Tuesday 27 September 2016

Brendan O'Connor: A man I met once on holiday

Published 21/08/2016 | 02:30

'There is something about men on holidays, especially on family holidays. We are at our most innocent. Our armour is off.' (Stock picture)
'There is something about men on holidays, especially on family holidays. We are at our most innocent. Our armour is off.' (Stock picture)

A few years ago, on holidays in Portugal, I met a man. He was a startlingly good looking young man, piercing eyes and in great shape. He dressed extremely well too. I say I met him. I didn't really. My kids met him. That's how it is on holidays. You can spend a lifetime determinedly not getting involved with other people on holidays, but once you have kids, you have no choice. They get you involved.

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This guy had a baby with him, and obviously a baby was like catnip to my two little girls. Breakfast, at the pool, any opportunity that arose, they were over to the baby. And we would do that thing where you tell the kids to leave the poor people alone, and you look over apologetically, making 'sorry' faces. But this guy and his wife were really nice. They said they didn't mind, and they didn't seem to. They seemed to enjoy how the kids adored the baby and played with him. I tend to judge people on how they are with my younger daughter Mary, and it always struck me that this guy was exceptionally gentle and really lovely with Mary, always dazzled her with his twinkling yes and his smile, and always chatting away to her.

And of course, as you do, we chatted a bit. We talked about the resort, about what the local town was like, any useful information we had picked up about the place, about the food, whatever, maybe the odd mention of things at home. Nothing of substance really. Just that holiday talk you make with people. We knew each other by our first names only. I never asked him what he did for a living, he never asked me.

There is something about men on holidays, especially on family holidays. We are at our most innocent. Our armour is off. We are stripped bare, literally and figuratively. We are away from the real world, we are focused on our kids. We are our softest, gentlest, most open selves. We end up making benign small talk over the odd drink with people we wouldn't necessarily talk to at home. We are deliberately displaced, and we have something in common with the people all around us. They have displaced themselves here too. We are all in it together so we rub along together.

My wife is a more curious person than me, though. She felt we should be able to place these people. She was curious about the fact that they were young and attractive and quite glamorous and he was Irish but spoke with a slight accent. And this was not the swankiest resort, but they seemed to have a few bob too, and their personal effects, while low-key, were not cheap, and they were immaculate.

So after they were gone, she went looking, and within a minute or two on the internet she found out that this gentle, smiling, unassuming but lovely guy was not only a premiership footballer but an Irish international.

A lot of people would have recognised him instantly. I had walked along chatting to him, no idea who he was, just this guy I met on holidays. He could have been anyone. I guess I was just lucky. Trevor O'Neill wasn't so lucky. He met Jonathan Hutch on his holidays.

Sunday Independent

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