The story so far

HASH MAG VOLUME 19 ISSUE 5 (September 2001)


(The Art of Winning the Hash)

A dissertation by Lunchbox

Of all the various aspects of hashing I think that hashmanship is the most difficult to understand, let alone employ. Itís also rather hard to define.

Iíve tried long and hard to define hashmanship. One particularly lucid definition ran to some two and a half pages! I later cut this down to just six words:

"The Art of Winning the Hash"

Itís not possible to reduce it further, although I sometimes feel that the second "the" could be replaced by the word "at". Scholars will of course differ on this point.

Iíd been hashing for quite some time before I realised that hashing was in fact highly competitive. Initially I found the pastime rather satisfying, and I believed all of the pronouncements that stated "Hashing is not a race...." But after a while I felt less and less content with the situation. Eventually I worked out the source of my discontentment. I was losing. And nobody likes to lose. Donít get me wrong, it wasnít that I was last back to the pub. On the contrary, I was often first. It was just this vague feeling that I was losing at hashing. Not just losing though - it was as though I was being outhashed by the other, more experienced, hashers.

It takes a long time to realise whatís going on. Some of us never realise it knowingly but, bit by bit, we all engage in it. Its called Hashmanship and its very existence is in fact denied in all of the major works on hashing. [Even Artimus and Schleck (1951) makes no reference to it, except perhaps for a slight oversight in chapter 8 (p332) when Schleck in his Memoirs section referred to John (not his real name {sic}) gaining an "advantage" by stopping to tie his laces just before the "long-second" at the ĎSpillarís Creekí].

Down Downs are given for racing. But true acts of Hashmanship are merely noted with approval by the R.A. (The R.A. is normally very well versed in the art himself.)

"What the bloody hell is Hashmanship ?" I hear you cry! Let me take time to explain. Be patient, I canít rush it. I will use examples; some of which you may well recognise. You may have used some of the ploys yourself.

Hashing is not a race. True! But who likes coming last? Not me! Getting into the first three or four is essential to a true practitioner. (I remember in my early days of hashing how my pleasure turned to dismay when I turned the last corner into the pub car park only to see our then GM Rob "The Newt" Newton striding barwards laughing and joking with a few of his chums, having already towelled and changed, and reaching into his back pocket for some change for a beer. Heíd look across the car park at me, and in that instant, as his eyes met mine, I knew heíd done me again. Iíd lost!)

Arriving at the pub as fresh as possible - thatís good too. But all of this without actually racing????? Clearly I had a lot to learn, but I was an eager student!

The check on the hill

Letís take for example the check on the hill. This is one of the íhotspots" for employing Hashmanship.

"Never check down" goes the age-old adage. Why not? Surely checking downhill (when the correct way is not downhill) is the same as checking uphill (when the correct way is not uphill). Both involve running an equal distance up and down i.e. X metres down followed by X metres back up, verses X metres up followed by X metres back down. No! the adage is quite right. This is because you run faster downhill and hence cover a much greater distance than if you check up.

Both hare and hashers employ Hashmanship at the check on the hill if the opportunity arises.

Think of the centre forward in football. Maybe 4 "half-chances" come his way during the course of the game, maybe 8 "quarter chances" ... and so on. Occasionally a great chance comes along. This great chance wonít happen every game but when it does it must be buried (if possible with aplomb!). Itís the same with the exponent of Hashmanship at the check on the hill - when the moment comes the chance must be taken. And buried. The sight of the poor victim sloping off down the hill as a result of your actions or comments is part of what Hashmanship is all about. And then, at the very moment the exponent turns to jog or walk up the hill the grin of triumph may be seen to flicker across the face. At this point perfect Hashmanship dictates that a not-quite-audible "on back!", (or perfectly-audible "are you!") be directed towards the hapless fellow who is, by now, just disappearing out of sight. Poetry in motion.

In the above example the exponent must be at least 80% (I work on 90%) sure in his own mind that downhill is not the correct path. Also if the exponent is the hare himself he has to overcome the problem that the victim knows that the hare knows which way to go. The victim will therefore tend to be less susceptible to the utterances of the hare than to those of other members of the pack. The Hare overcomes this by cultivating the trust of the targeted runner several checks before the check on the hill. The hare "tips the wink" to the selected victim, indicating, maybe with a knowing nod, the direction in which to run. This is done in a casual way, so as to build up that trust. A kind of bond is engendered between the exponent hare and the target. It goes without saying that the ruse now has a much greater chance of success. Iíve seen great exponents of Hare Hashmanship sending their target racing down some particularly nasty hills.

Positional arrival at the check

Some would call this basic tradecraft. But whatís basic and intuitive for some takes a little explaining to certain others.

The art of arriving in the correct position at certain critical checks requires good local knowledge together with tuned perception.

* Example - the pack is making its way towards an obvious checkpoint. There are three alternatives 1. left downhill, 2. Straight on, over a stile and into a field with a footpath across it, 3. right uphill.

Got it? OK letís proceed.

Assume for the sake of this example that you havenít yet worked out whether youíre on a right or left hander.

It doesnít take a genius to work out that you donít want to arrive at this check in third position. But, Iíll go through it for the benefit of those of you who may be somewhat dim.

First to arrive probably saunters off right, up the hill. No real rush.

Second probably hops over the stile and trots on a bit.

Third has to head off downhill or risk losing face. Third has therefore lost the check.

(As an aside, I should mention, for the sake of total novices, that First and Second will encourage Third down the hill by delaying their calls of "on one!" and "on two!".)

There was a guy called Cloughie who used to run with the Bristol Hash. He had absolutely no mastery of Hashmanship at all. Poor fellow! He would invariably arrive at checks, such as that given in the example above, in the dreaded third position. He put it down to bad luck. "How come itís always me that gets to check down!" heíd exclaim. Latterly heíd give up and tell the fourth person to arrive that he was "holding" the check (whatever that meant), and would tell that poor soul that theyíd better check down. Experienced hashers soon learnt that whenever Cloughie was near the front of the pack (normally this only happened shortly after a checkback), then they should contrive to arrive 1st, 2nd, 5th,6th etc not 3rd! and definitely not 4th!!

The "Parlette"

A few carefully chosen words passed between one exponent of Hashmanship and another within earshot of a new or dim hasher as one approaches the check-on-the-hill can have beautiful results. The "parlette" (as itís known) needs to convey to the unsuspecting eavesdropper two crucial pieces of information:

1. That the trail always turns downhill at this point

2. Thereís something vaguely interesting down there

Iíve enjoyed a few successful parlettes whilst apparently talking to myself! This is very advanced stuff, but just goes to show whatís possible with experience.

When the sight of someone squirting off downhill comes as a result of a simple parlette, its difficult to describe the feeling of euphoria that the exponent experiences. Whatís more you never forget "your first time" (mine took place from The Black Horse at Clapton-in -Gordano). It was a somewhat fumbled affair but it felt so good.

Of course the beauty of the parlette is that the victim never actually blames you because theyíve picked up the duff info by eavesdropping. Nice!

I once sent a rookie hurtling down a very steep track using the parlette "Looks like the Splottís Mill tunnelís coming up again down left! I, of course, headed off to the right and back to the pub. Never did see the fellow again.

The climb with no check somewhere towards the end of the run

Donít ask me why but these catch out even the most experienced hashers, time and time again.

Picture the situation - Thereís a fairly nasty climb somewhere towards the end of the run. Hashers are strung out a bit, singly and in small groups, making their way up. Walking of course!

Then, for no apparent reason (probably even unto to himself) a hasher near the back suddenly takes off and starts running up the hill, passing hashers on the way. Very soon this skittish hasher realises what he (itís usually a bloke) already knew i.e. that running uphill is bloody hard work, totally pointless and should be avoided at all costs. But heís started, and heís passed a few people, and it would look silly to stop after so few steps. What he decides to do is look for a group up front who appear to be talking. Perfect! His last few breaths can be used catching that group and then he can ease down to casually join in with the conversation. He would have appeared fit to his fellow hashers despite carrying an ever-expanding beer-sodden gut. Perfect!

OK so far?

The problem is that the targeted chatting group contains an alert, expert, black belt (if one were to exist) exponent of the distinguished and noble art of Hashmanship! An opportunity is spotted.

Timing is everything though.......

Letís go through the stages carefully, one by one.

1. Hashmanship Man becomes aware of the foolish and tiring hasher coming up behind

2. He quickly assesses the situation and plans his move

3. Waits till he hears hasher slowing down. Maybe only 4 or 5 paces behind

4. [This is the difficult bit, no room for error] Looks back over shoulder and makes some bland comment that needs an answer (like - "Hi John!. Where you bin hanging out lately?"). At the same time Hashmanship Man begins to jog as if to join the runner in his run up the hill

5. Gradually increase pace and keep conversation going. (The use of the odd "pardon" works well)

6. [Now youíve got him locked-on your gonna kill him!] Keep winding up pace and comment favourably on his fitness

7. Keep going - [the "runner" now stripped of his reason to stop can only pray that the next check comes before his coronary]

Happens all the time. I even get caught myself sometimes.

A Case History

This was a nice one.

I was somewhere between checks whilst running from The New Inn at Waterley Bottom when I came across this interchange just in front of me:

HASHMANSHIP MASTER (very experienced) - "I was fortunate enough to bump into your wife last Saturday"

HASHER (not very experienced at all really) - "Yes, indeed - I know. She told me"

HASHMANSHIP MASTER - " What wonderful hair - a real Titan!"

HASHER - "Oh - no that canít have been her. It must have been someone else"

HASHMANSHIP MASTER - "Really but I thought I was talking to your........."

HASHER - "You were, but that must have been earlier on"

HASHMANSHIP MASTER - [stalling] "was it? But whatís the colour of your wifeís hair?"

HASHER - "Well... a sort of brown........."

[arrives at check]

HASHMANSHIP MASTER - " Of course! Of course! Iíll check up"

Classic stuff!

This just goes to show what can be achieved with experience.

And Finally

I hope Iíve given you an insight into what the competitive pastime of hashing is all about. Itís probably only served to confirm what a lot of you have half-suspected for a long time.

As a scientist (of some distinction) the concepts are slightly easier for me to comprehend. But with practice and patience all of you could be hashing better and (dare I say it) winning more often.

I donít want to give too much away because a lot of the fun is in finding out. But remember:

* Look for opportunities

* Think about the route. Maybe study the map like Spiderman does

* Practice Parlettes

* Pick targets at the start of the run

Who knows one day a Bristol hasher will make it into ĎArtimusí, or maybe even represent his country.


Since drafting this piece (a longer version of which will appear in International Hasher 2002) I almost caught Paul Lawrenson with a real beauty.

I was Haring it from the White Hart at Bridgeyate. Iíd seeded a false "On Inn" on the back of a partially hidden stile between checks 4 and 5. Paul took the bait when he "spotted" the sign whilst looking where he shouldnít, like he does (like I know he does!). Paul shared this info with one or two co-conspirators, who I spotted giggling together like naughty schoolboys.

I was watching the results of my hashmanship from a safe distance.

Paul filed away this information: this was going to be his short cut. Or so he thought.

Twenty or thirty minutes later and check 14 approached. I positioned myself just behind Paul with a carefully worked-out parlette ready to raise the ísleeperí that Iíd successfully planted inside Paulís ĎbrainĎ.

Everything was set.

I opened my mouth but the parlette died on the wind as a call from up-front hit the pack " ON INN! DROVE THIS WAY! SPOTTED IT FROM CAR! COME ON! ON! ON! ON!....."

Paul cast a puzzled look sideways towards a track into a field on his left, before speeding up and following the pack Onward and Innward.

Ah Well! Never mind.