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.
More about conkers from Steel City Snapper HERE