TALES FROM THE YEARS SPENT POLISHING
Chapter 12: The Island
The rain trickled down the sides of the tent as I lay back down in my warm sleeping bag careful not to touch the sides or top of the tent and cause a leak.
My mind anticipated the week ahead. Here I was at last on the Isle of Man for the TT. The day after tomorrow was the senior 500cc event with Mike Hailwood and Agostini riding for MV Augusta. I relished the thought of being just a few feet away from the sound and sight of those fire engines screaming past at Ballacraine at well over a ton. The ton was the zenith of our comprehension at that time. Terms like ton twenty or ton thirty had not yet quite entered our vocabulary and were still just over the horizon.
After getting dressed 'in the sack' I stepped outside to a cold, misty morning. The rain had long since stopped and the drips on my tent had been from the overhanging trees. Neither Bill nor I were campers. I had been on all night fishing trips from time to time with a tent and in my last year at school had hitchhiked round Cornwall staying under canvas. But for Bill it was a first, the whole point for Bill of camping was to save money for more important issues like customising his bike. After this experience it could well have been his last time in a tent! Neither of us had been scouts which would have given us useful tips like not pitching under a tree or the necessity of slackening guy ropes at night. It would certainly have taught Bill not to camp on a slope! I had attended a couple of scouting sessions but didn't like obeying orders or working in a structured group. I was a loner, a free spirit but I now think not joining the scouting organisation has been my loss. Anyway Bill camped on a slope!
Bill's night had been a disaster. It was only a slight slope that he had pitched across but whenever he dozed off he rolled into the side of his tent. By the small hours his little tent was so misshapen by the weight of his sleeping body that the poles were veering precariously to one side. Cold and irritable he had to re-pitch it facing down hill. This caused him to slip down at each turn until his feet were poking outside the tent! I slept like a baby while cruel fate wreaked its final havoc on Bill. A storm blew up before dawn and a small yet significant stream ran down the surface of the field straight through Bills tent! When I found him at 6.30am he was dead to the world clutching his tent round him for warmth huddled against his Triumph.
I set to making a fire. By 8.30 the sun was breaking through the mist. The fire crackled heat surrounded by Bill's underwear steaming on sticks. While he sat in his spare jeans warming his hands on a tin of hot sausage and baked beans.
On the Isle of Man during TT week the police seemed to have a blind spot towards speed restrictions. Good for the tourist trade no doubt. The happy result of this was that on non-race days the circuit became free to every would be Geof Duke. There were surprisingly few crashes and it was great sport.
There were two unofficial groups of rider, those amateur road racers from small clubs all over Britain trying the circuit with a view to racing there one day and the cowboys like us that just wanted to be able to say they had done it.
The sun beat down with a vengeance now and the roads steamed from damp black to dry grey with puddles. Bill and I took our chance and and revved from the side road onto the circuit. At first we thrashed along as fast as we could go on the long bends and the straights but not knowing the road, braked heavily on each blind bend. After a while we settled into a manageable pattern between 70 and 80mph.
Bill had potential as a competitive racer. He was fearless and had that all important ingredient, a touch of insanity! While I was content to compete with my own performance trying to lap a little quicker each time, Bill was incensed by bikes that overtook him. He always took chase thrashing his latest machine, an early Tiger 100 heavily modified by tuner John Tickle, in an attempt to hang on to more powerful modern bikes.
On one such lap we were doing our best to perfect our style. Our bikes lacked the top speed to make use of all the wonderful straights like the descent of the mountain at the Verandah. This meant going faster on the corners like Governor's bridge.
I was a neat Geof Duke rider tucked well in, man and machine at one.
Bill emulated the Hailwood style with one knee hanging out. Bill managed to take it even further with a hanging over backside! His line for cornering took the form of an old threepenny bit in a series of facets. He went into a corner full speed and made adjustments in the form of lurches, two wheel drifts and narrowly averted disasters! However, he was faster.
On the straight we lay on our tanks coaxing every ounce out of our machines. My needle was flickering round the magical three figure mark when some bikes cruised past us as though we were on a Sunday afternoon jaunt! We were used to being lapped by the semi-pros in their one piece leathers and Manx Nortons or AJS 7Rs, but these were road bikes. Each rider had a dice painted on the back of his leather jacket indicating some gang or club.
This was more than Bill could stand! With brake lights flickering on for the bend ahead Bill held his speed catching the leaders up rapidly. Into the bend he unashamedly displayed his disjointed own style overtaking all but the lead bike. This was a new Bonneville and it had the excelleration to pull away steadily out of the bend. In frustration Bill cogged down a gear for that extra power. This was more than the old Tiger could stand and the usual Triumph tappet rattle rose to a sickening clatter as black smoke issued forth from his exhaust. As we slowed, the hindmost Dices overtook and followed their leader into the distance. We pulled off at the next side lane and Bill's bike chuffed to a halt.
- Tony Sheppard