15 October 2013

Conker

The conker is the fruit of the horse chestnut tree which first appeared in Great Britain five hundred years ago. It should not be confused with the sweet chestnut tree which was introduced as a nutritious winter food source by colonising Romans about 1,800 years ago. It is believed that the horse chestnut originated in The Balkans region of southern Europe.

The picture above owes much to my new camera. I was at least thirty feet from the conker pictured which was high above me in the conker tree I first planted with our son Ian - twenty seven years ago - when he was three years old. We found the successful seed on a Sunday afternoon conker collecting mission in the Ewden Valley near Stocksbridge. And we brought it to this house when we flitted from Crookes in 1989.

When hanging in trees, conkers are usually protected by their spiny outer shells but here you can see that the outer shell has already burst open and one of the conkers inside has escaped to the ground.

As a boy, every autumn, it was my mission in life to find the biggest conker of them all. With other lads from my village we would chuck sticks and stones high up into the overhanging branches of fruitful horse chestnut trees or even climb high and edge along precarious limbs in search of our holy grail. If we had fallen we would have probably died.

Conkers are fat and shiny - their surfaces like polished mahogany - until they dry out and start to shrivel after a few days have passed by. We used to play the famous game of "conkers" in the school playground - threading them with bootlaces before aiming them as hard as we could at our friends' dangling conkers. I recall the stinging knuckle pains that would usually accompany these fiercely fought conker matches.

My American friend Chris - in Ohio - had no idea what a conker was. Well there we have it Chris - and anybody else who might be vaguely interested. It is said that William the Conqueror enjoyed a game of conkers even though in 1066 there were no conker trees in Britain. Now there are a reported 432,000 in England alone - 432,001 if you include our Ian's tree.

10 comments:

  1. "Now there are a reported 432,000 in England alone."

    And I planted at least a dozen of them. We moved around a lot as kids, especially between countries. Every new place I would plant a conker tree taking conkers from the last tree I had planted. I vem persauded my brother to bring me some conkers to Africa so I could plant them here but what he brought me were more suitable for playing conkers with than planting. I first learned I had the skills necessary for pugilism when, in the school yard, the resident bully appeared and bit through my mate's sixteener, ending any chance he had to become an Ace with twenty kills.

    This is, now that you remind me, the time of year to collect conkers for planting and, as you know, they grow so fast into beautiful trees even if the fruit is inedible, If only I could figure out a way to get a bagfull out here.

    Dammit YP, you are making me so home sick. I bet your next article, complete with outstanding photos from your new snapper will be images of all the foaming pints of local real ale available in all the pubs you visit!

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    1. Oh dear - I have just got back from the Tuesday night pub quiz which happened after the crowded pub had watched England beat Poland to reach the World Cup finals. There was much quaffing of foaming quarts and together we sang "Down at the Old Bull and Bush". I think you would like the local pale ale - "Easy Rider" but as I am exceedingly virile I drink Tetley's bitter instead. In the beer garden, there was a conkers match and the landlady posed naked on the bar like Boudecia singing "Land of Hope and Glory".

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    2. I kid you not, it is only reading this that I recall that England were playing Poland last night. So England won. When I heard that the match against Poland would be a decider for England qualifying for the World Cup, I vaguely recalled a similar situation in the Seventies when a loss to Poland knocked us out. I recall the Derby County manager, I forget his name, being part of the talking head post match autopsy team on TV being roundly castigated for describing the Polish goal keeper as 'That clown at the other end'. Clough, Brian Clough, I remember now.

      Compared with the piss we have on offer here, I would gladly drink Pale Ale but for a pint of Tetley's, I'd be willing to sign up for the Communist Party.

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  2. Well indeed that camera is working a charm YP. I think the lighting is very good for 30' ~ must have been a bright day. Don't forget you did did an earlier post on conkers that Chris might like to read too. I notice you don't use labels on your blog to easily find it ~ but it was only in the last few months. Is there a Conkers Club in the UK ~ oops England? P.S. you Brits (umm English) are so quaint referring to your children in the "our" ~ love it ~ a very British, I mean English thing :)

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    1. I am not senile yet Carol - I remember that earlier reference to conkers! Yes "our" is most affectionate and very northern when referring to family members.

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    2. I am not senile yet Carol

      But you vote labour!

      I'm sorry Sir Pud, I just couldn't resist the temptation! Put it down to the snake bite, I am weak.

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  3. Thanks for that, you know how interested I am in all the trees. Now, we see Chestnut Trees in bloom everywhere when we come ( to England ) in the Spring. Mainly white flowers but some pink ones too, are these Horse Chestnuts then? So my next question is what does the other Chestnut tree look like ?- you know, the one the village Smithy stands under ?

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    1. Err..we don't really have village blacksmiths any more Helen but no doubt the trees they stood under with their anvils and hammers were indeed spreading horse chestnut trees and yes - the blossom you have noticed in springtime and summer will certainly be horse chestnut blossom. To see images of the sweet chestnut tree go to:- http://www.rfs.org.uk/learning/sweet-chestnut

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  4. Well, we have our share of spreading chestnut trees here, too. "Our" Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote "Under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands; the smith, a might man is he, with large and sinewy hands..." and so forth. Never heard the term "conkers", though, until you brought up the subject.

    Never

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    1. All I have to say to you today Mr Plague is - Conkers!

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