Ian McMillan: A wave of joy at the simple pleasure of being daft

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I did something the other morning that I’ve not done for years, and when I’d done it I laughed with the sheer joy of the thing I’d just done.

I hadn’t planned it: it was an impulse that wasn’t mediated by what the great Barnsley philosopher Frank Socrates called “the double-glazing of thought”. And what did I do? Well, I waved at a passing car.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: is that it? Is that all he did? He waved at a passing car? Yes, and it made me so happy, it made me feel so young and carefree again.

When I was a teenager one summer decades ago, me and my mates used to love to wave at passing cars as though we knew the driver and the passengers. We’d sit on the bench at the end of Edderthorpe Lane and when a car approached down Doncaster Road we’d point at the driver as though we recognised him or her and we’d wave or we’d put our thumbs up. We were teenagers, we were silly, it passed the time. It made us laugh until we wept.

Sometimes we’d pretend that what we were doing was actually a kind of art, a sort of theatre. We thought about the people we’d waved to going home and saying, “Who were those lads? Do we know them?” We imagined that they’d sit in their houses and rack their brains and we saw this as some kind of disruptive performance art that was shaking the fabric of society to its foundations. Of course we were just kids with too much time on our hands acting daft, but that’s not how we saw it.

Sometimes just one of us would wave, but the solo waver would wave enthusiastically and energetically as though he was warning the driver of danger ahead; sometimes two of us would point solemnly as though we’d noticed something hanging off the back of the car. Once or twice drivers actually slowed down and then we’d run off and hide behind a wall.

We made solemn pacts that when we ourselves were in cars or on buses or trains we’d wave at people on the street as though we knew them. As the bus slowed down in traffic we’d bang on the window and jazz-hand a startled milkman; when we were being ferried about by our long-suffering parents we’d annoy them even more by waving wildly at passers-by, or pointing exaggeratedly at our watches and mouthing the words “you’re late”. Oh, how we laughed. Oh, how our parents told us off.

As autumn approached, our waving became more baroque and intricate. We’d devise strange dances and we’d all suddenly put flat caps on or suddenly take flat caps off as the cars went by. We made incomprehensible signs or signs that said ridiculous things like ESCAPED SHEEP AHEAD or WHERE’S MAVIS? I know, a bit of National Service would have sorted us out.

And then, last Tuesday, I did it again. I waved wildly at a passing Ford Focus and the lady driving the car did one of those half-waves in return like somebody on a bike raising their hands from the handlebars momentarily. I had a grin on my face for the rest of the day!