What’s worse than not covering your face? Only covering half of it

Adrian Chiles

All those badly worn masks seem to be bringing out my fear of noses

A man only half covering his face with a mask
A mask beneath the nose acts as a frame, throwing it into relief. Photograph: Sachelle Babbar/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock
A mask beneath the nose acts as a frame, throwing it into relief. Photograph: Sachelle Babbar/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

Last modified on Thu 12 Nov 2020 10.48 EST

There is something more annoying than someone not wearing a mask when they are supposed to wear a mask; it’s someone half-wearing a mask, leaving their nose poking over the top of it. In terms of viral transmission, it renders the whole thing pointless, and if you have gone to the trouble of wearing one, why in the world wouldn’t you wear it properly? But my feelings run deeper than that: I actually find the sight of the nose above the mask nothing less than repulsive. Fear of noses is apparently called rhinophobia; I may have a touch of it. On a medical website I have just seen the nose described as a “triangular-shaped projection in the centre of the face”. This made me flinch a bit, even though the word “projection” is too lame. I would call it a protuberance. And who likes a protuberance?

Mrs Fairs might be to blame for these feelings. She was my music teacher at school. She once told a story of a concert pianist who was born blind but whose sight was miraculously restored. She said the one thing this musician couldn’t come to terms with was the sight of people’s noses. This has stuck in my mind for 40 years.

That said, I don’t normally notice or even particularly dislike noses. Why, one of my best friends has an absolutely enormous hooter and I am as fond of it as I am of him. I think it’s because, ordinarily, the nose melts into the face; a mask beneath it kind of acts as a frame, throwing it into relief. It pushes the protuberance out centre stage, where it should never be. It looks like a bloke who has left his willy poking out of the top of this trousers. It’s all wrong. I apologise for using that line. Not for its profanity, but because I have nicked it from someone, but I have forgotten who. In trying to credit them I have only managed to Google up a purchasing opportunity on Amazon of a “willy face mask”. They won’t shift many of them this Christmas; they are everywhere already.

• Adrian Chiles is a Guardian columnist

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