How to re­lease your in­ner Screamin’ Ea­gle

Country Life Every Week - - My Week - Joe Gibbs

WHEN I stood for West­min­ster in the seat of Glas­gow Mary­hill in 1983, Mag­gie’s Falk­lands ‘khaki’ election, The Scots­man pro­filed the seat as be­ing so dyedin-the-wool So­cial­ist that ‘if you put up a sack of pota­toes la­belled Labour, it would be re­turned to Par­lia­ment’. Not, per­haps, the most flat­ter­ing de­scrip­tion of the in­cum­bent MP James Craigen— who duly re­mained an MP, de­spite my ef­forts— and equally dis­cour­ag­ing to an as­pi­rant of any other per­sua­sion.

On the stump around the end­less tower blocks and closes, my wife and I were con­tin­u­ally touched by Glaswe­gian hos­pi­tal­ity and po­lite­ness. The only peo­ple who were rude were the bien pen­sant Beeb types who lurked around Kelv­in­grove. Every­one else whose day­time TV view­ing we in­ter­rupted in­vited us in for a cup of tea, or some­thing stronger, and en­gaged in well-in­formed di­a­logue. In fact, so keen were they to talk, de­spite ob­vi­ous po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences, that we be­gan to think we were be­ing fil­i­bus­tered.

That West Cen­tral charm was in ev­i­dence at our mu­sic fes­ti­val last month. Sir Jamie Mc­grigor, our erst­while Tory for­mer MSP, was lean­ing up against a gi­ant wheelie bin for a breather when a hith­erto un­known Glas­gow lady ap­proached him, lifted the lid of the bin, popped her head in­side and, as Sir Billy Con­nolly would say, shouted for Huey and Ralph.

Af­ter some vol­ume retch­ing, she stood up and wiped her mouth. ‘Sorry Jamie. En­joy the rest of yer day, pal,’ she said po­litely, as she stag­gered off to start again. Makes you proud.

The hills here echo afresh to the ‘boom, boom’ of a new grouse sea­son, but Au­gust brings an­other sort of ‘Thun­der in the Glens’: the throaty intake of 3,000 Har­ley David­son rid­ers at their an­nual gather­ing at Aviemore.

I have an old black ’79 Moto Guzzi 850 T3 Cal­i­for­nia. She’s a V twin with an au­then­tic, chug­ging, basso pro­fundo en­gine and, like her owner, has seen bet­ter days. She’s like a once-beau­ti­ful night­club chanteuse suf­fer­ing the ef­fects of a 60-a-day habit and a fond­ness for mar­ti­nis and back­fir­ing like a line of grouse butts.

She isn’t called Har­ley, but, what the hell, I thought, I’ll take my life in my hands and join them. Meet­ing the mem­bers of the Har­ley Own­ers Groups (HOGS) as an in­ter­loper was re­as­sur­ing. They wel­comed me warmly as a fel­low knight of the road, how­ever in­fe­rior they con­sid­ered my nag. As a 60 year old, I was about their av­er­age age. I dif­fered, per­haps, in that I’m not XXL size, bald, grey-bearded, cov­ered in leather and badges and with a skin full of tats be­low the col­lar­line—yet.

Har­ley own­ers or­gan­ise them­selves into chap­ters, how­ever, think more Trol­lop­ian ‘Dean and’ rather than Hell’s An­gels, as a nicer bunch of up­right ci­ti­zens you couldn’t find any­where. Chap­ters hold evening meet­ings, at which mem­bers can de­bate the finer points of the Har­ley canon, and Satur­day ride­outs, which in­volve stop­ping at a cafe for a nice cup of tea. As a new bike is about £20,000, the so­cioe­co­nomic pro­file of an av­er­age owner is not bread­line. I don’t think I saw any of the leg­endary stick-on week­end whiskers, but I wasn’t go­ing to try peel­ing any off in case I came across the only Hell’s An­gel at the gig.

Not all have the time or in­cli­na­tion to ride through wind and wuther­ing—quite a few ar­rive at Aviemore with the bike on a trailer and a wardrobe of Har­ley cloth­ing on hang­ers, like the smarter moth­ers at Pony Club camp.

When you buy a Har­ley, you join a freema­sonry that brings you an en­trée to a new wardrobe, new friends, new ter­mi­nol­ogy and a whole new way of life. At the cen­tre of this sect is the gleam­ing object of rev­er­ence, 400kg of steel, chrome, leather and rub­ber. Like other gods, it moves in mys­te­ri­ous ways un­der dif­fer­ent names and guises de­ci­pher­able only to the ini­ti­ated: Road King, Sof­tail, Fat Boy, Screamin’ Ea­gle. You can choose from the parts and ac­ces­sories bi­ble to cre­ate a ma­chine in your own im­age.

Part of the week­end in­cluded a ride­out to Gran­town-on-spey. It feels strange to join a 1,000strong cav­al­cade of rid­ers play­ing Bat Out of Hell on their stereos while stay­ing well within the speed limit. We passed Lochin­dorb, for­mer home of the no­to­ri­ous brig­and the Wolf of Bade­noch. I thought how happy he might have been to see a gang of bik­ers com­ing to join his strength, only to ex­pe­ri­ence deep dis­ap­point­ment when they slowed down for the pud­dles. ‘Live to Ride, Ride to Live,’ the Har­ley strapline goes. At our age, we’d bet­ter.

‘Au­gust brings an­other sort of “Thun­der in the Glens”: the throaty intake of 3,000 Har­ley David­sons’

Joe Gibbs lives at Bel­ladrum in the High­lands and is the founder of the Tartan Heart Fes­ti­val

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