How to release your inner Screamin’ Eagle
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