I’ve three small siblings. Truth be told, I love them all, very much. There’s two little brothers, aged four and six, and one sister, aged five. Having as I do little dignity, I’ll often talk to them in exaggerated singsong voices, wherever we are. In the supermarket, the street, the home, whatever. It’s just I can’t not display my affection to them. So it’s become a kind of habit to slip into this mode of speech. When we’re out, especially when I’m with either of the younger two, I’ll give a little mock wave, and encourage the kids to imitate me, and so on. It’s a very cordial ritual, and I find it very satisfying. Maybe that’s just me, but. Recently, however, events have taken a sinister turn for the worse…

So I’m walking along the road on my way to the baker to pick up some bread for lunch when I see a neighbour whose acquaintance I’ve not fully made. We’re on nodding terms, maybe, but nothing more. He’s working in his garden, digging some cavity in which he’ll doubtless put something or other. I don’t know. I always did find gardening inscrutable. So I smile and wave, and walk on by, with the warm glow that accompanies wanton geniality. I return a couple of minutes later, baguettes in hand, in eager anticipation of the forthcoming repast. I smile and wave again, say hello, and pass the man, who is now knee-deep in bits of his own garden. Don’t ask me, I’m ignorant. He looks at me a little strangely.

I stop, stock still, aware of what I’ve just done, and in all likelihood did earlier. In a moment of ultimate bleakness I recall dropping my neck forward, spreading the biggest smile I have over my face, and waving at him in a manner that clearly indicates that he is five years old and shouldn’t be making such a naughty mess in the garden. I can still feel my cheeks recovering from the sheer face-stretching qualities of the smile, and I’m suddenly aware of the man’s eyes on my back. I’ve walked past him - an innocent bystander – twice in five minutes waving and smiling like I’ve just done some devilish brew of E and crack. If I keep walking, I might just get out of this with some self respect intact. Or not. I walk home very carefully, trying hard to look old and pensive. It doesn’t work. I get home, and am greeted by little brothers bounding up to me like very large fleas, and then I start waving and smiling again. I realise that it doesn’t really matter if I look like a crazed idiot: little brothers and sisters matter more than some absurd concept of dignity or what other people think of you or gardening or any of those things that are supposed to be important, and all are funny happy.

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