02
11/2018

The Drinking Club with a Running Problem

When it comes to social gatherings in foreign countries, think hash. Not the potatoes you have with your eggs, nor sticky illegal marijuana resin. Introducing the Hash House Harriers, the “drinking club with a running problem”, an informal, open-to-all quasi-athletic club that has sprung up in over 178 countries. Hash House Harriers (or H3) might sound like an alliterative joke, but it is a genuine social phenomenon. With nearly 2000 groups operating in just about every major city worldwide, including Hong Kong, Hashers come together to run, drink, and be merry. To find out more, I strapped on my running shoes and decided to join the Hashers in Bucharest, Romania’s bustling capital. Forget vampire museums, it was time to see the city, make some friends, and earn the name that will be with me for life.

Essentially a twist on the old hare versus hound game, a human “hare” is selected to plan a route that the pack must follow. Using paper, chalk, or in our case flour, the hare marks the trail with a series of dots, splits, circles, red herrings and checks, to make it challenging for the pack to find their way home. Winning the race is inconsequential, for the real purpose of Hashing is for people to gather, talk, drink, run, and have some fun. Anyone of any age is welcome, and the only thing you’ll require to partake is a sense of ribald humour.

We meet at a park in downtown Bucharest, where a member named Crash Test Dummy welcomes regulars and “Virgins.” Hashers refer to each other by their Hash Name, which is assigned to Virgins by the group in due course. I quickly realize that Hashers have their own unique “mis-management” titles, and distinct vocabulary. Crash Test Dummy, an English engineer who has lived in Bucharest for two years, is the Religious Advisor, charged with blessing the circle. A crusty Scot named Pie Eyed Piper, the Grandmaster, is the ceremonial leader. Materhorny, who works in the Swiss Embassy, is the Cash Hash and in charge of financial affairs. Moby Dick is from Los Angeles, Gutentight is from Germany, and the Hare today has the distinctive Hash name of Tampon Jelly. Two things are immediately obvious: Hashers are defined by a bawdy schoolyard sense of humour, and are mostly made up of members of the expat community. In this, little has changed from its roots when the first Hashers formed over 70 years ago.

The first Hash took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1938, as a casual exercise for British office workers to run out their weekend hangovers. Following a paper trail that would inevitably lead to a pub, the group became popular enough to register as a society, the name arguably chosen to reflect the seriousness of its intention. After World War II, with original members spread around the globe, new clubs (or kennels) were started in expat communities, and since the 1970’s, have exploded in popularity. Today, there are family hash events, gender-specific events, large gatherings like the Eurohash or Interhash, even a club in Antarctica. With no central leadership, no membership requirements, and no chance of taking itself seriously, Hashing pre-dates online social networking as a means to instantly make friends and get contacts in a foreign country. “It’s a great way to travel and meet people,” says Holefinger, an American agricultural consultant. “Wherever you go, you’ll always find a hash.”

The circle meet in a downtown Bucharest park, where introductions were made, and basic pointers explained. Using a tennis ball dipped in flour, the Hare had marked a trail through the embassy neighbourhood. Together the pack would chase down these dots, like a game of Pacman, until we reach a circle and have to fan out to find the next trail. A circle indicates a change in direction, an X a false trail. The FRB (or Front Running Bastard) calls out “On On!” to indicate he or she has found the next dot and everyone follows.

It is a warm, humid late afternoon, and the race is on. Gutentight blows his horn, and locals look on curiously, bemused at an eclectic, eccentric group running about shouting and laughing. Midnight Itch, a local “Harriette” who discovered hashing through her ex-employers, is the FRB, setting the pace. We dodge traffic and stray dogs, and it doesn’t take long before we approach a Beer Check. Congregating outside a neighbourhood shop, we crack open cold beers, and discuss the course, dirty jokes, Hash war stories from clubs near and far. There’s a couple Hashers from Texas, Australia, Scotland, and a few Hashers new to Bucharest who are accepted like old mates. I learn that drinking violations come in the form of quirks, like running with new shoes, or pointing with fingers. Each club makes up their own rules, careful to reiterate that of course, there are no rules.

“On On” and we’re off again, back on the trail. Around the bend I notice we have been led in a circle, the dust of the environmentally friendly flour pulling us through the streets. Hashes typically take place in forests, parks, streets, wherever the Hare chooses, and the length of the course, and number of beer checks, can vary. Finally, we arrive back at the park, where the Grandmaster forms everyone in a circle to cool down, and congratulate the Hare for his efforts. A round of drinks are consumed. The running club shifts to the drinking club, as barroom ditties are sung to accompany the tradition of “down downs”. The Virgins are called into the circle, handed a cup of beer, and roasted like celebrities. We are given the choice between a joke, a song, or flashing a body part. It typically takes a Virgin five races before they are named, but in a stroke of journalistic exuberance, I had let the hare out of the bag. When I was researching the Hashers, I came across the name Big Wanker, which I assumed to be yet another important H3 title. I asked Crash Test Dummy who is the Big Wanker. “When somebody asks a stupid question like that, they can only, from this day forth, be known as Big Wanker. Down down down…” and before I know it, I am tossing off a mug of beer straight down my throat. As I do so, my fellow Hashers pour their beer over my head, and douse me in flour. I have been in Bucharest less than 24 hours, and already I have made friends with a dozen interesting characters, sharing the kind of experience you’ll laugh about for years to come.

With the ceremony over and with more beers to consume, the group heads over to a pub where an evening of hysterical Hash songs ensues. Hash hymns are loyally kept in tattered books, and most are crude, rude, and easy to remember. I make the mistake of removing a shoe under the table, another drinking violation. The “down down” takes place using my sweaty shoe as a vessel. I slurp the heel and the next dirty limerick starts up. These are professionals, young and old, singles and couples, indulging in the time honoured tradition of socializing, over good exercise, gamesmanship, beer and food. Most are foreign to these Romanian shores, finding support, advice and friendship in the process. If you need to know where to buy a car, which bank to use, how things work, everyone here has been in the same boat, and wants to help.

For a drinking club with a running problem, steeped in dirty jokes and bad taste, the Hash House Harriers are a remarkably noble and well-intentioned group, destined to run “on on” as their membership grows around the world.

Most Hash House clubs have their own websites, detailing upcoming hashes, and contact details. All you need to do is show up to join in the fun. You can search a world directory and find out more information at the World Hash House Harriers page at http://www.gthhh.com/

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