Buying masks for a masked ball


Image: People queuing to buy face masks, San Francisco 1918. Wikipedia CC

I was cruising the supermarket aisles in search of Rapid Antigen Tests and P2 masks when a young woman opposite did that eye flash thing (above her mask). I was astonished – this last happened, what, in 1996? It’s quite a feat to demonstrate interest in the opposite sex with eye movement alone. Usually the mouth is used too, with either a shy smile or a naughty smirk.

The woman in question moved past, to her partner who had been behind me all the while. They moved on to the nappy aisle.

Time to take my temperature again, although this week I’m decidedly better. Before we get into a discussion about masks and how strange it is to see almost everyone wearing one, a small correction. Last week in my fevered state, I added an extra digit to the Covid cases numbers for Tasmania. It was 3,665.

As the majority of us are wearing face masks for the foreseeable future, what are the best masks and how should one go about preserving their integrity? When, dare I ask, is some entrepreneur going to launch a 2022 version of the 18th century masked ball? These lavish social events were popular in Europe (Venice) and later in the UK (where the decadence got dialled down to a cup of tea and a biscuit level). You could drink standing up, too.

You’d have to adapt the costumes, though. In those days the preferred mask left the mouth uncovered (all the better for conversation and naughty smirking). One of the more common masks employed at these events was a sequinned eye mask mounted on a stick, so the damsel could hide behind it (if flirting), or maybe avoid the attentions of a rancid squire.

This could be a good time to observe that for nearly all masked comic book superheroes, the mouth is always visible. Most superheroes wear eye masks (with no visible pupils.) This, and the skin-tight costume (first popularised by Lee Falk’s The Phantom in 1936), are the popular hallmarks of superheroes.

Batman and Robin supposedly wear masks to hide their true identity, so even observant people will never see wealthy philanthropist Bruce Wayne in the street and go “Omigosh – it’s Batman.”

Back in the real world, circa January 14, 2022, you can walk past someone you know quite well, not recognising them behind the ubiquitous face mask.

“Crikey! Is that you, Barry?”

“Mhww fwhff gruff.”

The challenges facing two or more people trying to have a conversation while wearing a face mask has resulted in the Chinunder, a word I made up, which is what it implies.

Many women, it seems, prefer the little black face mask. Men in general and as usual, have no sense of fashion or flair. Some make their own masks (I did see someone with a hanky tied across his nose and mouth, like a baddie about to hold up the stagecoach).
While medicos will tell you a plain surgical mask is preferable to a bandanna or a mask with an exhaust vent, it (was) OK to make your own. You just need two or three layers of cloth, an adjustable bridge (for those who wear glasses), and elastic to hold the mask close to your face.  A timely ABC report this week, however, has experts saying the cloth mask is worse than useless and instead we should wear N95/P2 masks.

This is despite the N95 masks I bought from a hardware store (for $4 per packet), clearly states ‘not for medical use’.

More information on cloth masks is available through the Infection Control Expert Group

Whatever. If you wear hearing aids, take great care when removing your mask as there is a 50/50 chance one of your hearing aids will go ‘ping’ into the nearest hedge or shrubbery.

If you don’t make your own, what kind of mask should you buy? The benefit of N95/P2 masks is they can be bought at hardware stores or chemists and can be re-used.

But even the simple job of shopping around for an appropriate mask carries risks. Chanteuse, an avid FOMMer, commented on an ABC interview with an epidemiologist, who was asked what you should put in your ‘someone in our house has COVID’ prep kit.

The answer included disinfectant, gloves etc plus two RATs  per inhabitant, a thermometer and a pulse oximeter.

“I reckon you’d get COVID in the hours and hours you’d spend traipsing from shop to shop trying to get your hands on the last three,” Chanteuse said. Traipsing, now there’s a word.

Corona virus, as we know, can spread through droplets and particles released into the air by speaking, singing, coughing or sneezing.

A survey by the Melbourne Institute found that nearly 90% of Australians support the use of masks in public places to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Approval was also high (93%) for the 14-day quarantine period for people diagnosed with Covid.

According to a team of academics from Bangor University writing in The Conversation, mandated mask-wearing is not just something prompted by Covid-19.  During the Spanish Flu in 1918, the Blitz in Britain in 1941, and the smog outbreaks in the UK from the 1930s to the 1960s, mask wearing was promoted as a patriotic act.

“However, the media’s scope in the first half of the 20th century was mainly limited to government-approved posters and newsprint in the 1910s. By contrast, today’s media landscape – especially social media – allows for individual and personalised voices to be heard to an extent unthinkable in earlier decades.

Now, of course, we have Freedom rallies, people campaigning against lock-downs and mandates, scribbling slogans on footpaths… It’s nothing new – see Anti Mask League of San Francisco 1918.

If you see someone in public who is not wearing a mask, resist the temptation to try and change their mind. Avoid them like the plague, if you will, on the assumption that they are also un-vaccinated.

Which leads me to speculate about those masked superheroes who do such amazing things (while doubtless spreading viruses everywhere). Comic artists of the day must have decided that a black eye mask conveyed the necessary gravitas. Lips are drawn to look kissable.

Comics were banned from our house when I was a child – Blyton good, Phan-tom bad. I could never figure out why this ban was in force since our daily newspaper (which was in the house), commonly ran three or four comic strips including Andy Capp, Dagwood, The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician.

Despite the household ban, I was a big fan of Phantom, Ghost Who Walks, Man Who Never Dies. He’s still going in 2022. But The Phantom does not have superpowers – it’s a multi-generational story which has fed the myth of immortality. As the story goes, phantom babies are born in the Skull Cave in Bangall* and raised by wolves (and their mother, Diana Palmer). Devil and Hero stand by, not the least perturbed by the change in the pecking order.

“Diana! Not another girl!”

Successive Phantoms always seem to be gym fit and fearless, which means they have avoided jungle diseases like dengue, yellow fever and African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness). Perhaps Mr and Mrs Phan-tom take the kids to the clinic in town for vaccinations?

As they say of the 21st Phantom (disguised as Mr Walker, wearing a hat, sunglasses and heavy overcoat (on a humid night in darkest Africa):

“The Phantom can be at many places at once” (old jungle saying).

*Fictitious African country.

And a joke for the ladies: Masks are like bras- they’re uncomfortable, you take them off as soon as you get home and if you see someone without one, you notice it. Ed

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