Bonkers About Conkers | Volume 1

Bonkers About Conkers

Throughout our childhood we looked forward to autumn. It meant conker season would be upon us and we would all play the game of conkers! This was a simple game that involved threading a conker (the seed of a horse chestnut tree) onto a string and then compete with an opponent by taking it in turns to strike each other’s conker until one broke. The winner of the contest would award their conker one point and if that same conker won a further 4 games it would become a ‘fiver’. In the next game involving the ‘fiver’ conker the opponent could inherit all five points if they defeated it. The person who had a ‘twelver’ would soon become the talk of the playground.

As with any game children play there were always those who might attempt to cheat. Ways that this would be attempted were mainly to try to harden the conker either by baking it in an oven or soaking it in vinegar. I’m not sure how successful either method was and generally the cheat would be found out and be humiliated and others might then choose not to play conkers with them. Perhaps conkers came with a few life lessons.

Along with playing the actual game, part of the excitement of the conker season was going out to collect conkers. Living in a town or city there may not be any horse chestnut trees locally so it would be a cycle ride into the countryside. Once we had identified a suitable tree we would gather fallen conkers from beneath it. Once we had best pickings from the ground we would seek out the heftiest stick we could find to throw into the tree to bring down more conkers. A trip into the countryside, climbing fences and throwing sticks was great fun and a bit dangerous. There was even an element of competition in seeing who could collect the most conkers. We would compare sizes and shapes. I can remember that if we were lucky enough to find conkers which had a flat side it would be called a ‘cheese cutter’, because they could be threaded on a string so that the striking edge would be a sharp corner and improve the chances of winning.

Other considerations for becoming a conker champion were the type of skewer used to make the hole in the conker. We would use meat skewers or small screw drivers and of course there was sometimes a bit of learning not to skewer your hand while making the hole! The decision of whether string, twine or shoe lace would be used to suspend the conker was also a factor we would pay keen attention to. A small hole and thick string or cord was a good combination.

Conkers helped to tune us into the natural seasons and inspired us to explore the countryside. All these years later it is impossible to head into autumn without having fond memories of the conker season. The photographs in the two volumes of ‘Bonkers about Conkers’ were taken with the same sense of fun that I had as a child. There I am all grown up and still foraging about and playing with conkers!

A slightly sad footnote to all of this is that children are no longer allowed to play the game at school. I cannot recall the last time I saw anyone playing conkers or throwing sticks into a horse chestnut tree! What a shame that schools have deemed it too dangerous.

Bonkers About Conkers | Volume 2

More about conkers from Steel City Snapper HERE

12 thoughts on “Bonkers About Conkers | Volume 1

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  1. Lovely images, and I really enjoyed reading your accompanying text – it has taken me right back to childhood and to my children’s childhoods! I’m just thinking of the sore knuckles 🙂 My older brothers used to pierce the chestnuts for my younger brother and I. Not many horse chestnuts around these days – haven’t seen one in Wales at all.

    1. Thank you for the positive comment. I have to say that after yesterdays post it was nice to reflect on more positive times. I can remember a few sore knuckles but I cannot recall anyone getting seriously hurt and have no recollection of anyone having eye injuries. Those years were times when although living in a town we roamed miles into the countryside, even when we were aged only 10 or 11. It was those adventures that help to make us curious about the world and nature and encourage us to explore. It does feel like a shame that children no longer play conkers or even roam and play in the same way. Sad to hear you have no horse chestnut trees nearby. Had I known that I could have bundled up some of the conkers and posted them to you for you to take photographs with. Remind me next year 🙂

    1. Yes indeed you did 🙂
      Now that I have revisited it I can remember reading it. If I was tired or late I can easily forget things. I wasn’t conscious of your post when I did mine but perhaps I was subliminally motivated by your post!
      You are absolutely right about finding a conker. It’s great to reflect on how simple things bought such happiness.
      While taking my conker photographs a chap walking his dog stopped to see what I was doing and then he said it was nice to see someone playing with conkers again! 🙂
      Have a great week.
      Best wishes….

  2. I love these so much, we don’t have horse chestnut trees here, but they were my favourite when I lived among them long ago. Thanks for your beautiful photos

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comments. It’s great to hear if my photographs chime with people. Conversations I’ve had since taking the photographs have been about how sad it is that school children no longer play conkers. One chap commented that as a child, finding a conker was as exciting as finding a pound note. It was a lovely comment and captured the levels of excitement that conker season could bring. He has published a post also about conkers with a nice photograph of a horse chestnut tree. Below is a link to his blog post…
      Stay safe and best wishes
      Mr C 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment and a lovely memory to share.
      Since taking the photographs I’ve had a fair few conversations about conkers on WordPress and with friends and family. It’s great that many of us have such positive memories associated with conkers and horse chestnut trees. They seem to be locked in with smile! 🙂
      Best wishes and stay safe out there…
      Mr C 🙂

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