After pointing out last week that my first port of call on ‘Independence Day’ was unlikely to be the pub, you will be unsurprised to learn that I flexed our newly decreed independence in a different direction yesterday. Shunning the hospitality industry (worry not, I will be back) and grabbing a mask, I headed to London to belatedly celebrate Favourite Daughter’s (FD) birthday (yes, she of the bear hug costume from earlier in lockdown).
Boris’ rules are designed to confuse, but I believe that this journey could have been made a few weeks ago without instigating a blue light situation; I would have looked a tad foolish if I had travelled however, because FD had not yet returned to The Smoke. FD also did not have a birthday to celebrate a few weeks ago. I have found in life that it is important to get your ducks in a row, so I make use of this fallow time to get my head around wearing a mask, or to be technically accurate, to get a mask around my fairly large head.
Now, I had no problem obtaining a mask for Favourite Man (FM) is sent crates of them every week along with a vat of hand sanitiser – this is corporate world’s unsubtle way of saying that commuting to an actual office will start again soon (let us hope that FM can ditch his boxers and crocs and remind himself how to button up a shirt).
So, my reluctance to wear a mask is grounded on a myriad of flakey reasons:
- I am a little claustrophobic
- I would prefer to wear a John Wayne bandana
- Teachers have not been asked to wear masks in school thus far and I don’t think Boris intends us to adapt our classroom wardrobe in September.
- When I try a mask on I look like Hannibal Lecter.
- My masks become a smudge of foundation, lipstick and mascara the instant I put one on.
- If I wear a mask and then put my glasses on too, I feel like Jacque Cousteau.
- Masks make me question whether my hearing is going because anyone else wearing a mask sounds like they are talking through treacle.
- I worry that the size of my nose can not be accommodated in any standard size mask (my nickname at school was ‘Ski Jump’ after all).
- Many masks make you look like you have customised a sanitary towel to wear over your face.
Anyway, as all of the above concerns are founded on vanity not science ( Chris Whitty I would have hidden my head in shame, but I was just about to be forced to do so anyway), FM drove me to the station and I kept quiet about any misgivings. Fortunately I was distracted en route by the huge queue of hair bear bunch men waiting to get into the local barber and by another queue camping outside a village pub as if they were waiting overnight for Wimbledon Centre Court tickets. Independence Day was starting quietly, but it was starting.
In the event, train travel was a dream. You are now guaranteed a window seat and no-one comes near you; I am prepared to buy in to rail travel if this continues. As long as I ignore my reflection in the window I can pretend that all is normal and that I haven’t dropped into that Dr Who episode with World War II children wearing face masks and repetitively asking, ‘are you my mummy?’. Mama J is on a mission to see her own daughter and she needs to focus; I turn away from the window.
Then I realise that I feel really hot. Really, really hot and my face feels like it is dripping into my mask. I hope I am not leaking droplets. The one thing I have not factored into mask wearing is the menopause. I should have read last week’s blog before setting out. I practise some yogic breathing and tell myself that I am not being smothered. As I cannot bear to wear my glasses, I can not even distract myself by reading.
Relieved to reach Paddington, I find that wearing a mask means I appear to have lost the ability to walk safely down a flight of stairs. I practise jumping onto escalators without touching the handrail and realise that eyes are rolling at me over the top of visors worn by regular commuters. Instead I turn into the mask police and start tutting when I spot someone who is wearing a mask but has it hanging nonchalantly from one ear as he talks to his friend on his mobile. ‘Yeah, I’m on the tube mate; it’s fine down here. No trouble’.
I wait on the safely spaced platform sticker for the tube to arrive, and board; two stops later I am heartened to hear that I am not the only mask vigilante. ‘Would the lady who has just boarded the train without a mask sort herself out. Yes, you madam, you know who you are. We’re all working to protect the NHS madam. We are all waiting. NOW FIND YOUR MASK’.
Settling into the tube journey I then start getting mask envy. I realise that commuting fashionistas are wearing very different masks to mine (I am wearing the cheap sanitary towel option admittedly). The best ones have breathing ventilators or are shaped Bat Man-style around the nostrils, some are even branded. Perhaps Nike could take over the platform announcements, ‘ To the lady boarding the train without a mask, just do it!’ ‘Sir, we want you to wear a mask because you’re worth it.’ A lady opposite me is trying to mend her husband’s cheap mask, clearly hoping to get a week’s wear out of this one, and is unaware that a nice official at Paddington will be more than happy to provide a new one.
When I eventually get to my daughter’s flat I beg her to let me have one of the stylish masks I sent her weeks ago ready for her return to teach in a London school. She is having none of it because both masks are already smothered in foundation; she tried to fob me off with a patchwork quilt mask that her granny has sewn for her, but I feel the cocktail of my hot flushes and this Peppa Pig design are unlikely to see me travel incognito in said handcrafting.
We start thinking about a mask redesign. We agree that if we can just be sure that masks will have to be kept on all day – inside and out – then we can ditch mask evolution and just eradicate the foundation problem altogether with some timely vlogger make-up tutorials, ‘it’s all about the eyes this season. forget foundation, you will not find the need to take a selfie, believe us’.
In other news, FD and I discuss:
- whether Persil or Bold may soon change their advertising campaigns to show how face masks can remain bio white at the end of a busy commuting week.
- whether a new mask etiquette will soon start trending – to mask or not to mask i.e. a bit like wearing shoes inside other people’s houses, do you keep your mask on indoors when other people are going commando (in the mask sense)?
- why humans will always customise a uniform rather than just accept it as it is. Already there are so many decisions to think of when choosing a mask – colour, textile, elastic ear rubbage (I discovered to my cost yesterday that this is a thing – like nappy rash behind the ear lobe, honestly had to break open some sudocrem), eco credibility and branding.
On my return journey I encounter another malfunction in the mask design when I try to keep my mask on while drinking a take-away coffee and snaffling a cereal bar. A mask may be great for anyone trying to lose weight – this could be the answer to the quarantine stone (and I may need to add it to the above list) but it is not great for anyone with the munchies. I will need to be back in touch with FD to see if we can design a feeding pouch within the mask – horses have a nosebag after all; I feel certain that a little masking tape should do the trick. If we crack this market I imagine that students will beg Boris to declare that masks must be worn in class for then they will be able to squirrel away a lesson full of snacks right under the teacher’s nose – well, right under their own nose, but you get the gist.
Another day of adventure is over. FM collects me from the station (cheers drive) and updates me on all the action that has been going on locally in my absence. As we drive back through country villages, I see what he means. It is clear that the pubs are open for business and that the clientele (all sitting outside, naturally) are looking nicely coiffured and very.very sanguine. ‘Independence’ is slowly being unmasked. Let’s mind the gap.