A woman fiddles with her hair in the mirror; we see the view she sees, so we express the same terror when the reflection suddenly shows a figure appear behind her – a menacing intruder in a gasmask. Despite the well-documented wealth of 1970s TV and film archive I own on DVD or that I’ve simply seen repeated over the decades, I’ve still never found out what this terrifying scene was from, a scene that impacted on my imagination as a small (not to say traumatised) child. We all have such moments when our exposure to cinema and television expands during those formative years, and this was mine. It defined the gasmask as a sinister object in my mind forevermore. I recall a ‘Doctor Who’ adventure a few years later called ‘The Deadly Assassin’, in which Tom Baker’s Doctor spends an entire episode in a nightmarish landscape called The Matrix – and a man in a gasmask appears in that. Oh, and for good behind-the-sofa measure, there’s a scary clown in it too.

Their undoubted practicalities (and reason for invention) aside, this whole gasmask thing has long been recounted by me before numerous friends ad infinitum; it’s why one of them purchased an authentic WWII gasmask for my birthday a couple of years back. That’s me wearing it on the image accompanying the post called ‘Interior Designs’ a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, when I took that photo the delicate object had already been damaged by yours truly, with the brittle rubber strap snapping as I attempted to fasten it to an ear. I guess that rules out my wearing it to pop to the shops in Lockdown Britain, which is a shame. Not only would I be enjoying the ultimate protection from the toxic breath of my fellow shoppers, but I’d also scare the shit out of a few in the process. As Paddy Consindine demonstrated when donning a gasmask in the memorably malevolent Shane Meadows movie, ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’, the object has not lost its power to send a shiver down the spine.

The humble gasmask would, I imagine, do a better job than those flimsy surgical masks that are becoming this season’s key fashion accessory on the high-street. I first saw some Chinese students wearing them a couple of months ago, but thought it merely understandable caution considering where this bloody virus emanated from; like most, I hardly anticipated the article being adapted as regulation sartorial equipment. So far, wearing one in public spaces has been optional – which is just as well if PPE is in as short a supply for those who need it for work purposes as we’re constantly being told by the media. However, the latest edict from that ‘alternative administration’ north of the border recommends the public wear the masks when out and about, if stopping short of enshrining it in law.

Post-Alex Salmond trial, it’s hard not to come to the cynical conclusion that every pronouncement to emerge from Krankie Towers is either intended to deflect attention from all the unsavoury rumours circulating the former First Minister or is simply another example of Ms Sturgeon’s opportunistic habit of trying to upstage Westminster. The UK Government, for all the mistakes it has made en route to where we are now, seems to have imposed the most severe restrictions on civil liberties with a fair share of reluctance – only finally enforcing the lockdown when the situation left it with little option. Making the same recommendation re the wearing of masks that was today made by the Scottish Government is something one can imagine it entering into as reluctantly as it did the lockdown, and for the moment the masks remain optional rather than compulsory – which is how it should be.

On the whole – at least going by my own experience – the public appear to be sticking to social distancing and are prepared to queue outside supermarkets and other stores with the patience of Soviet shoppers back in the USSR. Again, I can only go by what I’ve seen myself, but the mutual dance of distance on pavements and down Sainsbury’s aisles whenever a stranger approaches adheres to every guideline we’ve had drilled into us ever since this thing got serious. People don’t want to give it and, more than anything else, they don’t want to receive it. I don’t really think I’ve been close enough to another mask-free person to feel threatened so far. When it comes to those whose jobs involve constant exchanges with the public, the wearing of masks and/or gloves seems to me a sensible precaution the majority would take in their shoes; for the public themselves, whose visit to a supermarket may well be their sole contact with other people all week, I still believe the choice of head and hand-gear should be theirs.

The SNP’s slightly different take on the guidelines is – as already stated – a predictable development that is entirely in keeping with its habit of occasionally issuing statements it knows will garner headlines beyond Scotland. Especially at times like this, when attention has naturally been on the recovery and return of the man who remains Prime Minister of the whole country, the SNP is a bit like that middle child having to shout louder than its siblings to remind a distracted parent it still exists. But it is at least in a position to do so, unlike the sorry old Lib Dems. Not only has Britain’s forgotten party been hinting at the resurrection of the not-missed-at-all Jo Swinson, but it has also been virtue-signalling to the max on social media this past week in the absence of anything else to do. I have to admit I couldn’t recall the chronically pointless Ed Davey being elected successor to the dumped Swinson, but he and his similarly sad colleagues have been falling over themselves to stress solidarity with the nation’s Muslims by patting them on the head and ‘fasting’ for Ramadan. How bloody patronising. I look forward to the Lib Dems co-opting all of Britain’s myriad faith festivals over the coming twelve months, then.

Oh, well – let the Lib Dems get on with it. I should imagine most Muslims are laughing at them as much as those of us who subscribe to a different religion or none at all. Basically, nobody cares. It’s not like we’ve got other things to think about right now, anyway. The terrible toll the coronavirus has taken on the country’s care homes – now that the elderly residents are actually being regarded as people and added to the stats – is something I suspect we’ve only scratched the surface of so far; but it’s not come as much of a surprise considering how lowly the institution of social care for the old and infirm has figured in the policies of governments of either colour in recent years – and how much this unfashionable bedfellow of the super-sexy NHS has lingered in the shadow of its pampered partner. And if what used to be called Old People’s Homes have barely registered on the radar until the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard next to nothing of those equally at-risk homes housing the mentally and physically impaired, many of whose residents are amongst the most vulnerable in society. We shall see.

As we crawl towards the end of an April unlike any April any of us have ever experienced before, the situation seems to be at something of a crossroads. The lockdown can’t go on indefinitely, so when to tentatively lift some of the restrictions and apply a drop of oil to the static wheels of industry before it’s too late? If the SNP is recommending the wearing of the mask for reasons other than political point-scoring, maybe we’re not there yet.

© The Editor

6 thoughts on “BEHIND THE MASK

  1. There’s no doubt that Ms Krankie is grasping at every opportunity to burnish her credentials of apparently caring about the Scottish people, a hitherto politically unused channel to further her illogical ambitions of independence. If it also helps deflect attention from exposing the rotten heart of Scottish Nationalism (or at least its eponymous party), then that’s even more reason to play her game.

    The mask issue itself is an irrelevance to most of us. The major spread of such infection comes from very close proximity – the 2m rule is scientific nonsense, there is some science behind a 1m range indoors, but the 2m level is pure fiction, especially outdoors. Once you accept that, then public masks become just a badge of paranoia, not a material factor in virus resistance.

    But we must remember that the major core of this event has been in London, where its voluntary inhabitants compel themselves to exist every day in inhumanly close proximity to each other, not only on their chosen modes of transport (the evil Tube and marginally less evil buses) but also in every aspect of their daily existence. A virus loves all that and the current ‘panic’, plus the panic lockdown, reflect that degree of transmission in that sort of place. A mask, when ones head is jammed under the armpit of fellow travellers twice a day, may indeed offer some relief, if only from the odour.

    Given that London occupies such a dominant place in the psyche of national authorities, they can’t be seen to discriminate for or against any region, therefore the whole country is being compelled to follow guidance (and even law) which only has any real epidemiological relevance within the M25.

    The latest data sneaking out from all nations finally seems to confirm that, rather than strapping a pointless, virtue-signalling bit of cloth across the face, we would all enjoy far greater protection from Coved-19 if we smoke at least 20 Rothmans a day. If you’re really nervous in the capital, a mask with a smoking-hole would seem to provide belt & braces protection inside the M25.

    The alternative is to choose a better life, leave that festering cesspit and rejoin the human race elsewhere – life’s really not bad out here in the real world.

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    1. Yes, the smoker immunity angle is a rich kick in the WHO goolies indeed. All the effort (and the relentless lobbyist pressure) that has gone into preaching the mantra – and the capitulation of western governments to it – yet it turns out one thing that will work in your favour re the virus is nasty old nicotine. I may not puff for England anymore, but I vape with maximum nicotine liquid. After 30 years’ support for the tobacco industry in the face of increasing ostracism, I think I’ve earned my immunity.

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      1. I am currently in a psychiatric hospital being treated for alcohol addiction and the majority of the staff – including the lead psyciatrist who I met on Tuesday – are not wearing face masks. Btw, that is not a criticism of the hospital, if anything tbe opposite. Social distancing is of course being adhered to and some facilities, including the gym, are closed but life goes on. worth noting the demographic of both patients and staff is mainly young to middle aged. Weekend leave is cancelled and visiting not permitted for the time being. Oh and yes most of the patients are nicotine addicts. (deal with most urgent addiction first, which for most of us here is either booze or cocaine, with a smattering of codeine addicts.)

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      2. much appreciated, guys. And tbh the ban on visitors sort of suits me (though this is not the case for most of the other patients). The odd thing about rehab, though (and this is my second and hopefully last one) it can actually be fun. Theres plenty of laughter, banter etc. Not involvimg booze or non-prescribed drugs, obvs, but it isnt the pity party that ‘normies’ (those rather odd people who can consume alcohol in a moderate fashion) might expect.

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