The Girl from Ginger Hall
Away to the left seagulls wheeled and screeched over the blue water of Douglas Bay as Charlie Moore stood nervously beside his silent Yamaha on Glencrutchery Road. Scouts, carrying the flags of a dozen countries, lined the right hand side of the road and chatted excitedly. The National Anthem boomed out over the grandstand as the governor took his place, and Charlie licked his lips and let a bead of sweat trickle down his brow as he stood awkwardly to attention, the Yamaha leaning against his right leg. It was nearly too much to take in at once. His first ever TT. He had lived and dreamed of this moment for five years, and still he felt as though he didn't belong there at all. An involuntary shiver prickled the hairs on the back of his neck as he glanced quickly at the others. Some sat astride their machines and stared impassively down the road towards the starter. Up front the big names chatted to officials or shouted assurances over the fence to fussing mechanics. They all looked completely relaxed and confident. Charlie was starting number 73, nearly at the tail of the field. Next to him his riding partner, a Hungarian who had come in as a late entry, crossed himself and looked down at his boots. Charlie drew in a breath of air and let his chest heave before exhaling sharply. His fingers started to shake, and he rubbed his fingers hoping no-one would notice. Jeez! How much longer?
Suddenly, everything seemed to happen at once. The tinny voice of the radio commentator signalled that the flag was down for the first pair. For a second or two there was a ghostly silence, and then the high pitched scream of a two-stroke split the air, with another yammering into life at almost the same time and the first two men got away. Charlie's hands started shaking violently as he shuffled along towards the start line. A cloud of blue smoke dimmed the view of the crowds in the stand as he edged towards the front, and the din as man after man got away dulled the senses.
Charlie's eyes were glazed as he got the nod from the Man, and he pushed the Yamaha with dead legs until it stuttered and shrieked into life. The Hungarian was slightly in front as he slipped the clutch to bring the revs up to the power band. The terrifying plunge down Bray Hill came almost immediately, and his stomach muscles bunched as he hammered into the dip at the bottom. He bit his lips as the suspension flattened out, and suddenly it was time to brake for Quarter Bridge. A hazy glimpse of faces followed him as he swept round after the Hungarian who was already opening up a gap in front. Slowly ever so slowly, his senses returned to normal and the shakes began to leave his fingers as he realised that he was still in one piece and not doing too badly. This was what it was all about - man and machine putting themselves to the ultimate test. This was what he had been searching for, working towards, ever since that day long ago when he started racing. He could see the spectators now. Some of them waved as he flashed past, and he felt an insane urge to wave back. It was all he could do to concentrate on the road ahead, and to adjust to thinking several hundred years ahead of his machine.
Union Mills came and went. The right hander at Ballacraine. Shafts of brilliant sunlight split the trees in Glen Helen. The Yamaha sang happily beneath him as the miles flew away. Ballaugh Bridge brought a front wheel landing and a bit of a fright as he wobbled through the exit - he would have to watch it next time around. No sign of the Hungarian up front - he must really be piling it on. An occasional fly spattered on his visor as he stuck his head out from the screen while braking for Sulby Bridge. Safely through and on to Ginger Hall.
Coaches and motorcycles were drawn us beside the hotel, and sun soaked spectators milled around the car park, drinking cool pints of beer, and dispensing sandwiches to the kids. A girl in a bright yellow dress, perched on a B.M.W. waved a programme as Charlie went through. He gave her a grin and a thumbs up as he hurtled on towards Ramsey. Up onto the mountain and he could see the Hungarian in front, and going like a train. Charlie shook his head in admiration. The late entry was heading for an early finish. On and on to Kate's Cottage, Creg ny Baa, and Signpost Corner. Down to a brisk walking pace at Governor's Bridge, and a squirt up the road past the paddock, and through the Grandstand area. A lap gone already?
As he swooped into Ginger Hall on the second circuit he caught a flash of yellow as the girl held up a board. He squinted at it as he flashed past. "No 73-22". Twenty second? How the hell could she have worked that out? What a crazy place to have a signal board anyway. No sign of the Hungarian on the mountain this time round - must be with the front runners now. A quick look behind at Hillberry - nobody there. Funny how 80 riders can just vanish all of a sudden. Still, nobody had passed him yet - he must be making good time. At the pits Martin stuck out a sign saying that he was twenty-first. The girl had been pretty accurate with her calculation after all.
Charlie began to relax a bit on the third lap. The Silver Replica was definitely on. Another front wheel landing at Ballaugh. Charlie cursed. He was taking it too confidently - got to watch that. The bike was still buzzing sweetly, and he felt his spirits soar with the birds that scattered off to his left as he thumped over the bumps of Sulby Straight for the third time. Ginger Hall was nearly in sight. She was still there. This time the board simply said "No 73 Good Luck". He stuck his head behind the windshield and streaked towards Ramsey. Martin signalled that he was 16th going through the Grandstand area. The Hungarian must be on the leader board by this time.
Into Glen Helen for the last time and flies started to coat his visor. He tried to keep his head down, but there were thousands of them covering the perspex and obscuring his vision. A quick dab at the visor with his glove only made things worse. For the first time he began to panic. Surely that replica wasn't going to be taken away from him by a bunch of bloody flies? Two riders went past as he approached Kirkmichael, and he wondered how the hell they could see where they were going. He went over Ballaugh very slowly and pulled in just clear of the exit. With trembling fingers he dug a piece of rag from his leathers and clawed at his visor, but the blasted thing split as he ripped it from his helmet. He threw it to the ground in despair and started off again. The wind made his eyes stream painfully, and the next few miles were an agonising blur as he managed to keep going. At Sulby Bridge another rider passed him. Suddenly he felt a blinding pain in the left eye, and he slithered crazily to a halt. Through a dim mist he could make out the shape of people reaching out to wipe his face. His head was pushed back as someone bathed his eye with a piece of moist cotton wool. As his vision cleared he saw the girl in the yellow dress run towards the BMW. In a few seconds she came back and pushed something into his hand - a Bell Star visor!
Charlie stammered his thanks and snapped the visor into place. Riding with still nipping eyes he piled through Ramsey and up over the mountain like a man with the very devil on his tail. He must have lost about four minutes altogether. Through Signpost and into Governors for the last time. Up to the finish line for a grin of welcome from the worried Martin, and a jig of delight to find that 20th place was just inside the Silver Replica time.
At the prize-giving dance that night Charlie applauded as the Hungarian rider stepped up to collect his fourth place award, and soon it was his turn to collect that beautiful piece of silver. As he cradled the trophy in his arms he was startled out of his daze by a soft voice.
She stood in front of him and smiled. She was tall and beautiful with a slightly turned up nose. Her long blonde hair sparkled in the light, and her eyes twinkled merrily.
"Please, can I have my visor back, number seventy-three?" said the girl from Ginger Hall.
Reprinted from MCI, August 1973