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a competitive athlete passed this way

It was beautiful here today. Sunny, blue sky, high puffy clouds. Shirtsleeves weather. The nicest you could ask an October day to be. For all I know, though, this might be the last Summery day of 2014 — they’re predicting shit ‘n’ chips, starting tomorrow.

So we went to Sissinghurst for the afternoon. Stopped on the way and bought sammiches and hung out in the garden for a while. De-lightful.

On the way back to the car, under a horse chestnut tree — these horse chestnuts! But these are not as they fall from the tree. Nay, nay! These have been removed from the spiny outer casing, examined for flaws and tossed aside as unworthy.

Yes, that means the competitive Conker Season is upon us! This is when Brits (children, mostly) take horse chestnuts, drill a hole through them, thread a string through the hole and whale away at each other until somebody’s conker falls to bits. There’s more to it. Of course there is.

Like cheating.

The kudos of having a high-ranked winning conker is not limited to the playground and there have been many traditional ways of (illegally) hardening conkers before battling. Hardening methods include soaking or boiling the conkers in vinegar or salt water; soaking in parafin; partially baking them for about a half hour in the oven to case-harden them; coating them with clear nail-varnish; filling them with glue or simply storing them in the dark for a year (the shrivelled ones often seem to get the better of the young shiny ones). My favourite however is that described by two-times World Conker Champion Charlie Bray who says, “There are many underhanded ways of making your conker harder. The best is to pass it through a pig. The conker will harden by soaking in its stomach juices. Then you search through the pig’s waste to find the conker.” Yuk!

And grievous bodily harm.

“There’s no defence at all. When you’re playing, it’s natural to flinch when this thing is being swung at you, especially if it comes very close to your knuckles. The best thing to do is look away and think of England or something else.”

Make no mistake, it’s a deadly serious business. Good weekend, folks!

October 3, 2014 — 8:40 pm
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