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Clive has fun...running

PUBLISHED: 10:09 21 March 2012 | UPDATED: 18:58 20 February 2013

Clive has fun...running

Clive has fun...running

Clive Agran finds the perfect recreation for him - one that manages to combine healthy exercise with a visit to the pub

Since I live more than half a mile from the village cricket pitch, I dismissed the possibility that the small piles of sawdust I chanced upon whilst taking our dogs for a walk in the neighbouring fields one Sunday morning could have been put there by an exceptionally venomous fast bowler taking an absurdly extended run up and struggling at the end of it to secure a satisfactory foothold.
So what other explanation could there possibly be for this curious phenomenon? Perhaps they were the work of a woodpecker suffering from an obsessive compulsive disorder that obliged him to tidy up after every meal. Banging his head against trees for long periods might have knocked the proverbial screw lose and triggered this curious behavioural problem. Just as I began warming to this plausible explanation, it occurred to me that some of the sawdust piles were a considerable distance from a tree and therefore had to think again.
Gazing out of an upstairs window later that same morning, I noticed a strange assortment of people variously running, jogging and walking across the very same field. Reluctant though I ordinarily am to accost citizens going about their lawful business, I asked one what was going on and whether he could shed any light on the sawdust piles. Were Hash House Harriers, he revealed proudly, and the piles of sawdust are the trail were following.
Just as one mystery was solved, another was developing; who or what are the Hash House Harriers? Not wishing to detain the bloke any longer but ever the investigative journalist, I came inside and looked them up on the Internet. Apparently it all began in Malaysia in 1938 when a group of mostly British expatriates got together on Monday evenings to run off the weekends excesses. They met at the Selangor Club Annex which, because of its notoriously monotonous food, was popularly known as the Hash House.
Although the concept was revived after the War, nothing much happened until the 1970s when it was imported into the UK and thereafter rapidly spread around the world. Today, it is estimated there are about 2000 chapters in roughly 200 countries with a total membership of somewhere approaching a quarter of a million.
Further research on the internet revealed six Sussex chapters in Brighton, Chichester, East Grinstead, Haslemere, Hastings and Henfield. Hastings hosts its hashes on Sundays and their website revealed that the next one was to be held at Normans Bay, just a few miles along the coast east of Eastbourne. And so I decided to go along.
Given that the Hash House Harriers describe themselves as a drinking club with a running problem, it perhaps isnt surprising that the rendezvous is the car park of a pub, The Star. The scheduled start of the hash is a frighteningly precise 11.06am (10.66am?) and there are already dozens of people milling around as I pull in just before 11.
What strikes me first is what a motley group they are. All ages, shapes and income groups appear to be represented. And there are several dogs as well. The other thing that comes as a shock is how irrepressibly cheerful they all seem; it is, after all, rather early on a Sunday morning.
A woman passes among the throng collecting 2 from each person. A first-timer, Im spared this expense. At 11.06 on the dot, we gather in a circle for a briefing from the hare, the man who laid the trail the previous day. The group then splits into two runners and walkers, who will each go their different way. Although anxious to avoid a coronary, Im nevertheless keen to have the full experience and boldly opt to join the runners. Its a decision I begin to doubt the wisdom of after only a couple of hundred yards. Mercifully, we stop at a stile as it is unclear in which direction the trail continues. Two Lycra-clad blokes bound off separately in search of sawdust. Theres a cry of on, on from one of them and we all follow.
To be honest, the pace is pretty gentle as we jog over fields, through woods, up hills and over little bridges. Its slow enough to permit casual conversation and theres a fair amount of chatting going on. Its very evidently not a race and each of us is running at a pace we find comfortable. Mine, as it happens, is a tad slower than average but Im perfectly able to more or less keep up and there are occasional instances when there are actually runners behind me.
Although the exercise feels good, the undoubted best bits are the not infrequent stops. These occur whenever there is uncertainty about which direction were supposed to be going in and at what are called re-grouping circles (indicated by a sawdust circle) where we all stop and wait for the last person which, yes, on occasions is me.
Progressing merrily through the mud, we encounter two parallel lines of sawdust just before a gate. False trail, exclaims the bloke at the front. Others stare at the sawdust, scratch their heads and concur. This causes a degree of consternation among those who know about such things and the Lycra-clad blokes again separate and disappear. The rest of us chat cheerily until the cry of on, on obliges us to get going again.
After a total of about four-and-a-half miles, we cross Cooden Beach Golf Club and meet up with the walkers. Suppressing an unworthy feeling of moral superiority and fighting a tendency to patronise, I use what little breath I have left in my lungs to chat to them and its evident that they have had just as much fun as we have, possibly more. Magically, bottles of beer appear and are passed around and we all pose for a photo. Now only a couple of hundred yards from the The Star, we stroll back to the car park where it all began about an hour-and-a-half ago.
But its not all over yet as there are various formalities to be gone through before we can quench our thirst and tuck into lunch. A circle forms and the hare downs a pint as we sing, Why was he born so beautiful, why was he born at all? which is as discordant as it is ungrateful. Were there any misdemeanours on the run? Yes, apparently, and another one of our number is made to gulp down a beer. Some penalty!
All hashers have names other than the one that appears on their passport. Most of these are too rude to be repeated in such a respectable publication as this. A new member is about to be christened Talking Stalker but hes not happy with this moniker and so the ceremony is postponed to allow time for further reflection.
As a hash virgin your correspondent is obliged to join two others in the centre of the circle and down a beer. Details of the next hash are announced before the meeting is declared over and, with a collective licking of lips, we head for the bar. Some walk, I run.


FANCY HASHING?


Brighton
Mondays at 7.40pm
www.brightonhash.co.uk


Chichester
Fortnightly on Sundays at 11am.
www.chihhh.org.uk


East Grinstead
Winter: Sundays fortnightly at 10.45am; Summer: Mondays weekly at 7.30pm
www.egh3.org.uk


Haslemere
The first Sunday of the month
at 11am.
Contact: Martin Odell - 01428 642687


Hastings
One Sunday a month at 11.06am.
www.hastingshhh.co.uk


Henfield
One Sunday a month at noon.
www.henfieldh3.co.uk

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