Yesterday was face mask day, the day it became mandatory in England to wear a mask in shops, take-aways and on public transport.
It was also the day we chose to visit one of our favourite cities – Oxford – the place that’s doing more than most places to bring this mask madness to an end. Oxford University’s Jenner Institute leads the global race to find a Covid-19 vaccine.
Over the last few years we’ve grown to love Oxford and come here a few weekends a year to stay at a campsite on the city’s outskirts.
Normally packed at this time of year, the campsite was only a third full with management citing the closed toilet block and the lack of foreign tourists as the main reasons.
From here we bus or bike into the city centre, have a mooch around the shops before invariably ending up at the Westgate Shopping Centre roof terrace.
We’ve spent many a happy hour or three here drinking gin and tonics in the late afternoon sun, enjoying the views of the city’s world famous dreaming spires and feeling part of the terrace’s cool vibe. How different it was yesterday.
Seeing virtually everyone wearing masks evokes some dystopian scene from a future world that I don’t want to be a part of and makes me feel extraordinarily sad.
I was expecting a popular tourist city like Oxford, now well out of lockdown, to still be buzzing. It was a Friday evening after all. The place was eerily empty and those that were around just didn’t seem up for a night out. It was almost as if the necessity of wearing a mask rendered the effort pointless.
Even though hardly anyone was about it still took forever to get served by the disengaged bar staff at Victors. We were glad to make the short walk across to Alchemist where it looked like there was at least some fun to be had.
There was a reunited family taking photos, a young couple perhaps out on a first date judging by the girl’s outrageous flirting and some small groups of young women looking dressed for a night out.
We had to check in using a QR code which opened the menu where the prices were suspiciously absent. With all the excitement of eating out I made the school boy error of ordering the bottle of Provence Rose which as I discovered when the bill arrived was an eye-watering £31.
The service was fine, the food was good so I paid without complaint accepting that such ruses might be how the hospitality sector will recover!
We had a good night out and there were things to recommend this new normal, no raucous behavior, no queuing but in truth I much prefer it how iit used to be. I love being amidst people having fun, creating the buzz, the vibe, the chat, the laughter, it’s what life’s all about. All gone, for now.
I just hope what is happening in the labs just a few miles away brings this mask madness to a prompt end, ushers in the return of normal life and saves the world I love.