24th March – 2020 ‘Lockdown’
My cedar wood shoe trees/stretchers arrived yesterday from Amazon. If we all get very bored during this ‘lockdown’ I may take time to tell you why I bought them but, for the moment, no matter. It did, however, set me thinking on whether or not the transport that brought them here could be deemed to be ‘essential’.
What was ‘essential’ yesterday clearly isn’t, necessarily, deemed to be ‘essential’ today as goverment advice on movement of people and interaction between them is changing every day – sometimes every hour. But even yesterday I couldn’t say that the delivery of this item was, in any way, essential for me. I could easily do without this product, and, by no stretch of my imagination, could I even begin to think that it was essential for anyone I work with or, for that matter, anyone I know. But there is a strong argument that it was essential, certainly by yesterday’s definition of the word, to quite a lot of people. Some of them, those involved in the manufacture of this non-essential item, aren’t in this country (sadly, they are imported) but we can all understand the long term implications of a failure to sell product or even, for some, a delay in selling that product and getting the money in. And there is a chain of people, from those involved in the importation, through those responsible for packing and distribution, to the person driving the delivery van who depend on this trade for their livlihood.
I went out on my bike in the afternoon – something I can still do today, even under ‘lockdown’ – to think about it. Normally I try to stick to the quietest roads but yesterday, like lots of people, I was nosy and I wanted to see how people were coping with the current crisis. Supprisingly, the roads were not appreciably quieter than usual although villages clearly were. As well as private cars, I saw a multitude of commercial vehicles. There were animal feed transporters (undoubtedly essential to the 94% of us who rely on this material being converted to more palatable fare for humans); a plethora of vehicles associated with the construction trade, from those carrying materials, plant, and machenery to the vans for the various tradesmen; loads of, very essential, supermarket chain delivery vans; one carrying office furtniture; a service bus which I passed as it went from Ripon to Middleham and on its return; a van carrying car parts; numerous vans and trucks that flashed past so quickly that I could get no impression of their purpose; and a Black Sheep Brewery van doing home deliveries of six-packs of beer.
As we are in a rural area, some of the vehicles were well known to me. Some were suppliers of ours and, dare I say, some of the builders and tradesmen might consider Johnston Racing as one of their biggest customers. There was no doubt in my mind that many of them would be sorely affected by any downturn in racehorse training in Middleham. If Middleham trainers ceased trading, many other local businesses would go the same way or would, at least, employ far fewer people than they do today.
You may be wondering what all this has got to do with horseracing – I am almost wondering myself – but I was trying to get my head round the definition of ‘essential transport’ as some in the racing media, and even at the BHA, were suggesting that taking horses to a racemeeting wouldn’t be essential transport, even if racing was taking place. Surely it would be as about essential as taking bricks to a building site.
Anyway, it all changed again last night when we went into ‘lockdown’ and I was up until one in the morning trying, like many others, to get my head around the latest rules and guidelines. It wasn’t easy and, at times, it gets frustrating that much of the advice is very London-centric and hard to apply in our situation. Luckily, others were burning the midnight oil on the issue too and by 10pm the National Trainers Federation had issued guidlines which answered most people’s first question, ‘do I go to work and do we keep exercising the horses? The answer is yes but, although it might seem obvious to some, it wasn’t obvious to others and understandably so. There is very little information out there that can be directly attributed to the training of racehorses. I found myself trailing through advice given for other totally unrelated industries to find useful snippets. A guidline for the construction industry which states “if you are working on site, you can continue to do so. But follow Public Health England guidance on social distancing” seemed particularly clear and useful as our staff are, effectively, ‘working on site’ but, then again, I think the situation is different in Scotland where the government has, or is about to, close the construction sites. The dilema continues. What is ‘essential’ to one person, is not necessarily ‘essential’ to another. It isn’t as clear cut as those who spend all day in an office on a PC, and can take the work home on a laptop, may think. And, in any case, they are still heading in their droves to their places of work in London.
So, we are continuing to feed, exercise and care for our horses as normal but there are no races to enter them in. The business of training racehorses in many ways lends itself well to ‘social distancing’ – horses, even nose to tail, tend to leave their riders or handlers two metres apart – and it is helped by the lovely weather at the moment. Ironically, it is the little extras which we try to provide for our staff that are causing the most concern. We have had to switch our canteen to a take-away service and, even so, we are going to have to take further measures to avoid people queuing for food.
Our mini-bus service is a concern and it was an area that, surprisingly, I could find no guidlines on. I searched for advice on people sharing transport to work but could find nothing other than countless references to tube trains and other public transport which, even in the worst-hit city, are still operating albeit with a reduced service.
No doubt there will be further changes to the rules, advise and guidlines. I appreciate the fact that people are changing their minds as new information becomes available to them and/or they are faced with new challenges. We just have to try to adapt.
I’ll go out on my bike again this afternoon. Alone. I’ll observe what is going on and I’ll be very interested to see how it differs from yesterday.