John Walker's Electronic House

Free Hugs

by on Feb.10, 2008, under The Rest

Some people are terrible at hugging, their bodies apparently entirely constructed of elbows, awkward and certainly not comforting. Or worse, there’s the false hug, the lazy loose-armed obligatory greeting hug. But wonderful are real hugs, two people holding each other for a moment.

In Bath on Saturday, I saw a man holding a sign reading, “FREE HUGS”. I stood and watched for a while, my first thought being, “What’s he selling?”, my second, “What’s his alterior motive.”

These are fairly sad thoughts. And far moreso after I realised that he was simply hugging anyone who wanted it. He didn’t speak to people who didn’t talk to him first, he didn’t whisper a secret message in their ear afterward. He simply hugged them.

What moved me more was quite how real these hugs were. The difference here: neither person knew the other.

Many tourists were seeing it as a novelty, having photographs taken and making sure the sign was in shot. But the majority of people were stopping, barely saying a word, and then being warmly hugged, and walking away. It seemed these people needed it. They wouldn’t walk away giggling, or making a joke about it to their friends. Some did. But so many just took the hug that was on offer.

Some people can watch a magic trick and be dazzled and delighted by the spectacle. That’s most people. I can’t enjoy a magic trick properly until I know how it’s done, and then I get so much more from watching it performed. I wanted to know why he was doing this, what motivated this street altruism. So I went up and asked him, and with his permission recorded his answers. Throughout this he was being asked for hugs, stopping between questions to hug those that had stopped nearby. I’ve edited out a lot of the gaps, but importantly, there were a lot. (Sorry about the horrible quality – for some reason in converting to mp3 it muffles and clicks).

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The Free Hugger, existing on the internet under the name Wot Gorilla, has details about his hugging here.

Go hug for free.

12 Comments for this entry

  • Tom

    My sister is a Free Hugger. She says most people are trying to work out what your selling, most of the rest see it as a joke, but a surprisingly large minority just take it gratefully, without a word.

  • Richard

    There tend to be legions of Free Huggers at comic/anime conventions these days. Mostly girls, but a few guys. And of course, the next level up, Free Glomps*.

    (* Bear-hugging, knock-you-off-your-feet type hugs)

  • Wot Gorilla

    Hi John… I have to say, if that was written at 3:35am, it was written with commendable clarity! : )

    As I’m sure you realised, I was slightly taken aback yesterday when you asked, very politely, for an interview. Uh, it’s not something I’ve ever been asked before! : D But it was a pleasure talking to you – despite the hugging interruptions! – and it’s with a mixture of both satisfaction and humility that I read your words; both in capturing my own feelings and motives, while also providing me a fascinating detached view of the unfolding scene.

    Thank you.

    I thought I would also take the opportunity to post a link to one of my own blogs on the subject; from my first experience of offering Free Hugs in Bath. Words and pictures here.

  • Pod

    There was a very attractive young lady doing this “free hugs” thing on friday outside the SU. I saw her as I went past on the bus. I wanted to jump off the bus and go hug her, but that would have been ultra-sleazy. Plus, it was a stop too early.

    ps, you have well honed active listening skills.

  • Willem100

    One day, I’ll become a Free Hugger. One day!

  • Nick Murdoch

    I saw a girl at the top of Canterbury high street with a Free Hug sign back when I used to study there. I wish I hadn’t been too self-conscious to go and give her a hug back then! There seemed to be less people taking up her offer than the guy in this article.

  • steph

    There were a group of people doing this in bristol about a month ago – I naturally crossed the road in order to get a hug. There were lots of people smiling and taking photos… It just seemed to bring a bit of happiness to the area…

  • Amy Cunningham

    I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Mr. Gorilla online this past year. He is a beast of a man despite his obviously tender spirit and he is a great ambassador for all of Great Britain. Y’all should be proud.


  • Mrs Trellis

    I’d never go near someone like that in case he was smelly.

  • Hugh Mann [aka Wot Gorilla]

    Mrs Trellis… I wonder if you’re festooned with sweet smelling climbing roses? ; )

    Anyhoo… While I generally applaud your traditional British reserve – well, when I say applaud, er, clearly I sympathise too – but I would just like to point out that last week a young lady enthusiastically remarked “You smell lovely! Well, I mean… a lovely clean smell. I wasn’t sure what to expect!”

    Can I just assure anyone who might bump into me while Free Hugging… I only go out about once/month, and I usually try and coincide it with my monthly bath night.

  • Mrs Trellis

    I’m sure your hygiene is beyond reproach.

    I am not a huggy person. I’d rather have a nice cup of tea. If you were handing out free cups of decent tea, I’d definitely partake of your services.

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