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The mask of sorrow

Two years of non-stop mask wearing finally came to an end, and it's amazing what you can forget

Peter Edgerton
PETER EDGERTON

An atmosphere of wild euphoria pervaded the night, the like of which hadn't been witnessed down at The Shakespeare since the 2-for-1 offer on Paprika Pringles. As the clock struck midnight, and the official demasking date arrived, we whipped off our face-coverings with unbridled glee, dreaming of a carefree future and trying to remember which muscles to employ if you want to smile at someone. It's amazing what you forget when your face has been covered up for the best part of two years.

Two years! That's a very long time to be attempting to convey a plethora of emotions through the eyes. Man entering women's toilet? A steady disapproving glare. Somebody fussing about the number of ice cubes in their drink? An incredulous, pitying glare. Some bloke wittering on about his holidays to the Maldives/Cairngorms/Back Of Beyond while there's a queue three deep at the bar? A rapier flash of an admonishing glare. Basically, we just spent two years glaring at people. Except when we were smiling of course, but that just looked like we were glaring anyway.

The sense of freedom was palpable, not only for us but also the customers. They waltzed merrily to the bar and the bathroom and out for a smoke, unencumbered by any masks, beaming from ear to ear. I swear I saw people popping out for a fag who had never smoked before, presumably simply to experience the liberty of a maskless shimmy to the door. From twelve until two, when we closed, the pub seemed like, well, a pub rather than a second rate hospital annex. What joy!

This morning, I leapt from my bed, got ready to leave the house and, er, put my mask on. I was like one of Pavlov's dogs with tinnitus. Then I took it off again and put it on my elbow for old time's sake. Entering the bank, I put it on again, the took it off again, then realised that 70% of the people were still wearing theirs, so I put it on again. By this time my ears were flapping gaily of their own accord. The rest of the day continued in a similar vein until I finally returned home and hung up my mask on the keys I always leave in the door lock in case of some unimaginable emergency.

Soon, I'll have to stop doing that, but not just yet - two years constitutes a serious relationship in anyone's book.