My mother-in-law, Irene Roden, was born in England in 1921, and lived there until she emigrated to Canada in 1997, so vividly recalled what it was like to live in Great Britain for the duration of World War II. Indeed, Mum was a Land Girl: a member of the Women’s Land Army, and to this day I remember her words of wisdom about Brussels sprouts: “Best not to pick them until they’ve had a frost on them.”
It was a warning born of hard-won experience. Mum explained that although it was best not to pick them until after that first frost, doing so was painful, as it was almost impossible to pick them efficiently while wearing gloves, and picking them bare-handed resulted in frozen fingers and painfully cracked skin. She had other stories of her Land Army days (if you were willing to fork hay onto wagons you got paid more, as the work was so physically demanding), and of wartime generally, such as the time she was shopping in Birmingham and had her trip interrupted because of a German air raid that forced everyone to seek shelter.
I mention Mum and her experiences because I wonder what she — and anyone else who remembers the war years of rationing, hardship, and sacrifices large and small — would make of the seemingly constant parade of aggravating anti-maskers who equate being asked to wear a piece of cloth on their face when they’re out in public with an egregious assault on their personal freedom. A recent example came in the form of three maskless men who entered a Kelowna coffee shop last week and who — when asked by the owner to put on masks — refused.
What takes this encounter to another level is the fact that the men then produced laminated copies of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which does not (if I recall correctly) specifically mention the wearing of masks. They also pulled out their phones to start recording the event, which lasted for about five minutes before the men finally left the shop of their own accord.
The fact that the anti-maskers came prepared with props indicates that this was not just two or three people with anger management issues who were having a bad day. They clearly didn’t want to wear masks, and despite the recent mandate from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, stating that masks must be worn in indoor public spaces and businesses, purposely chose not to wear them, and then went looking to pick a fight.
Kelowna seems to be something of a hotbed of anti-masking protesters, who feel that being asked (or told) to wear a mask is the first step on the slippery slope to an authoritarian state. The fact that they are free to protest on city streets makes me wonder how under threat their personal freedoms really are, and puts me in mind of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail between King Arthur and Dennis the pedantic peasant, who goes out of his way to be rude and unhelpful and finally — having provoked Arthur to the point of fury — yells triumphantly “Help! Help! I’m being repressed! Did you see him repressing me?” to anyone who will listen.
I shudder to think how the anti-maskers would have coped with the rationing and travel bans and everything else people endured for the common good for six long years during WW II (and beyond, in many cases; rationing of some foods continued in Britain until July 1954, nine years after the war ended). Mum was a lovely and mild-mannered lady, but I suspect that she would have had some rather harsh things to say about anti-maskers, who are being asked to do one very simple, not very inconvenient thing for a few minutes each day (if that) for the benefit of everyone. I’d respectfully suggest that they keep calm, carry on, and wear a mask for a little while longer. It’s a lot easier, and less painful, than picking frozen Brussels sprouts.