WHEN I was 14, I had a two-a-day smoking habit, which meant that once or twice a week I would need to go to the local Spar shop in Wootton to buy a pack of ten Lambert and Butler cigarettes.

The owners knew how old I was, so refused to serve me, which meant I had to loiter outside until an adult (or older youth) turned up, who I could then ask to buy them for me.

It always seemed a pointless routine, but I guess the shopkeeper was able to stay on the right side of the law.

Last Friday, I walked into my local newsagents — not to buy a pack of cigarettes, as I gave up that filthy and expensive habit 25 years ago, but to purchase a small bottle of water.

As I got to the counter I was met with a shake of the head and told I wouldn’t be served without my mask on.

At first I laughed, but it soon became apparent the shopkeeper — who I’ve always gotten on with — was deadly serious.

He explained to me it was now the law to wear a mask and that he’d get into trouble if he served me.

I pointed out ‘d been coming into the shop every day for the past four months without one — even when Covid-19 was at its peak — so to insist I wear one now the virus has completely gone, is just bonkers.

I was met with a shrug. I put the bottle of water back in the cooler and walked out.

As I did, I passed a guy wearing an intimidating and grubby skull and crossbones bandana, which covered his face.

He looked as though he may have been going in to rob the joint.

A lady in her 50s wearing a mask was going to the shop, so I politely explained to her I wasn’t able to get served and asked her if she would mind buying me a bottle of water.

It was like being 14 again.

The lady agreed, but when I went to hand her the cash, she looked horrified and said she no longer felt confident handling money and just bought it for me.

As I started to walk away, ‘skull and crossbones man’ came out of the shop holding a packet of fags.

He opened the packet, pulled down his bandana and sparked up. What the shopkeeper had not realised was his masked customer was about 14.

You couldn’t make any of this up!

Thankfully, I’ve since managed to find various shops who aren’t enforcing this utterly ridiculous new law of mandatory mask wearing in shops — and thankfully there are still people around who don’t think touching a coin is going to lead to imminent death.

But it is concerning so many are now terrified of just about everything.

A mask should be a choice, not a demand, and anyone who thinks that ‘my type’ are selfish for not wearing one should take a minute to question the logic, rather than do everything this incompetent government tells them to do.

If face coverings were made mandatory back in March when the virus was rife, I could’ve understood it, but to make it so now when it has all but gone, makes no sense — nor that they can be made of any material.

A crocheted covering won’t save lives!

Boris Johnson’s government has so far managed to get pretty much everything wrong throughout this crisis, so from now on I’ll be questioning everything.

If the virus returns in winter — which is very likely — I’ll think about wearing a mask then, but it still seems to me Sweden got it right that herd immunity is the best way to get through this.

I’m now off to enjoy a mask-free summer watching cricket, but in September I shall no doubt be writing about how we should resist the untested vaccines the government will be trying to force us to have.

Will life ever be sane again?

* The views of the columnist on masks do not reflect the views of the County Press.