Escape routes are everywhere

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The Independent Culture
Branching out every Christmas

Martin Hurley, 30, is an equity salesman at ABN Amro. The "pretty hectic" world of stockbroking is, he says, far removed from his out-of-work interest - his Christmas-tree farm.

Mr Hurley bought the land in Essex with his brother, when he was a student. Because of his degree work, he said, he had to find a use for it that needed relatively little maintenance. Growing Christmas trees fitted conveniently into the academic calendar. "Other than twice a year, you can leave them to it," he says.

The Christmas trees, he says, are a release from working in the office. "This is your escape. If you go at weekends you're really getting away from everything. It lowers your stress level at the end of a hard week. I'm a fairly outdoors person. I go mountain-biking, and things like that. This is just a less physical pursuit."

His work colleagues find his interest "all very amusing". "I suppose it is slightly bizarre. They do ask for Christmas trees. I tell them they can have one if they dig one up, on the basis that once they're there, I can get them to do a couple more. But they usually back off after that." Like Ms Kosinski, Mr Hurley is keen to emphasise that his City work is his priority. "The Christmas tree thing is very much a hobby, although it's starting to turn a little bit more commercial," he says. "From a stock-market point of view it's a business you'd never invest in. But that's not the point."

Going to pieces

By day, Danielle MacDonald works as a trader in equity derivatives. By night, she gambles - on backgammon.

Ms MacDonald, 29, began playing as a child, and progressed to playing in tournaments while at university. Now, up to four times a week, she plays with favoured partners or at casinos for money - sometimes using a "doubling cube" to bet up to pounds 3,200 a point.

"It's a good stress-reliever," she says. "It's also fun. But I do play a bit less now, because of pressures of work.

"It's a fairly high-stress job. I'm in the office from 7.30am to 6.30 at night. There are times when you're too tired to play. Also, if you hit on a losing streak the game becomes quite demoralising. There's a lot of luck involved."

Backgammon may sound less glamorous than poker or blackjack, but Ms MacDonald says she gets the same sort of thrill that a lot of people get out of those games. MacDonald is not her real name; she fears that if she reveals her identity she will lose the advantage she gets from being female.

"I generally come out on top. The reason I've made so much was that I've played the weaker player; it's also gambling psychology."

Ms MacDonald accepts that gambling on backgammon is not so far removed from trading in derivatives. The love of risk is common throughout the City, she says.

"In my previous firm they would gamble on anything - especially the football. I know people who made ridiculous sums betting on the general election." So what was her last "decent win?" "We bet on Budget minutes - how long the Budget would take."