They walk among us

On Sunday, I endured possibly my most miserable day on Twitter in 12 years. Why? Because I foolishly responded to a Twitter poll about face masks (“How will you feel about going into shops and on public transport after 19 July if the requirement to wear masks is removed?”). Using my son’s nursery as a microcosmic example – where parents were informed several weeks ago that masks are no longer required during drop-off and pick-up – I replied to the tweet, saying that I have continued to wear my mask regardless. For my trouble, I got pilloried for the best part of a day.

John Cleese with glowing eyes

Most of the vile accounts that jumped into my replies had the same characteristics: pink flowers, union flags, anti-vaxx, anti-lockdown, anti-mask, KBF, Brexit, Twitter headers with red and blue pills and retweets of GB News. They’re the kind of accounts that have a profile pic of John Cleese wearing a Ministry of Silly Walks bowler hat, but with glowing laser eyes. Or people who proudly decorate their Twitter bio with screenshots and potted testimony of their previous ten account suspensions. You know the type.

Some of the accounts with actual profile pics, though rare, looked like people you would probably avoid in real life. One bloke looked like a Louis Tussaud’s House of Wax Ross Kemp on display in a Wetherspoons. Another looked like the kind of slimy prick you might see on Rogue Traders aggressively selling orthopaedic beds to the elderly and vulnerable.

Throughout the day, I also met lots of the Numbers family: Peter Numbers, Josh Numbers, Ian Numbers, Helen Numbers, Dawn Numbers, Damo Numbers, Beth Numbers, Clint Numbers and Angie Numbers, to name but a few. And what a pleasant bunch they were.

There was no attempt to engage, only to insult. “Bedwetter”, “arsehole”, “idiot”, “loon”, “loser”, “weirdo”, and quite randomly: “fartbox” (the same person then doubled down with “shitbag”). Some people kept it simple, opting for the clown emoji, while others posted GIFs of sheep or Ray Liotta pissing himself laughing in Goodfellas. (It’s funny how you’re a sheep if you follow public health guidance – or do whatever you’re comfortable with – but NOT a sheep when regurgitating anti-lockdown/anti-mask groupthink and posting nonsense from some of Facebook’s most esteemed armchair epidemiologists.) I was told to “stay in my shed” and to “stick a bag over my head”, while some accused me of ruining my children’s lives and mental health.

It was a long day.

Stupidly, rather than just hitting the block button, I was so enraged that I started replying. I was blunt with my responses but careful not to say anything that would get me suspended. Amazingly, even after receiving a torrent of unwarranted abuse, I was taken to task for calling someone a “muppet”. One woman, replying to a tweet in which I’d used the abbreviation “FFS”, described me as a “nasty piece of work” and “an aggressive dog” that perhaps was best “muzzled”. From what I could make out from her obscured profile pic – a middle-aged woman with slightly greying bobbed hair and glasses – you would never have guessed that her Mastermind specialist subject is ‘precise numbers of migrants being brought into Dover by Border Force on any given day over the last five years’. But that’s certainly what her account suggested.

The same woman also told me to shut up and keep my opinions to myself, even though she was freely flinging her own opinions around Twitter, having earlier replied to Layla Moran stating her intention to stop wearing a mask. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t respond when I highlighted the apparent double standard.

Another woman (anti-vaxx/anti-mask) said she hoped my children wouldn’t grow up to be a “pussy” like me. Again, it was hard to reconcile the Twitter profile pic (a seemingly genuine photo of a happy-looking woman walking on a beach) with the scathing reply.

One bloke came at me with sarcasm, saying that I should be awarded a medal for my bravery and self-sacrifice. He later suggested a “mask martyr” government sticker for all “virtue signalling die-hard mask-wearers”. Eventually, after a bit of back and forth, in which he suggested that my need to wear a mask was evidence of some latent desire to be a subservient, zipped-mouth gimp, he finally showed his hand, tweeting: #scamdemic. We got there in the end!

Of course, he wasn’t the only one. In one reply, Clint Numbers said that if we “take off the muzzles and stop the testing, the whole thing goes away”, like a Trumpian miracle. Meanwhile, Damo Numbers – and you heard it here first – boldly claimed that there is no deadly virus and that rising cases in my local area are mostly adverse reactions to the vaccine and hay fever. Another bit of headline news was the revelation that COVID isn’t an airborne virus.

Perhaps most baffling was the man who quote-tweeted me, informing his followers, somewhat menacingly, that he was going to make a point of invading the personal space of mask-wearing people just like me. Why? To what end?

But the best reply, which sort of cuts to the nub of the problem, was the man who said:

“You realise that the mask protects others, not you, right? So why are you wearing a mask?”

That sort of sums up where we are. If the mask only protects those around you, why bother? Who cares about other people?

A good friend of mine maintains that Twitter is not representative of the majority of the population. But these people are out there. They walk among us. Remember the anti-mask protest at a Chelmsford branch of Tesco in March, which took place about five minutes away from a temporary mortuary that Essex County Council set up during the post-Christmas surge in COVID cases? It’s those people, the anti-lockdown crowd, who dance through the streets of London like they’re at some kind of Mardi Gras for arseholes.

Those same people are having shit poured in their ears by irresponsible and divisive elements of the press and TV news media. Yesterday’s Daily Mail referred to government scientists as “gloomy” and that Boris Johnson (the man who ‘saved Christmas’, don’t forget) was defying them to deliver the preposterously titled ‘Freedom Day’. Over on GB News, Dan Wootton described the scientists as “paranoid and single-minded”. And on Good Morning Britain, Richard Madeley, acting like Alan Partridge pompously presiding over a McCarthyite trial, suggested that Susan Michie’s reluctance to remove restrictions on 19 July was a by-product of her Communist Party membership and the idea of a state-controlled populace.

Screenshot of a GB News tweet

Similar to how the Daily Mail branded three High Court judges the “Enemies of the People” for defending democracy (while supposedly frustrating Brexit), they and others are now framing government scientists as the bad guys – the excessively cautious buzzkills hellbent on destroying our FREEEEEEDOM!! Because whether it’s the EU, foreigners, Remainers, judges, the ‘Wokerati’, scientists or ‘virtue signalling’ mask-wearers…there must always be an enemy. It’s exhausting.

Do you know my favourite thing right now? It’s those moments in the car when I courteously pull over to let another driver through – or someone does the same for me – and we exchange a little wave of the hand to say thank you. At that moment, I’m blissfully unaware of whether they’re anti-mask, anti-lockdown, anti-vaxx, covid-sceptic, voted Tory, or voted for Brexit. We’re just two people being considerate and friendly.

After 19 July, when Boris Johnson’s criminally negligent government leaves us all to fend for ourselves as the Delta variant continues to sweep through the country, I sincerely hope that people will be considerate and community-minded. And I pray that the arseholes who plagued my timeline on Sunday are the minority. Because if they’re not, we’re more fucked than I thought.

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