It struck me not for the first time this year that children don’t play conkers anymore. I realise it makes me sound ancient to say ‘When I was a child’, but seriously, when I was a child collecting conkers was big business. We had two places we collected conkers in our village. One was a small area of scrub land actually named ‘The Conker Tree’ such was its significance, the other was in the church yard behind our local church. Here stood, and still stands the most magnificent Horse Chestnut Tree. We invested lots of time into throwing sticks at the branches in an often futile attempt to dislodge conkers and have them fall at our feet with a satisfying thud. We had to adopt this method. Such was the popularity of conkers that any that were laying on the ground were quickly stolen by grubby hands and stuffed deeply into pockets, ready to be shined and dangerously pierced with a kitchen skewer. The piercing was Dads job as was the threading of a tatty shoe lace and securing it with a firm knot.
Lots of time and energy went in to selecting just the right conker. Our requirements were specific, a good round shape, a hard outer shell and a shiny chestnut gleam. This was all important in securing that elusive ‘sixer’ in a conkers game (for the unitiated this is a conker that had smashed six others) – The king of conkers
Girls and boys played conkers, we hoarded them fully prepared in coats and school bags and bedrooms, shining them on the sleeves of our stretched school jumpers before entering the battle ground. We swung our conkers at each other, often dangerously close to one another’s faces and knuckles. I can still hear the snap of conker on conker and feel the sting of one catching my fingers or bony wrist.
Walking through Spring Gardens at lunch time today, in the rain, with a strong smell of autumn in the air and damp layers of discarded unloved conkers at my feet I couldn’t help but look back nostalgically to the days when children were still bonkers for conkers.
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