Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood


Making a hash of things

A funny thing happened on the way to IKEA the other night. Not funny-haha, and not funny-peculiar, more funny-OMGWTF?!

One of the nice things about living five minutes drive from an IKEA outpost (don't laugh Auckland, you're next) is the ability to make purchases at whim, and to do it at odd times of the day, when the shop is least likely to be mobbed. The big boy was in need of a new chest of drawers, and it was one of those summer holiday days when you've got nothing much planned. If you've done the zoo and the science centre and the dinosaur museum, a healthy forced march through a pleasantly outfitted home decoration warehouse followed by lunch of meatballs and chips can be just the cheap date you're looking for.

So we headed off for a spot of shopping and some canteen cuisine by way of an early lunch.

IKEA is hit or miss. Fantastic for some things -- unpainted furniture, kitchen units, duvet covers, dish brushes -- and dodgy for other things, like electrical goods and pretty much anything involving moving parts. I momentarily took leave of my senses and forked out for a kitset dresser [insert jocular Scandinavian name here - let's say KRAPPA]. It came in two large, heavy boxes. Lifting it into and out of the car was no fun, but putting it together took a very pleasant and involving two and a half hours.

As we slotted and screwed and tapped and hammered, it became increasingly clear that the KRAPPA would not do. It was heavy, ugly, and the "wood" was made out of crushed weetbix and the sweat of oppressed children. Plus, the bottom drawer was not even a drawer, but a mock drawer on plastic casters. And it had already jammed our fingers twice. By the time little bro woke up from his afternoon nap, the dresser was completed, Busyboy was despondent and I was adamant: we don't need to spend three figures on KRAPPA. It would have to go back.

Because the other nice thing about living five minutes drive from an Ikea outpost is that, thanks to their decent return policy, you can take back your mistakes at highly convenient times, like that otherwise useless slot between dinnertime and bedtime.

Richard is a good sport, so he loaded the KRAPPA back into the stationwagon and set off. A few minutes into bedtime story time, I got a phonecall.

"IKEA appears to be a crime scene" said Richard, sounding a little rattled. "I'm not actually sure how I got into the parking lot, because it's just me and about a hundred cop cars and fire engines and guys in hazmat suits and they've evacuated the shop, blocked off the parking lot with yellow tape, and at a guess I'd say they're not processing returns tonight."

Like I said, OMGWTF??

I did a quick google (as you do, if you don't have a police scanner), and discovered a report about some strange-acting woman in JOGGING GEAR who had scattered MYSTERIOUS WHITE POWDER all over the car park and the entrance to IKEA and a nearby bank around 5pm, and ORANGE ALERT HAZMAT FREAKOUT BLAH BLAH BLAH. Brought to you by the news helicopter hovering over the car park, whocketa-whocketa-whocketa, presumably whipping up a great dustbath out of the MYSTERIOUS WHITE POWDER.

Richard came home and we googled again and discovered the truth of the matter. City police, state police, and the FBI agents on the scene apparently cracked the case a couple of hours after that first sighting when a small group of people dressed the same as the original woman came jogging through the car park. Following the trail of flour. En route to a party.

Because they were Hash House Harriers. And that's what they do, and have done, for the last sixty years: the "hounds" run for beer, following a path laid down by the "hares," of flour or paper or kitty-litter or chalk or who knows, jellybeans. They are, in their own words, a drinking club with a running problem.

It sounds like fun. Indeed, they say that if you've got half a mind to join the hash, that's all you need.

Now when I say that law enforcement "cracked the case," I mean "yelled at the hashers, who were trying to explain, to stay behind the yellow tape; continued with decontamination of the area knowing that it was just flour; then arrested two of the Harriers for breach of the peace." And the kind of breach of the peace that is not just misdemeanour, but a felony.

Holy overreaction, Batman!

Cracking the case did not include re-reading the FBI briefs on what-not-to-worry-about that explicitly mention the hashers and why not to worry about them.

You can read how it unfolded on the night here, and here. The second story contains this immortal quote:

"I thought virus because everyone was wearing the white suits. That's what they do when they see viruses," said IKEA shopper Rosa Pierrottet.

By the next morning, the story had cooled down a bit from Terror Threat in Elm City! to Back-To-School-Shoppers Inconvenienced At Great Expense.

But police and the mayor of New Haven were insistent that charges would continue to be pressed, and somebody would have to pay (despite the fact that all the emergency staff who turned up were presumably doing the job they're paid to do anyway).

And it was revealed -- this is the best bit -- that the miscreants who were helping the police with their h'enquiries were a German brother and sister, Daniel and Dorothee Salchow. He's a pediatric opthalmologist who's just taken a job at Yale's Medical School, after working in Washington, D.C., and doing charity work in Central America. She's a top lawyer from Hamburg.

As Dr Salchow told the New York Times, which took a slightly more urbane view of things, "Not in my wildest dreams did I ever anticipate anything like that" when planning the hash.

I've never hashed but I know people who have. I e-mailed my brother Greg, who has hashed in Singapore and Malaysia with the original Hash House Harriers (it's a colonial sport, started in 1938 as a way of injecting a spot of exercise into the traditional weekend collapse into a pitcher of Singapore Slings).

Greg had this to say, although I had to delete a few swear words:

It's flour. It's fun. Get a grip and a life. I'm quite upset by this, actually... irrationally wound up mostly about the way it's being Shock Horror reported.

I mean, yeah, ok, so someone overreacted about "suspicious activity", but surely you could change the entire way a country reacts to something like this by running a story that went "Two fun people having fun using flour to mark a trail - like the scouts used to do when this country was great and free - were inadvertently inconvenienced by some wicked overreaction. Says Police Chief and Drama Queen Bob Troublesome, "sorry about ruining your running - it sounds like great fun, but maybe you should use coloured flour next time. I mean, terrorists would never colour anthrax, it'll always be a Suspicious White Powder, right?"

We've been hashing here in Singapore for six years or so and have never had a problem... partly I think because our behaviour is so far outside what Singaporeans do and what the cops are looking for that it's developed an elephant in the living room / SEP kind of effect.

There's an equally lively discussion here, with lots of hashers weighing in on their largely trouble-free activities -- although the story about the black hasher who had to convince the cops that he was not tossing handfuls of cocaine on the ground was a little worrying and not just because of the racial profiling involved. Because, I mean,handfuls? of drugs? Who does that??!

As my other brother observed, Osama was probably giggling like a schoolgirl reading the reports. And in my opinion, if nice German doctors can't run for beer and we can't return our KRAPPA for a refund on the same damn day we bought it, the t*rr*rists have won. What do you reckon?

Free the New Haven Two!

Take it away, Dr Sparkles...


P.S. Awesome Iceland reports coming soon - watch this space.

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