Behind the Mask

In which The Author conceals and reveals simultaneously

I’ve been fascinated by masks for as long as I can remember. The transformative power of a face covering taps into something atavistic in my soul. I used to love superhero stories where mild-mannered Bert Bloggs would put on a mask and become Bastion, the defender of the weak. The following day he’d go to work as usual and vicariously bask in the praise that his alter ego received from colleagues and media outlets.
The arch-villain Catwoman – especially as portrayed by Lee Meriwether – was another of my childhood imprints which has survived into early middle age.

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When they made the films in the late 1980s, Michelle Pfeiffer didn’t have the same effect. I don’t do blondes, remember.
I first wore a mask in 1977 for the Silver Jubilee celebrations. I don’t know whose idea it was for me to go in fancy dress as Batman. I don’t think it was mine. I wore a pair of Mother’s black tights, a black leotard, gloves, and a mask made from an old pair of tights. I was eleven years old. The Fourth Circuit was busily imprinting. Oh Goddess, if only we knew then what it would unleash …
I’d only been a student for about a week (the first time around) when I went into London to explore. It must have been a Wednesday, as we didn’t have any lectures that day. I was sitting in a fairly quiet car of the underground, and there was a pretty girl of about my age sitting opposite me. We were religiously observing the First Commandment of tube travel: Thou Shalt Not Acknowledge thy Fellow Passengers. I was reading a music paper; she was looking through her shopping bags. We stopped at one station, and I glanced up to see where we were. Sitting opposite me was the Devil! I made a play of acting frightened, and the girl apologised. She took off the mask and we both laughed.
Now that the ice was broken, we were able to strike up a conversation. It turned out that she was from Cardiff, a fellow first-year student, but of Drama. She’d been buying some odds and ends for a production of Dr Faustus – hence her sudden transmogrification into Mephistopheles. I still remember one part of our chat. She pointed out that you could start walking in Cardiff and a couple of hours later you wouldn’t be in Cardiff any more. You couldn’t do that in London. We got on well, but this was in the era before mobile phones and Facebook and stuff. When we got off the train, we went our separate ways and never saw each other again. I doubt whether we’d have even made eye contact if she hadn’t worn that mask.
A number of years ago, Shiny magazine ran a fantastic cover photo of a woman wearing a leather hood that covered everything except her eyes and the lower part of her face. She was on the inside as well, and the accompanying copy read something like, ‘How many of our readers have a true impression of what she looks like?’ I didn’t, of course, but a stray lock of hair revealed that she was blonde. Oh well …
I always found pictures of masked or hooded women in fetish magazines extremely exciting. I used to fantasise about meeting a girl wearing a mask and hitting it off with her. Afterwards, I’d have to scrutinise every female I met really carefully, in case one of them was the mystery girl from the club: ‘I wonder if it was her …’ or, ‘I wouldn’t complain if it had been her …’, or even, ‘I hope to Goddess it wasn’t her!’
As you can imagine, as soon I started buying fetish gear, a mask was a prerequisite. When Gema and Helen R. came back to my place in 2001, Helen took an instant liking to my rubber mask. I’d bought it in Swansea a few months earlier, to wear to a Halloween party in the Black Lion. Rhian E. didn’t like it at all, and after a while she persuaded me to take it off. Helen loved it, and would have probably worn it all night if she’d had the chance. The problem is that rubberwear needs a lot of looking after, and eventually it fell apart.
Whenever the words ‘Fancy Dress Party’ were mentioned, I used the excuse to wear a mask. I bought a rather cool black lycra mask about seven years ago from an online site. It had eye holes and a mouth, and was long enough to be worn under a collar for extra security. I used to wear it to the White Lion when we had band nights. After a while everyone knew the signs when I ordered a pint and asked for a straw. I got a rather stern warning from the landlady of another pub for wearing it in there one night. The fact that I’d been chatting up a very pretty young girl all the while didn’t sway my argument. I also bought a leather cat-mask for Karen L. from the same supplier during our brief dalliance, but I’ve never seen her wearing it.
I bought my leather hood in a sex shop in Soho five years or so ago. It was expensive, but worth every penny. Helen examined it about six weeks ago, and was impressed by the quality. (I didn’t realise that she was such a connoisseur of fetish gear, fair play) The first time I wore it out was Halloween (again), to the Shot and Shell band night in Aberdare. Gema and Helen walked straight past me without even saying hello. It took me a few moments to realise why. I thought that pair of kinky bints would have recognised me, even if nobody else did!
Yet another Halloween, my cousin Ceri and I went out on the razz. I lent her some black PVC gear and we hit my local pub. I was wearing a long red dress and my leather hood. We were the talk of the place. Girls kept asking me to take it off. I refused steadfastly. After a while, we got into conversation with some youngsters and they were quite happy with the fact that I was hooded.
Shortly afterwards, a friend of mine celebrated her 30th birthday in town, and it was a PVC party. I had to buy a PVC hood, rather like the one Michelle Pfeiffer had worn in her role as Catwoman. I wore it under a locked collar so that I couldn’t take it off, with my PVC dress, miniskirt and gloves. It was quite a sensation on the night. There’s a great photo of me with my friend Maria G., looking like refugees from a fetish club. We ended up going to a house party, where I was chatted up for ages by a girl I’d never met before.
A few months later, another friend from the same circle got engaged, and needless to say it was fancy dress. I was there like a shot, of course. I locked my leather hood to my collar with a short piece of chain, so that it wouldn’t come off whatever the circumstances. Walking home afterwards was a challenge at best.
By then I was friendly with a girl called Vicki F., whom I met while working in the bookshop. Vicki also liked to cover her face whenever possible. She was a Humanities student recovering from a severe nervous breakdown in here late teens. She was extremely shy and insecure about her appearance. She used to wear Venetian-style masks to lectures and around campus. One day she came into the shop. She was wearing a particularly lovely half-face mask adorned with feathers, and looking for a book by Robert Anton Wilson. Maybe it was just coincidence that she chose to ask me about it. We were a match made in Heaven. We used to meet up regularly for lunch and the odd drink over the next few years. I don’t think I ever saw her face in its entirety. I had to use my imagination to piece it together, like an Identikit picture.
About five years ago she made a total commitment to masking, and adopted a niqab as her everyday dress. She emailed me shortly afterwards, telling me that she’d set up a profile on No-Facebook, As far as I’m aware, nobody apart from her immediate female relatives has seen her face from that day to this.
I wore the hood during The Boys Village Photoshoot with Les a couple of years ago. I used one of Les’s shots as my profile picture on Facebook for a while, until Nicky H. said she found it too disturbing. C— didn’t like it at all. She found it really scary. I changed my picture to pacify them.
Over the years I’ve worn my leather hood in most of the pubs in Aberdare: the Cambrian (when the Good and Evil Twins recognised my voice); the Pickled Pepper (the first time was okay, the second tine Emma gave me a row); the Boot Disco (what the fuck was I thinking? Karen L. laced me into it and left me in a corner while she danced); the Lighthouse (when Emma the red-haired lesbian wanted to try it on); Wetherspoons (silly idea!); the Glandover (silly idea!); the Black Lion (mostly on band nights – but one New Year’s Eve Helen J. zipped me up and left me unattended for ages!) and, most recently, the White Lion.
Which is where I was last night. I’d been hooded for about four hours while I was drafting this blog. The plan had been for an old friend of mine to lock me in and leave me for forty-eight hours. In fairness, Sharon turned up as arranged this afternoon. But the conditions in the Prince of Wales weren’t conducive to kinky stuff.
Instead I came to the White Lion. I was sitting in a corner with the Netbook, working on a project. It should have been perfectly evident that I didn’t feel very sociable. However, a large percentage of people in Aberdare seem to possess very low EQ. They simply can’t process Non-Verbal Communication. In fact, if I believed the condition actually existed, I’d suspect that they register fairly low on the autistic spectrum. If I’m doing a crossword, or working on the blog, or reading, they seem to see it as an invitation to conversation. So, towards the end of the band’s set I laced myself into my hood and zipped the mouth closed. I’ve toyed with the idea of making a sign that says DO NOT DISTURB. But the mask is more fun. It also fascinates women. Maybe they’ve got the same curiosity that I have about the face that lies beneath. Perhaps it’s a common phenomenon.
At the end of the gig, my friend Lynne came over for a couple of minutes. We’ve known each other for years, and I think she’s gorgeous. She’s an odd contradiction – a kinky born-again Christian – and last week she told me about her collection of studded collars. That was music to my ears, of course. She kissed me through my mask on her way out. Like C—, she doesn’t believe in sex outside marriage. That’s cool with me. I don’t believe in sex at all at the moment. Bloody tablets.
Lynne texted me earlier on to see what I was up to. Nothing’s going to progress beyond that stage, of course, but I don’t mind a female friend to go for coffee with now and again. A kinky female friend would be even better!
On which subject: C— phoned me this morning. Even though I’ve deleted her from my contacts, I recognised her number on my display and let it ring out. When I called into the pub earlier, Luke said she’d been in shortly before looking for me. As far as I’m concerned. she can keep looking. Apparently she thinks I’ve been ignoring her.
She’s right. I’ve wasted two days already by arranging to go to Pontypridd with her, only for her to disappear off the grid entirely. I had enough of that shit with Jenny – and at least there was a remote possibility of a shag with her. Now that my mask is back in circulation, I’ve inadvertently hit on the perfect way of frightening her off. Job done!
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