In 1951, when I was 13 years old, my family moved from Oxford to the Isle of Man.  My father had been offered a job as bursar of King William’s College, so the whole family decamped to a windswept island in the middle of the Irish Sea.  The fact than it is well neigh impossible to confuse Oxford and the Isle of Man has always provided a handy way to sort out my childhood memories.

Of course, living in the Isle of Man meant that I quickly discovered the TT races, never having even heard of them in far off, leafy Oxford.  I watched my first TT high up on the mountain section of the circuit.  In 1951, a young man called Geoff Duke won his first two world championships for Norton, at 350cc and 500cc.  It wasn’t difficult to know when Geoff Duke was coming because he went faster, and more smoothly, through corners than any of the other competitors.

In those days I had a Brownie box camera.  I tried to take a photograph of Geoff Duke screaming past and got a perfect shot of a completely empty road!  My reactions, and those of my primitive camera, simply could not cope.

All the way through the 1950’s, Geoff Duke, along with Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, was my hero – even when he deserted Norton and switched to Gilera.  When I was 17, I bought my first motorbike, sadly, not a Norton but a 125cc BSA Bantam!   After I had passed my test (first time, despite having stalled the machine when, I assume, the inspector wasn’t watching), I soon progressed to a 175cc BSA.

So, reading Geoff Duke’s obituary in today’s Times was a shock.  Even though he was 92, it had never occurred to me that Geoff Duke could die.  I had assumed he was invincible.


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