The annoying thing about no longer having a weekly syndicated column is that when terrible things happen to me I cannot monetise them. It was the only thing that made being me worthwhile.
For example, if the Festive Bake incident had happened to me three years ago, I would have been cock-a-hoop. “Excellent,” I would have thought. “Yes, this might be the very worst thing that could have happened to me at this point in my life, but at least I won’t spend three hours on Wednesday morning alternately looking at a blank screen, a 1pm deadline, and a heart monitor.”
But not everything has a monetary value. Sometimes it is important to tell your own story just to help you process what has happened to you. So this one is pro bono, though never pro-Bono.
Let me start my tale by stating from the off that I am very much not in favour of Covid-19. If anything, it is one of my least favourite coronaviruses. I will do anything I can to prevent the spread of Covid-19, including enduring a small and brief amount of pain on two or three occasions, and wearing a face mask in confined spaces.
If that makes me a hero, then so be it. I know I am special, and I refuse to judge those who feel themselves unable to make that sort of gruelling effort to protect their fellow citizens, whether they are too feeble, or they are philosophically in favour of the promotion of Covid-19.
And yet… How is it that we can synthesise vaccines to mitigate a life-threatening disease in a matter of months, but we cannot produce a face mask that doesn’t steam up my bloody glasses?
I currently have three choices when out and about in the world: 1) be able to see everything, but helpless to prevent any droplets issuing from my person; 2) be able to see nothing more than a metre and a half away from me, but be able to sneeze without causing a riot in Marks & Spencer; or 3) protect passers-by from my evil fluids, but see the world as through a shower screen. The first is glasses on, mask off, the second is glasses off, mask on, and the third is glasses on and mask on. There is no way I can see everything and protect the public at the same time. I have no idea how Spider-Man does it.
All this means that a trip to the shops involves a lot of switching between glasses and mask, with the redundant apparatus being shoved in whichever pocket is available, and if you think that is not an accident waiting to happen, then you have the risk assessment capability of an anti-vaxxer.
Speaking of which, I had just had my booster jab, and was in the two-hour gap between the jab and the time an item I had ordered online was due to be delivered to the shop from which I was to collect it. The internet has turned the whole world into a branch of Argos.
I had time to kill and a few bits of Christmas shopping to snatch, so I began a long chain of switching between glasses and mask, until, during a glasses phase, I saw a poster in Greggs’ window for the Festive Bake. The Festive Bake is, for me, a more powerful sign of the imminent coming of Christmas than door No.1 on the Advent calendar or the arrival of a new Covid variant.
If you have never had a Festive Bake, imagine a small pillow made of puff pastry, filled with white sauce, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and the smallest possible amount of chicken – probably – and bacon that could prevent the bake from being technically vegetarian. Yes, it sounds dreadful, but it is somehow not, and I look forward to my first bite every year.
I pulled on my mask, and burst into the shop. “GIVE ME THE BIGGEST FESTIVE BAKE YOU HAVE! MAKE MY CHRISTMAS HAPPEN NOW!” I yelled. I did not really. It would have been pointless. All Festive Bakes are exactly the same size, like Kit-Kats or AA batteries. “A Festive Bake, please,” I mumbled, through my mask.
“They’re not very warm,” the Greggswoman told me. As if I cared. I’ve worn a mask on the bus for the past 21 months; a lukewarm pasty is nothing to me.
I bought the bake, and a packet of mince pies – Greggs’ mince pies are the best, without qualification – and tore out of the shop. I pulled the mask from my face and bit into my inaugural Festive Bake. It was lukewarm. “At least I won’t have to worry about the steam misting up my glasses,” I thought.
“Hang on, where are my glasses?” I patted down my pockets. I checked all my pockets. I repeated the process three times. I found pockets I hadn’t used since plastic £5 notes were introduced. I found pockets I didn’t know I had. The glasses were in none of them.
Where was the last place I had them, I wondered? My face, obviously. They weren’t there.
And so I found myself wandering up and down a busy shopping street, miserably scanning the pavement for a pair of glasses without the aid of a pair of glasses, while absent-mindedly gnawing on a Festive Bake. I don’t remember a bite.
After half an hour I realised that I would never find them. A magpie must have taken them. Or maybe a human person? Who might have handed them to a shop assistant…? No, they couldn’t be…?
I re-entered Greggs. “I don’t suppose anybody has handed in a pair of glasses…?”
The Greggswoman handed me my glasses. “You left them on the counter. I tried to run after you, but I couldn’t pick you out.”
Of course she couldn’t. I was wearing a mask.