Go Conkers!

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conkers

Autumn is the time of a chill in the air, falling leaves. Halloween and bonfire night and ...conkers!
For children, at least of most generations, it's conker time. Not only is it great to play conkers even the look and feel of the conker is a treat.
These polished nuts gathered from beneath an easily recognisable horse chestnut tree draw young and old alike.
When conkers were prized for being bashed together is not really known.
In fact, the tree came to Britain some 500 years ago from the Mediterranean and not to be confused with the Sweet Chestnut which is smaller and more pear-shaped.

conker tree

Years ago children, in France, played a similar game with snail shells and hazelnuts on the end of a string. Try hitting a hazelnut and you soon lose patience; conkers are more fun!
In some parts conkers are called 'cheggers' or 'cobblers' and better still, 'conquerors'. It has been said the Romans played conkers as they had trees growing there long before we got them here.

There's even a world conker championship held every year since 1965 at Oundle, Northamptonshire.
In the autumn of 1917, conkers helped in the war effort. School children collected loads and loads of conkers as they contain a chemical used to make cordite to go into bullets and explosives. Sadly, for the conkers, the idea did not work at all well and so tonnes of conkers were left to rot.

Conker trees can grow really tall. Some are 30m and upwards of 300 years old. They can't compete with oaks or beech for the horse chestnut is attacked by a leaf mining moth. It does serious damage and can reduce the life span of the tree and our supply of conkers.
Conkers are eaten by deer, cattle, horses and most likely by gnawing creatures such as squirrels, rats and even some crows, but not by humans, as they can be poisonous.

Conker playing rules vary depending on where you live.
The most usual way is:

  • Each player has a conker secured with a knot at the end of a string. Players take it turn to hit each other's conker.
  • If a player misses he/she gets another go. However, if the string tangles or the opponent's conker swings upwards in a complete circle (known as 'round the world') the hitter gets another go.
  • Destroying your opponent's conker means it becomes a 'one-er. Winning again a 2-er and so on. If it beats a 2-er, 3-er, etc, then it claims that score. So, a 2-er breaking a 3-er becomes a 5-er.

One last thing.
For fans of Roald Dahl, it turns out he was a great fan of conkers. He played both with his children and those in the neighbourhood.

So, mums and dads go conkering but you might need some protective headwear!