Further Things That Are Wrong (Part 2)

Footage of @flattythehurdler this morning

Two youngish lads with heavy Dublin accents with a podcast and a live show called Talking Bollox.

Not sure where to put this…

Mark Purslow, a shy, modest 29-year old from Llanon in west Wales, lived and breathed motorcycles. As a little boy he’d been obsessed with mini motos — small bikes with motor engines — and at 16 he’d started racing, following in the footsteps of his father, Colin.

Alongside his racing career, Mark worked as a fabricator, making the aluminium tanks on classic motorcycles. After he finished in the workshop for the day, he would work out then spend the evening in his shed attending to his own bikes. “He’d do that every night,” says his older sister, Hana. “It’s only now when I look back and think about how much dedication that took that I think, ‘Gosh, he really did love the sport and he really did want to race.’ ”

Last year was a big year for Mark. He couldn’t wait to take part in the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy — the TT, widely accepted to be the world’s most dangerous motorcycle race. For a fortnight in late May and early June the winding country roads, residential streets and mountain paths of the Isle of Man are transformed into a one-of-a-kind, 37.73-mile racetrack, around which riders compete in time-trial laps, cheered on by spectators from all over the world. Mark was an experienced racer, but had last competed in the TT in 2017.

“He had to train really hard, physically,” Hana says. “He was training every day. His dedication to the sport and to his dreams really shone through.”

He’d just joined a team for the first time, riding a 600 Yamaha with the Never Be Clever team, which would give him more support than racing as a privateer. Hana, a marketing manager, was helping him build his profile on social media in the hope of attracting endorsement deals. “I don’t think he wanted to be in the limelight,” she says. “If he won he was never boastful.”

On the evening of June 1 Mark took part in a TT qualifying session and started well. On his second lap he’d saved nine seconds in a stretch of the course called Ballagarey, about three and a half miles from the start point. “The team manager said that Mark was over the moon, so happy, so excited, like it was the best day of his life, really.” And then, as the sun was setting, came the third lap. “Everything was going right for him,” his sister says. “But then obviously everything went wrong.”

Mark Purslow was an experienced rider

REX

The sport is by definition dangerous, but the TT, the latest edition of which starts on May 29, is another level: the speeds are extraordinary and the track, nicknamed the Mountain Course, has more than 200 bends. The fastest lap recorded was completed in 16 minutes and 42 seconds, at an average speed of 135.452mph. At Ballagarey — or “Ballascary” — speeds can hit 170mph: the section starts with a perilous corner that becomes a straight road where you can claw back precious seconds on rivals.

Speed, though, is not the only mythology of the TT — the other is tragedy. Crashes happen every year and there are almost always fatalities — 1982 was the only year after the Second World War without one (the race was cancelled in 2001 due to foot and mouth disease, and 2020-21 due to Covid). Organisers wrap traffic lights in padding and line walls with crash mats, but colliding with a padded lamppost at 140mph is still going to do significant damage. There is a macabre corner of YouTube devoted to videos of drivers crashing. If you include the Manx Grand Prix, which takes place in August using the same course, 266 riders have died on the route since 1911. Last year — the first races held since 2019 — was no exception.

Mark lost control of his bike at Ballagarey’s sharp corner and died of his head and neck injuries. But there were five more deaths to come. On June 4 a French newcomer, César Chanal, 33, died in a sidecar race at Ago’s Leap, one mile into the course. His passenger, Olivier Lavorel, died from his injuries in October. Then, on June 6, Davy Morgan, a veteran Northern Irish rider, was killed in a crash at the mountainous 27th milestone. On June 10 two more sidecar racers — Roger and Bradley Stockton, a father-and-son team from Crewe — died at Ago’s Leap. Roger, 56, was driving the bike with his 21-year-old son as the passenger. There were nonfatal casualties too: Mike Booth, a racer and motoring journalist, had to have his right leg amputated below the knee after crashing in a qualifier on June 3.

Roger Stockton, 56, and his sidecar-riding son Bradley, 21, both died at last year’s TT

Roger and Bradley competing in 2022

ALAMY

Despite the clear and present dangers of the course, those who race it defend it tooth and nail. A commonly heard refrain is that all who compete are fully aware of the risks. Purslow was no different.

“He always said that if he was going to go, that was the way he was going to go,” Hana says. “They all know it’s a possibility — and they all know it’s one of the hardest courses in the world, if not the hardest road race in the world. They all know that when they put themselves out there.”

At Fairy Bridge, a tiny stone structure stretching over Santon Burn on the road between Douglas and the Isle of Man airport, there is a shrine to the island’s dead — and to the many motorcyclists who don’t make it home. Outside a two-storey home at Ago’s Leap — a sloping stretch of suburban A-road one mile into the course, where pavements are narrow and the neat houses are perched almost on the kerbside — I find a small, improvised memorial to the Stocktons, set up in the rubble of a half-collapsed garden wall. There are dried flowers, handwritten notes wrapped in cellophane, painted stones and an image of a mascot named “the fairy god biker”.

Walking down Douglas promenade, the capital’s quiet main street, on an afternoon out of TT season, while a horse pulling a tram plods down the road, it is hard to imagine the place hosting a motorcycle racing festival. There are clues, however: children wandering past in TT merch; women leaving an official TT shop on Douglas seafront with huge carrier bags. I browse its rails and find baby clothes emblazoned with motorcycles. On quiet, suburban roads, family-sized sedans periodically whistle by at a clip. Because there is no national speed limit, the island has always attracted petrolheads.

Marooned in the middle of the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man (population: 85,000) has its own parliament, its own laws and, according to some, its own libertarian-slanting philosophy: an aversion to government intervention and health and safety culture. I am advised by one former resident never to refer to Great Britain as “the mainland”: the island is a self-governing Crown dependency. It was chosen for the race — which began as the Gordon Bennett Car Trial in 1905 and became the Tourist Trophy in 1911 — by Sir Julian Orde, secretary of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, because of its permissive attitude towards racing on public roads.

If laws permit the TT to take place, attitudes — and the boon to the economy — help to keep it there. Although questions are often asked in industry magazines about whether the TT should be allowed to continue, no one I met on the island wants to see it cancelled. The event is their economic lifeblood. For those two weeks in early summer Douglas’s nightlife rivals that of a student town. In 2019 there were 46,174 visitors, who contributed roughly £27.1 million to the local economy. Residents host barbecues in their front gardens where they watch the racers fly past. “If you imagine a flower in the desert that only blooms for two weeks a year,” says Jerry Carter, a Douglas-based lawyer, “that’s the best analogy.”

Sports clubs hire out pitches as campsites, hotels are booked up to the rafters months in advance and many islanders turn their homes into holiday lets. “For some people it’s their make or break,” Carter says. “Especially after Covid. They’ll break even for the rest of the year and then make all their profit over the TT fortnight. You get to May and think, ‘Oh, the TT’s coming.’ Everybody gets a buzz about it.”

Here riders are worshipped as heroes. “In 1940 the guys who race in the TT would have been flying Spitfires and Hurricanes,” Carter says. “No doubt about it.” The deaths do trouble him, however. “I saw a fatality in a sidecar race in 1978 and I haven’t watched a sidecar race since There are too many deaths and they need to address it. But they are addressing it.”

If residents love it, for competitors the race is mythical. “You don’t even have to be a motorcycle fan,” says Ben Birchall, 46, a 12-times TT sidecar champion who won two races in 2022 and is competing again this year. “Go to the Isle of Man, watch one of them go past, you’ll understand why people move heaven and earth to do it.”

“Nothing really compares,” says Peter Hickman, 36, last year’s most decorated solo rider, who competed in six races — winning four, and coming second and third in the others (he’ll also be racing this year). “The only word I can ever use to describe the TT is ‘unbelievable’.”

Riders arrive on a ferry, 2014

REX

Racing often runs in families: Purslow’s father was a racer; Hickman’s too, although he tried to encourage his son to try darts or football instead. “My answer to that was I bought my own bike when I was 12 and hid it round the back of the house.”

Birchall rides with his brother, Tom — he drives, Tom is the passenger. Their parents honeymooned at the TT Races in 1969, and as boys they used to visit the Isle of Man for the TT. Birchall’s three sons love the sport; his eldest, 21, is already working for a racing team and wants to compete. The event positions itself as a two-week family holiday, and the course is lined with children of all ages.

Both Birchall and Hickman rationalise the risks. “The danger is what makes it exciting,” Hickman says. “Keeping yourself in a zone, being able to keep yourself safe and fast and win is difficult to achieve.”

“It’s a dream to compete there, to be successful there,” Birchall says. “Yeah, it’s dangerous. But people have a choice about what they want to do.”

None of the relatives of those who died have publicly called for the race to be cancelled. In 2017 Janet Cowden, whose husband, Paul Shoesmith, died in a crash at the 2016 race, told the BBC that to do so would be “disrespectful” to his memory.

Surely it is unbearable for riders’ families to watch? “They go through hell,” Hickman says. “As a rider I’m in control. I know every split second of what’s going on, but they haven’t a clue.” Hickman’s parents come to every TT, and his girlfriend attended last year. “They’ve never asked me to stop because they know it’s what I want to do.”

When the Birchall boys started racing, their mother used to find it impossible to watch. “[But] Mum’s had some tough times in her life of late, and she’s come through,” Birchall says. “She said, ‘I absolutely get it now. I understand, you’re seizing every moment of your life.’ It must be tough for them, when there are two of us setting off. But that’s the TT, isn’t it?”

“No offence, but journalists always focus on the negative and never on the positive,” Hickman says. “The pure adrenaline rush, the atmosphere, the feeling you get is different to every other circuit in the world.”

In 2010 the racer and TV presenter Guy Martin lost control of his bike at the Ballagarey corner while travelling at 170mph. In the ensuing fireball — which looked like a scene from an action film — he sustained fractures to his spine and bruising to both lungs; he competed the following year.

Guy Martin lost control at 170mph in 2010 yet competed again the next year

DOCUMENTAIRES AUTO/MOTO

DOCUMENTAIRES AUTO/MOTO

The TT lost its world championship status over safety concerns in 1977 — which means no one is compelled to ride in order to maintain a ranking — but in some vehicle classes there are almost twice as many entries as there are places. Prize funds differ according to the race class — the winner of the Superbike TT Race will be awarded £20,000, and the winner of the Senior TT Race gets £25,000.

While, to the casual observer, competing might look more masochistic than masterful, manipulating a heavy vehicle at speed on those roads requires enormous skill. It’s a racer’s race. The nine-times world champion motorsport legend Valentino Rossi is an admirer of the TT’s most successful competitor, John McGuinness (he once joked he would not want to race McGuinness at the TT).

“For those of us that are road riders and have a sense of history about the whole thing, it’s just extraordinary: the skill, the commitment and the bravery of the people that do it,” says Hugo Wilson, editor of Classic Bike magazine. “Which isn’t to say that when it goes wrong it doesn’t leave you with a very bad feeling.”

The elite trains hard. “You need to be a little bit good at everything to ride,” says Lee Johnston, a Northern Irish rider and TT veteran who’ll be competing again this year. “There’s bike fitness, which you get from riding, but you need a little bit of everything else. Some of my races might be only 25 or 30 minutes, some over two and a bit hours — it’s like trying to be a sprinter and a 10,000m runner.”

Johnston mountain-bikes and follows a strict gym and nutrition plan. Riders focus on core muscles to aid balance and help them to manipulate the bike (too much bulk can slow them down). Like Johnston, Birchall mountain-bikes; his brother, Tom, does boxing training, learning how to recover swiftly from awkward positions as preparation for competing in the sidecar, “scrunched up in a little ball”.

Racing also requires superhuman concentration: the slightest lapse could be deadly. Hickman says the mental preparation depends on your character. “I’m probably not the best person to ask. I don’t even get nervous — which is really odd.” Does that give him an edge? “I think it does. Then again, some people need that nervousness; others need to be chilled out.”

Birchall suggests that motorbike racers have “a high degree” of OCD. “A lot of us will say, ‘I’ve mown my lawn, I’ve had my hedges cut, everything’s tidy at home and all in place Every little box is ticked. You can sit on that start line with a completely clear head. I know that my whole attention is on three laps of 37¾ miles of speed and pinpoint accuracy.” For him the race is a release. “Absolute relief — now it’s happening. Your adrenaline is pumping but you’ve got control of it.” He focuses on the course, what’s around the corner, what time he’s making. “You fight other thoughts because it’s quite easy for your mind to start wandering.”

John McGuinness, the most successful living TT racer with 23 wins, competing in last year’s edition

DAVE KNEEN / MANXPHOTOSONLINE.COM

Could the TT be made safer? Not just anyone can compete: a selection committee considers applicants on a case-by-case basis, and to apply you must have a competition licence. “It’s not invite-only but it is like invite-only, really,” says Paul Phillips, the TT’s head of motorsport. What do you need to make the grade? “Talent, mindset, approach, funds It’s not an exact science, but we’ve got to be as confident as we can.”

“Any race that long, over public roads, is going to be dangerous They can move a lamppost and level off a kerb, they can put more of the air barriers up on certain corners, but you’re not going to make it safe,” Classic Bike’s Wilson says. “Which isn’t to say they shouldn’t strive to make it safer.”

And strive they do. Next to the grandstand in Douglas is a radio tower — the nerve centre of the race — where, in a stuffy control room at the top of several flights of stairs, sit the race co-ordinators, police, timekeepers, controllers and technical officials. It is from here that Gary Thompson MBE, the clerk of the course, orchestrates the whole event. His days start at 6.30am with operational meetings about equipment and staffing, and liaising with the local authorities. As bikes start bursting onto the circuit, the hard work really begins, as he must react to real-time incidents and manage the 2,000-plus people working on the course — most of them marshals.

A tourist poster from 1961

GETTY IMAGES

During the two-year Covid hiatus organisers reviewed the TT’s safety measures, and new protocols introduced for last year’s event included mandating the highest quality of rider safety equipment — crash helmets, body armour, gloves, leathers, boots — and reducing the number of riders, to ease logistics and lessen the likelihood of riders putting each other under pressure to go faster.

The most important update was the implementation of a digital red flag system, which, in the event of an incident, halts the race instantly, dispatches one of eight traffic marshals — all former riders with advanced first aid training who have raced at either the TT or in the Manx Grand Prix — to the scene of the crash, and calls an AirMed helicopter. The race has two helicopters with a doctor and paramedic on board. Last year Dr Gareth Davies, a Manx physician and former medical director of the London Air Ambulance service — considered one of the world’s foremost pre-hospital trauma care doctors — was recruited. “A genuinely world-class asset,” says Phillips, who believes the Covid hiatus was a watershed. “We invested significantly in marshalling, training and recruitment retention, in equipment, in medical cover, in AirMed provision. We really spent a significant amount of money there.”

And yet six people still died last year. “Obviously we have had fatalities and any fatality is a tragedy,” Thompson says. Four of the six deaths were in sidecar races. “We have put in place a sidecar working group and we are looking at every aspect of sidecar racing to see what else we can do to improve safety.”

Photographs and mementos adorn a road sign at Fairy Bridge, which has become a memorial site for fallen riders

ALAMY

The team calls improving safety a “never-ending process”. This year’s updates include introducing a simulator as part of the training programme for newcomer riders, and new “low-sun protocols”, designed to reduce the risk of incidents caused by poor visibility. Spectators and marshals who witnessed Purslow’s crash said that the low sun was affecting visibility. At the inquest the coroner said he could not determine if it played a part in the crash.

Ultimately, the course, the speed and the risk define the TT. “The history and tradition of the TT is its greatest strength and its greatest challenge,” Phillips says. Still, its audience is “narrow and narrowing”, and there is a bid to attract a new, younger, global, more gender-balanced one (the success among Gen Z viewers of Netflix’s Formula One show, Drive to Survive, suggests they have a shot). Last year organisers launched a streaming platform, TT+, which broadcast the events live: more than 57,000 people accessed coverage, and 700,000 hours of footage has been watched. Perhaps a younger, tech-savvy fanbase — one less wedded to the complex history of the race — would permit incremental revolution in other areas.

It would be too late for too many.

“The fact Mark died doing something he loved is kind of a comfort to us, although it doesn’t bring him back,” Hana says. “But Mark actually lived his life — he did so much more than many people would in their lifetime. He loved racing over there — he loved that road. It will always be a special place.”

Today’s the sunday times magazine

The older lad was atin’ a slice of bread & butter at the kitchen table this evening & randomly came out with…

“Daddy, when there was no big people how did they get the first big person?”

I asked him to clarify what he meant, as I wasn’t sure my 4-year old was asking how humanity was created. But that’s what he was wrestling with.

“How did they get the first big person? Was there no people before that?”

I said I didn’t know & he remarked that there would only have been one car when there was only one person.

I really need to get on Ger Gilroy’s Dadcast with this material.

10 Likes

Some spiel about genetics and evolution would have been the job there. Throw him down a different path. He’d be questioning Darwin’s trip to the Galápagos Islands over breakfast the following morning.

Jesus

https://www.rte.ie/sport/soccer/2023/0601/1386838-young-soccer-player-dies-after-cup-brawl-in-germany/

The suspected attacker “denies having deliberately caused serious bodily harm”

He knows what he done

Suspected attacker? Is it Emile Heskey?

2 Likes

Cautionary tale.

Cash in transit man mugged by two twerps on a scooter and a bicycle. Jesus wept….

Crime & Law

Crumlin cash-in-transit raiders flee on electric scooter and bicycle

Two men robbed security guard outside post office in Dublin on Thursday afternoon

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The pair fled the scene of the cash-in-transit robbery on an electric scooter and bicycle. Photograph: iStock

Thu Jun 1 2023 - 18:31

Two men, one armed with an imitation gun, fled a robbery on a security guard outside a Dublin post office on an electric scooter and a bicycle.

The incident occurred outside the post office on St Agnes Road in Crumlin shortly before 1pm on Thursday. Two males, one armed with an imitation firearm, threatened a male security employee and demanded the contents of the cash box he was transporting.

The pair fled with the cash box in the direction of Windmill Road.

Nobody was hurt during the incident, and the imitation gun has been recovered by the Garda.

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An appeal has been made for witnesses to the robbery.

Any road users who may have camera or dash-cam footage and were travelling on the St Agnes Road/Windmill Road between 12.30pm and 1.30pm are asked to make this footage available to gardaí.

Anyone with any information is asked to contact Crumlin Garda station on 01 666 6200, the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111, or any Garda station.