Masks and other crises

For some reason, the word crisis really bugs me. It often feels as if it is being used euphemistically, to avoid discussion of the real subject at hand. From the Greek krisis, it originally means “decision” — in other words, a moment of crisis is a moment you have to decide something, or (in medical terms), the moment in the course of a fever when you either start getting better or die.

So when I see the word being bandied about in the media or by politicians – as it is at the moment – it rubs the wrong way because it seems to me that the word is being used not to talk about a decision but as a way of avoiding one. The word seems to evoke a sort of hand-wringing helplessness, what Adam Curtis called oh dearism in that segment he did for Charlie Brooker.

I had to pick up my OH from the airport the other night. There’s a set down and drop off area that costs £7 for 15 minutes, and a lot more if you stay longer. So I do what a lot of people do: I park at the M11 services about 7 minutes away and wait for my OH to text me that she’s through passport control. I popped in to buy her a sandwich and to use the loos, and I saw the sign. You know the one: the sign that says, please wear a face covering.

Now, we are currently in the middle of what you might call the mask crisis. It being no longer compulsory, people do of course feel entitled not to wear them. I’m not particularly pro mask myself. I’m mindful of early messaging that said the things were effective for about 30 minutes and then you needed to put on a new one. I’m mindful of the fact that loads of people wear colourful and decorative fabric masks which are fairly useless. I’m mindful of the fact that those of us who wear glasses have to deal with the steaming up problem; furthermore, that if your glasses steam up it means the mask is not forming an effective seal. In other words, it’s not working. And I’m mindful that the best masks are those unflattering puffin beak FFP2, which hardly anybody wears.

In other words, mask wearing has largely been a performative act, a kind of virtue signalling, with so many variables that proving their value is nearly impossible.

So I get it. I’ve been in school and I’ve been so happy to see my students’ faces again. But if I go to a supermarket, I still put a mask on. And as I walked into the Service area at J8 of the M11, I put on my mask.

It was quiet. Near midnight. There were maybe 25 or so people around. At a rough estimate, I’d say about three people were wearing masks. The overwhelming feeling in there was of being surrounded by men of a certain age, not wearing masks.

They all look fairly similar. Male pattern baldness, stubble, leisure wear. In the car park, single occupancy vehicles with a power envelope way beyond the necessary. One of them, I’m going to single out. He was tall, and he was dressed in those hi-vis orange trousers with the highly reflective white bands around the cuffs at his feet. Like you see firefighters wearing. His top half was some kind of generic fleece. He had the male pattern baldness, shaved head, facial stubble. No mask. His vehicle was one of those unnecessarily huge and deadly 4-wheel drive pickup trucks, the kind that does maximum damage to the planet and the road surface. And he was parked in the disabled spot. For quite a long time. I mean, I was sitting there, about 10 metres away in one of the parking spaces he could have used, for over an hour (flight was delayed), and he was there for most of that time.

Another so-called crisis: the series of decisions made by this man and so many others like him, so many of them that you don’t know where to start. The nasty vehicle, the scofflaw parking, the masklessness; and ultimately, the bullet-headed aggression that means most of us would fear confronting him on any of these decisions because of the likelihood of resulting violence.

Dancing around dangerous and sociopathic men trying not to provoke them: it’s their world we live in. Our behaviour that changes, not theirs.

There was a memo circulated in school last week. A particular student, with anger management issues, and a list of strategies we should be using to keep him calm, de-escalate, keep people safe. And I thought, fuck that. Why is everybody having to adjust themselves around someone who can’t control himself?

Which brings us to the Ukraine Crisis, which has been caused by a number of world governments who kept adjusting themselves around the psychopathic behaviour of one world leader. A series of decisions have been made. I laughed out loud when I read one column. Putin no longer seems to be rational it said, of the balding man who once sold calendars of himself, half naked, riding horses. You know, the one who ordered a chemical weapons attack in historic Salisbury.





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