Masks in schools are as pointless as they are cruel

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Happy new year! I’m afraid I didn’t come down with omicron this Christmas, despite my best efforts (what I’d give to be banned from the office, preferably for life). From the accounts of friends, the disease is now about as debilitating as a mild cold – some didn’t even realise they had it – yet the official panic level is still set to “headless chicken”, hence the latest decree that secondary school pupils in England must wear masks in class.

Why? We’ve known for a long time that Covid threatens children the least, so we can’t be that worried about how it affects their health. My suspicion is that the teaching unions have insisted upon this as a novel method of keeping the little blighters quiet. I once worked in a primary school (a mean lot of seven-year-olds, playtime was like Lord of the Flies) and if the government had sanctioned gagging children, I would gladly have done it.

But it is cruel, wickedly – and injurious to mental health. Given the fuss made about teachers wearing niqabs, on the grounds that a hidden face undermines teaching, it’s hypocritical, too.

The mandate is obviously designed to protect teachers and parents (most of whom have now had three jabs), but why wait so late to impose it, when omicron already seems embedded in the population? And why is the requirement scheduled to end on January 26? Perhaps Covid is planning to go skiing.

The justification – always – is that in order to preserve our freedom we must give up a bit more freedom: one last heave! As the restrictions become ever more specific, and sillier, the promise that if we follow them to the letter then one day Covid will be gone entices millions to obey, sometimes even to throw more nonsense into the mix. I witnessed a grown man rise from a table, where he’d eaten maskless with his family, leave the restaurant and then put on a mask to walk about in the open air. By reinforcing hysteria, Covid  restrictions only build the case for more Covid restrictions.

“If we have sacrificed so much to get this far,” goes the logic, “it’s worth a little sacrifice to get to the end.” But what does the end actually look like? Some might think this past week was it. A horrid illness, spreading fast – but one that the vast majority are learning to live with, and far fewer of us are frightened of catching.


A Very British Scandal sorely lacked any very British humour 

Christmas telly was a mixed bag. Doctor Who is exploring lesbianism now, which was only a matter of time. Worzel Gummidge is disturbing and adult, and thus perfect television for kids. The BBC’s A Very British Scandal told the story of the Duchess of Argyll, whose 1960s divorce case supposedly broke the Establishment by revealing the sexual secrets of the aristocracy.

The message was confused. The BBC trailed the drama by presenting the Duchess as a forerunner to the sexual revolution, undone by a moral double-standard (“no one cares when men sleep around” etc). Yet she didn’t seem to want to liberate anyone. On the contrary, she was very concerned with her privacy – her husband had stolen a photo of her, naked but for pearls, in flagrante delicto with a man whose head was invisible – and the script was ambiguous about how much sex outside marriage she really had.

When rumpy was shown, the production tended to present it with dark lighting and moody music, as if the Duchess were shooting up heroin in a back-alley – so was the sex liberating or, as writer Sarah Phelps implied, an addiction triggered by profound unhappiness?

The real message was that the aristocracy are hypocritical monsters and Britain a cold, loveless place, which the dramatists are entitled to push, if only they’d do it with more wit. I can’t stand Russell T Davies’ politics, but this plot was one for him, or Noel Coward, or Joe Orton, because the British way of handling the absurdities of sex is to make a comedy out of it, and the flurry of 1960s scandals was very funny.

Who was the headless man? One government minister, Duncan Sandys, offered a presumptive resignation; the government wasn’t sure it was him, but nor could he rule it out. Lord Hailsham issued his own statement: “I am not the man without a head, the man in the iron mask, the man who goes about clad only in a masonic apron, or a visitor to unnamed orgies.” Harold Macmillan heard a rumour that eight high court judges were involved in an orgy. He said he could cope with one. “Perhaps two, conceivably. But eight – I just can’t believe it.”

The poem read out on BBC One after the fireworks was a more suitable case for public inquiry. A celebration of a year of heroism, it was a rhyming list of celebrities with a nod towards our NHS heroes, at which point Mum turned off the TV and announced it was time for bed. We abandoned woke for sleep.


My dog needs a holiday

I don’t know about you, but my dog needs a holiday to get over the holidays. His first Christmas (he turned one in December), he stayed up for Midnight Mass and New Year’s Eve, got overexcited and ran around the front room shouting his own name.

Most of the packages I opened this year were presents for him, including a lead, a collapsible bowl and a welcome mat with a portrait of the boy himself on it. I was even given the ingredients for luxury biscuits to bake for him, something I didn’t think I’d spend 2022 doing. I’m tempted to launch a range of Bertie merchandise, because he’s clearly quite famous. Big in Japan, no doubt.

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