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NIGEL BARNES, OWN THE ROOM COACH
Well that was a bit different! It started with booking the flight. The options were severely limited, there was no priority security lane but there wasn’t any need – the teams were bored waiting for the next passenger to scan. How lovely!
Then through to the departures concourse – practically empty with every second seat closed off with a sign promoting social distancing. Not that it was an issue. Even if everyone in the terminal sat down at once, as it was a giant party game, only 5% of the seats would ever be filled.
The duty free shops were a disappointment. Those that were open, that is. No aftershave to try out with a cheeky squirt. Everything was packed away. If you wanted it, you would have to buy it sir.
On the plane things picked up again. At the door, the cabin crew gave every passenger a hygienic wipe. I opened the sachet with delight as the towel was large and wet with a solution that smelled distinctively of gin and tonic. Yes, I was tempted just to suck it but I thought it would look rather unseemly.
I was surprised that in my row, all the seats were filled. I think I gave the guy who sat next to me a less than friendly look, although as I said nothing to him, and there were no words or tone of voice, and my body language was covered by my mask I hope he didn’t notice.
The mask was becoming insufferable by now. I had it on since I left the car park and the stuffy plane was making it difficult to breathe my own recycled air.
It was only a short flight to Frankfurt and once we reached the gate we were given strict instructions to stay seated until told to exit by row numbers. A woman in row 8 was very naughty and took her bag down from the locker and got told off. I don’t think she will do it again.
Passport control and baggage reclaim were pretty normal but after leaving customs it was off to the COVID test centre for an obligatory throat swab (what joy!). The Germans did have it very well organized though and it took barely ten minutes.
The conversation at the car hire company was interesting. With both of us wearing masks and my German not perfect it took longer than it needed to. (Note for everyone – masks take away much of the words, tone and body language – remember that when you are communicating!)
Next morning, breakfast was interesting. Until they sat down to eat everyone wore masks. When you wanted to go to the buffet you put on disposable gloves. Of course you could take off the mask to eat.
In the training room (an old converted stone barn) tables had been laid out schoolroom style with everyone spaced two metres apart. In the good old days we could have comfortably packed 60 in there. This time I had just six delegates. Of course I had most of the tables cleared and made sure we had lots of space in the room. The weather was perfect so we could use the courtyard or the field by the lake (feeling jealous yet?)
There was a debate with the participants to agree the best way of running the training session and everyone agreed not to wear masks, but simply to keep their distance. The results of my COVID test came through and I could confirm that my results were negative. I felt this was an important point so there couldn’t be any doubt that I could have been the source of any potential infection.
What would have happened if people wanted to wear masks though? It would have been a mess. In general, humans tend to process faces as a whole, rather than focusing on individual features. And when they do focus on individual features, the mouth is the most informative region because it tends to be the most expressive.
Will it ever go back to how it was before? To some extent probably but I doubt if it will ever be quite the same again. Given that reality, we all must be aware of the communication tools we lose when we wear a mask, and make an effort to over-communicate while simultaneously using body language.