Conker Time 70 Years Ago

The following is an account, as accurate as memory will allow, of conker time many years ago. Just south of our village War Memorial is a stretch of road leading up to the church yard gates, and on the south side of this roadway is a moss topped wall. Just over this wall, in what was once a paddock belonging to a nearby farm, there once grew a row of huge horse chestnut trees, which produced a fine crop of conkers every year.
During the afternoon lessons in the nearby school the children, when opportune, would glance out of the high windows, and if they saw that the wind was swaying the nearby tree branches, they knew jolly well that that same wind would also be blowing down a shower of conkers on to the roadway beneath the trees. With lessons ended, and once in the lobbies, coats would be snatched off pegs and the race would be on. Out through the school gates, straight across the road, no need to look right or left, to where the roadway under the trees would be carpeted with fallen conkers, some still in their green spiked seed cases. To the children these shiny brown objects were like nuggets of gold or gems from the Orient. In no time at all they would all have been gathered up. Then sticks and stones would be hurled up at the trees to knock down conkers still hanging there. It was somewhat dangerous being under the trees when these missiles returned to earth. At last, the boys with pockets bulging with conkers would make their way home. I can't remember how the girls carried theirs.

Now began the hard part, forcing a hole through each conker with a meat skewer. Many a hand was pricked in this operation. The conker was then threaded on to a piece of string or lace, and a knot at one end prevented it from sliding off. To play conkers one child held their conker dangling on the string or lace, while their opponent swung at it with his to knock it. The first conker to break belonged to the loser and the winner's score went up by one. That is before the "know-all" came along (there is usually one) who decided to change the method of scoring. He said that if his three-er broke his opponent's three-er, then his was not a four-er, but a six-er, by taking all his opponentís score. With higher numbers this caused arguments and disputes among the older children, and dismay among the younger ones. The only benefit that I could see in all this was that it might have been a help in elementary mathematics. Fist fights among the boys to settle quarrels were rare. They were much more likely to back off and throw stones at one another. There were plenty of loose stones lying around in those days. The one advantage of this was that the one thought to be losing had a good start, if he decided to make a run for it, which he usually did. At school the next morning these quarrels would have been forgotten. Well, almost! All this throwing up at the trees, and at each other, paid dividends on later cricket fields, when young men would throw the ball in from near the boundary line with commendable speed and accuracy. It wasn't long before mother became fed-up with all these hard, dull objects lying around the house, so she would gather them up and throw them out on to the garden. Then, of course, it was father's turn to complain, when young horse chestnut trees began appearing all over the place.

Instead of ending on such a light-hearted note - I'm going to end on a sad one - because today, of course, the trees have gone, the conkers have gone, the school has gone and the children have gone. It's just not the same.

Ron Wood

First printed in The Villager (October/November 2004 edition)

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