Conckers not bonkers
Par Mark Preece, un Britannique installé en Corrèze depuis 25 ans.
I was at the coast with some friends, a few weeks back, when I walked under a tree that, at first, I hadn’t paid attention to. Then, I stepped on something and when I looked, I took a trip down memory lane. Conkers, three round, of various sizes, and a “cheesecutter”. Fruit of the horsechestnut tree, we used these seeds to play what, with the hand slapping game, must rate as one of the most useless games ever invented. We didn’t have internet or mobile phones, so we played with what was available. The conkers would fall from the tree in their green outer casing and when that dried, it would split open to reveal the mahogany coloured nut. We would take the conker and drill a hole from top to bottom and pass a piece of string, approximately 40 cm long, through it. We would then tie a knot at one end in order that the conker would be captured on the string. Our competition kernel was ready. Preparation of the conker was everything. The hole had to be clean and not split the skin as this could cause it’s premature demise. The string, carefully chosen, was often a thick lace as the less play in the hole there was, the longer the conker lasted. The knot was large and as flat as could be so as to not exercise undue pressure on the base of the conker in “striking” mode. Clever owners would “treat” their conkers. Hardening in boiling in vinegar was popular as was slow oven cooking, but for those that were patient, drying out the conker over a year was the best. Consenting mothers would help their sons, as this was a particularly masculine game, in this part of the process, and the fathers with the tool wielding. The parents would then quiz their progeny as to the score of the conker, a “oner”, “twoer”; or “threer”... considering that if their boys were playing conkers, they were not engaging in less salubrious activities. The object of the game was for one player to hold his conker at arms length dangling from his hand, whilst the other player strikes the conker with his own. The roles are then reversed until such time as one of the conkers breaks. Big conkers clearly had an advantage but flat faced conkers “cheesecutters” were also privileged due to their sharp edges. The victorious conker becomes a “oner” and can accept a challenge from another conker. If the conker then defeats a “fourer” for instance, he immediately becomes a “sixer” as he absorbs his opponents record, maintains his own and notches up the victory. Happy days. Never got past two personally !