Bonkers About Conkers | Volume 2

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 1

More about conkers from Steel City Snapper HERE

10 thoughts on “Bonkers About Conkers | Volume 2

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  1. That schools think playing conkers too dangerous is an indication of the sad lives that so many live in the UK today. Thank heavens I know the times here before this, and that I have known many other times in other, less hidebound places in this world.

    1. I agree with you and as I noted conkers was about the game but also the adventures and exploring we did to collect them. Great experiences that build character in a way that sadly sitting on a screen can’t!
      Best wishes….

    1. The wall is actually right next to a road so I’m sure some people passing by might have wondered why I would be lining up a bunch of conkers on the wall!
      While I was taking some of the other shots (away from the road along a track only accessible by foot) a chap walking his dog paused to see what I was doing said “It’s nice to see someone playing with conkers again…”. Of course we got chatting about playing conkers and it made for a nice moment of shared nostalgia. Part of being out with a camera is the experience of capturing photographs and it’s nice to see my conker photographs and remember that conversation as part of the experience. I think it might have been why I decided to write a bit about conkers alongside the photographs…

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