We live in strange times. Of that there is not doubt. But never underestimate the ability of a Brit to escalate things from strange to downright weird. I’m talking face masks now. It appears that when it comes to wearing a face mask we haven’t quite got the hang of what’s expected.
Carrier bags, nappies, socks, underwear – it seems we are happy to put almost anything over our noses and mouths. Anything, other than a recognised face mask. Is this because regular face masks are just boring? Must be!
Once it became clear that wearing one wasn’t really an option, especially if you wanted to to travel on the bus or visit the supermarket, I added it to my checklist before closing the front door. So now it’s keys, wallet, reading glasses, mobile phone … and face mask. What a pain in the butt.
Now they are no longer optional I feel the strong need to move away from the masks my wife’s friend made for everyone – sort of lilac with toy cars on them. Yuk, but they did the job and had the benefit of being free, so let’s not get too churlish. But, now I have to wear them they need to say something about me. At first, three black-only ones bought from Asda in Kings Hill near West Malling seemed to fit the bill. Soft, comfortable and only a quid. What more could I want? But then I started to get a bit exotic in my thinking. Should I colour-coordinate my mask with the other clothes I’m wearing? Did the mask need a bit of shape and style? What about my favourite football team? Would a mask with team badge on give an opportunity to show my allegiance? I discovered that they were 15 quid for three. Love my team …. but not that much.
Since wearing one has become law in a bid to combat the virus, face masks have become just as essential as making sure you wear underwear (should I add that to my checklist of five?) when you leave the house, one health and safety company says. But some people are wearing underwear, just over their faces.
It turns out that not everyone is opting to wear a bog-standard mask when they are out and about, and Protecting.co.uk has discovered there are many weird and wonderful substitutes being used as PPE (personal protective equipment).
“People have become really creative when trying to follow face mask guidelines,” says Mark Hall, company spokesman for risk assessment company Protecting.co.uk. “For some, anything goes. And we mean anything.”
Back in January, I would hazard a guess and say that, unless it was job-specific, owning or wearing a face mask wouldn’t even cross your mind. If you are a Lone Ranger impersonator, maybe. But, even then, his mask was around his eyes (see end of this post). Indeed, in some establishments the wearing of masks would be treated with suspicion. Wandering into your local bank would have definitely been frowned upon. Do you recall when motorcycle messengers were required to remove their helmets on entering buildings? Halcyon days!
But at this point in the pandemic, we have all become accustomed to seeing people wearing face masks everywhere we go that many of us have begun to not even really notice it anymore.
That is, until we spot someone trying their best to blend in at the supermarket with something that is quite obviously not a regular mask on their face. So, what has been the weirdest and wonderful thing someone has tried to pass off as regular PPE during this pandemic? Protecting.co.uk asked UK residents what they have been using, or seen other people using, as a face mask.
- Mark Taylor, Addingham: “In a pinch, I cut up an old sock and fashioned it into a unique style of mask. It covered my mouth and nose, and I could breathe so it seemed ok to me.”
- Mike Girling, Isle of Man: “I don’t see the point in buying a mask if I’m hones. I just cover my face with my shirt sleeve or pull my top up over my nose.”
- Anna Edwards, Uppingham: “Me and my boyfriend only have one face mask between us and, whoever needs to pop to the shops, wears it. I don’t want to wash it because I’m worried it will put the germs onto my other clothes in the washing machine.” Unusual reasoning, don’t you think?
- G Nichols, Birmingham: “I swear on my life that I saw a lady walking out of Asda with a sanitary towel stuck on her face as a mask. I nearly fell over with shock in the car park.” No comment!
- Joanne Clarkson, Glasgow: “I had a wee bit of an emergency situation when I got to the shops and realised I didn’t bring a mask with me. All I had to hand in my car was a spare nappy for my nine-month-old, so I just kind of wrapped it around my head to cover my nose and mouth. I got some weird looks, but it did the job.”
- Tom H, London: “I see it all on the tube. Buckets, carrier bags, and even someone with a scuba diving mask. I’m not even fazed any more.”
- Ben Brown, Nottingham: “Underpants. I just assumed it was some sort of protest.”
Hall adds : “To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park – just because you can do something, it doesn’t always mean you should do something.”
What are the rules?
While it seems pretty obvious that some people think that anything can be used as a face mask, there are actually important rules that need to be followed.
Government guidelines call for your mouth and nose to be efficiently covered, so long as you can still comfortably breathe, and that the face covering needs to be secure top your head. Masks also need to be clean every time you wear them, or correctly disposed of if they are single-use.
My wife keeps letting her mask slip down to expose her nose. When I pull her up about it, I get a look that suggests I’ve just told her off for breaking wind.
Hall says: “We appreciate that the guidelines do leave a lot of room for interpretation, but it’s best to pick something that is practical and comfortable to best protect you. And, for heaven’s sake, please don’t share your mask – it literally defeats the point of wearing it.”
Protecting.co.uk also emphasise that wearing face coverings does not make you exempt from social distancing measures, these guidelines need to be practiced together to reduce the risk of Covid-19.
But if you’re one of those people wearing unusual items as a face mask because you’re out to score points for individuality and creativity, there are plenty of ways to be unique with a regular mask.
“You can find pretty much every style, colour, or cultural reference you can dream of on a face mask online,” says Hall. “The best part is these masks are often washable which are much better for the planet than disposable ones.”
I can guarantee that you’ll look much better wearing a personalised mask to the shops than wrapping a nappy or a sock around your face.