I’ve mentioned before that, despite the restrictions to normal life, I’ve been doing quite a lot of travelling on public transport recently. I’ve waited quietly at the station, keeping as far away as possible from other travellers and felt very much like Dick Turpin about to waylay a stagecoach or a highwayman about to hold up the mailtrain as I’ve pulled my mask over my face when the train approaches.
I don’t particularly like wearing a face mask, but I think it probably makes sense to do so, not just because it’s a legal requirement.
I’ve found a style of mask that I don’t find too oppressive to wear for several hours at a time and have sewn a couple of extra lining layers into it as it wasn’t particularly robust. I don’t think it will necessarily protect me from germs, but it does stop me touching my face and it helps me remember that all is not hunky-dory and that I need to take extra care. I guess, too, that it will probably help to protect others from any coughs and sniffles or other germs I might have.
But not everyone feels the same way. I understand that some people really can’t wear a mask, and I know I just have to accept that. But there are far too many people who put a mask on as the train approaches and then as soon as they are aboard, they lower it to uncover their nose, or their nose and mouth, they hang it from one ear or take it off completely.
I have been tempted on numerous occasions to tell fellow travellers to adjust their face coverings, but I don’t do it very often – I’m British, after all, and we tend just to huff and puff indignantly, and not to interact with strangers. A lot of us have found social distancing has made little difference to our lives.
I was in a bad mood the other day, though, and did tell a chap that the announcement about wearing masks applied to him, too; he was indignant, but duly covered his nose and mouth – at least until I got off the train, when I looked back in through the carriage window and saw him once again wearing it half mast and looking back defiantly at me.
Far worse than not wearing a mask, of course, is not wearing a mask and carrying on a boisterous conversation with mates across the aisle. I’ve always hated having to put up with other people’s loud conversations on public transport, but now that each shout and guffaw is likely to be charged with coronavirus, it’s far worse.
A friend told me recently that he had read somewhere that if we were only prepared to be quiet for a couple of months, we could stop the spread more effectively than any other way. You’d still have to take sensible precautions of using sanitiser etc., but you’d just have to keep quiet outside your own home.
I think it’s a tremendous idea. Thinking back to how we all raved with enthusiasm about the simpler, slower, lifestyle of the lockdown, it’s a pity we didn’t implement a rule of silence at the time. We might then actually be moving towards some form of normality now, instead of this dibbling and dabbling back and forth that we seem to be stuck with for the foreseeable.
When I said I was going to mention the idea on the blog, my friend asked if I had any poems about silence. I’m sure there are several, but the first to come to mind was this unpolished draft that I wrote exactly ten years ago in Spain, when they were having a 24-hour General Strike. All my friends were saying they would not be working in solidarity and I was wondering what a poet would stop doing, since pretty much anything and everything can be considered part of the creative process.
On the day of the general strike, the poet visits a sensory deprivation facility
Today, I want to show my solidarity. This means I must not show
nor tell, describe, narrate or otherwise discourse. I must
conjure no imagery, correct no grammar, compose no rhyme.
I must indulge in no activity, experience no new sensation, gain
no insight, undertake no unfamiliar task, relive nothing for fear
I make associations; see, hear and speak no evil, good nor
mediocrity; neither connote nor allude; layer no meaning
upon other meaning, weave no sounds; repeat no pattern
of metre, concept, etymology, sense or sensation. I must
cease to be.