I know that having half your face covered doesn’t make it any easier but I am not going to give up being as positive, polite and agreeable as I can. And so far, so good. Last week it took me three goes to convince the West Indian driver of a bus that he just done a splendid piece of driving , negotiating his heavy clumsy vehicle with about 4 inches clear on each side, past a double decker vehicle carrier on one side and the usual collection of hurried drivers spilling into an imaginary third lane on the other. Appreciation is the opposite of spilt milk – never wasted. When I finally got through to said driver that I wasn’t complaining, I was complimenting him – he beamed.
With or without a mask I am aware that I have always communicated or tried to communicate in any way I could. I got through 9 days in the Italian backcountry with vivid face, hands, eyes and five words of Italian, ten years’ holidays in Crete with pantomime and no more Greek, same thing. I am not resistant to learning languages, there are always reasons.
Voiceover remains one of the most exciting things I was ever asked to do professionally because the producer’s voice in your ear asks you for colour, warmth, speed etc as precisely as a conductor, only moving on when he or she gets what’s wanted. It’s a long way from that dreadful hokey long skirt and wooden beads whisper employed by some female presenters. You colour the voice. And that colour goes out from your voice across the gap into the ears you’re trying to reach, one set or many.
Voices are like faces, there are some you cannot like. Man, woman or variant, there’ s the occasional person to whom I abreact – blame my mother, she was just the same. “I want to hear Frank Sinatra” she said contentiously “I don’t want to see him.” Or Cliff Richard. Or Clark Gable or Marlene Dietrich. I don’t want to see or hear Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman or Warren Beatty to name but three. I don’t know what the recoil is about. I could hypothesise but who cares ? There are just some people …
The man in charge of the door at my local supermarket is either deeply involved in his telephone in which case you could come in stark naked with your mask as a pubic banner and he wouldn’t notice – or he’s so on the case, he can’t wait to forbid you to step over the threshold before the mask has gone hand to face. The job is boring and I know it is. I have drawn breath, narrowed my eyes and my nostrils over him for some time – long before I had to negotiate him as the Keeper of the Gate – but masked, my sneer is concealed, you cannot hear my clear voice muttering. And I do love a mutter, saying some unfavourable aside out of the corner of your mouth. It is the most positive thing I can say about the mask.
How much you can see of the face is of course limited, a limitation added to by spectacles, hair or veiling. But there is intention involved here too. Wearing a mask pushes the face into shadow, covers the mouth so the expression of it cannot be seen and makes the whole face less accessible. So people will wear their masks and withdraw still further from any social interaction. I freely admit I fear this.
When I was younger, you offered greetings (“hello”, a time of day “good morning”) and added all sorts of I suppose formulaic but pleasant nothings “nice day “, “keeping well ?” “haven’t seen you for ages, how are you ?” It bridged the gap between people. I remember this beginning to fall away and I made a conscious decision: not me. I would continue to use that skill the best way I could. Of course there are shortfalls – a girl glared at me the other day so savagely I should be pushing up daisies. But I am not. Exchange for the joy of speaking is not yet taxed, and you need not be muffled by a mask.