The ordinary and the extraordinary: The Isle of Man TT
We’ve just passed the midpoint of TT 2019 fortnight, and finally the sun is starting to make an appearance after what has been a frustrating qualifying week for riders, visitors and locals alike, with low mist, drizzle and rain bringing delays to the schedule and even the contingency schedule. But nothing can be done about the weather, and living here, we work around it to make the best of it.
Whether it’s wall to wall sunshine or a washout, the TT is a special time of year for us, and we enjoy watching the build up to this fortnight of mayhem almost as much as the main event.
About a month before practice week, the island begins to stir in preparation as hay bales are unloaded and positioned along the course, hedges are trimmed and verges are strimmed. Pavement edges are repainted black and white, ‘Links Fahren’ signs are pinned to light posts around the island and rugby and football pitches are commandeered for campsites. There’s the ‘tap-tap-tap’ of metal on metal as scaffolding is erected to create viewing platforms in gardens lining the course, rows of wooden benches and plastic seats appear on certain corners, and more elaborate grandstand seating springs up at critical viewing points. Once the roadsweepers come out and the street furniture is removed on the Quarterbridge roundabout we know it’s nearly time for business.
The last couple of years, we've noticed the first bikes and tents appearing the week before practice week but once into TT fortnight itself, the island is heaving with bunches of bikers and the smell of Castrol R fills the air. Living on Quarterbridge Road, we become accustomed to the constant background hum and rumble of bikes, interspersed with the occasional raised foreign voices as bikers chat to each other in the traffic.
This thrum is at its most intense immediately before roads are closed, as bikers back up along the road as they try to reach their preferred viewing spot in time. After this, the hush which descends once the roads are closed brings an almost magical peacefulness with just the sound of birds chattering and leaves in the trees rustling in the gentle breeze, which also carries with it the tinny sound of the Radio TT commentary from the loud speakers down at the Quarterbridge Roundabout.
There’s the clank and scrape of the yellow barriers as the marshalls pull them into position across Devonshire Road and Alexander Drive, their radios crackling with race information. Peace descends... until a whistle from the marshall stationed across the road heralds the arrival of the first rider. If we venture to the end of the driveway and position ourselves on the wall, we are rewarded with a roar and a flash of colour - leathers, bike, helmet - a blur of speed and energy that’s almost too fast to focus on.
We enjoy watching the racing, but quite often we’ll stay in when the roads close and get on with everyday jobs such as hanging out the washing or mowing the lawn, while riders are hurtling past the end of our driveway at incomprehensible speeds. The race track is made up of roads I use every day - for the school run, to do the shopping, to walk the dog - and yet TT riders tear along these same roads, achieving the unbelievable, pushing themselves and their machines to incredible limits.
And it is this stark contrast between the ordinary and the extraordinary which makes the TT and what the riders do all the more astonishing for me.
Dean Harrison - a blur in the RST Superbike race 2019, just up from the Gooseneck