Rosie and Jim: On binge-watching Normal People, and discovering that ‘running is pain’

This week, Rosie Paterson fails to tear herself off the sofa just as James Fisher finally stirs from his.

Our writers Rosie Paterson and James Fisher — who have both, one way or another, ended up alone for the duration — are sharing slices of their lives.

So far they’ve ranked musical instruments (and not in a good way), mused over mysteries, shared tales of curious robins, video chat and little old ladies winching shopping through windows.

In years to come, quarantine historians — apparently this is a thing — will look back on this time and chart our journey (or rapid decline into madness) through lockdown via a series of micro trends.

These trends appear out of nowhere. They burn bright on social media for five or so minutes before fading into obscurity, replaced in our affections and endless time by the next pointless activity. My, my, we are a fickle (and bored) bunch.

The first was our collective and sudden desire to bake banana bread. For a while the banana trend looked set to dominate lockdown unchallenged. Until sourdough starters came along. Sourdough was superseded by Tiger King (still trying to get my head around that one). Tiger King, in turn, made way for some (very mediocre) DIY tie-dye.

And now tie-dye has been all but forgotten about, thanks to the BBC’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People.

If you haven’t watched all 12 episodes yet or, god forbid, even heard of it, please get on with it. It’s not like you’ve got anything else to do and this is one lockdown trend that transcends social media.

Last week, all my emails started, ‘I hope you’re healthy and safe?’ This week they say, ‘Did you watch Normal People at the weekend? What did you think? Did you cry?’

I forced myself to spread the series out over four whole days, conscious that once I finished it, I’d be hard pressed to find anything as remotely good. The last time I came this close to binge watching was with the second series of Killing Eve. I sat down to watch the first episode shortly after an operation, and couldn’t get back up again to turn the TV off.

I watched the last two episodes of Normal People on Sunday morning and then headed off to buy a paper wearing sunglasses — despite the drizzle and mist — to help mask the fact that yes, to everyone who emailed, I was a sobbing, emotional mess.

Still, despite the tears it was more successful than my previous newspaper-buying outing. It turns out, no matter how many shops you try and hours you spend looking, you won’t find a Sunday paper on a Saturday.

Alice asks the White Rabbit ‘how long is forever’, to which he replies ‘sometimes, just one second’. Set this quote to a sunset, use it as the Instagram caption when announcing your engagement, whatever. You may think it’s about love, or happiness, or our own abstract experience of living as we hurtle through the thick universal soup of existence.

You’re all wrong, because it’s actually about running.

I have taken up running, but I don’t like it. For many years, friends and confidants have tried to get me into it. ‘You’ll feel so relaxed after a run, it’s a great way to clear your head, you get to see part of the city that you would otherwise never visit’.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. Running is pain. It is an evil, but right now, at a time when I say approximately five words a week out loud and haven’t been hugged in a month, a very necessary evil.

I don’t hate running as a means to an end. With purpose, I run all the time. I play rugby, football and cricket as much as time allows. The concept of running, just for the sake of running, however, I find deeply upsetting. ‘You should run a marathon at least once’. No thanks, I’d rather get the bus.

However, I’m not allowed to play rugby, football or cricket these days, and while I might be a cynic, I am aware that I need to do some kind of physical activity lest my blood run dry and I’m turned to dust by a stiff breeze. So running it is. I bought the shoes, downloaded that smartphone app (‘remember, if it isn’t on Strava it doesn’t count’ chirped a helpful colleague) and went to the park. As I wheezed and internally screeched my way through 2.5k (runners aren’t allowed to talk in miles, apparently), I thought to myself ‘I hate this. I well and truly hate this’.

And then, when it was over, I went home, cried for a bit, went to bed, woke up and did it again.

And so on. I kept going and, just last weekend, I ran my first ever 5k. Never before in my life has 16 minutes felt so endless (It was 27 minutes. We checked on Strava – Ed). Every second was an eternity, as our friend Lewis Carroll tried to warn us so many years ago. But, and as much as it hurts to admit, there was deep satisfaction. There was comfort in knowing that now, when I’m not allowed to do anything, I at least did something. That was all I needed from running. That was enough.

Running is hell, it is pain, and it is endless. It is not the drug that so many advertise it as being. And that’s ok. You can run, and be miserable, and that’s fine. You’re not doing it wrong. And you don’t have to do it at all.