Friday, 22 October 2010

'Welcome to the hash'

'Welcome to the hash' said a charming woman from Boston as she handed me my second pint of the evening. We were squeezed into a tiny pub with 50 or 60 others, most of whom looked to be fairly determined to see away a good few drinks before eventually wandering home. And by wandering, I mean running. The room is packed with people sweating at least a bit and dressed in running gear; some in high-end compression leggings and technical baselayers, others in 20-year old T-shirts, baggy old shorts and elderly trainers. I'm probably the youngest person here, though not by much, and the oldest has got to be into his seventies. We have all just been on a hash.

Rewind an hour or two, and a friend from work and I are walking, slightly apprehensive, towards Smithies in Cannonmills, the pub designated as the starting point for this evening's hash. We both knew vaguely of the concept, had identified The New Town Hash House Harriers as our local chapter, checked their website for details of the next event, and decided to show up unannounced. Our anonymity as newcomers - sorry, 'virgins' - didn't last long. Despite the size of the group, everyone was on first-name terms, of sorts, as I was  introduced to Septic Sporran, Rug Rat and Arse Over Tit. 'Do we choose our own names?' 'No, we'll come up with something for you - in the meantime you're Just Dave'. I've been called worse.
The New Town Hash House Harrriers logo
We reach the bar and ask, bemused, whether people drink before the run (trying to ignore the obvious evidence that yes, people do). I'm told, in a not unfriendly way 'The hardcore hashers do.' Oh, a challenge. Two pints of Edinburgh Gold, then, please... This is going to be an interesting night... As we chug away at our drinks we start chatting to other hashers. Everyone is immediately welcoming, generous and interested in us, and delighted that we've joined. They kindly explain the rules: there are no rules.

The first shout comes: 'OnOUT!', which results in the pub emptying immediately, and the assembled hashers gathering around to hear instructions. As 'virgins' we are asked our names and to tell the group who made us come. I reply that the internet made me come, I get a laugh, and feel rather at home. Then the 'hare' steps forward. Her job was to lay the trail, using a series of commonly-known symbols, created with flour, and laid out on footpaths, roads and tracks which, if correctly followed, will eventually lead back to the pub. A straight line indicates direction of travel, but every so often you reach a circle, a 'check', where the track could go in any one of many directions. If you choose the wrong one, you'll reach an 'F' denoting a 'Falsie' - a false trail, and you're forced back to the check to find out where you were supposed to go. Arrows never lie, except sometimes. Shortcuts are encouraged, and best achieved by listening for the shouts of 'OnOn!' from hashers ahead of you, who are in constant communication with the group, the goal being to keep everyone, from the FRBs (Front Running B*stards) to the Walkie Talkies at the back, together.

This is a game, and a hilarious one. One minute a pack of 30 runners (as you've no doubt guessed, we're the hounds in this narrative) will be charging along a previously quite residential street, the next we've all ground to a halt at a check whilst a few enterprising FRBs check the available routes, we'll reach a consensus and then we're off again. I'm near(ish) the front as even with a pint of ale in me that's where my pace is comfortable, but due to my various wrong turns exploring potential routes at checks I end up overtaking the same Walkie Talkies over and over again. Which is exactly the point.

The trail deteriorates and a few hashers apologise, saying 'It's not normally like this' - I am so intrigued by what 'normally happens' that I immediately promise to be back. Enjoy the Runkeeper link here. This, I'm told, was an unusually short hash, but you can see quite clearly the extra mileage involved in following 'Falsies'. Two things happen to the confused pack - some keep looking for the trail, others suddenly find some pace and head for the nearest pub. I'm caught in the middle, and eventually decide to head back to Smithies with a few others, where we tuck into the pies and sausage rolls laid on, and I am handed that second pint. This turns into a third pint, then I am given a half to down as punishment/reward for losing my hashing virginity. There are drinking games and songs. People are asked to contribute £1 towards the hash's activities, though I am firmly instructed not to pay as this is my first hash. We talk about drinking and running and everything associated thereto. I am happy.

Drinking and running is rather hard work, but in this company it seems normal, safe and relaxed. I run home, and as I finally reach my bed I promptly pass out. Work in the morning, after all.



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