by Guy de la Bédoyère
Today (July 29th) I set off with some apprehension for my first masked shopping expedition. I went to my local Asda. As I approached the doors, I saw shoppers emerging and tearing off their masks like Batman after a hard day’s work in Gotham. Once inside I was faintly surprised by the security guard who seemed to be wearing one depicting the mouth of a grimacing large carnivore. Perhaps it was a tactic to suggest how tasty the food is inside.
I had by then masked up (using one I had bought at the same shop last week), the very first time I have done so. I’m not in favour of these things at all but I also don’t want to be responsible for placing a shop worker in an uncomfortable position. As it happens, they seem to be a lot better off: maskless and swanning about inhaling and exhaling like swarm of Gupta fish. Or at least that’s what they looked like to me as I unwittingly started the slow process of suffocation. Within seconds I had become aware of a curious sensation: the layer of hot damp air that accumulated around my mouth under the mask, occasionally dispersed by the blissful relief of a blast of cooler external air that made its way in.
But I was soon distracted by the realization that all the social distancing signs had been removed, along with one-way lanes. How can this be? Apparently, the Age of two-metre Magic is over, displaced by new Magic in which a bit of flimsy cloth does the job of keeping the Evil Virus at bay. But hang on! I thought masks were supposed to be an additional precaution, not an alternative. It seems not. Such is the wizardry of the mask that it supersedes all else that has come before. Who would have imagined that? I suppose we must assume that the all-consumingly brilliant Snapes and Dumbledores who advise our wonderful Government have discovered that masks have Special Powers which protect us lowly Muggles.
Walking round a supermarket is actually quite tiring. It’s not like wandering into a newsagent. You have to carry a heavy basket or push a laden trolley. This means that breathing is quite important. As my expedition progressed, I began to feel light-headed. This perplexed me until I realized I was experiencing the first signs of hypoxia. Not only was I not breathing enough, I was also breathing back in my carbon-dioxide laden exhalations. It was like being in Apollo 13 before they managed to knock up some emergency DIY carbon-dioxide filters.
No wonder I was overcome with a constant desire to tear the mask off and gulp air in. With a mild sense of panic beginning to take me over I hurried to the self-service till where I wouldn’t have to use up any additional air trying to speak, constantly having to resist the reflex to remove the mask, hurried through and exited the shop. What a total relief it was to get outside.
The funny thing is that I had thought beforehand that wearing a mask would be merely an ideological nuisance and inconvenience. Instead it was very unpleasant and made me feel a little dizzy. As for being in the shop, I noticed how eye contact was constantly avoided (“the unworthiest shows as fairly in the mask”)2 since everyone now looks like a potential threat, how people darted around as if no-one else was there, and how anxious I was to get out. No more idle browsing for me.
Will we really get used to this? I can’t help feeling I’ll be doing as little shopping as possible from now on since I’d prefer not to die of oxygen starvation if at all possible. Amazingly, I almost felt nostalgic for the time when the 2-metre sorcery was all-powerful – a happier age when you could look someone in the face while sharing a moan in the queue.
In truth masks are just another of the apparently endless ways in which this Government and others maintain the ludicrous pretence to their populations that they alone have the power to control a submicroscopic organism that has already replicated itself untold trillions of times and pervaded every part of the Earth. You might as well try stopping a meteor storm with a piece of chicken-wire.
In any case if you believe the Government is master of the virus, then you’ll believe anything. No wonder one of Hitler’s attributed quotes is “what luck for rulers that men do not think”.
Masks remind me of the ‘duck and cover’ film of 1952 which the US Government used to try and convince its people that hiding under a table would protect them from a nuclear explosion. Still, at least they could see the look of panic on each other’s faces as they dived down, while breathing freely as they were irradiated.
But let’s not be depressed. Since Asda has completely abandoned 2-metre social distancing in favour of masks after only four months then surely by November at the latest masks will be old hat too, replaced by some new gimmick. I wonder what will come next? Compulsory shopping on rollerskates to minimize the time close to anyone else? Silver or silver-plated handles and cutlery to kill bacteria and viruses? Oh sorry. My mistake. That last one actually works. That would never do. No, no. This is a time for futile gestures and with Xmas coming up by then tinsel should definitely be involved. Suggestions on a postcard please.
Guy de la Bédoyère was wearing a brand new commercially available three-layer mask which claims to be “comfortable” and “breathable” but is not to be used for PPE or in a surgical context. Nowhere on the package does it claim to be resistant to anything. But he uses antique Georgian silver cutlery and has done for years. Perhaps that’s why he’s still alive?
1. Love’s Labour’s Lost 5.2
2. Troilus and Cressida 1.3