The Hash Bash
First Published In Di Skoorsteenki

Let me make a clean breast of it right at the outset and admit that I am not a sports fan. I realise that this is unpatriotic. I realise that this public confession puts my personal safety at risk. With the whole country gearing up for the world cup, tempers are bound to flare against the NABFCMM (Not Another Bloody Five-day Cricket Match Minority).

In mitigation, let me thus make haste to add that I have tried on numerous occasions to change my errant ways; to reform myself, as it were, into a true, dyed-in-the-wool, sports-crazed South African. I was born here, after all. It should be in my genes.

A few months ago Clive's friend, Mike, invited us to a Hash Party. This is a concept to which he was introduced during a protracted stay in England. Apparently, there are Hash Clubs in England and over there Hashing is a frequent feature on one's social calendar.

The Hash Party does not involve, as one may be forgiven for assuming, illegal weeds. Rather, the Hash is a devious plot to drain one's guest of every last shard of energy, leaving at the end an empty shell devoid of any will to continue living.

This information was not made available to me at the time of the invitation because Hash Masters are shrewd and clever creatures, who will not hesitate to lie through their teeth in order to further the aims of this dangerous sect.

When questioned over the telephone, Mike told me that a Hash is "a gentle, pre-lunch stroll through the suburb along a predetermined route". I was immediately suspicious. "I don't walk, Mike," said I. "Oh no, there's nothing to be concerned about," he lied in accomplished, conciliatory tones. "There will be people with babies and toddlers". Being a kind and accommodating sort of person, my resolve wavered. "I don't know, Mike... walking?" His next words should have given him away. "Trust me," he uttered the words of conmen everywhere. "It's great fun." My instincts failed me.

I fixed my mind firmly on babies, toddlers and the value of friendship. Kitted out for a civilised amble along the tree-lined streets of Johannesburg's northern suburbs in a fetching ensemble of virtue, slacks and medium heels, I sacrificed myself like a wannabe virgin of times gone by on the altar of The Hash.

With the African sun beating down on our motley brows, we gathered somewhat self-consciously at the appointed time on Mike's front lawn. I was alarmed to note that the toddlers came abundantly supplied with excess energy, which unfortunately could not be siphoned off for sharing amongst the less fortunate. Even scarier were the babies, briskly sucking their thumbs from deformed, three-wheeled, warrior prams. The prams were designed, I was told, to run with. Why anyone should wish to run with a pram remains beyond my comprehension.

We were arranged in a semi-circle for initiation into The Rules Of The Hash. Mike, hereafter known as The Mikey de Sade, had gone around the neighbourhood at the crack of dawn that day to mark a trail in chalk along the sidewalks. We were, however, to beware of false trails. These were laid down for The Mikey de Sade's personal entertainment. Where we found a trail, we were to call out: "On! On!" If we found out that the trail was false, we were to alert our fellow Hashers with a hearty: "Falsey! Falsey!" Midway, we were promised, there would be a pit-stop for refreshments.

The whistle blew. I started walking with trepidation in my heart. Within a few seconds, the babies came zooming past me in their Formula 1 prams, eyes wide and hair plastered back by the draft, holding on to the sidebars for dear life. Pebbles ricocheted off the sidewalks under the super-sized pram wheels. In the wake of the killer-prams came the toddlers in hot pursuit, ululating all the way. Soon the otherwise prissy suburb of Parktown was a confusion of toddlers making whoopee, interspersed by cries of  "On-on! ...bloody hell... Falsey-falsey!" It was a nightmare of psychotic proportion.

After a while the cries grew faint as the last pram and toddler combo disappeared with flailing arms over the city skyline. I was left alone and bewildered in the company of a few caring souls. Unerringly, I headed down every false trail The Mikey de Sade had devised, and these were numerous in the extreme. My mouth grew dry, my sight dim, and balancing on my medium heels became precarious. I stoically persisted in the fast fading hope that the turning point would be just around the next corner. Instead, turning the next corner inevitably yielded yet another dead-end.

It seemed like weeks later and 27 suburbs further that we descended into parkland. My heart leaped with joy as I saw a gathering of people on a distant hill. Surely, this must be the promised land of a cool drink and a place to rest my blistered feet, albeit briefly. The gathering spotted us and waved invitingly. In my head a heavenly choir burst into songs of praise.

But, as we came within earshot, with a cruelty heretofore unknown in the twisted history of humanity, the shout came: "On! On!" I sank to my knees in despair. My few caring souls tried to urge me on, but I had endured beyond endurance. Instead, I convinced them to leave me to my hapless fate and carry on-on.

Unlike the Comrades marathon, The Hash does not come with an ambulance service for fallen soldiers. I gathered my forces in solitude. Driven by intricate plots of revenge, I finally managed to make my way back to Dr Evil's lair. There I was briefly resuscitated before the rest of the Hashers arrived back with nothing more than a healthy glow to show for their efforts. The toddlers, on whom I had so foolishly pinned my hopes, were still bouncing with unbridled and malicious joie de vivre. The babies, briefed no doubt by their endorphin-drenched parents, averted their eyes from the shameful, shin-splintered sight of me.

The Mikey de Sade celebrated his fortieth birthday recently. I was invited to share in the merry-making. "What sort of party, Mike?" I asked. "A sports party," he said without batting an eyelid. "But don't worry, you don't have to move. Much. There will be children! We're setting up a Scalextric racing track. Or you could be an official." Yeah, right.

Happy fortieth, Mike. Sorry to have missed the party. Be assured that if, in another forty years' time, you sedately celebrate your eightieth birthday with nothing more rousing than consomme and a jovial slap on the back, I will be there with bells on. Until then, count me out!