My Journey Through Mask Insanity

11 September 2020. Updated 13 September 2020.

by James Delingpole

The point of face masks is not to protect humans, but to diminish humanity – to rob people of their ego, their identity, and their autonomy. Masks are worn by disposable horror movie villains and ignorable background dancers; they make people less-than-human.

If you haven’t read it already, I commend to you an excellent piece in The Critic by Patrick Fagan, from which the above quotation is taken. It’s titled “Face masks make you stupid”. This of course is true and is one of the many reasons why I consider it my duty both as a free spirit and a responsible human being to avoid wearing a face muzzle wherever reasonably possible. On the rare occasions I do wear one, I feel like one of the conquered, enslaved victims when Conan the Barbarian is asked what is best in life. He replies: “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.” Now imagine that grinning tosser Matt Hancock in the Conan role – or worse, re-enacting the sex dungeon scene in Pulp Fiction – and you’ll better understand just how viscerally I loathe putting on one of those slave gags.

Sometimes, though, you have no choice. For example, I have just come back from a holiday in Greece (Gialova on the Peloponnese; lovely, thanks) and generally played along with the prevailing customs. I wore a mask in the supermarket and at the airport (you’re liable for a €150 fine if the police catch you without one); and also at the hotel’s buffet breakfast where, rather than being allowed to pick your own food, you had to stand pointing at various items (olives, hard boiled eggs, yoghurt, etc.) while a masked waitress piled it all up on your tray. (But you sat outside maskless immediately afterwards so no biggie.)

This wasn’t, by the way, because I buy into the maskers’ disingenuous line that it’s only a bit of cloth which hardly inconveniences you so why resist? Rather it’s because I believe that when in Rome – or Greece or wherever – your job is not to play the arsey maverick freedom fighter drawing attention to the inadequacies of their political system but to make the locals, such as the lovely staff in the family-run hotel, glad that you came. Also, being with your family, especially when you’ve got a stroppy, disapproving, easily embarrassed, judgemental 19- and 21-year old in tow, your opportunities for autonomous protest are severely constrained.

Ditto, on the aeroplane. We flew British Airways. On the journey out, with the plane only half full, it was fine. Once we were airborne, the stewardesses really weren’t bothered whether we kept our masks on. But on the return journey – when the plane was rammed, presumably because everyone was worrying that Greece was about to be put on the quarantine list – the staff were much more Nazi-ish. I boarded with the mask worn as I prefer, raffishly and contemptuously around my chin – which worked perfectly well when passing the police checkpoint at Kalamata airport – but the Chief Steward on BA was very insistent that I pull it up not just over my lips but to cover my nose.

The reason for this new strictness, I understand, is because in the interim there had been a media storm-in-teacup story about seven “infected” people returning to Cardiff from the Greek island of Zante on a Tui airlines flight where, according to one outraged passenger, “no distance was enforced” and “people didn’t seem to be very well educated in the use of wearing masks”. As a result, all 200 passengers on the flight had to self-quarantine for a fortnight.

I do feel half-sorry for the airlines, caught between a rock and hard place. They have to give the appearance of strictness in order stop Covid bedwetters like the woman in the above story bleating to the press. At the same time, though, they cannot be too strict because flying would simply become unbearable: how could you eat or drink if you had to wear your mask for the entire journey? So what you end up with is a ridiculous fudge. Or, if you prefer, a canny compromise. The bedwetters get to satisfy their Stasi urges by seeing the head steward tell people like me off for wearing their mask incorrectly as they board the plane. And people like me get their revenge by making one packet of crisps and one bottle of water last an entire three and a half hour flight, aware that if you’re visibly drinking or eating– or on the verge of doing so – no steward or stewardess is going to tell you to pull your mask up.

Tell me, any epidemiologists or virologists reading this: is it true that coronavirus never infects people who are removing their masks for the purposes of eating or drinking, only those who have removed their masks just to be obstreperous, disobedient sods? I’m no scientist, but my gut feeling is that viruses make no such distinction and that therefore the whole exercise in enforcing masks on aeroplanes is utterly fraudulent. Even more absurd was the announcement after the plane landed ordering us to make sure that as we disembarked we should be sure to maintain two metres social distancing in the aisles. R-i-g-h-t. So the cunning virus lies dormant when you’re sitting for three and a half hours six inches away from the passengers either side of you – biding its time ready to strike as you leave, the moment you are foolish enough to close the two metre gap between you and the person leaving ahead of you? Truly we are living in Clownworld. But the really scary thing is, most people don’t seem to know we’re living in Clownworld. They’ve accepted the insanity as normal and think that people like you and me are the weird ones.

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