Heather's Monthly Articles

Conkers!

October 2017

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Volunteers at the 16th Annual
Hampstead Heath Conker Championship

Conkers! It’s not just a fun word, it’s also a great game, known and played by children throughout Britain for generations. Since 1965, it’s even had its own World Championships, which take place on the second Sunday of October in Northamptonshire. It is not, however, a game you can play every day of the year. In fact, if Britain’s “‘elf and safety” executives had their way, it wouldn’t be played at all. Especially by children.

Sustaining a bruised forehead, lost tooth, or - heaven forbid – damaged eye has never been a deterrent to kiddies eager for autumn to come around when they can go hunting, gathering and playing conkers. Although, a few years back several British schools reportedly outlawed the game out of concern for their students with nut allergies. Fortunately, it has since been determined that there are “no known dangers [apart from a mild rash] from conkers for nut-allergy sufferers”.

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Just what is this game, you may wonder, for which British schoolchildren have been risking life and limb since its inception in 1848? Well, it’s really quite simple. It involves nothing more than a piece of string - although a shoelace is more traditional - two people and a lot of thwack! Not forgetting the conker of course – the harder the better.

For those that don’t know, a conker is the hard brown inedible seed that grows in the spikey green ball-like capsules found on the branches of Horse Chestnut trees. The balls generally drop at the end of September and when they crack open they are then ready to be scooped up and searched through in the quest to find the most robust. Once acquired, the conkers are buffed to a glorious sheen, and drilled through the middle. Into the hole is threaded a twice-knotted shoe lace; one knot at the top to push against and one at the bottom to prevent the conker from falling off. The conker is then ready.

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Facing each other, two players take turns, having decided by a coin toss who will strike first. Then, while one player lets their conker dangle, steadying it best they can, the other player, holding their conker between two fingers to give it more stability, draws it back, aims it directly at their opponents and then ‘thwak’! The players then switch. The aim being to smash the opponent’s conker to bits. Should the players’ laces, or strings, become entangled, the first player to shout “strings” – or “stringsies” - gets an extra turn. Up to two additional turns are permitted, if a player misses hitting the opponent’s conker. An extra turn is given to the player who manages to send the opponent’s conker swinging around in a circle. This is known as “'round the world”.

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Only after one of the conkers is smashed to smithereens is a winner declared. The victor then goes on to find another conker to conquer (so to speak). With each victory, the conker gains points, taking on the points of its opponent’s conker. For instance, a first time winner, playing against another first-timer, would have 1 point, making it a “one-er”. If, however, the conker it beats has previously smashed say for instance 3 other conkers, (making it a “three-er”), the first time winning conker would become a “four-er”, i.e. its own score of 1, plus the opposing conker’s count of 3. Championship conkers are those that go season after season unbeaten.

Sounds bonkers, I know – but it’s not, it’s just conkers!

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