Friday, March 2, 2007

100 years of the TT - MouthoftheMersey

7.00am Midsummer’s Day 2006 – the sun is already high in the bluest of skies and I am pointing my motorcycle between the dry stone walls to my left and right. The overnight storm has lent a sheen to the tarmac, vision isn’t good and I’m struggling to keep the wheels in line. The speedo tells me I’m on the legal limit. I let loose an involuntary cheer - immediately lost in the hurtling wind blast - for the sheer craziness of this legal pleasure: the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

That rush lasted for 10 miles or so at 60mph. What must it be like to feel that for 37 miles at 125mph average speed, lap after lap, day after day, on The Island.

This year marks the centenary of the Isle of Man TT, the annual week of motorcycle racing through the streets of its small towns and over its brooding mountain, where speeds can reach 200mph. It is a week that exists in a bubble, separated geographically from mainland Britain, separated from the mainstream motorcycle championships and separated from the sanity of self-preservation.

Well over 200 riders have lost their lives at the TT and unlike other areas of motorsport, it’s not getting any safer. The open-roads course claims all-time Greats like Big Dave Jefferies, along with scores of weekend racers. 25 years on, I can still recall the shock in a race commentator’s voice as he described a rider’s fatal collision with a horse that had wandered on to the road. On-board cameras capture the seductive danger of the event, but also show how it exacts its random culling of those willing to face down the monster. gives us a rider’s eye view and that’s close enough for me!

The TT can’t attract the sport’s superstars any longer – Agostini led the charge away from the Island in the early seventies, and no MotoGP team would ever risk its investment by allowing its riders to dance with this green and grey devil. The compensation is a pleasing lack of corporatism. You can still get close to the competitors – even with 26 TT wins under his helmet, Joey Dunlop was there in the pits, a woodbine wedged under his lip, getting his hands dirty.

Soon the boats from Belfast and Liverpool will be laden with bikes as they have been every May for 100 years excepting war, and it’s a fair bet that not all of them will come back. Should the TT’s death toll be allowed to build still higher? Probably. Everyone swinging a leg over the saddle, gunning the engine and hearing it scream, stares down Bray Hill knowing what awaits, knowing that the course’s bite is so much worse than its bark, knowing that more skilled riders than them have failed to return to the pits. But they also know that as the shadow of death draws closer, they will never feel as alive again.


andrewm said...

Mouth, would I be right in thinking you had to struggle to keep this down to 500 words?

That's not a criticism, it's just I sense a much longer article in there desperate to get out, and which I would have loved to read.

Of course, if GU had printed it then others could have commented and you could have been more expansive in your answers.

The TT is the only motorsports event I would happily watch every time.

MotM said...

There's so much more to write about the femme fatale that is the Island.

But I did aim at 500 words with the opening para about the thrill of motorcycling as a civilian and the final para about staring at Death as the life courses through you as never before, pretty much writing themselves.

There's a lot could go in between though.

I might essay 500 on Mike Hailwood this week, the Great Forgotten Hero of British Sport.

pipita said...

Nice one mouth. Reminded me of offside's recent piece as yours also combines a vivid sense of drama and excitement.In this respect, and here Im thinking exactly on the same lines as andym, I can imgine you would have had no problem at all in stretching it out a bit more. Makes me think that maybe its better sending one's essay's here straight away rather than as Gu reject

reemgear said...

Well, well, well!

Is this the famed 500 word pro style effort?

I take my hat off to you MOTM; I really enjoyed that. I'll take a look at the youtube clip, I recall watching some lunatic (years ago) with a camera go around the course and thinking CHRIST! Sometimes I think I must have exagerated the memory.

I can only think that you didn't get picked due to a couple of 'schoolboy' grammatical errors (hard proofreading your own stuff, isn't it?!).

I haven't read any of the winning pieces because their subject matter doesn't interest me, and when I started reading them they failed to drag me in against my will.

This, on the other hand, made for a very good read: understated and atmospheric.

Like I say though, there were just a couple of lines that I stumbled on (toward the end); doesn't do the rest of the piece justice...

One more to go, eh?

MotM said...

Pipita - thank you for the kind words and if I reminded you of offside's tour-de-force, I'm flattered indeed.

Reemgear - thanks for the kind words too, and yes, just one piece with an attempted polish. I can spot the "boats" gaffe in the final para straight away (of course, they come back, it's the bikes that don't) and I'm sure I'll find a few others too. But to achieve complete grammatical rectitude would be too much like hard work. That's the price for a pitch at the prize though!

levremance said...

Mouth - really enjoyed this. My late father used to rave about the Isle of Man race and your piece brought it to life for me.

mimi said...

Ah Mouth. Lovely - a real invocation of the dichotomy that is the TT. Speed v death in the only real sporting event left. Sadly without satellite telly, there's now no even half-way decent coverage. Last year's attempt (was it ITV?) was pathetic.
I would just love to see Rossi compete on the Island. If only ...

MotM said...

Mimi - Thanks.

I had a whole digression about Rossi as the spiritual heir to Ago as the supercool Italian geniuses of bikes, linking them to the chariot racers of Ancient Rome etc etc etc, but it had to go, and I wanted to honour by name only those who have looked down Bray Hill, felt that dryness in the mouth, and gone looking for their destiny.

How big a star would Ago have been these days? Would anybody have taken a second look at Beckham if Ago was in the room?

MotM said...

Lev - Meant to thank you for your kind words too.

The praise "...brought it to life for me" is exactly what I set out to do and your writing it gives a spring to the step of a 5-0 defeated Pom!

mimi said...

Mouth: re-reading this piece, I notice a glaring omission in the names you mention. No room for Steve Hislop - the genius who was able to transfer his road-racing skills to success on the track. As well as your digression on the Ago v Rossi debate, can we look forward to something from you on the much-missed Hizzie?

MotM said...

I try not to get too driven by wikipedia, but I did look up the TT records - I knew Joey of course and I still shudder at Big Dave's accident. The Jim Moodies and Adrian Archibalds of today I left out as well as Manx heores like Milky Quayle.

Steve Hislop was a sensational rider and cut down, like the Greats Hailwood and Hill, on civilian activity. Hizzy probably needs a fuller appreciation than I could offer - one for you mimi?

mimi said...

I'd love to do something on Hizzie and have a number of ideas to run with it, but firstly, do not absolutely want to step on your far more knowledgable toes and secondly, can't think it could be done to tick all of GU's boxes as don't see humour much looming. However, will give it a go if you give your blessing.

MotM said...

Definitely not stepping on my toes, and definitely don't need my say-so anyway mimi!

Go ahead - I think Hizzy loved life and I'm sure there are lots of anecdotes you could find.

I read a biography of Bill Ivy who was killed at 32 but lived very hard in those few years he was granted. Like the best tragedies, there were plenty of laughs and you came away with a deeper appreciation of the joys and pains of life.

And you'd do a better job than me.

(PS I've already submitted one for this Friday's showdown, but I might essya another tomorrow, if I can tear myself away from the Observer's World Cup Preview).

mimi said...

Mouth: I have been so bold as to write something featuring Hizzie. As my identity has been so THOROUGHLY blown apart by GU what with the usual blogs, the Big Blog, the OBO and the Podcast, and the fact that I don't think people who post here are loonies, here's my email. Would you be prepared to contact me so I could send you what I've written for comment, and probably correction? I wouldn't want to submit a piece that is so emotive without another view, and if you think it's OK, you can send it!

50KaWeekSub said...

Well written article, flowing well and with a good subject matter. Loved the last line also.

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