|Posted by Miri on September 25, 2020 at 10:15 AM|
Yesterday, Mark and I made our regular trip down to our old stomping grounds in rural Lancashire, to visit a good friend's farm shop to pick up fresh eggs, farm-churned butter (literally putting the garlic and parsley one on EVERYTHING), organic veg, and some rather delectable home-made honey soap. Whilst it's obviously a little bit further than the local Tesco's. we go there for most fresh staples anyway, to do our little bit to boycott the corporate economy, and support local business and organic farming (and, of course, to talk conspiracy theories - I now make a concerted effort to only purchase goods and services from verified crackpot nutjob whackaloons, so if you're one too and would like the details of this farm shop to do your shopping, please let me know ).
As we wouldn't be back until late, we decided to stop at a local pub on the way back to get something to eat. I knew this was the first day the new "rules" had come into force, but I couldn't see a quiet, out-of-the-way country pub, renowned for its relaxed and laid-back atmosphere, being too draconian about them.
And oh how wrong I was.
First of all, we had to queue at the door (unheard of for a quiet country pub that caters mainly to families and retirees), and watched the group in front of us dutifully don their muzzles as they assidiously checked with each other whether every member of the party had downloaded the NHS track and trace app. In front of us, there were two sanitiser machines, one affixed to the door and one just inside the entrance, and Mark nudged me and muttered we'd better pretend to use them because the staff were patrolling the entrance glaring at everyone to make sure they did.
Once we entered the pub, we were "greeted" (doesn't seem the right word, really) by a waitress wearing a large surgical muzzle, who said robotically:
"Can you put your masks on while we seat you please."
I could not believe what I was hearing. It was a small pub where even the furthest away table would have taken less than 20 seconds to reach.
"We can't wear them," I said, appalled by myself for having to say these words - to have to explain to a waitress that we "can't" suffocate ourselves in ritual, degrading, Satanic submission before we have a quick bite to eat, sorry.
"No, that's fine," She said quickly, obviously having been prepped that, for now at least, it's not something that can be forced. She escorted us to a table that was quite literally right next to the door, and took about three steps to reach, and she really did want us to have muzzled ourselves for that trip. By the time I sat down I felt a knot in my stomach of nausea and despair, and then I looked around me. The pub was bustling and full, and at first glance it could be mistaken for a normal night out - but every time anyone got up to go to the toilet (you're not allowed to go to the bar), they robotically put their muzzles on. I felt like I was in a horror film.
More muzzled staff came up to us to take our drinks and food orders, and when one young waitress was clearing the table behind us, she dropped her tray and glasses went flying everywhere.
"Sorry, I'm so sorry," She said, flustered. "It's just I can't see where I'm going properly," at which she indicated the large muzzle which came right up to her eyes.
The whole scenario was completely and utterly insane and awful.
"I think this is the last supper," I said quietly to Mark, as we both knew this was it, the screws have been tightened too far for us to continue to participate in "the new normal". We compromised at first, we negotiated - fake details for track and trace, pretend hand-sanitising, but there is no more dodging and swerving we can do: we cannot participate in this. The law states one is exempt from wearing a mask if it causes one "severe distress" - well, if it does, what effect is it going to have on one being confronted with legions of other people staring dead-eyed and expressionless from beneath theirs?
We finished up quickly and got back in the car to drive the 40-minute journey back home. We decided we would stop at the corner shop that I wrote about yesterday, as we were low on cat food and bottled water, and to say hello to our "tormenting" friend. As we approached the shop, I suddenly had an awful thought.
"Oh my God," I said to Mark. "What if he's wearing the muzzle?"
The reason the pub staff were now all muzzled is because the rules have been tightened to now make it "mandatory" for all hospitality and retail staff to wear them; previously, the rule just applied to customers. Given our corner shop friend had never sported a muzzle at any stage, beamed at us warmly every time we came in muzzle-free, and giggled when we told off a woman who took exception to seeing our muzzleless faces, it's obvious he isn't scared of a virus and has no desire to suffocate himself throughout his 16-hour working day. He'd made it clear just how much it meant to him being able to see people smile and laugh, and so surely to God he wouldn't now be forced into suffocating, shrouded submission himself?
We went into the shop and he was very pleased to see us together.
"Aha," He said happily. "Now this is better!"
Mark didn't have the right money to pay, so asked me for some change. Our friend tutted disapprovingly.
"I did not tell you to bring her with you," He admonished Mark. "So you could ask her for money!"
Although he seemed as mischievously upbeat as ever, I came out of the shop with the knot of nausea and despair back in my stomach.
He was wearing the muzzle.
Categories: New Abnormal