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norton fireside chat

Bike talk

(Travels with Guido series #287, by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen, Jan 2021)

What is it you lot are going on about?

Youngest daughter, Ms A, does an imitation of men having what they regard as a fulsome conversation. It goes something like this:
“I like stuff.”
(Thoughtful pause.)
“I like stuff, too.”
“Okay, we can stop talking now.”

I’m not sure that’s how it really goes, but you can see where she’s coming from. If a young woman walks up to a group of (usually) men who happen to be in a deep and passionate discussion about left-threaded thermongrommets on a 1968 Honkwatu GT, she at first hears a couple of unintelligible lines about stuff, before the whole pack slams shut its collective trap. They go quiet, look a little embarrassed and wonder what they should talk about next. “Nice weather we’re having…” Great, well-played, boys.

The minute Ms A wanders off, having assessed the group as having the collective IQ of an anvil, they’re back into the whole thermongrommet thing. Women, generally, seem to be much too smart to get caught up in it.

What intrigues me is the role these conversations serve and how they seem to suck otherwise normally intelligent people into some black hole of trivia from which there’s no evident means of escape. More annoying is the fact that, having been caught in several, much against my better judgement, it keeps happening.

The problem is there’s no immediate external signal of what’s going on. You can walk up to the same group of people and someone will be telling a genuinely funny and entertaining story. On a good day, you’ll even cop a robust discussion on politics, culture and, if the claret is flowing, maybe some broader philosophical point.

But nothing gets traction like some crushingly boring minor point about the number of threads on a bike’s thermongrommet and whether or not that minutia of design lived up to the expectations of (a) the engineer, (b) the bloke who bought it 30 years later and (c) several bystanders who have no intention of ever buying one but are nevertheless passionately interested.

If you’re really lucky, you’ll wander up to the group, hear a few telling phrases, recognise the danger signs and ricochet off the gathering (pretending to be completely focused on something fascinating at far stage left) before getting dragged into the vortex. Then again, if you’re already engaged, you may decide the risk of insulting the entire membership is worth it and simply stalk off mid-rant looking for a stiff drink – never to return.

One of my favourite escape hatches is keeping a weather eye out for a new victim then, before they can protest or make up an excuse not to get involved, you loudly call them over, adding to the group, “Now young Frank here has a really interesting take on this…” as you generously give up your place in the circle for him to join. Frank may never talk to you again, but it’s a small price to pay for rescuing what little remains of your sanity.

Which still begs the question, what purpose do these sessions serve? Given I’ve often walked away poorer, having bought someone else’s motorcycle by mistake, or frightened, because someone’s come up with a plan for a land speed record that involves my Hayabusa, or knowing less than when I started because I only understood every third word, it remains a mystery.

Maybe it’s nothing more complex than affirming we’re part of a community, this happy tribe. And it’s at least more dignified than Morris dancing – but only just…


See more Travels with Guido here



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