Thursday 10 September 2009

The season's going conkers

Last week, the season suddenly turned autumnal. There was a chill in the air and a few stormy days and nights sent the first withered leaves scattering to the ground. It seemed summer was over and it was time to put away my cotton dresses and put on a warm jumper.

Then, this week, the sun made a comeback, the temperature soared and I was off to the park to make the most of blue skies and glorious weather.

But, although the sun may be shining, autumn is still definitely here. The trees are turning golden and squirrels are busy gathering nuts and acorns. Conkers are falling too.

When I was a kid, early September's dreaded return to school was at least partly offset by the conker season. My friends and I would gather up the huge, smooth, brown seeds of the horse-chestnut tree, prising them out of their prickly cases and trying to find the biggest, toughest nut of them all. The one that would be the champion in the game of conkers.

The game is played by two players, each with a conker threaded onto a piece of string: they take turns to strike each other's conker until one breaks. A winning conker is named after the number of its victories. If it wins a single fight, it is a oner, after two wins it is a twoer and so on.

Everyone had there own methods of hardening conkers, such as soaking them in vinegar, baking them in the oven or even painting them with nail polish - although I would say that last tactic is definitely cheating.

These days, sadly, many schools have banned games of conkers over safety concerns - something that seems to me one of the saddest examples of over-reaction in this nanny state we now live in.

I think conkers is a tradition that deserves to be preserved, if not in the school yard then perhaps as part of seasonal festivities.

This Autumn Equinox, why not have a game of conkers as part of your celebrations? Either play just for fun with your friends or as a part of a seasonal ritual celebration.

May the best nut win!


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