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The Three Masketeers

There are only so many times I can top my Christmas book wish-list with 17th century French swashbuckling romps, but fortunately, Alexandre Dumas’ novel brought back enough lasting memories of 'Dogtanion' and his hapless 1980s cartoon chums that the small Ancien Régime- shaped section of my brain is now comfortably full. Branching out into other genres will be a joy and a relief. And waiting with puppy-like (Muskerhound-like?) excitement in the wings are books about bookshops, pilgrimages, poetry, pirates, magical doors, and baked treats. Yes friends, January 2021 is the month to hunker down with a blanket under a starry sky, and lose yourself in someone else’s words set to whatever picture your own imagination conjures. Anything to avoid getting bogged down by Twitter, BBC News and the daily briefings aka The Triple Lecterns of Letdown.

And then the 6.30am alarm goes off, there’s frost on the inside of your window, and you forgot to put the milk note out. Facepalm. Soon it’s time to step outside into the rather bleak and lonely streets for your essential work/walk/food shopping. Well, you’re going to need to mask up like my endangered furry chums above, and hopefully equally as stylishly. Shame how their cute faces are hidden behind the mask but it’s necessary to cover your mouth and nose in order to prevent those pesky water droplets from doing the rounds. Simply gracing your chin like some trendy male Masterchef hopeful keen to avoid facial fluff adding unwanted flavour to the fois gras is not sufficient. Perhaps as a (weird) beard hammock, but certainly not in any way a robust mechanism for infection control *wags finger reprimandingly*. Most masks will have a handy piece of wire that goes over the bridge of your nose and is designed to be pinched into shape for a nice snug fit. Go fetch you masks now and check! Not there? Don’t fret. You can easily pimp your mask with a sandwich-bag-tie and a needle and thread. Simples!

In fact a better fit means it’ll be more comfortable, you’re less likely to constantly fiddle with it (stop touching your face!), and if you wear glasses, it might reduce the fog. Also your hands will be free to be washed thoroughly and frequently. See? It’s not really that tricky. Plus, when you talk, the smallest jaw movement won’t jog the mask clean off your face. And now everyone sees you blush. Oops!

Speaking of talking (first pun of 2021?!), this is one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced as a downside of mask-wearing. With a covered mouth, it’s more difficult to eat, drink, sing, and of course talk! Don’t even get me started on beat-boxing. Talking is kinda important in the doctors’ surgery, and remember we insist on our patients wearing masks so this is very much a two-way problem. Instead of warm smiles to welcome you in, we have to squint apologetically to confirm you are who we think we recognise you as, and it’s easy to forget you can’t see many of the shared expressions we might use as you tell your story. Urgh. So I was reading about how to get round this by using non-verbal body language: flamboyant arm gestures, eyebrow gymnastics, and excessive head nodding to the point of needing on-site head and neck physio for staff. Erm, I’ll take a rain-check, thanks. Let’s leave that to the sign language interpreters, airport runway landing signal officers, and orchestra conductors. Or at least there must be a happy medium that makes it less like a nightmarish game of extended family charades (*slinks nervously out of the room*), and more like a professional consultation where I don’t accidentally knock over my monitor with an ill-judged flourish. Ahem.

Listen, the measures we are taking will be helpful, better still if more people engage with them. I’ve even had toddlers in the surgery who’ve been beyond excited to show off their mask. Don’t assume that children are too small. Many choose to wear them, and remember, the under 13 exemption isn’t based on infection control, it’s an acknowledgement that some (especially younger children) may not understand how to keep one on, why they need one, or of course it may heighten anxiety or other difficulties. But please remember that anyone unable to wear a mask will unfortunately be at increased risk of catching (and spreading) COVID, and do whatever you can to help keep them at home and support them with shopping and medicines and physically-distanced company/entertainment. Try to leave online shopping slots free for them, as well as frontline workers like NHS staff, carers, teachers and shop workers who are in contact with lots and lots of individuals through their work, as well as single parents with young children who may not be able to choose to shop alone in store. If you know someone older who is lonely or in need of support, someone to talk to, or help getting shopping including medicines, the amazing social prescribing link workers at York CVS (Centre for Voluntary Service) can arrange befriending calls/visits, and transport to medical/vaccination appts. You can call 01904 437911 to find out more.

Stay safe friends! Wash your hands, keep your distance from others, wear a reusable mask correctly (and encourage others to do so), and steer clear of the doom-scrolling: read a good old swashbuckling adventure instead!

Next week we focus on the really rather pleasant topic of entertainment…

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