Where have all the conkerors gone?

There are several large horse chestnut ‘conker’ trees near our house. When we first moved on to the street, thirty years ago, and at this time of year, one would spot small groups of (usually) young boys collecting conkers for their conker fights – usually by throwing sticks up into the trees to dislodge the conkers, as those on the ground would have already been grabbed. For those for whom this is an alien pastime, October was the month for conker fights – in the school playground or in the streets around one’s home. Along with all my friends, I’d gather around the nearest trees, particularly those known to have the biggest conkers. Having collected a suffient number, I’d then select one that seemed to be the hardest – particularly if it had a sharp edge. Real conker afficionados would experiment with hardening techniques such as soaking them in vinegar.

Having selected what I reckoned was the most likely candidate, or even candidates, I’d make a hole through the conker, and thread through some string. Tying a knot that the conker would rest on. At which point I was ready to participate in the conker fights.

The aim of the fight was to destroy your opponent’s conker by hitting it with your conker, using the string to swing it like a hammer on an alternate ‘I hit yours, you hit mine’ basis.

If you were the victor, then someone else would challenge you. Those who claimed several victories with the same conker were able to say that their conker was a ‘fiver’ (five victories) or a ‘tenner’ etc, and slowly a sort of league table would organically form.

Naturally there were the occasional bruised knuckles when your opponent missed, but to use anything but bare hands was – by common assent – wholly unethical. (There was an interesting media furore a few years ago, when a school insisted that children playing conkers must wear protective gloves and goggles).

This is all a preamble to the fact that I’ve noticed, on my daily dog walk, that those once much sought after conkers now lie in their dozens on the ground around the trees. The only creatures interested in them are the local squirrels who either gnaw at them or squirrel them away somewhere to be stored for some unspecified time later.

Where have all the conkerors gone?
Gone to computer games, every one.
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?


Author: Paul Kleiman

Academic, researcher, writer, musician, gardner, narrowboat owner, dog owner, cat servant

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