Pullyman’s in pole position

Michael Cowin

Michael Cowin

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Well now, here we are again, it’s TT time.

The hedges have had a haircut, the edges of the pavements have put on their make up and the white lines on the roads have been repainted (here and there).

The camp sites have had the grass cut and the pubs and cafes are stocked full of food and drink. The riders are ready to risk life and limb and spectators are heading for their favourite vantage points.

I’ve tramped across fields, climbed over gates and sat on countless hedges to watch the races. Sixty years ago, along with other like­-minded lads, I used to cycle from Pully to the TT Grandstand at 4.30 every morning for the practices.

Security and health and safety was yet to be invented, and a crafty 15 year old could autograph hunt to his heart’s content.

We would scrounge little enamel badges with the names of the famous manufacturers such as Norton, BSA, and Matchless, and when the invading factory teams arrived from Europe the badge market went berserk. If you had an NSU or Mondial badge, for example, you had real currency.

After school, we would head for the Tourist Board office in Victoria Street to scrounge copies of the famous Castrol books before we set off to do the rounds of the works teams garages.

The mechanics and riders working on their bikes to be ready for the evening practice session.

To say things were different 60 years ago would be something of an understatement.

There was Practice Week and there was Race Week.

Practice sessions were held every morning and evening, except for Thursday, when there was an afternoon session. Race days were Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

The Senior Race Day, on Friday was, and still is, a bank holiday, and was the only day the schools were closed.

Senior Race Day was always a family day out, male members only, in our case.

My long deceased dad, Percy, my brother and me, complete with sandwiches and pop, would set off from Pully, via Groves Lane, to Old Braddan Churchyard.

Pole position was a large flat tomb that had unrestricted views of Braddan Bridge, but you had to be there early to stake a claim.

To compare the TT of 60 years ago to the TT of today is like trying to compare a ride on a horse tram with a Ben Hur chariot race.

These days you bring your bike and your sleeping bag and ride the roads. You join in and enjoy.

TT Week is now TT Fortnight. The action starts on the Saturday before Practice Week, on the Southern 100 course and finishes at the same venue on the Saturday after Senior Race Day.

You and your bike arrive safe and sound and ready to go after a comfortable trip on one of the Steam Packet’s two ships. You will then head to the four corners of the island to your chosen camp­site or for the home of one the many local folk who rent out a spare room or two for the TT.

Sixty years ago, most fans would arrive as foot passengers on one of the Steam Packet’s fleet of seven ships.

You would more than likely be staying in Douglas, in one of the hundreds of boarding houses, guest houses and private hotels.

On race days you could head for distant parts on the steam train, electric tram or bus. The private coach owners fleet of charabancs would take you to all of the famous vantage points.

Hundreds of fans would actually walk as far as Union Mills or Signpost Corner.

If you add to the mix the thousands of brave souls that would come for the day on one of the day trips organised by Motorcycle magazine, we would probably have more visitors in this one week than we now have in a full year.

Next week, I’ll fast forward to my early years, working in Strand Street in TT week.

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