged, letting in water like a teetotaller. It turned out that after months of being ashore, the planks had dried, creating cracks for the water to come in. What it needed was 24 hours immersion to soak up water. Then it was watertight.
And it was the boat that provided Peter's finest hour, though it was at the 13th hour. On the last day we took all the bags to the boat and rowed to the mainland. We packed the car. We hauled the boat out to sea again on a complicated system of knotted ropes attached to a buoy, so that the boat would not be washed on to the rocks at low tide and the next visitor could pull the boat back in. And we found that a knot on the rope had stuck in the buoy loop so that the boat was now fixed permanently 20 yards offshore.
Understand any of this? No matter. The upshot was that Peter, about to drive us all to the ferry at Cork, found himself undressing on the quayside, getting into his trunks and swimming out to disengage the boat. Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his dignity for his friends.
'Get the tequila out,' said Eric. 'The man's a hero. He needs a warming shot.'
'Give me the car keys, Peter,' said Alan. 'Leave the driving to me. I'll get us to Cork.'
Yes, Peter had outleadered us all. But I said nothing. Selfishly, perhaps, I was already in the back of the car, doing a bit of power writing and making notes for my best-
selling work, Three Men In A Boat And Another One In The Water.