Who would have thought?
Of all the subjects I imagined I could write about when I first embarked on writing a blog, face masks were not exactly at the forefront of my mind.
But like those various other words and phrases that have entered our common day to day usage this year – think furlough, social distance, zoom calls, test and trace – we live in strange times – which has become a new common phrase in its own right.
So face masks are now our daily friends – or rather our fiendish, obligatory companions.
And for all the undoubted wisdom of wearing them, they are hitched to all sorts of problems.
The first of which, I’m finding, is the wearing of earrings.
Little did I think that the virus would affect and influence, indirectly, my choice of ear attire.
Suddenly, hoops are out. Or rather when I do wear them I am involved in a complicated business of tussling and untangling the strings of the face mask from their circle and end up nearly ripping earlobe and mask and swearing vociferously. Long dangly versions are not much better, this time usually unseating themselves as I put on and remove the mask. So it’s studs for the duration, it seems.
Then there are stairs.
I have no idea why wearing a face mask should affect my ability to negotiate stairs. But suddenly, my equilibrium feels uncertain, my judgement tenuous and I approach going down stairs with the trepidation of a toddler who has just managed the task for the very first time. In fact, I’m tempted to face the stairs and go down on my knees backwards in the way we remember instructing our small ones to do years ago.
Then there’s the choice of mask itself. And of course two minutes after the wearing of them became mandatory in certain settings, the plethora of the ones available on the market grew many fold. So now it’s added to the decision of what to wear each morning. It’s a case not only of but if I wear that skirt those boots won’t go with it and actually is it actually boot weather yet or can I still get away with shoes but on the other hand those clouds look ominous and it’s bound to rain and so boots will be more sensible but who wants to be sensible – you know, that sort of daily anguish – but also which face mask to wear? Should it colour co-ordinate or does that make me look as if I am taking the matter of this virus too flippantly? Face masks seem to have become a form of fashion statement yet can also be used as a judgement against one’s social and community conscience, it seems.
And have you noticed how some people seem to be using face masks as a way of declaring their non-conformity by wearing the oddest and most outrageous of coverings? I’ve seen Pinocchio type masks with very long noses and fish-like mouldings that look, quite frankly, most alarming. I mean I’m all for avoiding the ghastly pale blue medical ubiquitous objects that seem to me the face mask equivalent of those pale pink NHS glasses that some children used to wear many decades ago in primary school – but caution in all things. I don’t want to be scared by Shrek-like coverings on the faces of passengers en route from Winchester to Waterloo.
And we all know about glasses steaming up. And masks smeared liberally with a range of luscious coloured lipsticks.
We’ve all encountered the situation of smiling and greeting a complete stranger because, in a face mask, that man or that woman looks just like someone we know very well. And the opposite, of course, walking past a close friend who looks nothing like themselves with a face half clad in fabric.
But perhaps the most sobering effect of all this facemask-wearing business is the bar on communication it causes. Not in the sense of talking or greeting people, but communicating a mood, a warmth, a sense of inclusion by the exchange of a smile.
Because masks seem to seal us off into our own private worlds as we walk around shops, stand waiting on station platforms. As the woman at the post office said to me the other day, people look so withdrawn, so sad and weary all the time. And I think it’s true.
So perhaps I shouldn’t condemn the wearing of the odd and bizarre masks at all.
Perhaps if we all tried to outdo each other in the extravagance of our face coverings we might at least cause a laugh, a bit of shared hilarity between us.
Even if our consequent smiles and facial expressions are hid behind those obligatory masks …