A letter was sent to all the staff at our school today. If the wearing of masks becomes compulsory after the half-term holiday, anyone needing an exemption needed to respond to the letter.
Anyone who has read the pages of this blog will know that I am asthmatic. The wearing of a mask is a challenge for me. I can do the shopping in Sainsbury’s, but as soon as I pass through the supermarket doors, I need to stop pushing the trolley and take off my mask.
Yet it is with reluctance that I shall respond to the letter. Perhaps it is a reluctance to admit to weakness.
Human weakness has always taken its toll. It has done so for as long as I can remember.
Suffering measles at the age of five, asthma came in the wake of illness. Not the occasional wheeze sort of asthma that might occur now, and which is quickly remedied with a Ventolin inhaler, but the sort of asthma that sometimes required adrenalin injections to be administered in order to keep the respiratory system going. It was the sort of asthma that took me off to a special school at the age of fourteen to experience a spartan regime where daily exercises and an unapologetic austerity were intended to strengthen the eighty or so boys who were sent to the remote Dartmoor location.
The asthma brought with it a raft of allergies that were not helpful to someone living in a farming community. There were no antihistamines to deal with the hay fever that brought misery each summer, nor to deal with allergies to dust and to cats and to feathers, and to much that was common in agricultural life. Streaming, swollen eyes and wheezy breathing were the companions to times in the farming year that were enjoyed by everyone around.
By the age of fifteen, short-sightedness was a problem, not that it could be admitted. The NHS glasses were only worn in extreme circumstances, it was better to pretend to be able to see the blackboard and the television screen than to be seen wearing them. Within a few years, there was no choice about wearing them, though by then, at least, a non-NHS pair had been procured.
Of course, frailties could not be admitted, and, decades later, the reluctance remains. Perhaps it is silly male pride, perhaps it is the lasting influence of the memories of the weeks spent in bed with the measles.