Thursday, September 03, 2015

Life-life balance

Gosh, I've rather been overtaken by events. In all my musings on the supposed plight of female jockeys and on other (semi-) related subjects, the name of Hayley Turner (pictured here at Southwell on a bitterly cold midwinter afternoon in December 2011, returning in victory on dear little Karma Chameleon, led by another successful race-rider, Hannah) had kept popping up.  Then, blow me, didn't she bowl us a googly by announcing her retirement.  I didn't see that one coming.  The media initially told us that she was retiring because of frustration with lack of big-race opportunities (which, of course, is no reason at all for retirement, as on that basis all bar about 10 jockeys - plus most trainers, including me - would have drawn stumps years ago.)

Happily, it turns out that this had just been a case of a journo picking up on one of the 50 sentences uttered, and then acting as if that had been the only one.  In fact, the key comes when we read that Hayley has used the dreaded phrase "work-life balance".  When you hear a trainer or a jockey coming up with those words, then you know that the closing credits will shortly be rolling on his/her career.  For most people, ie those whose jobs are not vocations, the job is only bearable if (a) it generates a certain amount of money, and (b) if it takes up no more than, on average, nine (fairly short) days a fortnight.

We, trainers and jockeys, are luckier than that, and hence the phrase work-life balance is about as meaningless as if a priest were to be using it, a dog-owner talking about a dog-owning/life balance, or a parent talking about a parenting-life balance.  Or, indeed a racehorse (or any other professional athlete, bar Premier League soccer players if everything that one used to read in the News of the Screws was correct, which I always used to assume was the case) talking about a work-life balance.  No, if you're a jockey or a trainer, you're a jockey or a trainer 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.  Just as if you're a parent; or just as if you own a dog.  Being a jockey or a trainer, being a parent, being a priest, being a racehorse or owning a dog is your life: it's not a part of it which you have to endure for a minority of the time, and for that we are lucky.

If you're unlucky, of course, there can come a time when you realise that there's more to life than this, and that this isn't life at all - and then, in fairness to yourself and to everyone else, you have to quit, because really, if you're going to do it properly, you can't just be on duty for a small part of the time.  Hayley has clearly reached that point, and I wasn't expecting that - but, by the same token, I was surprised when John Bramhill, who had always seemed totally committed to jockeying, reached that point a few years ago and jacked in the jockeying to become a work-rider for Godolphin (en route to making a career out of 'valetting' cars).  And I see that Ollie Stevens has reached that point, although he reached it so quickly that one has to suspect that he must have applied for his trainer's license under a misapprehension.

I haven't seen the light (yet) even if I was rather put to shame by Eugene Stamford when I bumped into him in Horse Requisites yesterday.  Eugene worked the conversation around to Hayley's bombshell, asking me what I made of it all.  I told him, as I've told you, that I thought that the give-away was that she'd swallowed the work-life balance fly, about which Eugene seemed rather dismissive.  He asked me how many days off I'd had this year, and I admitted that I had taken two days off in January (although one could argue that it was debatable whether they were days off, as I went to see the stud where my broodmare lives and to inspect some stallions; and said broodmares plus my weekly stallion profiles on have proved to be my bread-winners over the past 12 months).

Anyway, Eugene's retort was that he hasn't had a day off for 20 years - and I rather suspect that that is true. He would, of course, have had days off plus annual leave when he was Mel Brittain's assistant and Conrad Allen's (now Cllr. Allen's) head lad, but it would be about 20 years since he set up his livery yard, which became his training yard, so that's probably true.  The gist of this is that I consider myself fortunate not to yearn for a work-life balance - but, by the same token, am not surprised when I hear that some lost soul has just had his/her Road-to-Damascus moment.

And, by the way, my life-life balance will be taking me on the road not to Damascus tomorrow, but to Wigan Pier, with Grand Liaison.


neil kearns said...

dont know what the official ground is it at haydock but having been sat in a traffic jam outside hp on monday in a monsoon for what seemed like hours on monday if the word good is in there the drainage there must be something else
best of luck

Brian Jones said...

great read John, especially the Ollie Stevens line ... thanks

David Winter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
neil kearns said...

turned on tv boxand heard your dulcet tones tipping 10/1 winners whatever next your prerace anaysis was spot on nice one john