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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!


Comment from Deborah HH
Time: October 3, 2014, 10:20 pm

Ah. I suppose the phrase “conked out” comes from losing at conkers!

Comment from Nina
Time: October 3, 2014, 10:39 pm

I really don’t get it, but that’s what makes England so charming: incomprehensible pastimes!

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: October 3, 2014, 11:10 pm

“There are many underhanded ways of making your conker harder.”

Stoaty, that turn-of-phrase is going to haunt me all weekend. Thanks.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 3, 2014, 11:22 pm

Well, don’t boil it in vinegar, McGoo. Or, for god’s sake, feed it to a pig.

Comment from gromulin
Time: October 4, 2014, 1:33 am

Damn, as the page loaded and I saw the pitcher, it took me back to childhood. There were two of those trees in my backyard growing up. Great slingshot ammo. Wild onions grew under those trees. I tried to build tree house once, fell into the onions face down, will never forget that smell…

So..like the plastic ‘clackers’ of my yoot?

Comment from Pupster
Time: October 4, 2014, 1:46 am

You misspelled “Buckeye”.

Comment from J.S.Bridges
Time: October 4, 2014, 7:46 am

Conkers, hey?

They do look a good bit like what some of them dern fools that hang about up ’round O-High-O used to now and then try to tell me were referred to as “buckeyes” – allegedly in reference to their (not my) perceived resemblance of said items to the visual orb, roughly removed, of a buck deer.

They also claimed that carrying one of the fool things around would somehow confer good luck, though none of the claimers was ever able to explicate just how or why that should or could be so…

I think I prefer “conker”, myself – or even “horse chestnut (de-hulled or not)”. Either would seem to me to be summat closer to ultimate utility (if any), perhaps.

A pleasant week’s end to all.

Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: October 4, 2014, 11:51 am

You can tie it with a ribbon
Or stick it in a sock
But don’t take it out in public
Or they’ll put you in the dock
And you won’t a-come a-back.

Comment from Dave in Indiana
Time: October 4, 2014, 9:52 pm

Attending or having attended a Catholic school would provide an unfair advantage. Do they have separate classes of competitors?

Comment from David Gillies
Time: October 5, 2014, 4:52 am

A friend of mine at school very carefully winkled all the meat out of a conker with a pin and filled it with epoxy resin. He was curiously undefeated for a long time before anyone smelt a rat.

Comment from Nina
Time: October 5, 2014, 9:24 am

Buckeyes–at least the scrubby bush-like version we have here in California–are so very cool when they sprout. You see them all over the foothills in the spring, popping out roots that go down into the soil and leaves that go up from the same spot on the seed.

There were big buckeye trees on the Kent State campus when I was there in the early 90s, and the buckeyes were larger than the CA variety. I could check on the different species business, but it’s 2:23 AM and I have no idea why I’m still even awake.

Comment from Poindexter
Time: October 6, 2014, 5:06 pm

One Christmas a decade or so ago, while we were living in Washington DC, I actually bought some chestnuts and roasted them on an open fire (our fireplace), using a mesh cage with a handle (an outdoor grilling implement). The experience was difficult and uncomfortable, and the roasted chestnuts underwhelming and bland.

The conkers game, on the other hand, reminds me of the “clackers” fad of the late 60s: large solid plastic balls at the end of cords that you try to get to bounce off of each other (see http://youtu.be/FLHftISLNHE).

Comment from mojo
Time: October 6, 2014, 8:34 pm

Live stream of Bardabunga eruption:


Not a lot of ash, but looks like lots of SO2.

Comment from Allen
Time: October 8, 2014, 5:19 am

Conkers, I loved it. What’s that strange American boy doing with a conker? Baked slightly was my bit of underhandedness.

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