King Conker and the death of a 142er….
When I was a boy, (many, many years ago) this time of year promised a feverish scramble for the fruits of Autumn. Our quarry of course was the conker, seed of the noble horse chestnut tree – and the competition was fierce, very, very fierce. Kids would chuck sticks up to the higher branches in order to get them – because you could be sure that any windfalls will have been snapped up as they dropped. The thrill of actually finding a big one (known as a big’un) or a legendary cheesy shaped one, known as a ‘cheesy’ was like scoring a goal at the Cup Final.
The best ones to find though were the conkers still in their protective prickly green jackets. As the outer skin dried, slowly, sexily, the green jacket would split, widen and the mahogany-coloured jewel within would show us a little sliver of forbidden fruit. That was the signal to peel back the skin and reveal a jewel within. Grainy, and shiny with the most amazing patina and colouring, a real mahogany nugget revealed. There’s just something so special about a freshly opened conker – but then the shininess fades and thoughts turned to preparing it for combat.
Cue secret recipe book, secret ingredients such as Vinegar, nail varnish, creosote, ingredient X and cookery techniques on gas mark 11.
Playing conkers in the playground was a real event. Crowds gathered, bets placed, chants, err ‘chanted’. Each conker smashed amassed even greater bravura to the victor, and lives taken from the defeated and smashed conker were added to the victorious hardened nugget. It seems to be a bit of a non event now – with the result that the Euro conker mountain grows every year. What are the kids doing nowadays? Probably playing Conker-Dong on their Play Stations…..
As with any sport, there were lots of cheats about at our school. ‘Knight’, the school creep and all round twat, (nickname ‘Shitety-Knighty') was rumbled. His conker had lead shot from a fishing tackle shop packed within and the holes covered with Polyfilla.
As usual with Shitey, he overdid the cheating. He packed too much shot and during a few gusto practice swings, he lost his grip on the string. The doctored conker flew into a fairly unforgiving brick bog wall and smashed into a flux of conker flesh and lead shot….
We beat him up. Well, any excuse would do, coz we really hated Shitey.
There was one, legendary conker match though. It had been brewing up all season. Mind games, insults, tactics, bad mouthing from the two protagonists. It had been building up for days, John Skyner and Paul Burnett had the two best conkers in the school. Skyner’s was a 210er and Burnett’s was a 142er.
The two super conkers were really bashed up. Skyner’s had lost some of the outer shell – but Burnett’s had no shell on at all – just a rock-hard shrunken, shrivelled centre. It looked like a scale model of Einstein’s brain after a night on the heavy. The two super conkers had mopped up all the opposition, it was inevitable they would meet for the ultimate conk-off. ‘Super-Conker-Armageddon’ was on!
Afternoon break arrived and the whole school was ready, slavering, baying for sap. An invisible square had been marked out. The arena was ready, beyond was a writhing mass of blazered acned youth. And then they arrived, the two all conkering heroes with their all conkering conkers. Burnett and Skyner milked the applause, shook hands, sent over a few practice swings and tossed up for who was going first. Burnett won. They squared up and prepared to swap blows.
Burnett took aim, swung and missed. Disaster! Skyner would make him pay for sure. He got to work. The aim was true, relentless, sadistic. Burnett looked worried. String strained, conkers twanged, blurred brown arcs of smacked conker against the Autumn sky….. and then, the sound. The hollow, off-key sound of a cracked bell, a cracked glass, a mortally smacked conker.
We knew it was all over. Burnett knew, so did Skyner. He moved in to deliver the ‘conk de grace’ The crowd – by now silenced to a respectful hush exploded as did Burnett’s conker into rapturous applause and a zillion bits of tree pulp…
Skyner’s conker had just gone platinum. Bunett’s had gone into the Stratosphere. It was one of those Kennedy moments. Everyone knew where they were when Burnett’s conker was atomised......