Lorne Jackson

“JOHN told us to come,” I said.

“John?”

“Yeah. Y’know. John.”

There was a moment’s hesitation from the hipster blocking the front door of the tenement flat. A shadow of scepticism glided across his face, making him look like the nightwatchman in Troy when that suspiciously large wooden horse popped up at the perimeter fence.

But then – bingo – the hipster shrugged his shoulders and told us to go in.

I didn’t have an acquaintance called John, as it happens. But there’s usually a batch of them at your average student party, which was what me and my mates were in the process of gate-crashing, back in 1995.

We didn’t know a single person there, though that didn’t prevent my pal Andy moseying over to the first bloke he spotted and immediately being rude to him.

When that became a bit ho-hum he turned his attention to another stranger, and proceeded to be rude to him, instead.

“What are you doing?” I hissed. “We don’t even know these people.”

“True,” shrugged Andy. “But we’ll end up hating them anyway. This just saves time.”

He was right.

If I’d been paying attention, I’d have noticed the Che Guevara poster on the wall. The bloke sprawled on an overstuffed beanbag chair, eyes erased by sunglasses, casually explaining to a girl where Freud, Einstein and Gandhi went wrong.

Sometimes you have to get your hate in early.

Unfortunately, outside the realms of a student shindig, it’s not always easy figuring out who needs hating the most.

That’s why the Covid-era facial masks have been so handy and instructive; and why I’ll kind of miss them when government diktat no longer prescribes wearing them, as will likely happen soon.

The Covid mask is a Che Guevara poster for the face, instantly alerting you to the precise reason why any passing stranger should immediately be detested.

Say, for example, you’re on a train, and the person opposite isn’t wearing a mask.

Perhaps he has a medical condition. Or, more likely, he’s the sort of selfish cad who will wear an outsize tartan bunnet to watch Scotland bag victory on the final day of the Euros, thus obscuring the vision of the footy fan behind, who will miss all 10 goals scored by our lads.

Or maybe the person on the train is wearing a mask, but his nose is peaking out. During his schooldays this chap would have been asked by the maths teacher what the square root of nine equalled, and triumphantly answered: “Battle of Bannockburn… 1066.”

Then there’s the type who wears three masks and a visor driving alone in a car. This individual harbours an ambition to be a lighthouse keeper, far from the icky, sticky presence of other homo sapiens.

So that’s why I’ll (sort of) miss masks.

Deprived of the handy hints they provide into the depths of the human soul, I’m going to have to – ugh! – get to know people before I can detest them with any true relish.