Growing Old Disgracefully?

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I’m responding to Michael Tong Lee’s challenge in the Summer Edition of Riding On to define ‘disgraceful behaviour’ as pertaining to Ulyssians.

Let me start by going back to our late Founding Father, Ol’ #1, who came up with the original recipe for the Ulysses pie. By all accounts, Stephen was quite a gentleman, but one with a delicious sense of humour. He had a quest for adventure and appeared not at all reluctant to ‘have a go’. Some may say that those are a unique combo of qualities for a Pommie, but there ya go. He led from the front and we have all chosen to follow in his footsteps. Having read a lot of Stephen’s material (but never having met him) I think I sort of get what he was on about when it comes to the ‘disgraceful’ thingo. I can also appreciate that this motto can be readily misunderstood if we don’t remember him, his values, and where our Club has come from historically.

It may be easier to understand Stephen’s challenge to ‘grow old disgracefully’ by stating what he didn’t mean. I don’t believe he was suggesting behaviour that is crude, rude, offensive, hateful, insulting or mean-spirited. I know that after a day in the saddle and a few beers with mates, it’s not all that hard to slip into some of these more negative territories – it can seem hilarious at the time. But that’s a no-no because it alienates some people who may otherwise become valuable members of our Club, and can also tarnish the reputations of all other members. None of us wants to be on the receiving end of such behaviour, so it’s very much a ‘do unto others’ thing. Maybe riding groups that recognise that they have a few ‘boisterous’ personalities on board, who may be tempted to go over the top, need to establish a ‘designated rider’; someone who tends to drink light beer and gently guide those funny but obscene buggers back onto a more sociable track when they stray? OK, so much for the downside. What’s the upside? Maybe a personal anecdote will better demonstrate my point than theoretical waffle.


As we said goodbye to our new old mates and donned our helmets, Alf’s tomato sauce dribble still wet on the front of his leathers

Years ago, I went on an extended ride around NSW and South Queensland with a couple of buddies, including Alf. It was the usual blokes’ thing; huge miles, cheap pub beds, steak, beer and lots of larfs. We were on the way home through Wellington when we spied a sign offering pies and milk shakes. Pulling into Pie Land we grabbed our lunch then looked around for somewhere to eat it. The park was too far to walk – over 50 metres – so we sat in the next most comfortable place, the gutter. I should mention that Alf (also known as ‘Alphonse’ to his family and more genteel friends) was a Sydney University professor who moved in only the best of social circles, except when lowering his standards to throttle his Sportster with us. Anyway, as we sat there in the gutter munching pies and talking with our mouths full, a couple of old farts wandered over and started asking about our bikes - where we were from and all the usual stuff about how their fathers had ridden this or that, and so on. They were an interesting pair; lots of local history, so much so that they sat down in the gutter next to us to continue the conversation. We finally finished our lunch, burped, and decided it was time to hit the road again. As we said goodbye to our new old mates and donned our helmets, Alf’s tomato sauce dribble still wet on the front of his leathers, he muttered a few words that I shall never forget: “I’ve never eaten a pie in the gutter before, disgraceful really, but mind you, a heck of a lot of fun!!”.

His comments echoed around inside my helmet as we cranked it up along the Mitchell Highway. Alf’s world was full of black tie dinner parties, champers, and chit chat about the stock market, economy and politics. I saw his as a sort of sanitised lifestyle. Nothing wrong with that; we’re all free to choose the way we live, but somehow he was missing a whole dimension of reality. Except when we rode together. My work-a-day world was physically different from Alf’s, but in some ways the same. I, too, was expected to act a certain way; observe niceties that sometimes rankled, hold my tongue at times when I’d have loved to vent my spleen, and eat humble pie instead of debating issues. Maybe Alf and I were, of necessity, both in our own ways, overly subjugated to vocational and political correctness? And maybe it was the opportunity to get on our bikes and get real, away from all that ‘stuff’, that inspired our need to grow old disgracefully? The more I thought about it, the more I saw ‘disgraceful’ behaviour not as something to alienate others, but more the freedom to be oneself.

John Bryant



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Bennet & Philp Side Bar with Bike
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Bennet & Philp Side Bar with Bike
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