Back in late January I posted some information about the Anthony Hordern's “While I live I’ll Grow” tree, from Camden. That is Steve M’s neck of the woods (ha ha), and he sent me the following email:
Enjoying the tree Bytes, Otto, especially the Anthony Horden issue. I don’t cling too much to my past life in England, but we do have 2 beautiful trees in our garden that remind me of England’s green and pleasant land. I am amazed that they survive our brutal summers, but they are still going strong and growing every year. We have an oak, of course, complete with acorns, but no squirrels! We also have a Horse Chestnut, which many Aussies have never heard of. There is a tradition around the Horse Chestnut which again, astounds Aussies who have no English background. It involves the hugely skilful game called conkers! Heard of it? As kids we spent hours trying to find ways to strengthen our conkers, and the two favourites were ‘pickling’ with vinegar or ‘baking’ in the oven. Still don’t know what I am talking about? Do you know what ‘conkers’ actually are? Might be worth a Bytes (if not already done).
I replied to his email:
Steve, one of a group of plonkers,
Said “Do you know about conkers?
We used to soak ‘em and bake ‘em,
So others can’t break ‘em,
I guess we must’ve been bonkers.”
I had heard of the game but never played it when I was a kid.
So here, Steve, is the email suggested by you. . .
Text from Wikipedia:
- Conkers is a traditional children's game in Britain and Ireland played using the seeds of horse chestnut trees—the name 'conker' is also applied to the seed and to the tree itself. The game is played by two players, each with a conker threaded onto a piece of string: they take turns striking each other's conker until one breaks.
- The first mention of the game is in Robert Southey's memoirs published in 1821. He describes a similar game, but played with snail shells or hazelnuts. It was only from the 1850s that using horse chestnuts was regularly referred to in certain regions. The game grew in popularity in the 20th century, and spread beyond England.
- The first recorded game of Conkers using horse chestnuts was on the Isle of Wight in 1848.
- There is uncertainty of the origins of the name. The name may come from the dialect word conker, meaning "knock out" (perhaps related to French conque meaning a conch, as the game was originally played using snail shells and small bits of string. The name may also be influenced by the verb conquer, as earlier games involving shells and hazelnuts has also been called conquerors. Another possibility is that it is onomatopoeia, representing the sound made by a horse chestnut as it hits another hard object, such as a skull (another children's "game", also called conkers, consists of simply throwing the seeds at one another over a fence or wall).
- Conkers are also known regionally as obblyonkers, cheggies or cheesers. Although a "cheeser" is a conker with one or more flat sides, this comes about due to it sharing its pod with other conkers (twins or triplets). Also Cheggers was used in Lancaster, England in the 1920s. In D. H. Lawrence's book Sons and Lovers, the game is referred to as cobblers by William Morel.
- To play) a hole is drilled in a large, hard conker using a nail, gimlet, small screwdriver, or electric drill. A piece of string (often a shoelace is used), about 20 cm (8 inches) long, is threaded through it. A large knot at one or both ends of the string secures the conker. The game is played between two people, each with a conker. They take turns hitting each other's conker using their own. One player lets the conker dangle on the full length of the string while the other player swings their conker and hits. The conker eventually breaking the other's conker gains a point.
- The hardest conkers usually win. Hardening conkers is often done by keeping them for a year (aged conkers are called laggies in many areas or seasoners in Ireland and Liverpool), baking them briefly, soaking or boiling in vinegar, or painting with clear nail varnish. Such hardening is, however, usually regarded as cheating. [Tch tch Steve]. At the British Junior Conkers Championships on the Isle of Wight in October 2005, contestants were banned from bringing their own conkers due to fears that they might harden them. The Campaign for Real Conkers claimed this was an example of over-regulation which was causing a drop in interest in the game. In both the World Conker Championship and the North American Championship, contestants are also restricted to using the conkers provided by the organisers.
- In 1965 the World Conker Championships were set up in Ashton (near Oundle) Northamptonshire, England, and still take place on the second Sunday of October every year. In 2004, an audience of 5,000 turned up to watch more than 500 competitors from all over the world. The 2016 Championship was featured on the BBC programme "Countryfile".
- In 2001 Eamonn Dooley from Freshford in Co. Kilkenny, Ireland broke the world record by smashing 306 conkers in one hour.
- In 2000 a survey of British schools by Keele University showed that many were not allowing children to play conkers, as head teachers were afraid of the legal consequences if children were injured while playing the game, or because they thought that the conkers might be used as weapons.
- The TV programme Top Gear later staged a game of conkers using caravans (travel trailers) suspended from cranes.
And before anyone emails, I know Greeks do the same by tapping boiled eggs at Easter.
So there it is Steve, all about conkers.
Oh, one more thing . . .
During filming of a documentary in November 2017, Sir David Attenborough and Her Maj Queen Liz 2.0 walked through the gardens of Buckingham Palace. The news report about that aspect reads:
As they approach a horse chestnut tree, bursting with developing conkers, Sir David remarks how they are "not ready yet", adding "hmm ... conkers". The Queen then turns to him as they saunter away from the tree, and adds: "Was it recently that someone tried to stop children playing conkers?" Sir David then questions whether this was on the grounds of health and safety, to which the Queen confirms it was. Sir David notes: "You'll think that people will stop people breathing." Prompting a small chuckle from the Queen, she adds: "It seems to be quite a harmless battle thing."
The Queen and Sir David Attenborough discuss conkers during a new ITV documentary.
Steve, you’re an ex-Pom, so I’ll ask you: Do you think Her Maj soaked her conkers in vinegar or baked them, as you did, so she could defeat the meighbourhood kids?
Ohh, one more thing #2 . . .
2012 News report:
British conkers getting smaller as an infection spreading across the UK halves the size of specimens.