Mud, Sweat and Beers
Enter the word 'hashing' into your favourite Internet search engine and you could well be presented with offers for a range of substances that are unlikely to be popular with your local police force. Look more carefully however, and you may spot links to a body of men and women whom you had no idea existed within your local community – The Hash House Harriers.
Now almost 70 years old, this organisation has been growing insidiously through all strata of society and throughout most of the world. There is no central co-ordination – the huge number of local groups that comprise the body are autonomous, self-governing units. Originating in Malaysia, knowledge of the Hash House Harriers' existence and its recruitment of new members has spread quietly and almost entirely by word of mouth. Local units, known as 'Hashes', meet every week or so at different locations within their home territories. Hashes vary in size, ranging, for example from the 'Small, but low quality!' Tallinn Hash, in (surprise, surprise) Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, to those that resemble a substantial horde of invading Mongols – and frequently smell like one too.
What's It All About (Alfie)?
A clue to the intent of these people, known as 'Hashers', can be gleaned from their slogan: 'The Drinking Club with a Running Problem'. Hashers meet at a pre-arranged time and place – usually an establishment where alcoholic beverages are sold – and run, jog or walk as a loosely-connected pack in several apparently meaningless directions, uttering loud incantations such as 'On On!' and 'Are You?' The apparently meaningless directions do in fact have a purpose to them – the Hashers are attempting to follow a trail, usually marked discreetly in flour or sawdust, pre-laid by one or two of the Hashers, known as 'Hares'. Thus far, Hashing resembles the schoolboy game of a paper chase.
Hashers display a range of athletic abilities from the non-existent to the barely-discernible, but still manage to fall roughly (some very roughly) into three groups: the most athletic, known as 'FRBs' (short for 'Front Running B******s'), the regular joggers, and the walkers (the latter usually referred to as the Knitting Circle.)
The Hares are cunning animals who like to throw their fellow Hashers off the trail using Checks and Falsies. Checks are marked on the ground by a circle of flour or chalk at points where the trail may go in one of a number of directions. Falsies are not artificial mammary enhancements but false trails laid deliberately to fool the FRBs into thinking they are on the right trail, when they are in fact just wasting their time and effort – to the enormous pleasure of the Hares (you were told that Hares are cunning). On discovering that they are following a false trail, Hashers must return to the Check and try a different direction.
The aim of the Hares (if they have one) is to get all Hashers round the trail in about the same time, and arrive back at the alcoholic beverage establishment - ok, the pub! - together. The distance covered and the running time is determined by individual Hashes, and varies with territory, but ranges from about four miles (6.4 km) in one hour, up to near-whole day events covering marathon-type distances.
Runs frequently end up back where they started from, but may finish at a different location: these are known as 'A to B runs'. Longer runs may involve 'Beer Stops' – locations en route where the Hares have concealed beer in advance, or arranged for an accomplice to bring it to the right place at the right time – some Hares are nice Hares! It is after the run that things rather deviate from the schoolboy paper chase model, and it is now that the true purpose of the run becomes clear – to develop an adequate thirst, which must be properly quenched.
I'm in Charge!
Although there is no central control of the Hash House Harriers, each local Hash elects a number of Hashers annually from within its membership to act as a 'Mismanagement'. This body then governs for the following year. There are a number of roles within Mismanagement:
- Grand Master (GM) – the nominal leader of the Hash
- Hash Master/Mistress (HM) – organises the Circle (see later)
- RA (Religious Advisor) – is all-seeing, names new Hashers (see later) and punishes misdemeanours
- Hash Cash – collects subscriptions and falsifies accounts
- Hare Razor – ensures Hares are booked to lay runs
There are also other roles that may be elected, or may be filled by co-opting Hashers:
- Hon Sexy – deals with correspondence and takes the Minutes of Mismanagement meetings
- Scribe – either writes the Words (see later) or badgers the Hares into writing them
- Haberdasher – manages the supply of Hash-wear
- Hash Flash – keeps a photographic record of Hashes
- Hash Thrash – organises social events and away-days/away-weekends
At the start and end of each run, a 'Circle' is called, usually by the most senior member of Mismanagement present at the time. At the opening Circle, Hashers are welcomed to the run, any Hashers' birthdays or anniversaries declared, and any 'Visitors'1, 'Newies'2 or 'Returnees'3 sought out and introduced to the Circle. The run is then handed over to the Hare(s), who may or may not (usually not) provide useful information about the run, such as how long it is (never, ever believe anything a Hare tells you), or if there are any hazards to look out for. At the Hares' call of 'On Out!', Hashers are released to set about finding the start of the trail.
Trail-markings vary from Hash to Hash, but are commonly small blobs of flour or sawdust, or chalk marks; in Hashing terminology, Dust. The ends of false trails may be positively marked or marks may simply disappear. When signs of a trail are found, the lead runner calls On On! loudly and the rest of the pack must follow. If the trail is true, Dust will continue until the next Check (circle on the ground) is found. The first runners to arrive at the Check will go in all possible directions from the Check, looking for Dust. Later arrivals at the Check may choose whichever direction they think is most likely. Calls to the lead FRB of: Are You? (short for 'Are You On?' ) request whether Dust has been found. Valid replies are On On!: Yes, Dust found, or Looking!: No Dust seen yet. A call of On On! obliges all Hashers to follow that direction, whether they believe it or not – the Hares may be playing a game of bluff and counter-bluff. Remember Hares are cunning and evil!
Hashers who lurk near the Check, seemly unwilling to commit themselves to any one direction (known as Check Hoverers) are liable to be punished later by the RA if they are spotted – and the RA is all-seeing, whether physically present or not. Occasionally, dim-eyed (or is it dim-witted?) Hashers will miss the marks indicating a false trail and have to be called back by the Hare – False trail – On Back!
A favourite device of Hares is to lay a trail that passes along paths of churned up, sticky, shoe-sucking mud – known in Hash parlance as Shiggy! – that sticks to everything: shoes, legs, ears, running kit, etc. This ought to be possible only during winter months, but in the UK at least, it seems to be becoming a year-round feature. Anybody contemplating Hashing is strongly advised to wear old kit specially.
It is now a battle of wits4 between the Hares and rest of the Hashers, to guess in which way lies the right trail. The run continues from Check to Check until (hopefully) after (roughly) the allotted time, the trail is complete. Shortly before the end, a sign displaying 'On Inn' is seen, indicating that the pub is nearby, and so the pack arrives back (more or less) intact, with tongues hanging out. Now follows the main business of the day.
Circle Up! (again)
After a change of running shoes and possibly other Shiggy-coated clothing (you did bring some didn't you?), the Hash moves into the pub to quench that well-earned thirst. Once sated, a Circle is called again, usually in the pub's car park or a convenient adjacent open space. Down-Downs are awarded to the Hares (for bothering), and to the birthdays, anniversaries, Visitors, Newies and Returnees as declared at the Circle before the start of the run.
Down-Downs are universal and require the recipient to drink a pint of beer as quickly as possible, accompanied by lewd and lascivious singing by their fellow Hashers to encourage them. Some Hashes also insist upon additional handicaps which will not be described in this Entry!
Hear my Word O ye Sinners and Tremble!
The Circle is now handed over to the all-seeing RA, who will expose and pronounce judgement on all those sins that Hashers have committed during the run. Sins are many and varied – the following are merely a sample:
- Crop Busting – many runs are over way-marked footpaths and bridleways that cross or border on farmers' fields – Crop Busting is running off path
- New Shoesism – a sin committed only by very inexperienced Hashers. The punishment is invariably to drink the Down-Down out of one of the offending shoes – now sweaty and nicely encrusted with Shiggy
- Competitivism – Hashers seen racing against each other. Usually applies to younger Hashers – aka Ankle Biters or Horrors
- -isms generally – an –ism being whatever the RA says it is
- W**k – discussion of that activity that occupies many of us between the hours of sun up and sun down is STRICTLY Verboten. One of the most serious sins that a Hasher can commit, and likely to cause the RA to award the Hashit.
Hashit! – Why Bless You!
The Hashit may take many forms, none of them good. It is awarded by the RA to a serious or recidivist sinner. Designed to mark him or her out as an exceptional sinner, it acts both as a reminder to the sinner themselves and as a warning to others not to transgress similarly. The Hashit may be an item of old clothing upon which much beer has been spilled, Shiggy trampled in and left to fester, or an article such as a toilet seat to be carried. The Hashit must be worn or carried as appropriate by the sinner at their next Hash appearance. Needless to say, a Down-Down will be awarded along with the Hashit.
I'll Never Forget What's 'is Name
All Hashers are known and called by their Hash name. 'Naming' is one of the duties of the RA, and is usually done during the Circle as part of the RA's sermon. After a Newie has been running with the Hash a few times, an assessment of their character will have been made by fellow Hashers, and the RA will decide upon a suitable Hash name. Names come in two varieties – those you might tell your mother about and those you probably would not; many fall into the latter category. After a Hasher has been officially named, calling him or her by their birth name is – you've guessed it – a sin punishable by the RA.
Read All About It!
After the Hash, either the appointed Scribe, or the Hares – Hashes differ on this – will write The Words, a literary masterpiece that may or may not reflect the events as they took place on the run itself. These Words are written for the benefit of those Hashers that were not able to be present themselves. The Words may also include jokes – usually off-colour, news from former Hashers – known as Checking In, and anything else of interest.
Here comes the History Bit
So what's the point of all this, and why the obsession with not mentioning w**k? Hashing originated in Kuala Lumpur, in present-day Malaysia, in 1938 with the founding of the Mother Hash. A group of English expatriates, working on the rubber plantations, would meet at the Selangor Club, taking their meals there – the restaurant becoming (un)affectionately known as the 'Hash House'. Alberto Esteban Ignacio Gispert5, an Englishman of Spanish parentage, along with a couple of friends decided to start a sort of non-competitive cross-country run, a nod in the direction of exercise, before retiring to the Selangor Club for a snorter6 or three. The early members of that Mother Hash worked, lived, ate and relaxed together, a claustrophobic environment with little alternative on offer other than 'The Club'. The last thing they wanted whilst relaxing on their time off was to talk about rubber, so mention of work was strictly banned – a practice honoured to the present day as a cardinal sin. Gispert was always known simply as 'G' – the (now somewhat distorted) origin of Hash 'names'.
World War II interrupted Hashing for a while; for Gispert, the war interrupted his Hashing permanently – he was killed in 1942. In the post-war years, British, Australian, New Zealander, Rhodesian7, Fijian, as well as Malayan Federation troops were engaged in the Malayan Conflict, a guerrilla war against the Malayan Communist Party. Some of these troops were introduced to Hashing, and took it back with them when they returned home. Thus Hashing started to spread around the world: 1962 – Singapore, 1967 – Sydney, Australia, 1969 – Commando Forces (first UK Hash), 1971 – Fort Eustis, Virginia (first Hash in North America), 1976 – London, UK. In 1977, there were 90 Hashes in 35 countries, by 1986, 555 Hashes in 85 countries, and by 2000 there were 1570 active Hashes in 184 countries with a combined membership of 200,000 Hashers8.
If there are so many Hashers, why don't you see them? The answer to this question was given by Douglas Adams in H2G2: Life, the Universe and Everything: it is an SEP – a Somebody Else's Problem. An SEP, explained Ford Prefect to Arthur Dent:
'... is something that we can't see, or don't see, or our brain doesn't let us see, because we think that it's somebody else's problem ... the brain just edits it out ... It relies on people's natural predisposition not to see anything they don't want to, weren't expecting, or can't explain.'9
Why do it?
Hashing is a very social activity. Hashers can just turn up at other Hashes if they happen to be in the vicinity at the right time and will be warmly welcomed by their hosts. As well as occasional joint runs between neighbouring Hashes, there are also major events at which lots of Hashes get together – the 29 February Leap Year Hash in London, UK, is one in particular not to be missed. Every two years there is a meeting of representatives from Hashes from all over the world – Interhash. Like the Olympic Games, hosting an Interhash is a massive undertaking, but is keenly fought over. Candidate cities use all sorts of ploys to get Hashers to vote for their bid – at the end of each Interhash, a vote is taken for where the next Interhash is to be held. At the 2006 Interhash held at Chiangmai, Thailand, the vote for the 2008 Interhash was won by Perth, Western Australia.
So On On! to Perth 2008.