Looking at the event schedule below, the race classifications can seem a little bit confusing but, as with all things, once you understand the logic behind the programming everything becomes very straightforward.
Held annually at the end of August and covering two weeks, the Manx Grand Prix is the amateur rider's alternative to the Tourist Trophy (TT) races. It offers an opportunity for newcomers to learn the full TT course and to gain racing experience there with a view to entering the TT races in the future. Once the move to Tourist Trophy racing has been completed, competitors are permanently barred from re-entering the Manx GP. Note the references to "Newcomers" in the schedule, their introductory "controlled" laps led by marshals, their final "untimed" session on Day 1, and see how they are fed into the mainstream of riders.
In conjunction with the Manx GP a 'Classic TT' race is run for historic racing machines. Both professional and experienced amateur riders may enter this event. For the Classic TT, the first week is for practice and the second is race week with six classes each completing four laps race distance. Dave and I arrived on the twenty-third of August, so we'd see some practice and we'd see some of the races, too. Of course, all this talk of rules, regs. and racing is well and good - but the first rule of potential "mate-dom" was yet to be applied in my case: my introduction to "the lads".
I use the term "lads" very loosely, of course, as we're all a little bit beyond our mid-thirties now (ahem!), but there's a huge amount of life-and-biking experience gathered around that table - including some racing - and it's all wrapped up in layers and layers and layers of good humour and some awesome banter. It was, quite genuinely, my privilege to be accepted into the group without even a hint of hesitation and I hope they enjoyed my company as much as I enjoyed theirs.
We awoke to a beautiful morning and, breakfast done, embarked "mob-handed" on the first leg of an "Island Tour for the Newbie" (Yes - that's me!). Crossing the island east-to-west my eyes feasted on the signs: Braddan, Union Mills, Crosby and Greeba, as we made our way to our first food sampling at Peel Castle.
Next, heading slightly east of north, we toured our way up to Ramsey, where, with a strangely familiar gesture, Dave registered his displeasure at being photographed with yet another belly-filler in his hand.
After Ramsey we headed south to Old Laxey, where we all needed to sit down for a while, then continued south to reach Douglas before the roads were closed for the day's practice sessions.
Back at the campsite it was simply a matter of walking two or three hundred yards for a close-up view of the bikes. When the practice sessions were over and the roads re-opened it was an easy, twenty-minute stroll into Douglas to meet up with the lads to discuss the day over a few beers. As I recall, Dave and I managed to stroll back to the campsite on a couple of occasions but, for reasons impossible to recall, we more frequently required the services of a taxi cab to get us home after a night in the town.
While I'd hardly call Douglas a den of iniquity (only because I didn't know where to look), as in any port you can have a good time in the many pubs, restaurants and clubs that are scattered liberally around the waterfront. Wherever you go, though, you'll never be too far away from a bike.
The night passes quickly when you're having fun, and it seemed that only five minutes later we were finishing breakfast, jumping on our bikes and heading for Castletown and the visitor centre at the Sound.
I didn't know there was an ancient volcano on the Isle of Man; nor did I know that Castletown dates back to 1090 and is one of the oldest towns in the UK. It was the island's capital for hundreds of years - and it sits on the previously mentioned ancient volcano! Another thing I didn't know was how beautiful the island is when the sun shines and, on anther day, how dank and dreary it can feel when the rain and fog arrives; it's a bit like Lancashire, really!
We passed on through Castletown (we'd return later in the week), through Port Mary and Cregneash to reach the visitor centre at the end of Sound Road. The centre overlooks the Calf of Man, a small island off the south-west coast that's separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of water known as the Calf Sound. It's rumoured that Elvis is still alive and living in the area…!
The island is full of surprises; nooks and crannies that you could never imagine and sights you thought you'd never see. In less than half-an-hour it's possible to ride directly from Douglas to Peel Castle on the other side of the island, or you can spend a full day exploring the coastline and the interior without seeing the same thing twice. In that sense alone, the place deserves to be called a "little gem". It was a great time and a great place to be on a bike as we rolled easily back to Douglas to hang around for a while at the grandstand atop Bray Hill.
The party was just getting started when we arrived: packed crowds, burgers, beer tents and "bonkers" entertainment everywhere we looked. Later, during practice, there was a crash a short way into the course, seemingly quite close to Quarterbridge. Race Direction sent marshals to escort the riders to the pits by leading them back against the normal flow of the course and it was really strange to see the bikes travelling the "wrong way" around the track.
Come to think of it, I was seeing a lot of things I never thought I'd see - and I was realising quite a few dreams, too. Here was I on the Isle of Man, at the Manx GP, riding that famous track and touring that little gem of an island. Even now the thought of it makes me smile. The next day we'd be watching from two vantage points that, to me, were as new as the rest; Cronk y Voddy and, later, Braddan Bridge. It had been a great day and I crawled into my sleeping bag that night full of excitement and looking forward to the morrow.
Then came the rain.