When Stephen Harper returned from political exile to lead the Canadian Alliance 12 years ago, a few of the more cynical members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery played a little game on the side.
We plotted how we could get a notoriously volatile Harper to "blow'' at the mic on the opposition side of the House of Commons foyer.
Such was his reputation for a short fuse, a man who would not abide provocative or ill-informed questions from journalists, we thought we just had to wait.
Some of us had already seen it first hand.
We all lost, of course. Harper maintained his cool with the camera rolling, but it is hardly a surprise there is a growing body of evidence that he does his "blowing" in private, with aides and colleagues.
One of the by-products of a long stay in power is the number of senior aides who have come and gone in Harper's revolving door PMO and opposition operation and inevitably, they talk, especially when they are selling books.
The first, and most prolific practitioner of this art, Tom Flanagan, has long drawn the enmity of the prime minister and his remaining inner circle for his revelations in an earlier tome entitled Harper's Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power.
More recently, in Persona non Grata, a response to his public shunning following his controversial child pornography comments, Flanagan described Harper this way: "He can be suspicious, secretive, and vindictive, prone to sudden eruptions of white-hot rage over meaningless trivia, at other times falling into week-long depressions in which he is incapable of making decisions.''
Now comes Bruce Carson, a former senior aide, who is making the media rounds while simultaneously promoting his new book, 14 Days, and awaiting a preliminary hearing into charges of influence-peddling. Carson is a convicted fraudster, but he did work alongside Harper as a senior adviser during their first minority government.
He also is talking about a man who was prone to temper tantrums, dressing down aides heatedly, swearing at them, but also getting as good as he gives.
He wouldn't go as far as Flanagan in describing Harper as prone to bouts of depression - something Harper's office dismissed as "ridiculous," - but agreed the prime minister does have his ups and downs.
Again, no surprise. Harper, after all, virtually disappeared one summer early in his opposition tenure, in a deep period of reflection or a deep funk, depending on the source.
What Flanagan and Carson are flagging that should cause alarm, however, is the increasing isolation of the prime minister.
He is a man with far more enemies that confidants.
He is on his fourth chief of staff since coming to office.
His current communications director is his eighth since he was first elected in 2006.
He lost two men who would speak truth to power behind closed doors, the late Senator Doug Finley and the late finance minister Jim Flaherty.
His behaviour during the Mike Duffy-Nigel Wright scandal best exemplifies that isolation, although Carson says Harper's ignorance of what was happening in his own office doesn't square with his experience with a man who wanted to be involved in everything down to office minutiae.
Perhaps it is revisionist egoism, but Carson says there would have been no such scandal during his time in the office or that of previous chiefs of staff Ian Brodie or Guy Giorno.
Similarly, there appeared to be no one around Harper to tell him that picking a fight with Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin was beneath his office and a tussle he could not win.
Isolation breeds rash decisions and vindictiveness.
These revelations from his former colleagues get such attention because this is a prime minister whose encounters with the press gallery, and increasingly his own caucus, are so rare and artificial, that any insight takes on an oversized presence.
Harper is acutely aware of how he is viewed.
When he delivered the eulogy at Flaherty's funeral, he said he envied his former colleague because he was well liked even by his political enemies.
"I can't even get my friends to like me,'' Harper joked.
Flanagan and Carson probably didn't "know" Harper as well as they thought they did, just as journalists who covered Harper before his ascension to 24 Sussex Dr. also didn't really "know'' him.
The cliché has always been that it is lonely at the top. But rarely have we seen a leader who seems to have worked so hard to carve out his own isolation.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer