The big cover-up, masked bandits and disconnection anxiety…

Pictures BBC/Reuters/Andrew Parsons Media

SEPARATION seeps into the everyday language of lockdown and its sorry sequel, Hey That’s Not What I Call Real Life.

We wear a facemask to separate ourselves from other people – and them from us. We work remotely, at a distance from others and from daily life. This remoteness may be blissful solitude if productive introversion is your thing; yet it also raises the possibility of sadness or loneliness, of disconnection.

Office work can be dull round of doing the same thing in the same place with the same people, having pointlessly travelled there in the mass waste of time known as commuting. Yet it is work and routine, and offers a prop for a life: this is what we do and why we are here. Even commuting is a sort of supportive routine, now a masked routine as masks are required on public transport.

Today we learn that facemasks or face coverings will have to be worn in shops by a week on Friday. It’s probably sensible and other countries have been requiring this for ages now. But if it is sensible, how come we’re arriving so late to the facemask party? This is so urgent that you’ll have to start doing it by a week on Friday, unless Boris Johnson is bored with facemasks by then.

Well, a week on Friday I fully expect to see Dominic Cummings slink into a shop without a facemask. And then to insist he isn’t breaking the new rules but going shopping uncovered to test whether or not his breath smells.

I too am late to the facemask party, having worn one once to the hairdressers. Not exactly pleasant, but now a required accessory in Hey That’s Not What I Call Real Life. We will all get used to wearing them I suppose, even though they fog glasses and hide smiles.

As always happens, there are inconsistencies here. You will have to wear a facemask to the shops but not to the pub as you can’t drink while wearing one, yet the risks of virus-laden interaction are surely the same as in the supermarket.

Watching how people behave with masks can be illuminating. My favourite passer-by was an overweight, tattooed man on a hot day wearing a facemask but not a shirt. Never mind the face, cover your body, mate. Or the man with his Sunday newspaper who lifted his facemask to smoke a cigarette. Or the young woman at a bus stop who tried to vape, forgetting her mouth was covered.

A while ago only tourists from China regularly wore facemasks. This almost seemed like an insult: your air is so awful we are covering our faces; but wasn’t it really a habit formed at home because their air wasn’t so good?

Whatever the case, the facemask is no longer a rarity. Boris Johnson and Donald Trump have been photographed wearing them; Johnson days after Cabinet colleague Michael Gove spoke against making them a requirement; and Trump after months of ridiculing facemasks and insisting they were a plot against him (along with absolutely everything else).

Still, at least those masked bandits can’t speak with masks on.

To deflect to the personal, I feel remote lately. Remote from the office job I have been doing at home for months; and doubly remote because that job is ending soon.

Remote from my lecturing job which is also petering out. I checked my university email the other day and the only relevant message was one from the IT department telling me I was being disconnected.

Well, yes, tell me about it. Disconnection seems to be where I am at but there will be a way through. Perhaps it will even be one that sees me mixing again with the outside world. Even if I do have to wear a facemask.

Hey That’s Not What I Call Real Life.

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