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29 April 2020

While panting joggers endanger everyone’s health, at least I only endanger my own

The jogger thundered past me, closer than anyone has been for a month, panting and spraying God knows what in his wake. 

By Nicholas Lezard

Is it getting to you? Of course it is. It’s getting to me, although it shouldn’t, or not as much. As I have said before, or you might have intuited, sitting around picking my nose all day is more or less my métier; in a small way, I like to think of this column as a counselling service. But sometimes even the most serene guru snaps. Let me explain.

One of the more pleasant side-effects of the lockdown is that people have been getting in touch with each other again. There is an almost flirtatious quality to these reunions, especially gratifying (for me, that is) if the person making contact is either an ex-girlfriend, or someone whom I would have liked, at some point, to have been my girlfriend. (I should point out that such flirtation, when it occurs, is almost Victorian – if not Austen-esque – in its subtlety and discretion.) One such, who used, long ago, to feature heavily in this column, has been either sending me messages or ringing me up. As I am one of those men who keeps a chamber in his heart for almost any woman he has loved, I find this very pleasing and touching.

The other day this woman, a couple of days after a delightful phone conversation that lasted over an hour, chaste but affectionate, pinged me an image mapping an 8.8km run that she had performed that day. I have known this woman for three and a bit decades, and had never known that she ran.

“As you know,” I replied, “I will always love you and revel in our friendship” – something like that – “but I don’t give a monkey’s toss about your running.” (Exactly that.)

Now, that’s not very nice, is it? And indeed, immediately afterwards I received a message of hugely disappointed rebuke, which in turn provoked from me an instant apology, and a hopeless plea for forgiveness, grovelling and sincere. And then I stayed off social media for two days, while I hid underneath duvets both actual and spiritual, and examined my soul.

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Honest self-examination is, and should be, never pleasant. It should leave one scoured, or mortified, or almost so, and this time was no exception. Was this my revenge for her having broken my heart more than a decade ago? I think that might have well been a factor. Was it also a consequence of having, at that stage of the evening, drunk a bottle and a half of wine on an empty stomach?

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Almost undoubtedly. And did the oppressiveness of current circumstances encourage me to an unfortunate and insulting outburst of hysterical flippancy? It’s a thought.

And might it also, perhaps, partly be due to a new-found outrage at joggers, who before coronavirus had aroused in me an indifferent bafflement and pity? They are as driven to their passion as helplessly as the junkie is to his next fix, with the difference that at least the junkie knows to bury his habit beneath a blanket of shame, secrecy and evasion. Boasting about how much one has run during the day, these people should know, seems to me of interest only to other runners (they get annoyed if you call them joggers), and at the best of times I never gave a monkey’s toss about even my closest friends’ running times. (One thing: the ex I mentioned should have worked out by now that I have never been, and almost certainly never will be, the kind of person who is interested in anyone’s running times and distances.)

But last week I was walking back with my shopping and I saw a jogger coming down the hill towards me, on a collision course. I considered stepping out into the road, or crossing it. Then I thought:

“Why should I do that? This person can swerve, into the traffic-free road and on to the unpeopled pavement opposite. He should be grateful for the extra distance.” But he thundered past me, closer than anyone has been for a month, panting and spraying God knows what in his wake. 

It was only later that I learned about research suggesting that coronavirus particles from runners – and cyclists – could leave a wake of ten metres, rather than two metres for normal walking or standing still. I should have crossed the road the moment I saw him, or – how about this? – he shouldn’t have been running in the first fucking place.

I suppose at least there are people out there trying to stay healthy. I just wish they wouldn’t compromise other people’s health while doing it. I only compromise my own. The other day my old comrade Razors, now in LA, sent me, via Majestic, a case of Not Cheap mixed reds, and I calculated that at my current rate of consumption this would last me 4.8 days. So I am feeling virtuous today, as I see from the level of the bottle in front of me that a case will now last me 7.2 days, and reduce the chances of my wounding a dear friend by almost 50 per cent. 

This article appears in the 29 Apr 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The second wave