In the park today a cyclist, kitted out in helmet, dark glasses and face mask, screeches to an abrupt halt. Everyone around jumps out of the way.
To my consternation, the cyclist greets me like a long-lost friend. The problem is I have absolutely no idea who they are! There are no visual clues for me to work with, and the voice is muffled and unclear. I call upon my superior detective training, honed from living with a secretive, monosyllabic teenager and eventually work out Mr/Ms Invisible’s identity. They tap their mask, explaining they’re finally going to visit their elderly parents, so they’re taking no risks, even outdoors.
And I fully understand this desire to keep our loved ones out of harm’s way. So, it’s no surprise to me that the government has finally decided to enforce the wearing of masks in shops.
My non-native friends have been wearing theirs everywhere since the start of lockdown and can’t understand why I haven’t been doing the same. I ponder whether it’s due to my ingrained ideas of British politeness. For somehow, I’ve always felt that if I wear a mask when the majority around me are bare-faced, I’m being slightly offensive, implying they are carriers of infection. Conversely, if all around me are masked, whilst I’m breathing freely, that’s simply bad manners.
And it’s also bad-manners to refuse the gift of a lovingly-sewn, hand-made mask from a friend who’s shielding. At the height of the fear factor, I wear it to the supermarket. I feel invincible. For five minutes. Then I feel suffocated. Then I dump my basket and we survive off corned-beef surprise until I learn to make unveiled stealth-raids for provisions.
At least mask etiquette will no longer haunt my dreams for I have government rules to follow now. And more importantly for my Yorkshire thriftiness, a fine to pay if I don’t. But this will involve an upgrade in facial wear and some expenditure. How will that go down with the Nearly-Beloved, who keeps a tight rein on the family budget? I needn’t have worried. Whilst his chest-infection is now sorted, his ears have yet to recover from the four hours spent in A&E last week in my pink-spotted mask. He’s been surfing the internet, sourcing army-grade breathing equipment and is about to put in his order.
I really don’t think he need two filters, especially as he hasn’t been to the shops since the self-check-out incident and the DIY debacle. In fact, I’m hoping to steer him well away from any enforced face-covering situation to avoid his blood pressure rising. In the absence of police checks I fear my law-abiding husband might take matters into his own hands. So, thank God that, up to now, he considers Amazon’s taser range too expensive.
In the end we compromise on a pack of six reasonably-priced, reusable masks. They arrive within a day and within a day they are gone. ‘These are never adult-sized! I’ve demanded a refund,’ grumbles the Nearly Beloved, who’s managed to destroy half the pack simply by stretching them over his face and snapping them in two. And the ‘re-usable’ label is open to debate too. The material is so flimsy, I stick my finger through a couple and when I try to wash the remaining one, it dissolves as soon as it hits the water.
So, it’s off to the local chemist where I manage to grab the last set of unisex face masks. They may not be the most appealing but they’ll have to do. But Grunting Teen isn’t convinced. He curls his lip. ‘I’m not wearing one. It’s so uncool!’
And to be fair the school has sent us detailed information with the latest guidance for September that masks aren’t necessary. However, if pupils feel unsafe, they’ll be allowed to wear a face-covering.
‘Great’ says the teenager with unusual enthusiasm and disappears upstairs.
Minutes later he reappears and scares the living daylights out of me.
‘That’s not funny,’ I tell the Grim Reaper who’s performing a Halloween dance around me, ‘but one day you might need to buy something or get on a bus, so put one in your pocket anyway.’
Grunting Teen grunts and I sigh. He barely remembers to take his keys or money with him. What hope then for the mask? Luckily, inspiration strikes and I grab his mobile, wrapping the mask around it. He pulls a face.
But by now I’m fed up of Maskaggedon and tell him in no uncertain terms, ‘look, you need to get a haircut, so you need to wear a mask. End of.’
But it’s not the end. It turns out that with his hoody and his quarantine-length fringe, he already has an effective face-covering. And what’s more, the sight of him is guaranteed to make everyone around jump out the way.