Not wearing a face mask out shopping is plain bad manners – David Behrens

I’VE been taking a few days off, as one does at this time of year, to take in the cultures of far-off lands. There is no quarantine currently for returnees from Liverpool so I chose there.

The wearing of face coverings in public continues to prompt much debate.
The wearing of face coverings in public continues to prompt much debate.

Partly this was because I like it but mainly because I was helping Behrens the younger move two carloads of stuff from one house to another.

This was a process that involved buying a trolley full of groceries and household essentials, and there was a Lidl a few hundred yards away which seemed to fit the bill. The shop itself was pretty much identical to those back in Yorkshire but the shoppers were not.

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At home, I’ve scarcely noticed anyone not wearing a face mask since they became mandatory but in this part of Merseyside around two in three were not. Did they know something I didn’t, or vice versa?

Noel Gallagher, who said this week that putting on a mask was a violation of his liberty.

Driving there, the music had been punctuated every few minutes by the same Government advert. “I cover my face to protect my colleagues,” said an actor trying unconvincingly to sound like a factory worker. Other voice artistes chanted the same three words over and over – Hands, Face, Space – for the benefit of those who could not take in more than one syllable at a time. I thought this was condescending in the extreme but I had reckoned without the clientele of Lidl.

It was hard to tell whether they were not wearing masks on a matter of principle or as a badge of stupidity. One woman was taking one or both of those criteria to extremes, having put on a mask but then left it to dangle around her neck, like a pair of sunglasses in the shade.

Perhaps she was taking a cue from the musician Noel Gallagher, who said this week that putting on a mask was a violation of his liberty. But is it, really? Or is not doing just plain selfish? It’s like a bank robber complaining that having to wear a balaclava backwards breaches his freedom to take in fresh air.

Certainly, masks are inconvenient and uncomfortable if worn for too long. Their efficacy has also yet to be proved, but putting one on in a shop for the time being is no more or less than common courtesy to those around you – whose own liberty is otherwise compromised by having to share a space with those with no regard for public hygiene.

It doesn’t help, as Noel Gallagher pointed out, that hardly anyone seems to know where the law stands on face masks or other post-lockdown measures – and the Government’s one-syllable system of communications doesn’t help. Information is what is needed, not patronisation. All the same, I can’t say I was surprised to learn that Liverpool has been placed on the official list of areas of concern, a little way under Bradford.

Face masks are not the only sartorial adjustment we are having to make. Behrens junior and I broke our journey to buy a few items of smart clothing – the sort for which he has had no need during three years at university and, which after six months of quarantine, were starting to look unfamiliar even to me.

I’ve become used over that time to not wearing a tie. Putting one on when no-one can see you is as redundant as wearing a dinner jacket on the radio. But there is a deeper generational chasm, for wearing a tie even to the office – which I expect to have to do again soon – marks me out as part of an age group for whom dressing up, rather than down, was what you generally did when you went anywhere.

Baby Boomers is the term most often used to categorise people born between the war and the end of the 1950s, but what used to be simply a marketing demographic has become, I learned from the young Behrens, a term of scorn. “Okay, boomer,” those of more tender years will say as they roll their eyes in disbelief at some utterance they consider out of step with the times. They may have a point; those of us who are older than the internet might well be démodé, but some of us are wise with it.

So the tie will stay when I reacclimatise to the office. But in deference to not having seen many of my colleagues since last winter, except on a computer screen, and in case age has taken its toll in the meantime, I shall also wear one of those conference badges on my lapel to remind them who I am. “Hello, I’m Dave,” it will say. “But if you can read this you’re standing too close – especially to someone just back from Liverpool.”

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James Mitchinson