The Corner

Conkering Kings Their Titles Take

An American reader, catching this item in the London Daily Telegraph,

wants to know what conkers are.

Good grief! I know, of course, that Britain and the U.S. are “two nations

separated by a common language,” but it beggards the imagination that there

might be people who have never had a conker fight. Apparently there are,

though; so for you benighted few, here is a brief description.

Conkers are horse chestnuts. They grow on the horse chestnut tree. Each

conker develops in a soft green casing; when you have shaken it down from

its tree, you can split the casing open, liberating the glossy brown conker

inside.

Unlike regular chestnuts, conkers can’t be eaten. What you CAN do is fight

with them. Here’s how it goes. Borrowing one of your mother’s meat

skewers, you drill a hole right through the conker. You run a piece of

string through the hole, and tie a large knot in one end of the string.

Your conker is now securely suspended on the string.

Now one boy hold out his conker hanging straight down on its string. His

opponent, gripping his own conker with his left hand (there are southpaw

moves…but let’s stick to the basics) while holding the other end of his

conker-string in his right, swings at the free-hanging conker with intent to

smash it. If he does so smash it, he wins the match.

A conker that has smashed many other conkers is a champion conker, and will

be known and revered throughout the neighborhood. Rather like old boxers,

though, these veterans generally succumb to a younger challenger sooner or

later.

Various dark arts can be used to harden a conker — soaking in vinegar used

to be recommended, though personally I could never get it to work. Possibly

I used the wrong kind of vinegar. For competition purposes, also, a conker,

even if not thought to have much chance of surviving the bout, should always

look its best: brown shoe polish does the trick.

There is a vast wealth of conker lore I could retail here, but I think this

will do for the time being. The health’n’safety fascists are of course

busily trying to outlaw conkering — it will be their next main target after

fox-hunting. Conservatives should of course resist these efforts; but

resistance is probably futile, and we shall be reduced to conkering behind

closed doors.

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