I’m going to keep on wearing a face covering when I exercise long after the pandemic is over. This is not for the purposes of shielding myself from people breathing out coronavirus particles or any other infectious agent for that matter. It’s instead as a form of protection from the toxic sludge that comes out of some of their mouths.
Let me explain: I exercise using a wheelchair. I have added a third wheel to the front which turns it into an all-terrain vehicle and jacks up the speed. It also makes it longer, shifting the centre of gravity to make the equipment more stable and preventing me from tipping over. That used to happen with a disturbing regularity.
Pushing it is my equivalent of going out running and I do it every day I can, weather permitting. Unfortunately, this sometimes means running a gamut of insulting and ignorant comments from fellow users of Clayhall Park in the London Borough of Redbridge, which is an important part of my route.
They tend to come in two forms and I’m not sure which is worse. There’s the insult: “You should have a bell/brakes on that,” is one particularly common, unfunny example, but there are others that are more unpleasant and there are other forms of direct harassment too. On the other hand, there’s the patronising, “Keep it up, you’re doing really well,” said in a particular tone of voice. It’s one that tends to be used on children and usually annoys them too. That one sometimes feels even more dehumanising. The former certainly comes from the black tar pits of prejudice lurking in the fetid swamps that pass for the minds of a certain sort of person. But so, in many ways, does the latter, which is cloying, dehumanising and infantilising.
“I’d tell them to eff off,” said the neighbour who cuts my hair, when I told her about a recent instance. She’s a runner herself and she seemed really angry about it, which was kind of nice and showed that it clearly isn’t just me. I’ve been tempted to do just that. On a couple of occasions I have, at least to the extent of raising my middle finger as I pass.
But mostly I don’t because, a) when I wheel I just want to be left alone to do my workout like anybody else, and b) to that end I usually listen to music or a podcast when I’m out and half the time I drift off into column-writing land. This means I’m not always as alert, so it sometimes takes a while for the brickbats to register, by which time I’ve often moved on past the numpty.
That doesn’t change the fact that it is foul to be on the receiving end of it. Prejudice directed towards someone for whatever reason is always that way. I have no doubt that joggers have to put up with it too – that is, if they’re the wrong religion, race or gender from the perspective of the local boor(s).
There are a depressingly large number of those in modern Britain.
I find the mask helps to shield me against them while they’re attempting to do their worst. When worn along with sunglasses – the positioning takes a bit of time to get right because they can get fogged up – it provides a cloak of anonymity. A barrier off of which which the slings and arrows bounce.
The fact that some people get offended by masks, and they are often the sort of people who are free with their insulting or patronising comments, is just gravy. I’ll take raising their hackles as a side benefit of wearing one. But I might also raise my middle finger a little more freely as well. It’s not very grown up, but then neither are the people who can’t resist opening their fat mouths.