I am one of life’s compliers…
I never had a detention at school, always wear a seatbelt, and have never done a runner from a restaurant (okay: once. But I was with the university rugby team).
And now that the wearing of masks is mandatory on public transport and in shops, sure, I will comply. As my American boyfriend says: ‘I wear a mask for the same reason I wear pants’ – it’s just what you do not to stand out, for people not to stare at you, become aggressive, or call the police.
This doesn’t mean that I am enjoying the experience. I find masks stuffy and claustrophobic. Happily they don’t affect my mild asthma too much, but I feel constantly anxious and root around for my inhaler in my bag. It’s still hard to breathe: sucking the damn thing in and out with every respiration. Thin surgical masks are mildly better than the fancy material ones, but not much.
Worse perhaps is the glasses-steam-up. Thirty seconds of wearing a mask, and I have to take my specs off and wipe them down. Which means no reading or looking at my phone: two things I enjoy when on the move. How can I choose a handbag when I can’t even see it?
Mask-crusaders (generally those with 20/20 vision and perfect lung capacity) roll their eyes and tell me to get over the ‘mild inconvenience’. But it’s not just that. On Monday I did take the Tube into town. Though the carriage was only a quarter-full, it briefly freaked me out to see the Faceless People, like an episode of Dr Who.
Patterned masks are all very trendy, but I prefer the fashion of a smile.
Yesterday, I received a chunky cheque for a period of intense work. Significant expenses paid, I think: how would have rewarded myself BC (Before Corona)? Probably, I would jumped on the Tube to central London and have meandered around the shops: Covent Garden, Fenwicks, or Westfield. Treated myself to a small but luxury item like a pair of sunglasses or a posh lipstick. Had a blowdry? Get a mani-pedi? Perhaps revisit my favourite Seurat paining at the National Gallery. Go for a coffee in a hotel bar.
I did none of these. I stayed home.
I was supposed to fly to NY next week to see my boyfriend. As it happens, US airspace is still closed to we Brits. And, desperate as I am to see him again (it’s been five months) the thought of a stifling seven-hour journey without being able to read a book does not fill me with glee.
On a selfish level, this is a joyless existence. On a macro level, it really is not very good for the economy. Which rather defeats the object: my understanding is that Boris introduced the mandatory mask rule to reassure people so they would get back on public transport and into shops. I am not the only one for whom it is having the opposite effect. And the jury remains out whether masks actually do slow the spread of Covid. (You are no less likely to catch the disease, although a few studies have shown their miiight be an small but still unproven reduction in you passing it on. But still the scientists bicker on, and don’t really know).
Sadly, for now, my dollar will go to Amazon, M&S online, and a brightly coloured array of Nespresso pods – enjoyed with relaxed if curtailed contentment, and an clear, un-fogged field of vision.