All the talk after the first kids’ club visit was about Darragh-from-Dublin. Or Mr. Pilkington as he was known by those in the know. Emmie had gone on her own for this first visit, but her enthusiastic stories of painting and treasure hunts and Darragh-from-Dublin were enough to convince Clara to join her the next day. The second last day of the holiday as it happens – it had taken them a while to give the kids’ club a chance.
That next day, two girls came back, bright-eyed and flushed, chatting about the kids’ club. And mostly about Mr. Pilkington.
“Mum, guess what, you won’t believe what Mr. Pilkington did – we saw a sign for Karaoke that’s going to be on in the bar tonight, and – guess what he did – he kissed it! He kissed the sign!” said Emmie.
“He’s very funny,” said Clara, “He even picked up a bucket and put it on his head – it was the bin!”
So far, so funny, this Mr. Pilkington.
That night in the campsite playground, I met him for myself. A zippy little guy, his baseball cap big on his head, a young man with a big of swagger, who knew his way around. He was leading a serious game of hide-and-seek and Emmie joined in. I stood by fascinated. I’ve never seen her befriend someone so quickly, nor have I seen her so animated. Mr. Pilkington dashed over and back, then hid under the ping-pong table. Emmie whizzed across, sliding to a sandy stop, ducking down to find him – the two of them shaking with giggles. I watched from a short distance – both of them engaged and engaging.
I’ve known Mr. Pilkingtons. I knew one when I was eleven; he had a baseball cap too. And he was small, and oh so popular. He had floppy hair and a cheeky smile. He was the littlest guy in the gang but leader of the pack. We sought his attention; a flash of his smile. He had a glow, and we all wanted in. He was the boy we wanted to walk beside or maybe the boy we wanted to be, in those innocent pre-teen days. He was our very own Ferris Bueller.
And I knew Mr. Pilkingtons in other places at other times – most were small in stature and big on smiles. They had pied-piper skills and could make a day or break a heart with just a glance, or worse, no glance at all. And that’s just it – they always break your heart.
On the last day of kids’ club, Darragh-from-Dublin was again the topic of conversation.
“Guess what mum, there’s bull-riding in the bar tonight, and Mr. Pilkington kissed the sign!” said Clara.
“Yes, and he told us that someone he knows broke their neck doing bull-riding, but he’s going to do it anyway tonight – can we go too?” said Emmie.
So on the final night of the holiday, we made our usual trip to the playground, ready for more epic hide-and-seek. The girls ran ahead, skidding on the sand, looking for their friend. I followed more slowly, with a toddler who insists on scooting everywhere but can’t scoot. I caught up with Emmie and saw immediately that something was up. She was standing to one side, her shoulders drooping, staring at the ground. She looked sad and confused and a little bit humiliated.
“What’s up?” I asked, and she shook her head. “Ah please tell me?” I said, tilting her chin and looking into puzzled blue eyes.
“It’s Mr. Pilkington,” she eventually said, “He says doesn’t want to play with me anymore.”
I hugged her tightly, and said all the pointless but hopefully not pointless things that parents say in these situations, about how sometimes kids just want to play with other kids and sometimes they don’t understand that it hurts. But it was done – in a little way, she’d had her heart broken.
Later as we queued for the bull-riding, Darragh-from-Dublin zipped past with his new friend. Emmie’s face lit up again, as she called “hey you!” after him, but he didn’t hear her and kept going. I watched her watch him, her face filled with confusion and something like wishing, and my heart broke a little bit too.
All names have been changed to protect Darragh-from-Dublin