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COLM TOBIN: Unmasking for a modest Freedom Day while Putin wages his war

March 6th, 2022 5:05 PM

By Southern Star Team

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IRELAND’S Freedom Day finally arrived on Monday with the lifting of the legal requirement to wear masks outside of healthcare settings.

Please excuse me for borrowing the terrible phrase ‘Freedom Day’ from Bojo. I just can’t seem to think of anything better.

‘Fog-free Spectacle’ Day, perhaps? Or ‘People Behind Shop Tills Can Actually Understand What I’m Saying’ Day?

We’ve been pining for life without masks for some time and there were moments during the pandemic when we thought life might never get back to normal. But then, all of a sudden the day arrives and it’s … well, just another day.

Still, it’s amazing to be able to leave the house again without the need to utter the phrase ‘phone, wallet, keys… mask!’ while manically frisking yourself.

I don’t know how many times over the last two years I’ve found myself halfway down the road to the shops before having to hightail it back home again for the mask.

Masks have also become crutches in recent times, objects of fashion as well as protection. They’ve hung on our clotheslines like some weird John Hinde postcard from a dystopic dimension. And I’m sure to look back on this era with a mixture of horror and strange nostalgia.

Let’s be honest, not being immediately recognisable has its perks. You can avoid pointless smalltalk at the school gates, awkward meetings with the ex in the supermarket aisle, or even uncomfortable altercations with your bank manager.

I realise there are some people who will be ritualistically setting fire to their masks like post-Leaving Cert schoolbooks in the back garden.

But for those of us who are of the more introverted disposition, I have a feeling we’ll be hanging on to them for a while yet.

I’ll definitely be wearing mine on public transport anyway. Buses and trains are, of course, notorious when it comes to picking up bugs. You may as well be climbing inside a pangolin.

I’ve seldom been on a bus where you’re not confronted by a sniffer, a cougher or a performative sneezer. You know the type. They always seem to sit directly behind your head, each sneeze leaving their nose with the force and speed of a Japanese bullet train, always accompanied by the most ear-piercing, banshee-like wail. In this context, a mask represents the bare minimum. A hazmat suit would be entirely appropriate.

Most of all, though, I’ll be keeping my mask on as a sign of respect and solidarity for those with underlying conditions. We’ve really shown we’re stronger together these past years. Wouldn’t it be great to keep it going?

For the record, I also want to keep the mask on to annoy the anti-mask loo-lahs. It would be awful if they had nothing to give out about.

Although I’m sure they’ve found something on Facebook.

A real David vs Goliath

THE further lifting of restrictions was one bit of positive news in what’s been a tough week.

Says you, it’s just our luck that five minutes after the pandemic ends, World War III begins.

But I think we all have a strong sense of how lucky we are to live where we do in recent days.

I had been thinking about what I could possibly write about the horrible events that have come to pass on the continent of Europe.

It’s my job, after all, to possibly find some quirky offbeat angle on the news, especially after my recent coverage of the Beara fishermen and their travails with the Russian army, off the south west coast.

The trouble is, I’m just sad and very angry. Like the rest of you. Sad at the pointless loss of life, and the horrors that are sure to come, and angry that a thieving, beady-eyed little psychopath like Putin can still wage such power.

Those events of a few weeks ago off the Cork coast seem so innocent now, don’t they? Not to in any way undermine the concerns of the fishermen involved, but it’s fair to say I thought the David v Goliath nature of it made for quirky coverage and we all indulged in a bit of harmless Paddywhakery at our own expense.

But there’s a real David v Goliath story taking place now, with tragic, horrific consequences that will reverberate around Europe for decades.

So it’s no surprise then that the West has sleepwalked its way into this situation, and not taken the Russian threat seriously enough. I, for one, could stand accused of the very same attitude.

If there’s anything positive to draw from this past week, it’s the overwhelming unity of the international response, both culturally and politically.

Beyond the political sphere, there are small, beautiful stories emerging of queues forming at Ukrainian bakeries in Tipperary, to retired German pensioners driving buses to the Polish border to transport refugees. Then there is the incredible bravery on display inside Ukraine itself. Heart-stopping stuff.

On a local level, such has been the outpouring of support for the people of Ukraine, and the near-ubiquitous flying of their national flag, it looks likely that Tipp, Clare and Wicklow flags will be very hard to come by for the GAA season ahead!

With spring approaching, and the evenings stretching, for now, we must trust and hope in the brighter days to come.

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