Moorhouse, from Stalybridge in northern England, was injured while running through the jungle in Koh Samui to help prepare a route for the weekly run of the resort island’s Hash House Harriers – the international running club with a drinking problem.
The holidaymaker was with friend Alan Lainton (hash name “Sleazy Rider”), the “hare” for the run, when he slipped and plunged headfirst into the rock. The rock won.
Despite his injuries, he gamely lines up with another 40 or so hashers for the five- kilometrem run through rugged terrain on the hillside overlooking Lamai.
It is fair to say that this does not look like the start of an elite athletics event. Apart from a few young Thai females, the group is composed of middle-aged or elderly foreigners. The last time I saw so many spare tyres was when I was being given a guided tour of Dunlop’s quality control department.
Some of the leaner runners take the event seriously. Some jog or even walk. Others, such as hash stalwart Alan Johnston (“Blue Lugs”), owner of the Red Fox Bar that serves as the club’s headquarters in Lamai, never venture more than two feet from the beer truck.
“I am in charge of beer truck security,” says Johnston proudly as he slumps his gout-riddled body into a canvas chair and opens a can of beer. “I used to run but my legs aren’t willing these days. I still enjoy the crack, though.”
The “crack” is really what hashing is all about. Regardless of age, nationality and physical capability, it offers a chance to exercise, enjoy nature and make new friends while having a few beers and participating in some strange conventions.
Englishman Dave Wilkinson still attends the weekly hash despite having had a leg amputated. He is also able to play golf by using a prosthetic leg. His fellow hashers, never short of ingenuity when composing hash names, christened him “Plays Off One”.
About 32 minutes after the start, another Englishman, Clive Langdon-Wilkins, strides into base camp ahead of the pack. The winner has hashed in various places from South Korea to Barbados and picked up his hash name, “Crive”, from the way Koreans pronounce his first name.
“Hashing is a great way of meeting people and seeing parts of the countryside you would never otherwise see,” he says. “We need more young people. I see them running around the island on their own, so it would be great if they joined us on the hash each Saturday.”
When the last person completes the run, a circle is formed. Grand master Graeme Barret (“Corkscrew”), assistant grand master Paul McDermitt (“Feral Flaps”) and hash lawyer Mick Grover (“Red Mullet”) assemble in the centre to administer punishments for breaches of hash etiquette. The management trio, all Australian, are treated to a chant of “You all live in a convict colony” to the tune of The Beatles classic “Yellow Submarine”.
The punishment is always the same – a command to down a bowl of beer in one – though serious offenders must sit in a bowl of ice while doing so.
The unfortunate Moorhouse is reprimanded for his nose-shattering accident, Sleazy Rider is ordered to wear a toilet bowl round his head for making the course too short, and a runner is ticked off for picking a mango from a tree.
Then someone announces that a journalist is among the group today.
“He’s from The Guardian,” my accuser lies.
“Bloody liberal do-gooder,” says Red Mullet.
I apologise for my vocation, down a beer and shuffle back to the throng of runners.
Then it is the turn of religious adviser Sandra Martin (“Tubby Twinkie”) to take centre stage. The German woman is wearing an outrageous wizard’s hat as she prepares to initiate a man who has completed his sixth run and so qualifies for a hash name.
“I want the only other kraut in the circle to join me,” she commands.
A bearded German steps tentatively forward and is grilled about his background. He reveals that he used to breed horses – an announcement that brings some suggested names that would not fit easily in a family newspaper.
After much haggling and downing of beers, he is christened “Tesco Burger”, a clever amalgamation of the German origin of the word “burgher” with the British company’s recent admission that some of its burgers contained horsemeat.
Who says alcohol dulls the power of reasoning?
Albert Gispert, an English chartered accountant with Evatt & Co, established the Hash House Harriers in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur in December 1938.
British colonial officers and expatriates began meeting on Monday evenings to run, in a fashion patterned after the traditional British paper chase, to rid themselves of the excesses of the previous weekend.
Hashing has spread to virtually every country in the world, still following the traditions of that original club.
A paper trail is laid on the morning of the run. False trails are also set, while most routes have obstacles for runners to negotiate. Runs usually finish where they start.
For details about the Koh Samui club, go to www.ksh3.com.