Post-lockdown camping: 'It's a taste of freedom'
Words: Rachel Dixon - The Guardian - 05:30 09-07-2020
We arrived at our yurt and said hello to our next-door neighbour, who was stretched out on a deckchair. He replied with a grin and one word: “Freedom!”
It was Saturday 4 July, the first day that campsites were allowed to open in England after lockdown. My partner and I had left our homes for the first time in nearly four months and driven to the Waveney River Centre in Norfolk, a campsite and marina, to find out what “the new normal” means for campers.
We were greeted by a battalion of beaming staff, all happy to get the summer season going at last. The first of many hand-sanitiser points was outside reception, which had a one-in, one-out policy and social-distancing markers. Other than that, check-in proceeded as normal. We were staying in one of seven yurts, all fully booked for the weekend, as were the 14 caravan pitches and six camping pods. Only the 45 tent pitches had deliberately not all been filled, to keep numbers at a manageable level. (There are also 35 self-catering lodges on the site.)
As is the case at many campsites, most of the facilities were open, but with some alterations. In the toilet block, alternating cubicles and sinks were taped up so people couldn’t get too close. Staff were stationed at the showers all day, ready to clean them after each use. The main shop was closed, but basic items had been moved to the ice-cream kiosk. The play area was open, but the indoor pool was sadly shut, as per (baffling) government guidance.
Liam Holmes, Waveney’s general manager, said early feedback from guests had been positive, with people feeling particularly reassured by the visible extra cleaning.
The campsite borders the River Waveney, and we were the first passengers on the newly reopened foot ferry. The service, which dates from the 19th century and was revived in 2012, originally carried south Norfolk villagers to Lowestoft fish market. These days, it takes visitors to Carlton Marshes nature reserve, just across the Suffolk border. We wandered around the marshes, meadows and pools, and spotted birds including a little egret and a marsh harrier. The wide-open space was a balm after so many weeks spent in my tiny London garden.
Back at the campsite, we exercised another regained right and went to the pub. The Waveney Inn had a one-way system with separate entrance and exit, and we had to give our details for contact-tracing purposes. It was table-service only, with contactless payment for our Southwold bitter, fish and chips and ploughman’s salad. No one seem deterred by the new measures: the pub was full of families enjoying themselves.
A cold wind had whipped up by bedtime, which gave us a good excuse to light the woodburner in our yurt. The yurt smelled freshly sanitised (the particular antiviral spray used is specified on the website) and was comfortable, with double bed, sofa and electric lamps; guests bring their own bedding.
The next day, we hired a day cruiser from the on-site marina to explored this section of the Broads. Several campers were doing the same – there was a queue for the boats. Again, social-distancing measures were in place, with customers fitting their own lifejackets and staff issuing instructions from the bank, rather than boarding boats.
We went as far as Reedham, a riverside village about two-and-a-half hours away, for a pint at the Ship Inn, then stopped halfway back at the Bell Inn at St Olave’s for lunch (a generous seafood platter). Staff at both pubs were cheerful and welcoming, and the manager of the Bell – “Broadland’s oldest recorded inn” – thanked us for supporting them. After months of nothing more exciting than a daily walk, a day’s boating on the Broads seemed like a real adventure.
Back at the marina, we handed the cruiser keys back and walked a few minutes up the lane to St Mary’s church, which has a thatched roof and a ziggurat-style tower. More substantial walks include one to Oulton Broad, via the foot ferry, and on to the sandy beach at Lowestoft. More beaches are a short drive away at Great Yarmouth and Southwold.
We ended the day with a barbecue on the deck outside our yurt. By the time we were ready for bed, a low moon was hanging over the river and the sky was full of stars. Our neighbour was right – this was a taste of freedom, and it felt fantastic.
• Accommodation was provided by Waveney River Centre, camping from £11 a night, yurts from £48 a night, waveneyrivercentre.co.uk
Thursday briefing: Brexit – we're not ready, trade secretary warns
Words: Warren Murray - The Guardian - 05:31 09-07-2020
Thu 9 Jul 2020 01.31 EDT
Last modified on Thu 9 Jul 2020 01.38 EDT
Good morning – Warren Murray here to catapult you into the heart of current events.
A cabinet row over Brexit has erupted into the open with Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, warning in a leaked letter that the PM’s border plans risk smuggling, damage to the UK’s international reputation and a legal challenge from the World Trade Organization. Truss wrote to the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and Michael Gove on Wednesday warning of four “key areas of concern” over their plans for the border next January. Gove has unveiled a border regime for traders whereby customs and health checks for goods from the EU would not be imposed immediately and instead be phased in over six months. But Truss warns it would “be vulnerable” as the WTO could object to EU goods being treated differently to those from elsewhere which incur tariffs and quotas. She also raises concerns over smuggling because full checks will not be in place from 1 January.
The letter suggests the government has not addressed the complexities of distinguishing between goods moving into Northern Ireland and staying there, and others moving on to the island of Great Britain. “HMRC are planning to apply the EU tariff as a default to all imports in NI from 1 January 2021 … This is very concerning as this may call into question NI’s place in the UK customs territory,” Truss wrote. Labour’s Rachel Reeves said Truss’s letter “confirms fears that several ministers have been making things up as they go with a lack of awareness of the real world consequences of border policies they’ve had four years to develop”.
‘Fundamental change of circumstances’ – In breaking news this morning Australia has offered Hongkongers visa extensions of five years and cancelled its extradition treaty with the city after China imposed a draconian national security regime. Canberra has also advised its citizens in Hong Kong to consider returning home. Last week Boris Johnson said Britain would also go ahead with a promise of visas and a path to citizenship for about 3 million Hong Kong citizens who hold British visa rights and their family members. The Australian PM, Scott Morrison, said in the last hour that his government believed the national security law “constitutes a fundamental change of circumstances”. Canada has announced similar measures.
strongRishi Sunak has been warned he will need to act far more decisively to prevent mass unemployment this autumn after unveiling a £30bn mini-budget designed to kickstart spending. The chancellor announced a short-term cut in VAT for hospitality and tourism and an August “eat out to help out” discount scheme worth £10 a head. He announced measures to revive the housing market with a nine-month stamp duty holiday – raising the threshold in England and Northern Ireland to £500,000 – as well as creating subsidised jobs for young people and providing targeted support for the sectors hit hardest by the lockdown.
But economic experts, trade unions and Labour questioned whether enough is being done to tackle a looming jobs crisis. Garry Young, from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, said: “The new measures look to be badly timed and could precipitate a rapid increase in unemployment. The incentives offered to employers look too small to be effective. Many employers have been topping up the pay of furloughed workers and are expected to bear more of the cost of the scheme from next month. They will be reluctant to do this now they know that the scheme won’t be extended.”
strongThe chief executive of Hillingdon hospital in Boris Johnson’s constituency, which has shut its A&E unit after a coronavirus outbreak, has blamed “irresponsible” staff for flouting the rules by not wearing face masks at work. Sarah Tedford wrote in a message to staff: “I am told some of you are not wearing appropriate masks and you are not adhering to social distancing. This has resulted in an outbreak on a ward where our staff have contracted Covid-19.” As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US reached 3m, and another daily record fell with more than 60,000 new cases, Donald Trump insisted the US was “in a good place” and admitted he “didn’t listen to my experts”. Latest developments as always at our global live blog.
‘Palace letters’ out on Tuesday – Previously secret correspondence between the Queen and the former Australian governor general Sir John Kerr surrounding the dismissal of Gough Whitlam as prime minister will be released in full on Tuesday morning, Australia’s national archives have confirmed. The public will be able to access the entirety of the so-called palace letters, a series of more than 200 exchanges between the Queen, her private secretary and Kerr, the then governor general, in the lead-up to the politically explosive 1975 dismissal of Whitlam amid a deadlock in parliament. A historian, Jenny Hocking, won a court battle for their release. Hocking has previously found evidence that the palace knew of Kerr’s intention to dismiss Whitlam and was involved in deliberations. She believes the palace letters could reveal what the Queen said and whether she influenced Kerr’s actions.
Pick of the board – Clacton pier has been crowned pier of the year in what its co-owner called a “perfect morale booster” at a difficult time. Clevedon pier came second and Brighton Palace pier third. The National Piers Society said the award recognised a decade of improvements made by Clacton pier’s owners, Billy and Elliot Ball.
When they bought the 1871-built pier in 2009, just over a third of the space was in use. It now boasts many rides including a helter-skelter and two-tier adventure golf course, with a rollercoaster and log flume due to be added. It is the largest pleasure pier in Europe by surface area, covering more than 26,300 sq metres, said the NPS.
A spike in cases of Covid-19 in Leicester has led Guardian reporter Archie Bland to its garment factories. He discusses a story that goes beyond the pandemic and into workers’ rights, appalling factory conditions and the ethics of fast fashion.
Aisha Wakil knew many of the Nigerian terror group Boko Haram’s fighters as children. Now she uses those ties to broker peace deals, mediate hostage negotiations and convince militants to put down their weapons – but as the violence escalates, her task is becoming impossible.
The crisis enveloping British Gymnastics has intensified with the Commonwealth Games gold medallist Lisa Mason calling for the resignation of the chief executive, Jane Allen, in the wake of the abuse scandal, and the four-times Olympic medallist Louis Smith accusing the governing body of not wanting to taint its image by alerting the public to complaints against coaches. Dominic Sibley went for a duck as rain dominated England’s first day against the West Indies, with the hosts notching 35 runs with only 17.4 overs possible.
Manchester City have cantered 5-0 to a win that ended Newcastle’s unbeaten four-game run since the restart of the Premier League. Jürgen Klopp said Liverpool will not take for granted breaking Manchester City’s record points tally despite edging closer to the historic target with victory at Brighton. Saracens, Harlequins, Northampton and Worcester are among the clubs with confirmed cases of coronavirus following Premiership Rugby’s first round of testing. PRL announced that of the 804 tests, six players and four members of staff have yielded positive results, bringing into sharp focus the main threat to the resumption of the season in mid-August.
Asian stock markets have followed Wall Street higher following gains for major US tech stocks. Benchmarks in Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Australia have risen. The pound is coming in at $1.262 and €1.111 while the FTSE is set to open higher.
Rishi Sunak has unmasked his fiscal response to the coronavirus – but neglected to cover his face when he served up meals at Wagamama for a photo op, as the Guardian points out in its caption. Our paper leads with “Mass unemployment feared despite Sunak’s plan for jobs”.
There is no getting away from culinary themes for mini-budget coverage: “Grab a £10 Rishi dishi” rhymes the Metro. The i calls Sunak the “Half-price meal deal chancellor” – is the paper casting aspersions there? “Come dine with me” – says the Telegraph, letting its hair down; the Times has “Sunak serves up £30bn rescue”, ho ho.
The Express says “Rishi dishes up £30bn budget of hope”, a headline that in present company feels like it fell at the final hurdle. “Lunch is on Rishi – but we’ll ALL have to pick up the tab”, the Mail cautions. The Mirror shows its loyalties, greeting the summer statement as “Chicken feed”. Finally let’s all rinse our palates with the FT’s comparatively bland rendering: “Sunak’s scheme to revive economy will push borrowing past £350bn”. Someone’s going to be doing a lot of dishes …
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'He's so strapping and virile': Patrick Stewart at 80 – by Shatner, McKellen, Tennant and more
Words: Interviews by Chris Wiegand, Catherine Shoard and Toby Moses - The Guardian - 05:00 09-07-2020
I like to surprise chat show hosts by telling them: “I married Patrick Stewart” – which I did. I married him to Sunny, his mischievous, utterly reliable wife. What he confesses on chat shows is his delight and certainty that he has gone far. Far from his native Yorkshire and at times miserable home life. Far from the young actor who combed his thinning hair over the crown, until one night two friends scissored it off and a noble skull was revealed.
Far, too, from his earlier success as a classical actor with the Royal Shakespeare and National Theatre companies. He’s long forgiven me my advice not to risk a solid career on the British stage by falling for an uncertain future in Star Trek. How he got that job is a prime example of how luck can be a lady and it will be a riveting chapter in the memoir he must write. He has so much to tell. Not just the glamour and the hard work but his politics and his open-hearted commitment to his charity work.
Eighty is, of course, a milestone but he has had so many remarkable achievements in his careering journey from Huddersfield, to Stratford, the West End, Hollywood, to Broadway and beyond, I’m sure there will be no silly talk about retirement.
Working with Patrick is one of the great joys in life. Not only is he kind and funny, but he read a Brecht poem without a whiff of pomposity. Literally. He read Questions from a Worker Who Reads one day, and while sitting at someone’s knee listening to poetry seems to be something of another age, it simply feels right when the knee at which you sit is Patrick Stewart’s.
I saw him playing Claudius in a TV version of Hamlet when I was at school. Years later, Patrick and I had two goes at Hamlet together – we did it on stage for the RSC and then reassembled for television. He is everything you’d imagine: generous, a real actors’ actor, loves being in a troupe of players and everything about the life of the theatre. It was his lifetime ambition to play Claudius and the Ghost, as he’d been at the RSC when Brewster Mason did both roles in one production.
Patrick was thrilled to be back where he’d started, at the RSC, after this extraordinary Hollywood life and international success. He’d been released back into the wild almost, enjoying all these parts he had unfinished business with. We all await his King Lear. Patrick still almost looks the same as in that Hamlet I saw at school. He’s fit as a fiddle and so strapping! How many 80-year-olds are the lead in their own science fiction series? There’s nothing of the “old man” about him. He’s very virile – I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying that!
He’s a love and he is an intellectual in an athlete’s body. We had a long horse scene to do together once, and I recommended him wearing women’s silk stockings to avoid chafing and he nodded his head as a thank you. When he came out of his dressing room, he was wearing the lace stockings outside of his costume. “No, no, Patrick, underneath your costume!” We laughed, as we ordinarily did. I didn’t know he was so old.
I joined the RSC in 1981 and was playing fairly small roles. Patrick was at his peak. We were in Henry IV parts 1 and 2 together. I listened every night to him doing “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. It was like jazz. I didn’t realise that you could play with Shakespeare to that extent. Instead of clinging on to the way you do it each night, you can throw it up in the air and risk it not working.
There was a big scene at the end, a parade in the streets, with the whole cast on stage in medieval rags. I was milling about and ran into Patrick, who was dressed as a woman, which he had just done as a lark. He said under his breath: “Hi, I’m Jane Nightwork!” He was embodying this old tart who is referred to in an earlier speech. I thought, oh, gosh, grand actors can be a lark too.
Years later, we did Antony and Cleopatra together. He wanted desperately to get back to Shakespeare and the stage, having been a mega film star. That’s quite a message to someone on stage – that what you’re doing is something a lot of people are aching to do, rather than just looking towards film stardom. We somehow hit a great chemistry – the chemistry of two people who want to play together and the pleasure of working through that language and having that banter and the extremes of emotion that you trigger in one another, and night after night doing it differently.
He is a joy to work with. We did The Tempest and Antony and Cleopatra at the RSC in 2006. It was my first time working at Stratford and I’d watch him from the wings. He’s a very human performer – the text never feels like it’s 400 years old. I always felt he was having the time of his life. The joy he felt about speaking the text just came oozing out of him. His connection comes from the heart and that makes the language so much easier to understand when you’re connected to it. He was like a little kid – he was in the best place he could be at that time. Whatever he does, it’s playtime. He’s a proper get-your-hands-dirty actor.
I’ve known Patrick since he was nine. We met on a drama course in the Calder Valley. I’m four years older so he was like my younger brother. I was always wild and naughty; Patrick was very well-behaved. I’ve always taken the mickey out of him. Amateur theatre was everywhere in Yorkshire at that time but we both dreamed of seeing professional theatre.
He’d visit me at home in Bolton upon Dearne and we’d do Shakespeare scenes together in my little bedroom. My Dad would come in and say: “Patrick, you could have done that part a bit better.” I’d say: “Dad, he’s 11!” Years later my Dad said to me how much he liked Star Trek on television. I said: “Do you like the captain? That’s the little boy you criticised in my bedroom!”
I remember we met up once, after not seeing each other for a long time, and we went to see a play at the Old Vic together. Beforehand we were sat on Westminster Bridge, with our arms round each other, and he suddenly recited the whole of Wordsworth’s Composed upon Westminster Bridge. We both wept.
Twenty years ago I went to Hollywood for a premiere. They asked me if I had any Hollywood friends and I mentioned Patrick. As I got out of the limousine at the premiere, I felt a pair of hands on my shoulders and a voice saying: “Hello, hello, hello. I am Brian Blessed’s guest.” There we were: two working-class boys from Yorkshire, walking down the red carpet. It was considered impossible for us to become classical actors and we said bollocks to that. Next year we’re planning a stage show together – we’ll do a bit of Shakespeare, singing, some poetry. Patrick and I will bring the house down. Tell him I still think he’s ugly and has got no sex appeal – how can he be so successful?
In high school, I would watch videos of the RSC’s workshops, featuring Patrick as well as Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins: all filled with vim and vigour and happiness, all extremely fastidious and having in-depth arguments about iambic pentameter. In acting school, I became addicted to Star Trek. When you put somebody with that kind of capacity in an arena like a sci-fi drama they become the cornerstone.
By the time I had the chance to work with him, it seemed impossible to me that he was a real human being. But in 2013, I joined a touring production of No Man’s Land and Waiting for Godot with Patrick, Ian and Shuler Hensley. They pursued day after day such incredibly challenging pieces of material without any give. That Pat in his 70s still had that level of rabid curiosity was the most wonderful news to me; I feel exhausted and I’m barely 50. He and Ian were both thriving in what anyone else would consider the end of their career; instead it felt like it was the middle. They continue to have the appetite to pursue the kind of material that makes them relevant.
One day in tech, I was having a particularly miserable time: I had just lost a loved one and was grappling with other painful things. I was doing the best that I could, and my best was just terrible. At the end of the rehearsal, Patrick came up as I was packing my belongings and put his hand on my shoulder and said: “Billy, oh Billy. When you hurt, I hurt. If you need anything, I’m here.” I just burst into tears. I have found his kind of love and big-heartedness uncommon in the industry.
I’m so pleased Patrick is turning 80 and still looks about 35. I can’t say he’s changed at all since I first met him on Star Trek; we’ve also done an X-Men film together and he guest-starred on Frasier. I do see a little of myself in Patrick and vice versa. We both like to turn a phrase. I think we both share a devotion to trying to play new characters, to staying connected to the thing which got us here in the first place, which is our imagination.
We were both Macbeth a year apart – he was lauded for his performance; I was attacked for mine. And yes, we are both very comfortable with an element of camp in our heterosexuality. He led when we danced together on Frasier and he was a lovely dancer. In my house we still quote his line in that show where he picks up his phone in Frasier’s apartment and says: “Placiiiiidoooo!” And David Hyde Pierce [Niles] and I gasp: “Placido Domingo?!” That voice of his is pretty extraordinary.
He’s effervescent, always polite and – like most actors I know – very bright. In some ways he does seem quintessentially English. A little phlegmatic, perhaps, a bit removed; that language and accosting profile. Yet he’s got great warmth and charm, which is not of course foreign to Englishmen and women. But Patrick can project a traditional stiff upper lip Brit while underneath being a very receptive and self-effacing and accessible guy, with a kind of American openness. I’ve never heard a word spoken against him.
When Patrick played Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra in 1973, he was wry, wise, sensible, sensitive. His Enobarbus was a soldier with a heart and even better, a mind; Patrick Stewart the man still sees through bluff and nonsense with his canny northern eye and his teasing half-smile. He has kept his cool sense of proportion even though as a huge franchised star of television he can take his pick of anything going.
Actually, as I dredge through the jumble of the memory drawers, he and I go even further back than that wonderful Trevor Nunn production. He played Antonio the sea-captain who helps Viola (me) survive being stranded on a strange seashore, and I can still see him doubled up with laughter in the wings as I exited the stage on the opening night of Twelfth Night at the Library theatre in Manchester. “Why are you laughing at me?” I hissed at him in the darkness of the wings. “You should have heard yourself,” he chortled back at me, “you said ‘What country friends is this?’ in a thick South African accent!” “I didn’t!” “You bloody well did!” Oh the shame.
More shame when in the same season he and I played a husband and wife in an early play by David Mercer called The Buried Man – all bickering over the proverbial sink in faded floral frocks and string vests. Patrick had a lovely tough-looking chest through the string, I recall. He was perfectly at home in his native accent, while once again this South African did her worst to murder a speech in a broad Lancashire accent and got giggled at for her pains by a home-grown audience. The glottal stops did me in. He was kinder to me this time, and only laughed a little bit.
From those humble beginnings Patrick has conquered LA and most of the world while keeping his essential Shakespearean inner actor firmly close to his heart. I would trust him with the dearest secret, this local boy made very very good, because besides all this acting stuff he seems to me to be a very good man.
I was asked to direct The Tempest and Patrick was going to play Prospero. I went to meet him, essentially to be auditioned. I wanted to set the play in the Arctic and pitched the whole concept to him, talking sweatily at great length. He sat there totally silent, inscrutable. I thought it was going terribly: this guy is coming back to the RSC to play Prospero and we’re going to put him in polar bear skins! He said at the end: “Well, what you don’t know is that I have for a long time been a collector of Inuit art.” It was quite the icebreaker.
We worked on The Tempest in hot rehearsal rooms, pretending it was the Arctic. One day I asked stage management to persuade the local supermarket to let us into their deep freeze store to rehearse some scenes and get into the sprit of it. I was asking Patrick to spend hours in the freezer. That day, I was in five jumpers; Patrick turned up in shorts. He was so Yorkshire about it.
What I had underestimated about Patrick – which is the great thing about Picard – is that you can put him in anything and you still feel like you are watching something real. You could put him in a vat of jelly and surround him with grinning, blue-bearded Martians and somehow it would feel real.
For a lot of bright actors, as they get older, the playfulness of acting becomes less important to them and they want to get more involved in causes and advocacy. So often they lose some of the sheer self-absorbed virtuoso madness that you need as an actor. Patrick manages not to do that. He is very involved with lots of important causes and yet he can be impish and mischievous and make great fun of himself.
The first word that comes to mind when I think about Patrick is “respect”. Going into meeting PStew, I already had the natural respect you have for a legendary actor of his calibre, but it quickly evolved into the respect you have for an old friend. That was due to how obvious his respect for me was. He opened up to me about how he was a very timid young actor and, when he made his first film, there was an actor who made sure he felt supported and respected. Patrick wanted to be like that.
He made sure I felt we were equals, simply there to create. Patrick worries that people think him to be “intimidating” which he never intends to be. So he told us that from now on, whenever we feel it necessary, we should yell out “INTIMIDATION” to keep him in check. Let’s just say we all cannot wait to get back to work and annoy the hell out of him with that.
'Mama Boko Haram': one woman's extraordinary mission to rescue 'her boys' from terrorism
Words: Chika Oduah - The Guardian - 05:00 09-07-2020
Thu 9 Jul 2020 01.00 EDT
I t was another scorching afternoon in Maiduguri. In the west of the city, in Nigeria’s north-east, 51-year-old Aisha Wakil sat in her office talking to a jihadi fighter named Usman. Wakil was draped head-to-toe in fine sequinned chiffon; a niqab covered most of her face, leaving visible only her dark eyes. Ka’aji, a sweet, woody incense that Wakil kept burning in a corner, perfumed the room.
Wakil and Usman kept their voices down. They were hashing out a secret plan to free a 16-year-old girl who was being held hostage by Boko Haram. It was May 2019, 10 years after the Islamist group had begun terrorising Nigeria as part of a jihad it was waging against the government. The violence, which had spilled into neighbouring countries, had left more than 30,000 people dead.
Over the years, Boko Haram had become notorious for kidnapping women and girls. The most infamous instance came in 2014, when its fighters captured 276 schoolgirls from a secondary school in the remote village of Chibok. But there were abductions before Chibok, and dozens after. Some of those captured were forced to become suicide bombers, and Boko Haram has used more than 460 female suicide bombers, more than any other terrorist group in history. The teenage girl who Wakil and Usman were discussing was one of the group’s latest victims. For months, Wakil had been pleading with Boko Haram fighters to free her.
With soldiers and local vigilantes trying to hunt them down, the group’s members had largely fled Maiduguri, the largest city in Borno state, and the other cities in the region. They set up camps tucked away in the arid bush land stretching across northern Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Some fighters went to live in hideouts in the vast former game reserve of Sambisa forest and on the remote islands dotting Lake Chad, where they kept thousands of hostages – women, girls, men and child soldiers forced to join their ranks.
After annihilating villages, the fighters would slip back to their camps. Nigerian soldiers scrambled after them, but the army’s heavy vehicles would get stuck in the spiky shrubs and the soft, sandy ground of the Sambisa. They couldn’t venture far into Lake Chad’s swampy coast, especially during the rainy season. The insurgents were swift, cruising over the land in convoys of motorbikes, and then disappearing like smoke.
Wakil was one of the few people outside Boko Haram who could reach its members. She was in touch with senior fighters and, in her office that day, she was using that access to negotiate freedom for the hostage. The girl was Christian, and in interviews with the local media, her parents had been asking the Nigerian government to rescue her. Wakil wanted her out safely. She believed Usman was the right person to get the job done. He was, after all, a Boko Haram militant – a mid-ranking one, who travelled between the bush and the city for special assignments.
To get to Wakil’s office, Usman had to pass through the city without attracting attention. The streets were crawling with security personnel – soldiers, police officers, intelligence agents, volunteers from the Civilian Joint Task Force, a local paramilitary vigilante group. At the time, Boko Haram attacks were on the rise again and locals moved about with caution. So did Usman. With his frayed clothes, scratched-up hands and lean frame, he fit the physical profile of a Boko Haram fighter perfectly.
Usman wanted to do some good. He had decided to cooperate with Wakil, relaying her messages to the mujahideen back in the camp. Their meeting ended on an optimistic note. It seemed possible that the hostage might be freed.
M aiduguri is situated within what was the longest-standing kingdom in African history, a powerful pre-colonial Islamic state known as the Kanem-Bornu empire. Established by the ancestors of the modern-day Kanuri people, the empire lasted from the eighth to the 19th century. At one point, the empire’s territory stretched east from modern-day Nigeria through Chad, to Sudan and north to Libya. The empire’s kings – first known as mai, then later as shehu, a derivative of the Arabic title sheikh – were among the first monarchs to practice Islam in sub-Saharan Africa.
For a long time, Maiduguri was regarded as the “home of peace”. Life there revolved around Islamic traditions: the call to prayer echoed from mosques. On Fridays, the streets were packed with people making their way to jum’ah prayer; thousands of boys sat under trees, reciting verses from the Qur’an under their teachers’ gaze.
From the Sahara Desert, cascades of sand blow into the city, covering the terrain in fine layers of dust. At midday, Maiduguri is blindingly hot. It has a particular kind of dry heat that prickles the skin. At night, the heat eases off a bit, giving way to breezes rising over the murky Ngadda River, rustling past neem trees scattered across the land.
Wakil moved to the city in 1989, to enrol at the University of Maiduguri. Unlike many of her fellow students, she wasn’t a member of the indigenous Kanuri people – she was Igbo, an ethnic group whose ancestral land lies in the south-east of Nigeria. It was there that Wakil was born, in 1968, and where she grew up, as the country was trying to reconcile and rebuild in the aftermath of the civil war, which ended in 1970.
Wakil came from an Igbo family of devout Roman Catholics and she, too, had been deeply devoted to the faith. It led her to God, she said, and throughout her youth she took to reading her Bible and praying for hours on end. It was not until the early 90s that she converted to Islam, after meeting the man she would marry, Alkali Gana Wakil. He was Kanuri and Muslim. “According to the tradition, the woman should follow the man’s religion. I did it to maintain that culture, for peace to reign in my matrimonial home,” Wakil told me.
Her relatives back home in the south were deeply disappointed with her conversion, and the fact that she, a “southerner”, had gone off and married “a northerner”. She changed her name to one of the most revered in Islam, Aisha – after the favourite wife of Muhammad and “mother of the believers”. (Today, Wakil refuses to reveal her original Igbo and Christian names.) She and her husband moved into a quaint bungalow close to the most sacred place in Maiduguri – the Shehu’s palace and adjacent mosque complex.
The first time I met Wakil, in 2018, she grinned and embraced me tenderly when I told her that I was also Igbo. “It’s like being with my sister,” she said, giggling, and lifted her niqab to let me see her face. Wakil had done her best to adopt Kanuri culture. She burned ka’aji. She took on local beauty customs, keeping her hands and fingers covered in lalle, a type of henna plant dye. She followed the local expectations of a Muslim wife, too, covering her head in a hijab whenever she stepped out of her home. When her husband started telling her that he did not like the way men were admiring her face, she began wearing the niqab to conceal it.
Shortly after Wakil moved to her house in Maiduguri, she decided to start leaving her front door open. She was still fairly new to the city and wanted to be welcoming. Soon, poor Kanuri boys, about six or seven years old, began streaming in. Wakil let them play in her compound. Eventually, she would let them garden with her and pick fruit from her trees. Although she already had two of her own children at the time, she started calling these gangly neighbourhood boys her “sons”. In turn, the boys called her “mama”, and to show how much they appreciated her, they started inviting her to attend their circumcision ceremonies, which she ended up sponsoring as a way to help their families, who were struggling financially.
The circumcision of a Muslim boy is a sacred rite in northern Nigeria. In Maiduguri, it usually takes place when boys are about seven. Wakil was there at her newfound sons’ circumcisions, holding their hands as they flinched under the blade. When the old men finished cutting, Wakil would gently wash the boy’s penis, submerging it in ka’aji to disinfect it and keep evil spirits away. At the end, she had a chicken killed to celebrate each boy’s rite of passage.
But Wakil was still getting used to the customs of north-eastern Nigeria. Some people there saw her as an outsider, a southerner. At times she felt like one, too. And as she continued to adjust to a culture that was so different from the one she grew up in, it was her sons who kept her company. They came to adore the Igbo dishes she cooked them, such as isi ewu, spiced goat’s head steeped in red palm oil. Back in those days, Maiduguri still felt like the city of peace.
A round the turn of the century, life in Maiduguri started to change. After 1999, when military rule ended and civilian rule was restored to Nigeria, sectarian tensions increased. Between 1999 and 2001, to ensure that the new secular, democratic government in Abuja would not encroach on Islamic principles, 12 northern states adopted full sharia law. Christians living in the north said they felt threatened by sharia, despite officials’ promises that it would not apply to them.
Religious tensions were particularly raw in the wide swathe of fertile land south of Borno state, known in Nigeria as the Middle Belt. In 2001, in one Middle Belt city, Jos, about 1,000 people were killed in violence between Christians and Muslims. In Maiduguri, that same year, a total lunar eclipse sparked a riot, after local Muslim men took the eclipse as a sign that the city was overrun with immorality. News agencies reported that the men set ablaze at least 40 hotels, brothels and bars. The 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, and Osama bin Laden’s exhortations to Muslims in Africa to rise up against unbelievers, only added to these existing conflicts.
Since the 90s, a man called Mohammed Yusuf had been travelling around Nigeria’s north-east, preaching against western influences. Yusuf subscribed to a radical, militant strand of the conservative Sunni branch of Islam known as Salafism. In his sermons, he attacked boko (meaning secular education) and deemed it haram (sinful). By 2001, Yusuf had a devoted group of followers, known as Yusufiyya, and people started referring to his ideology as Boko Haram.
Yusuf tapped into the growing anger at rising inequality in Borno state, where most villages lacked power and clean running water, and the majority of people lived on less than $1.25 a day. He railed against government corruption, as well as the growing influence of western Judeo-Christian culture in the north. He condemned the idolisation of international football stars, the prioritising of Nigeria’s secular constitution over Islam and the government’s push to make primary education compulsory for children.
In 2005, Yusuf set up the Ibn Taymiyyah mosque and compound, near Maiduguri’s train station. A few hundred of his followers moved there, settling around the train tracks. Yusuf’s rhetoric got more extreme as he agitated for the Borno state governor to enforce sharia law, beyond its formal adoption in 2000. He railed against the US invasion of Iraq, the torture of Muslim detainees in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. He told his followers that Nigeria was an infidel state, and it was time to prepare for jihad against the government. Meanwhile, violence between Christians and Muslims across Nigeria continued to escalate. The worldwide protests that followed a Danish newspaper’s publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad in 2005 led to more deaths in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world. Many protests turned violent, which began a vicious cycle of attacks and counterattacks between Christians and Muslims, leaving dozens dead.
Wakil knew Yusuf, having befriended his wife and father-in-law around the time he began amassing a following. She saw him as another son. Maiduguri residents who knew Yusuf told me that he respected Wakil. She would cook for him in his father-in-law’s home, and urge him not to fight the government.
Around this time, she noticed her other sons were spending more time at Yusuf’s mosque. “They just began disappearing,” she told me. She remembers one of the boys who went away for three months. When he returned to town, he was no longer the jovial teenager that he used to be. He came back with a quiet, brooding disposition. When she asked where he had been, he told her that he had gone somewhere to learn how to kill people.
“I thought it was a joke!” Wakil told me. “Kill people?”
At first, she had no idea that jihad training camps were springing up in Nigeria, let alone that one of her sons had participated, upon Yusuf’s instruction. She confronted Yusuf about it. “He didn’t deny it,” Wakil said. “He said they were preparing for jihad.” Later, she learned about a camp in the Middle Belt and her sons started telling her to call them by new names, their noms de guerre.
Yusuf and his followers were becoming increasingly combative, repeatedly fighting with security agents. Yusuf’s popularity swelled after each arrest. The final trigger was a now-infamous incident that took place in June 2009. One day when Yusuf was away, his followers were riding in a convoy of motorbikes on their way to a funeral when a government patrol force confronted them to ask why they weren’t wearing helmets. The Yusufiyya argued with the patrol force, and soon shots rang out. It’s not clear who shot first, but several officers ended up wounded, and some of Yusuf’s devotees died. The government never investigated what happened.
Yusuf was livid, and responded with a series of diatribes directly threatening the Nigerian government and ordering Muslims to acquire weapons. Those messages went beyond Maiduguri, recorded on DVDs and tapes that circulated across the region.
Wakil realised that her sons and Yusuf were headed for trouble. She spoke to his father-in-law about her concerns, and he, too, was worried. On 21 July 2009, police raided the home of a sect member and seized bomb-making materials. The Yusufiyya burned down a police station on 26 July in Bauchi state, west of Borno, where Yusuf had a farm. Police raided the farm, killing dozens of militants. Later that day, jihadists also attacked a police station in Maiduguri and for the next four days, they terrorised the city, killing police and soldiers, and slitting the throats of civilians caught in the middle. In response to the killing spree, Nigerian troops shot more than 100 of Yusuf’s followers. Soldiers captured Yusuf and handed him over to the police, who executed him. Wakil cannot forget the night of 30 July 2009, when she saw Yusuf’s bloodied corpse on the local evening news TV broadcast.
The government thought Yusuf’s death was the end of Boko Haram. But it only made things worse. After going into hiding, the group re-emerged in 2010 with Yusuf’s brutal deputy, Abubakar Shekau, as Boko Haram’s new leader. From then on, Boko Haram began targeting schools and kidnapping women. The group’s goal was to overthrow Nigeria’s government and replace it with an Islamic state.
Many of Wakil’s sons were now under Shekau’s command. But as appalled as she was by the destructive path her sons had chosen, Wakil felt she couldn’t abandon them, or hand them over to the government. Throughout the nearly two years I spent following her, I never heard Wakil describe any of them as “terrorists”. These were men she had taken care of as they grew up. Now, she decided to pray for them to repent. And she kept looking after them: she gave them clothes, money and phones, believing they could be reformed with love. She took care of the wives and children they left behind in the cities. When state security agents came after Wakil’s sons, she hid them inside her home: they slept in the parlour, while she and her daughter, Ummi, slept in the next room.
But she feared how far her sons would go. Maiduguri became an urban war zone. At night, the sound of gunfire filled the air. During the day, residents were afraid to gather for weddings and parties. Speaking out against the militants could get you killed, so residents kept usually silent.
But Wakil was an exception. Her associations with Boko Haram were no secret. Producers at a local TV news station invited her to the studio to speak about the rising insecurity. During that broadcast, Wakil said the fighters should stop, that she was pleading to them as a mother to her sons.
After that, residents and journalists started calling her “Mama Boko Haram”. She was the only woman who would publicly declare that she spoke regularly to the militants.
T he University of Maiduguri is the most prestigious university in Nigeria’s north-east. With its modern, expansive campus, more than 20,000 students and international staff, it is the pride of the city. And as a secular, coeducational institution, it was also an obvious target for Boko Haram.
In 2012, the group carried out a series of high-profile attacks. In early January, Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president at the time, admitted that Boko Haram members had infiltrated his government and the security services. Later that moth, in Kano, Nigeria’s second-biggest city, Boko Haram carried out a series of coordinated shootings and bombings that left more than 178 dead. Back in Maiduguri, not even the beloved Shehu of Borno – who had publicly denounced Boko Haram as un-Islamic – was safe. He barely escaped a suicide bombing in the central mosque where people were worshiping.
That same year, Wakil got a call from one of her sons warning her not to let her daughter Ummi, who was a student at the university, go in that day. The campus was about to be attacked. Wakil spoke as gently as she could. Addressing him as “my son”, she did her best to coax him into abandoning the plan. She told him that killing innocent people was not God’s will. He said there was no way to stop the mission, because everything was already in place, but that she should protect her daughter.
When he hung up, Wakil turned to Ummi and told her to rush to school. “She was telling me, go to school quickly,” Ummi later told me. “I didn’t know why she was hurrying me.” Wakil knew that her sons wouldn’t want to bomb the university with her daughter inside. Ummi was like a sister to them: she, too, had taken care of them. So Wakil used her like a human shield.
When the insurgents spotted Ummi, the man called Wakil again. Why had Mama let her daughter go to campus, he asked her. After some back and forth, he said that, on Mama’s request, they were going to call off the attack.
Very few people outside Boko Haram could claim that kind of influence over its members – and at first, the government considered Wakil’s relationship with them an asset. They believed she could help them open talks with the group.
As the violence spiralled, in 2013 Wakil was invited to join a committee that President Jonathan had set up to open talks with the insurgents and broach the option of granting them amnesty. Wakil joined, but the talks didn’t go anywhere. Boko Haram didn’t trust the politicians, and as details of the negotiations kept being leaked to the media, the insurgents became less and less inclined to cooperate.
But since Shekau had become Boko Haram’s leader, Wakil had been carrying out her own negotiations, talking to members by phone or through her informants, or meeting them in person in her home. She beseeched them to leave the group, and dozens of them did. She convinced some of them to abandon their arms, directing them to a large rubbish dump in Maiduguri where they could drop the weapon and walk away. A couple of times, militants helped her to disassemble explosives. She buried the pieces in her garden. As we walked around it together, she pointed out the spot where she had destroyed a bomb; if I looked hard enough, she said, I might still be able to see pieces of it.
She helped former members establish a new life in other parts of the country. One day, she gave money to some 30 ex-militants. With the money, one ended up going to the commercial capital of Lagos to work in the textile sector, she said. Another made his way to the south-east to become a butcher. According to Wakil, many of these sons were killed by vigilantes or arrested once word spread about who they were.
Not everyone understood what Wakil was doing. And it wasn’t long before rumours started going around. People said she was suspiciously close to the insurgents. They wondered why her home had been spared, while just about every other area in Maiduguri had been touched by gunfire or a bomb.
It was true, Wakil said, that they had agreed never to attack there. But that was because her home was considered a sanctuary by all sides. When bullets were fired in the city, it was where civilians went to seek refuge. Insurgents ran there when they were being pursued by state security and soldiers; security officials ran there when they were fleeing Boko Haram.
At these moments, government security agents and Boko Haram fighters sometimes came face to face in Wakil’s home, exactly as she wanted. She would bring over bowls of isi ewu and encourage the men to eat together in peace. “They will eat and they will be very happy,” she told me with a laugh. They would be wary at first, but over food they slowly warmed up enough to have frank conversations.
It was Wakil’s own version of peacebuilding. But unsurprisingly, some people felt uncomfortable about her unorthodox methods. On 14 August 2016, Wakil was declared wanted by the Nigerian army after the militants released a video of the Chibok girls in captivity. In a statement, the army spokesman, Sani Usman, said that Wakil – and two other people who were wanted, a journalist and a peace activist – was “in possession of information on the conditions and the exact location” of the Chibok girls. “They must, therefore, come forward and tell us,” Usman’s statement went on.
Wakil was distraught. Not only did she not know where the girls were, but for years she had been cooperating with the security services. She had met with the army’s chief of staff and kept the military informed about her activities. Now she was being treated as an accomplice. She posted a response on Facebook: “Yes I have links with Boko Haram and you have always known that,” she wrote. “I have been in the front fighting for peace long before Chibok girls were kidnapped. Nigerian security knows me too well, I am not shady. Why declaring me wanted? … this has put my immediate and extended family under a lot of pressure and I do not deserve this from the government.”
The next day, Wakil turned herself in at the defence headquarters in Abuja, and was interrogated for about eight hours. Security personnel asked her for her life story, how she ended up in Maiduguri, how she came to know the insurgents. Though she was not offered any public apology, the army accepted her story and released her after 48 hours. She returned to Maiduguri and got back to work.
I n early September 2018, two years after her interrogation, Wakil sat in her office with two Boko Haram militants. “You hear me? We will come out,” said Ali Garga, one of the Boko Haram militants, in a gentle voice. “We don’t want any security to disturb us, like police.”
Wakil sat in her chair quietly listening. She seemed worn out. The previous year, she had launched a nonprofit organisation called Complete Care and Aid Foundation. Every few weeks, she and her team would visit refugee camps, where they would distribute clothes and food to women who had lost their husbands to Boko Haram, as well as check on the storehouse where they kept bags of rice and beans.
But the relief work was not her most pressing priority. She urgently wanted to get her boys to stop the violence – and it was taking a physical toll on her. She suffered from acute back pain and crippling headaches. Still, she kept going.
“We drop everything, we drop everything, Mama,” Garga went on, speaking on behalf of some of the men in his unit. He did not specify just how many men wanted to surrender. A man with a hard, skinny body and kind eyes, Garga had been a cattle herder before becoming a mujahid. But he had grown tired of the guerrilla life, eventually coming around to see what Boko Haram was doing as criminal, not Islamic. He missed his cows, his home, his freedom. Later, he turned to me and explained that he was surrendering because Wakil was making it possible for him to do so.
As part of the surrender, Garga said he planned to release some of the Chibok girls who were still captive. Of the original 276, about 112 are still missing. Garga, who claimed he had about 40 of them under his care in a secret location, told Wakil he would sneak out of the camp with the girls and other abductees.
An hour later, Wakil said it was time for her sons to eat. She brought out plastic containers of rice and bottles of water and orange soda. The men sat quietly, scooping up the rice with their hands and then wolfing down their food, until an informant began to praise Wakil. “Mama Aisha, mother of the Boko Haram. May God bless you, Aisha. May God help you,” he said.
Three weeks later, I was in Wakil’s home on a Saturday night when she ran towards me with her phone in her hand, shouting, “Ali is dead! Ali is dead!” A trusted informant, whom I had met several times, had just called her. Wakil was hysterical. She threw her body on the cold tiled floor and cried. I watched her shoulders shake up and down. She told me that when Garga went back into the bushes, some of his fellow mujahideen found out about his plan to escape with the Chibok girls. They killed him. Wakil later found out that he had been tortured.
Ali Garga’s death was a huge setback to Wakil’s peace talks. Things hadn’t been going her way lately. She had sold many of her assets, including jewellery and land, and had no more money to lure the militants away from the group. Her talks kept hitting dead ends. Her informants were getting killed as they travelled between Maiduguri and the bush, where the militants were based. She never knew who did the killing. Periodically, she would get a message that another contact had been killed by a stray bullet, or drowned in a river.
In late 2019, her foundation was hit with a lawsuit over allegations of fraud. She was detained shortly afterwards. According to the government’s anti-corruption agency, contractors who had supplied at least 111.6m naira (£229,000) worth of goods such as cars, maize and medical supplies to the foundation had not been paid and some of the awarded contracts were bogus.
In January, I travelled to Maiduguri to see if I could visit Wakil in the prison where she and the foundation’s programme manager and country director were being held. I learned that the prison administrators had allowed her to go to the hospital to get treatment for her high blood pressure. At the hospital, Wakil told me she was innocent, blaming everything on the programme manager, who had handled the contracts. (Like Wakil, the programme manager and country director have also pleaded not guilty. The trial has been postponed until further notice, and all three suspects remain in custody.)
Meanwhile, Wakil told me, the number of people joining Boko Haram was growing, despite the Nigerian military’s claims to the contrary. They were getting their hands on more sophisticated weapons: Russian anti-aircraft missiles and mortars that had been circulating in north Africa since the fall of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, as well as drones. And then there were all the Boko Haram splinter groups, which made it harder for Wakil to keep track of which faction was carrying out which attack.
Despite the presence of a multinational task force of specially trained army units, and repeated claims by Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, that the group has been “technically defeated”, its insurgency continues. In March, the Chadian and Nigerian armies kicked off a major offensive operation against Boko Haram. Later that month, 92 Chadian soldiers were killed in a battle that lasted seven hours. Chadian forces claimed they killed 1,000 militants in a mission launched that month. In June, militants carried out multiple attacks in north-eastern Nigeria, which left scores of civilians dead.
It’s hard to say who is winning the war, but Wakil’s boys are dying before they can even surrender. A couple of days after Ali Garga was killed, Wakil called me into her bedroom to watch old videos of him. It was night-time, and I sat on the fluffy pink comforter beside Wakil, and looked at the tablet in her hands. There, on the screen, were Garga and his wife, a rifle slung over her shoulder. They were dancing in a clearing of trees. All around them, sword-carrying mujahideen danced with women, standing shoulder to shoulder, shuffling back and forth. Everyone was beaming. Under a bright sky, Boko Haram was dancing.
I looked up from the tablet and saw Wakil smile as she watched her son. I remembered something she had told me one evening in her kitchen. All she wanted, she said, was for her boys to come out, so she could cook isi ewu for them and they could eat together like old times.
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How to stop your glasses steaming up – and 19 other essential facts about face masks
Words: Emine Saner - The Guardian - 05:00 09-07-2020
T he British have been slow to embrace face masks, despite calls from public health experts. Uptake has been just 25% in the UK, compared with 83.4% in Italy and 65.8% in the US. The president of the Royal Society, Venki Ramakrishnan, said this week that wearing one “is the right thing to do” and that a refusal to do so should be seen as socially unacceptable as drink-driving or not wearing a seatbelt.
Perhaps one of the problems has been the changing advice as new evidence emerges. The World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends people wear cloth masks. Ramakrishnan said that in the UK, “the message has not been clear enough, so perhaps people do not really understand the benefits or are not convinced”. It also doesn’t help that the guidance across the UK is different.
In England, it is mandatory to wear a mask on public transport and in hospitals, for visitors and outpatients. From Friday, masks will be mandatory on public transport in Northern Ireland, and Scotland is also extending that to shops this week. In Wales masks are recommended, though not obligatory, on public transport.
A mask, says Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, is a “means of reducing the propensity of someone who has got Covid-19 to spread it to others. We’re not talking about protecting yourself by wearing one, but about reducing the risk to other people.” Wearing a mask is just one measure, along with handwashing and social distancing, to try to contain Covid-19, and seems particularly useful for stopping people who have unwittingly contracted the virus, but who are not showing symptoms, from spreading (if you do have symptoms, you should be self-isolating, not going out wearing a mask). “What you’re doing,” McKee says, “is catching all the little droplets that are coming out of your mouth before they can get into the atmosphere, when they can dry out and become very small and float around as an aerosol. There is still stuff that is going to get out, but you are reducing that risk.”
With so many of us still coming to terms with this “new normal”, we asked McKee and other experts to answer some common questions.
“Indoors,” says McKee. “The risk of transmitting the virus outside is low. The risk is indoors, in crowded situations, where the air is not being filtered out, and particularly where people are speaking loudly, shouting or singing.” People should wear them at the supermarket and while out shopping, says Maitreyi Shivkumar, a virologist and lecturer in molecular biology at De Montfort University, and anywhere you’re “likely to come into closer contact with people you can’t really get away from”. Do you need to wear one while exercising outdoors? McKee says not, but Shivkumar says possibly. “I’ve seen pictures of lots of people running alongside the Thames in London, and in that scenario I would suggest you wear one. Outdoors, if you’re staying away from people, it’s fine, but in large crowds you should wear one.”
The one that may provide maximum protection for the wearer, says Shivkumar, is a FFP3 respirator (a disposable shaped mask with a valve that filters air) “but we know that the production of them is more difficult and healthcare workers are not getting access to them, so it is important to reserve those for frontline workers who come into contact with Covid-19 patients”. And anyway, masks with valves – found on dust masks and antipollution cycling masks, for instance – are not thought to be effective at stopping the spread of Covid-19. A study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh into different mask types found that the valves improved breathability for the wearer, but would not stop infectious matter being breathed out. “For the public, cloth masks are fine,” says Shivkumar. “There’s not a lot of data on the efficacy of cloth masks but they’re better than nothing.”
Jeremy Howard, a data scientist and cofounder of the campaigning organisation Masks4All, says you should really only wear one once. “They’re not designed to be worn more than once or cleaned,” he says.
“They’re not a great choice to use at all,” he adds. “Disposable masks are generally surgical masks: they’re designed to protect from all the stuff that might be coming out of the surgeon’s face during surgery. They have to do so many things that they’re not perfect at any of them. A cloth mask, on the other hand, can have a better fit and more absorbent materials, and can be reused as many times as you like. It really is a better approach.”
Some disposable masks come with an expiry date. If you’re planning to wear one for everyday use, is this something to worry about? “Do you want the official answer?” says McKee with a laugh. “I’d have to say yes.” But in reality, he goes on to say, as long as you’re using the mask to nip to the chemists on the bus, rather than caring for Covid-19 patients in hospital, “the risk of using ones past their expiry date, providing they actually look physically all right, is probably fine for this sort of circumstance”.
You can buy lots of ready-made cloth masks now, but there are also tutorials online showing you how to make your own. “Nearly any kind of face-covering is effective at blocking droplets coming out of your mouth,” says Howard. “Shortly after they come out of your mouth, they evaporate and become much harder to block, which means it is more difficult for masks to block droplets coming into your mouth.” There isn’t good evidence that wearing a mask will prevent you from getting (as opposed to spreading) Covid-19.
Any kind of tightly woven fabric is a good choice, says Shivkumar. “The more tightly woven, the better.” Howard recommends using cotton of 600-thread-count (if you can find this out – it’s the number of threads an inch). “Things such as high-quality bedsheets, for example. Generally, a better-quality cotton is going to have a higher thread count.” The WHO advises a combination of fabrics, with an inner layer of absorbent fabric (to contain the droplets) and a more waterproof outer layer, such as polyester.
No, although, says Howard, “it’s better than nothing”. The fabric may be too thin or, if it’s a chunkier scarf, it can be difficult to get several comfortable layers out of it. “There was some data suggesting that bandanas and scarves are not very good because the fabric has a lot of holes in it,” says Shivkumar.
The WHO advises a minimum of three, although four layers can be up to seven times more effective than a single bit of fabric. The problem, says Howard, is “you don’t want to go overboard because it reduces breathability”. He suggests two layers of cloth with a filter inserted between them; this should be of a different material, such as a piece of paper towel or silk (Shivkumar has heard of people using coffee filters). “I use a piece of paper towel – I’ve got a little pocket for it in my mask,” says Howard. “When I come home after going out, I dispose of that, and put in a new one.”
According to the University of Edinburgh study, masks need to have a tight fit to be really effective, though this needs to be balanced with wearability (a looser mask is better than no mask). It needs to be fairly snug to block droplets coming out of your mouth, and even though it has not been proven that a cloth mask (rather than personal protective equipment) protects the wearer from Covid-19, this may change. There is “some evidence that masks might directly benefit the wearer”, according to Paul Edelstein, emeritus professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the authors of a new report for the Royal Society.
There are three places to check for fit, says Howard. The first is around your nose. “It’s a good idea to use something with a mouldable nosepiece. If your mask doesn’t have one, you can get a paperclip, a pipe cleaner or even just a piece of aluminium foil that you can roll up, attach to the top of your mask and mould to your face.” It should be snug around your chin, and fit well over your cheeks. “This is where cloth masks can be quite a lot better than surgical masks,” says Howard. “You can get or make a cloth mask that goes further, closer to your ears, and then tie it up around the back of your head. Surgical masks tend not to be as wide.”
“Before you put the mask on, wash your hands,” says Shivkumar. “Only touch the straps; try to avoid touching the mask area.” Howard is a bit more relaxed: “Surface transmission through cloth is pretty much unheard of for Covid-19. Officially, the medical advice is to take it off from the straps rather than the front, and you may as well do that because it’s easier.”
One tip, says Howard, is to submerge your glasses in soapy water and then let them dry by themselves, creating a thin antifog layer on the lenses. “Otherwise, you can play around with where your glasses sit – you can wear them a bit lower over your nose. If you use a mouldable nosepiece, you can make a tighter fit [at the top of the mask] so that less air comes out.”
Even if the chance of picking up an infection from your mask is low, you’ll want to keep it as clean as possible – wearing a dirty face-covering isn’t going to be particularly pleasant. “Put it in maybe a Ziploc bag that keeps it away from everything else – that’s what I tend to do,” says Shivkumar. “It’s going to be fine if you put it in your bag and it’s wrapped in a scarf or something.”
Howard thinks that, for most of us, one mask a day should be sufficient. “If you’re doing extremely hot work and getting super-sweaty, you should probably change it if it gets very wet,” he says.
It also depends on the material – a thin mask, or scarf, will become damp quickly. “Once it becomes damp, it’s not going to be as effective,” says Shivkumar. “But I’m hoping people are going to continue to be sensible and not spend hours together in a situation where they would have to wear masks.” McKee questions whether a damp mask is going to be less effective, but he adds it can cause other problems, such as skin irritation. “You wouldn’t want to be wearing a damp mask.”
Treat your face mask “the same way as you treat your socks or underpants”, says Howard – as long as you’re the sort of person who only gets one wear out of their pants before washing. “It’s good to have a spare mask so you can have one being washed and wear the other one the next day.”
In your usual laundry load, ideally at a hot temperature, but handwashing every evening should also be acceptable, says Howard (although the WHO advises boiling your face mask for one minute if it has been handwashed in room-temperature water). “Anything is fine as long as you use some kind of soap that destroys the lipid layer that protects the virus,” he says. “You don’t need to wash it separately [from your other clothes].”
Howard says you can – as long as the masks have been washed thoroughly.
“In our house, we present wearing a mask as something that’s fun and exciting,” says Howard. “We let our daughter pick out which colour she wants.” Explain to your child why masks are a good idea. “We talked about how coronavirus is a disease that can make people sick, and we could even make her grandmother sick if we weren’t wearing a mask.” Make sure you have a mask that is child-sized and as comfortable as possible, “and particularly think about breathability”. In England, the government has said that children under the age of three should not wear a mask, but it is under five for those in Scotland. In England, children under the age of 11 are exempt from mandatory masks; in Northern Ireland, it will be children under 13. As with adults, children with breathing difficulties, disabilities or who are unable to put on or take a mask off unassisted are exempt.
If you are sitting indoors, should you wear a mask to order from the waiter and then take it off to eat? “I can’t see how this would work,” says Shivkumar. “The thing to remember with masks is: it’s not everything – it is important along with washing your hands, not touching your face and social distancing. It’s part of the bigger picture.”
“If it’s a well-aired house, it’s maybe not necessary, but I would say generally if you’re indoors, stay 2 metres away and wear a mask, and that will reduce the risk,” says Shivkumar. “It’s about recognising the risks and working towards reducing them.” It depends on the situation, says McKee. “This is a continuum – trying to reduce it to a yes or no is problematic. If you’re going to be close to them, if you’re going to be there for a long period of time and it’s a very confined space, then you’re moving towards a point where you may think about wearing a mask. If you’re not going to be close to them, or if it’s a large room, then you’re towards the end of not needing to wear one.”
As well as younger children (see above), there are exemptions for some people with health conditions or disabilities and people who assist them. For example, if you are travelling with someone who relies on lip-reading, you are not required to wear a mask. “There may be people for whom it may be very difficult,” says McKee. Asthma UK advises people with asthma to try a few different face coverings to see if they can find one that works for them. “We need to think about people who lip-read,” says McKee. “There are transparent masks that may help, but we have to recognise it is going to be a problem. And it may be an issue for people with learning disabilities.”
Milton Glaser obituary
Words: Deyan Sudjic - The Guardian - 19:37 08-07-2020
Not many graphic designers manage to touch the wider world and reach beyond those who, like them, spend a great deal of time worrying about the relative legibility of serif and sans serif fonts. Milton Glaser, who has died aged 91, touched almost everybody, with a project that was both entirely characteristic of his approach to design, and at the same time an atypical one-off.
In the crime-raddled and bankrupt New York of 1976, a difficult period epitomised by the Daily News’s famous “Ford to NYC: Drop Dead” headline, the state commissioned an advertising agency, Wells Rich Greene, to produce a campaign to turn perceptions around and attract tourists back to the city. The agency in turn asked Glaser to give the campaign a visual hook. The sketch defining his idea made on the back of a torn envelope in a taxi is now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
“The image of I♥NY is basically a little puzzle,” Glaser told one interviewer. “There is a complete word, ‘I’. There is a symbol for an emotion, which is the heart, and there are initials for a place. These require three little mental adjustments to understand the message. But they are so easy to achieve that there is very little possibility that somebody won’t be able to figure it out.”
It was a project that reflected Glaser’s distinctive ability to use words and images blended together to send a powerful message, as well as his magpie-like way of picking up and repurposing visual ideas that were already in the air. He was far from being a plagiarist, but he was exceptionally fluent in making use of the many languages of design. He once conceded that Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture might have been a subliminal reference for him for the New York project. He based his Bob Dylan poster, designed to be slipped inside the first Greatest Hits album in 1966, with its monochrome silhouette subverted by psychedelic tendrils of hair, on a Marcel Duchamp self-portrait. And his poster marking Vincent van Gogh’s centenary quoted René Magritte.
I♥NY was also a reflection of Glaser’s belief that a designer had a responsibility to worry about more than simply getting paid. He donated the idea, and never saw a penny from it, even as licensing income grew over the years. For Glaser, the campaign was a love letter to the city that had allowed him to go to college without paying tuition fees, and in which he lived and worked for most of his life.
From then on, the logo was plastered over every conceivable piece of merchandise, some licensed, others crude knock-offs. And yet the basic idea is still strong enough to survive the battering of so much careless handling. Glaser’s modified black typewriter font, the splash of colour, and the sense it gave you of being smart enough to figure out the puzzle made it a meme long before we even knew that there was such a thing.
But I♥NY did lack what was perhaps the most essential aspect of Glaser and his work. He was a brilliantly gifted draughtsman who never stopped drawing almost until the last day of his life. The simple, direct forms of the logo with a message betrayed little sign of his exquisite painterly skills.
Born in the Bronx, New York, Milton was the son of Eugene and Eleanor (nee Bergman), Hungarian-Jewish immigrants who owned a dry-cleaning and tailoring shop. After the Manhattan High School of Music and Art, Glaser studied design at the Cooper Union in New York, graduating in 1951. He then won a Fulbright scholarship that allowed him to spend two years in Italy at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, where he was a student of the distinguished painter Giorgio Morandi.
While still at the Cooper Union, Glaser and a group of fellow students, including Seymour Chwast, had set up a design practice. On his return from Italy, they resumed their collaboration: Push Pin Studios was established in 1954, and immediately began to draw attention from advertising agencies in the city.
In 1968, Glaser, with the editor Clay Felker, started New York magazine, from the ruins of a weekly supplement to the defunct New York Herald Tribune, for which he had written a food column, The Underground Gourmet (the column continued in New York magazine). Every cover packed a punch. Glaser deployed his pen and paintbrush on most of them to tell a powerful story. He also used boldly cropped photography to highlight such issues as an out-of-control police force that, depressingly, are still with us.
The magazine was a showcase that attracted newspaper clients from all around the world for the consultancy that he opened in 1974. By the time of the I♥NY campaign Glaser had already established himself as one of the world’s leading graphic designers.
In 1983, with Walter Bernard, Glaser set up WBMG, a publication design company. Clients included L’Espresso in Milan, the New York Times and even Sir James Goldsmith in London, with the short-lived weekly Now!.
Glaser lived long enough to understand the cycles that reputations go through, and to outlive them. He was a student modernist, made his reputation as a postmodernist, and then saw a recycled modernism return. He was also a teacher for more than 50 year at the School of Visual Arts, in Manhattan, and, in partnership with his wife, Shirley (nee Girton), a fellow designer whom he married in 1957, an author of children’s books, including If Apples Had Teeth (1960) and The Alphazeds (2003).
Increasingly, as he grew older, he became an activist on environmental and social issues. Well aware that as a designer, he was in the business of persuasion, Glaser always wanted to use his powerful skills to worthwhile ends, while knowing that he would not always succeed.
“While we don’t often originate the content of what we transit, we are an essential part of communicating ideas to a public that is affected by what we say,” he said. “Should telling the truth be a fundamental requirement of this role? Is there a difference between lying to your wife and friends, and lying to people you don’t know?”
Glaser devised a test for himself that he called the Road to Hell. The first couple of questions are easy. “Would you design a package to look larger on the shelf?” “Would you do an ad for a slow-moving, boring film to make it seem like a light-hearted comedy?” Then, further along the road, “Would you design a promotion for a diet that you know doesn’t work?”. It culminated in “Would you design for a product that you know could kill its users?”.
By way of explanation he told an audience that he had just finished illustrating a section of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and confided that he was unhappy about being allocated to purgatory. “As an illustrator, Hell had always seemed more interesting.” It’s an ambiguous revelation that might explain why there is a Trump Vodka bottle in Glaser’s portfolio.
Glaser reminds us of a US that we can admire. He designed its logos, its magazines and record covers, its cafes, its posters and its book jackets. He designed the cover for the first edition of Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, artwork for Mahalia Jackson, Dick Gregory and The Lovin’ Spoonful. Inevitably these are images that speak powerfully of the time that they were created. But, like his posters for Olivetti, a long dead company advertising a moribund product category, the typewriter, though they have outlived their original purpose, they have the quality to transcend it. His America is full of colour and wit. It is playful and it has a conscience.
He is survived by Shirley.
• Milton Glaser, designer, born 26 June 1929; died 26 June 2020