When the Trumps came to tea, the Duchesss of Cornwall winked, and people were amused. But is such an exclusionary gesture still OK?
When the Trumps went to Clarence House for tea on the first day of their recent state visit to the UK, the Duchess of Cornwall performed (if that is the right word) a wink. Why? We outsiders dont know, and we are not meant to know. A wink is all about collusion, and collusion is about exclusion, says Dr Peter Collett, an Oxford psychologist with an interest in body language. Therefore, the wink, in his opinion, is anachronistic. Its not as prevalent as it used to be because it goes against the tide of the zeitgeist, which is all about not leaving anybody out.
It is true: you dont see as much winking as you used to, and so a wink today stands out as a flashback to monochrome England, such as when you see someone smoking a pipe, or hear a milkman whistling. As a mode of communication, it seems as quaint as Morse code.
I am sufficiently interested in winking to have written a novel about a man who winks at people and then kills them. The novel is set in the 70s, which was a lascivious decade, therefore well stocked with that sort of winker, but the main thing was to set the novel in the past.
It seems to me that winking belongs in the past partly because society is increasingly informal, and the winker needs formality in order to have something to undermine. There would be no point winking at someone in the middle of an orgy, for instance. (When I ran this idea past Collett, he said: Ill take your word for it, Andrew.)
Perhaps the heyday of winking was in the risque entertainment of a century ago, when comedians tackled social strictures with a sort of constrained rebellion, via such outmoded notions as cheekiness, naughtiness and mischievousness. The ventriloquists figure was a cheeky boy and a winking mechanism came almost as standard. To quote an Edwardian advertisement: In addition to all the ordinary movements, the Wonderful Boy is constructed to laugh, cry, smoke, wink and flap his ears. On the music hall stage, the wink and the double entendre were natural companions. The singer Marie Lloyd was known for her wink, and in 1895 she had a hit with a song called When You Wink the Other Eye, a title suggesting that winking had reached such epidemic proportions that everyones first-choice winking eye had become worn out. The song gets progressively lewder, culminating in a scenario wherein a cash-strapped woman flags down a cab and makes a suggestion to the driver
Her purse, alas! Is empty, but somehow she must get there;
She whispers something in his ear, then its Drive to Leicester Square.
All right jump in! says cabby oh, Cabby knows his fare,
For he winks the other eye.
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