Yesterday, I was the recipient of a cheeky wink. It was lobbed to me as I was disembarking the train at York in a distracted flurry, trying hard not to forget my trail of accoutrements that, over two and a half hours, I had liberally deposited above me (on the rack), beside me (on the chair), below me (by my feet), and under my bottom (where I sat). An early arrival into York took me by surprise (I had been occupied counting deer in the fields) and I was hurriedly gathering together my goods and my gear when I caught his nonchalantly tossed wink, one that clearly said: “you almost missed your stop! On you go now, have a good time this week with your friends.” I’d not spoken to Mr. Wink on the train, indeed, I’d only partially noticed him between deer-spotting, so he had no idea I was going to see my friends, yet there was something in his wink that seemed perceptive without being intrusive. It was, unquestionably, a wink that wished me well, a wink of congeniality. This was no devilish wink, not a wink to trick and confuse – which I’ve also been the recipient of – this was a softer wink.
‘A nod is as good as a wink’, isn’t that what they say? Meaning that it takes only the slightest gesture for one to understand clearly what’s being said without words. And, fashionable as it might be to misconstrue a wink, I contend that everyone can tell the difference between a good old-fashioned wink, and a spicy, salacious wink. Call me naive, but I don’t think there is such a thing as a salacious wink. Those words don’t even go together! I want to believe that all winks are largely wholesome. This wink certainly was; it was conveyed involuntarily, just like a smile – an unplanned, normal, human reaction to others.
To wink is to offer a frugal but generous gesture in one complete capsule. It’s a little present that generally only the receiver notices in a split second of eye contact. There’s no such thing as a lingering wink (now that would be salacious), a wink should faintly brush across you, like the gift of a butterfly alighting on your skin for an instant as you lie in the sun on a summer’s day. Winks are fun, playful, encouraging; they might be loaded with meaning, or they might convey a simple, ‘hiya’. Sometimes a wink will involve a whole head movement, chin lifted, head angled, in an enthusiastic, ‘I-don’t-want-you-to-miss-this’ wink. As for a returned wink…. well who knows where that could lead!
Often, though, the best of winks can be delivered from a glinting eye in a motionless head, maybe with a glimmer of a smile to match the lilt in the eye. I was an Irish dancer as a youth, my dad took me to the festivals, he’d sit far back in the hall with the few other men there (Mr. Havlin and Mr. McGarrity), three of them lost in a sea of mothers and grandmothers fixing hair and tying ribbons, securing capes and double knotting laces. His role was less practical, but much more important. Six bars into Rose playing Miss McCloud’s Reel on the piano playig (there were eight bars of an introduction) he would wink at me from his seat and only I could catch the reassuring dart flitting to me from the aperture of the click of his eyelid. I pulled my right foot towards my left, lifted myself high onto both toes and used the wink to propel me off around the stage, spinning, leaping, swishing. A secret, wordless, fleeting wink in wide-open public that only I could see. A thumbs-up with no hand raised. His wink told me: “Go on and dance your heart out, daughter, because I love sitting down here watching you.”
W.H. Auden wrote a long poem, an elegy, in memory of his good friend and fellow poet, Louis MacNeice, called, The Cave of Making. In it, Auden remembers the knowing winks he and MacNeice exchanged at literary Symposiums – winks laden with that deep understanding that develops over many years of friendship, a wink that says: I know what you’re thinking.
‘At lucky moment we seem on the brink
Of really saying what we think:
But, even then, an honest eye should wink.’
It’s the season of high jinks, so bring back your wink – go on, I dare you.