Wednesday, April 01, 2020

The new normal

It's amazing how quickly the abnormal becomes the new normal.  'Lockdown' started on Tuesday last week so today (Wednesday) is Day Nine of it.  In theory it lasts three weeks, but you'd have to suspect that it might last longer than that.  I'll preface my next remark by saying that I am conscious that I, in common with all other people who work with animals in an outdoor environment, am very lucky in that my day-to-day existence is far less altered than it is for most people; but it is remarkable how easy it is to get used to the new normal.  I've already reached the stage that if I'm reading a book or watching a programme on television which portrays a gathering of people (ie normal life) I have to keep checking myself from thinking,"This isn't realistic - they can't be doing that...".  For instance, I'm struggling with the fact that the spectre of COVID-19 hasn't reached Ambridge.

It's heartening to go out with the horses in the morning and find that our little corner of the world still seems much the same as it did.  I usually listen to the start of the 'Today' programme on Radio Four before going outside and at the moment that shakes one up a bit, with the day starting with reports of death, misery and financial chaos.  And, then - the sun is still rising, the daily comings and goings, human and equine, on Newmarket Heath are still happening just as they always have, and the new normal seems to be looking not too dissimilar to the old normal.

Certainly, the new normal shares one thing with the old normal: the weather is still the weather.  We've had the perfect illustration of that this week.  The older I get, the more I'm struggling with winters.  I used not to think about it as weather is just a fact of life, but I'm finding it harder and harder each year to enjoy the daily routine during periods when the daily routine involves being cold and/or wet most of the time.  I can see why so many older people like to move to warmer climes.  And then spring comes with summer following on, and it's wonderful again as the worst part of the job once again becomes the best.

We've been having some rather nice spring weather in the past couple of weeks, but the weekend was a bit bleaker with the wind picking up and turning around to the east and then the north east.  And then Monday was a pig of a day.  We were back to winter in one easy leap.  They weren't proper winter conditions, but it was minus 1 when we pulled out first lot, zero when we pulled out second lot, plus 1 when we pulled out third and fourth lots.  And still only 3 degrees when we finished morning stables around 11.00.  And it felt colder than that, with the stiff wind coming from the worst possible direction, and the air so damp as it kept trying to rain from the gloomy grey sky.

I spent the whole morning looking forward to being able to go back indoors.  And then yesterday was divine.  It started off cold, admittedly, with a decent frost, but one didn't notice that at all as the wind had gone and the sun was shining brilliantly from the moment dawn broke.  It was just a joy to be outside.  Overall, winter gives way to spring step by step and the change is gradual.  This, though, was a perfect illustration of why one season is so vile and the other so pleasant as we had a horrible winter day and a perfect spring day slap bang next to each other.

So we're working towards summer, and let's hope that we are working our way towards the new racing season.  Well, we are, but we just don't know how close we're getting.  In theory it might resume in exactly one month's time at the start of May, and there are certainly encouraging noises coming from the authorities.  It's good to know that plenty of energy is being put into the planning of our resumption so that we shall be ready to resume as soon as it is permissible and prudent, but one has to feel that the start of May might not be realistic.  We'll need to have reached the stage where the momentum has come out of COVID-19's assault on our country, and it might take a bit longer than that before we reach that stage.  Let's hope that it doesn't, but it might.  One should never lose sight of the bigger picture.

And for racing the bigger picture is that racing's biggest worry is not whether the temporary suspension of the sport lasts six, eight, ten or twelve weeks.  It is the fact that this year will end with racing having an ownership base which will have diminished significantly from what it was at the outset.  It is impossible not to fear that there will be a large number of people who currently own horses or shares in horses who will have lost their businesses and/or jobs, or who have found that their investments are worth significantly less and yielding significantly less than they were formerly, and so are no longer in a position to own horses.

That is the sport's biggest worry, just as that is a scaled-down version of the country's biggest worry as a depression surely looms, and you would need to be more intelligent than I am to be able to come up with any of the required answers.  I am so stupid that I can't even understand how it is that one can even have a situation where everyone is poorer.  But that is what it is, or, rather, will be.  Forget credit, ie 'virtual' money: if all the money were in the shape of pound notes, there would still be the same amount of pound notes irrespective of how quickly they circulated around the population.  And still the same amount of property in existence, still the same amount of food being grown.

But it seems to be the case that if those pound notes circulate quickly, everyone is richer; and if they circulate slowly, everyone is poorer.  Strange, but seemingly true.  Maybe we need a better system than the one which we have.  But don't ask me what that is.  I suppose it might be a bit like an explanation/justification of the Duckworth-Lewis method (which is based on the theory that it is harder to maintain a run rate of x per over for 15 overs than for 10, etc.) which I read recently: like democracy, it isn't a good system but, like democracy, it is less bad than any other system which has been tried.

To revert to something which I do understand, we might as well focus a little on racing before we end this chapter.   We look primarily to Australia for that at present - and, looking from afar, it is rather strange to see, just as it is strange to listen to The Archers and hear life going on as normal (old normal, not new normal) - and on that subject I was quite pleased to see that a trainer with two runners in the Bendigo Cup on Saturday saddled each horse with the saddle, weight cloth and number cloth which the other one was meant to be wearing, which led to him putting the wrong jockey on each because the easiest way of locating your horse when you're standing in the middle of the ring with the jockey is to look for the saddle cloth number.

Why was I quite pleased?  Well, national pride, of course.  When Charlie McBride sent the wrong horse out to run at Yarmouth a year or two ago, there were plenty of Aussies who couldn't believe what they were hearing when the story reached the antipodes, plenty of Aussies who declared that such a thing might be possible with the stupid Poms but 'could never happen here'.  They are right in that it shouldn't ever happen anywhere, but that's the thing with mistakes: anyone can make them, anywhere.  Even Aussies, even in 'Straya.  And Saturday's Bendigo Cup debacle was a cock-up of the very same ilk.

I must say that, of the many surprising aspects of this incident, the one which surprised me most was that neither strapper noticed that the wrong jockey - wearing, presumably, the wrong set of silks - was getting on his/her horse.  It was the trainer's mistake.  He caused it.  It wasn't the strappers' fault or responsibility.  But I'm amazed that neither strapper asked the jockey, "What's going on here?  I thought you were meant to be riding xxx.  I was expecting yyy to be riding my horse".  For what happened to have happened, it wouldn't have needed them both to notice and ask, merely one of them.  And neither did.  Truly baffling.

Any time I say to any of my staff, "Your horse is probably going be be running at ... on ...", invariably the first question they ask is, "Who's going to be riding him/her?".  And, leaving aside instances when a horse is making his/her debut, they know what colours their horses run in.  I just couldn't envisage legging the wrong jockey aboard without the person leading the horse saying, "What's going on?  Isn't xxx meant to be riding him/her?  Why have we got yyy?  What's happened?".  Anyway, let's hope that I get the chance to leg a jockey aboard at some point in the relatively near future - and that when I do, it's the right one!

No comments: