IF I HAD hoped that once mask-wearing became voluntary, people would be casting off their muzzles in their millions, I was very much mistaken.
Everywhere I go, people are still wearing them – in shops, on public transport, even on the streets. Before we go any further, let me say that I abandoned my mask long before so-called Freedom Day on July 19 and I will never wear one again, unless of course I find myself in the unlikely situation of carrying out a surgical operation.
Yet it seems I am very much in the minority, and sometimes in a minority of one. On the very day that the mask mandate was lifted, out came the scaremongers, predicting that tens of thousands of cases would result from the reckless act of tearing off the mask, that hospitals would be overwhelmed, and we would be back in lockdown before we knew it.
One of the most disappointing aspects for me is that friends and colleagues I thought were intelligent, independent free-thinkers are campaigning for masks to be made compulsory again. An Oxford Community Association has started a petition to make mask-wearing mandatory and has asked people to sign. Astonishingly, lots have done so. Many of my friends on Facebook have stated that they are pro-masks and will continue to wear them, even though they no longer have to. They maintain that by so doing they are protecting other people and other people are protecting them. It’s complete rubbish, of course.
Since the mask requirement ended, I have booked visits to art galleries and museums and well-meaning friends have said: ‘It’s crowded. Make sure you wear your mask.’
No fear! I don’t even have a mask any more. I have thrown them all away, both the used and unused. Mind, I only ever bought the very cheapest, as my pathetic protest against wearing one at all.
But the self-righteous and the virtue signallers have come out in droves. For example, the Labour Mayor of Cambridgeshire, Dr Nik Johnson, has issued the following statement: ‘To keep our businesses open, and avoid more lockdown, I will wear a mask. To keep my colleagues and patients safe, I will wear a mask. I ask you all to join me.’
Now, Johnson is a medical doctor. Surely, he understands that if you are not infected, you cannot infect anybody else. And the truth is that hardly anybody is infected.
When buying a pair of shoes last week, I saw this notice prominently displayed: ‘In response to recent government advice, customers are no longer legally required to wear face coverings. Please note that for the protection of our community, store staff will continue to wear masks.’ Restaurant and bar staff continue to wear them as well, creating a horrible distance between those who are serving and those who are served.
It gets worse. A few days ago I had a meeting at an Oxford college concerning a series of lectures that I am involved in this autumn. Everybody, from the academic staff to groundsmen and receptionists, was wearing a mask. Apart from me, of course. I was literally the only person in the college that day not wearing one. Try as I might, I could not persuade the others at the meeting to take their masks off while we were talking round a table. It was almost as if they were hot-riveted on. And they were fancy masks, too, not just the blue disposable variety.
Now that I am going around maskless, nobody says anything, although I do get some very odd and, I imagine, disapproving, stares (although when someone is wearing a mask, it is difficult to decipher their expression).
My hairdressers continue to wear masks and last time I was in the salon, I was the only client not wearing one. Once again, now that they are no longer compulsory, nobody could request me to wear a face covering but they seemed uneasy about my bare face.
For me, there is every disadvantage to wearing a mask, and no advantages whatever. For one thing I don’t recognise people, even friends and neighbours. For another, I can’t properly hear what they are saying.
We lip-read more than we realise, and as well as not being able to hear, I cannot read people’s expressions. I can’t tell whether they are smiling or serious, happy or unhappy, angry or pleased. Even worse, if I am wearing a mask in a shop, my glasses steam up when I am looking for something or trying to read a label. So, for me, wearing a mask in enclosed places means that I can neither see nor hear. My lipstick smudges and on hot days, I start to sweat uncomfortably inside the mask.
Wearing one is, not to put too fine a point on it, a form of torture. Also, it completely wipes you out. Without a visible face, you lose all individuality and you might as well not exist. You have become a nameless, faceless peasant. And yet, in some circles, these ridiculous and completely unnecessary face coverings have almost become designer accessories. You can get masks that match or co-ordinate with your outfit, and I have been dismayed to see Olympic competitors wearing masks when they are not competing.
I despair. But even if I am making a unilateral stand, I will continue to go out and about mask-free in the hope that I am setting an example that others will follow. Otherwise, I fear, these face coverings will become so standard that nobody ever ventures out again without one. In the old days it used to be said that a lady was known by her gloves. Let us hope that in future she is not known by her mask.