Dear runners, a “buff” isn’t a face mask, it’s a disguise for buffoonery


As a mental health excursion on a Saturday morning during lockdown, my wife and I would get a cappuccino and a croissant, and take our three-year-old son for a walk.

We have old people in our families – my mother is 92 – and our priority has been to make sure we don’t inadvertedly give it to them. This was the middle of August. There was none of the strange certainty that would emerge by October, and now November, about this “novel coronavirus pandemic”.

As us South Africans emerged from the harshness of level five lockdown, we tentatively ventured out, on those frosty August mornings.

But, like a plague of spandex locusts, hordes of runners descend on suburban coffee spots and refuse to socially distance. They sit right outside the door of the coffee shop, masks off, laughing and joking. Meanwhile the rest of the would-be shoppers are forced to go somewhere else, or run the gauntlet of these socially irresponsible arseholes.

The more irksome problem I’ve discovered over the months, when I’ve tried to point out how their lack of regard has consequences for other people, is they instantly turn into rabid Trump supporters. Once, a runner in his too-tight shorts ripped off his mask in defiance, while all of them have tried to ridicule me for being cautious. “Stay at home” they have openly heckled.

So the coffee shop, which is struggling to stay alive and keep paying its staff, has lost one weekly order because one ignorant, selfish, chauvinist arsehole doesn’t understand the difference between one and three pieces of fabric, nor how far 1,5 metres is.

As if business isn’t hard enough that one bunch of fools makes it harder.

It’s not only incredibly irresponsible but startlingly parochial and chauvinist. On the last occasion, I finally gave up trying to talk sense and shouted at the Buff-ed idiot that his irresponsibility and that his lack of regard could have factual consequences for older people. His parting comment, when my coffee’s lid flew off, was: “you dropped your lipstick”.

The three guys laughed. The three other women runners squirmed.

What is the idiot buffoon’s final defence when confronted with logic and common sense: a cheap sexist put down.

Meanwhile, CNN reported, that such buffs are the “least effective” of 14 commonly used masks, according to researchers at Duke University, who set up a simple technique for analysing what masks are the most effective.

“Neck fleeces, also called [buffs]and often used by runners, were the least effective,” the news organisation reported.

But worse still, the report found “wearing a fleece mask resulted in a higher number of respiratory droplets because the material seemed to break down larger droplets into smaller particles that are more easily carried away with air.”

“We were extremely surprised to find that the number of particles measured with the fleece actually exceeded the number of particles measured without wearing any mask,” said Martin Fischer, one of the study’s authors from Duke’s physics department. “We want to emphasize that we really encourage people to wear masks, but we want them to wear masks that actually work.”

August was when President Cyril Ramaphosa told our nation that gender-based violence (GBV) was a “second” pandemic.

As I drove away from a coffee shop that I now seldomly frequent, I wonder how many women in that group took the “dropped lipstick” commentor to task? How many mothers intervened to remind a grown man that such a comment is sexist and revolting?

Wearing a buff gives these morons anonymity, but it doesn’t stop them being arseholes.

I rest my case.

This article first appeared in the Financial Mail.


About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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