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BEING AN ANGLOPHILE, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I’ve only recently learned of the game of conkers. The Discoverer, October 19, 2021, posted “How British Autumn Differs From American Fall.”
The Discoverer article cites things not unfamiliar to me: Guy Fawkes bonfires and fireworks, blackberry picking, and apple bobbing. And it also mentions new ones.
Punkie Night. It mentions Punkie Night, celebrated in Somerset and along the lines of our Halloween: “Its origin is undocumented, but locals from the village of Hinton St. George [about 30 miles southwest of Nunney] trace it back to a story about their menfolk once getting drunk at nearby Chiselborough Fair. Their wives carved lanterns out of mangel-wurzels (a type of beet) and came to fetch them. These days it’s the kids carrying the lanterns, knocking on doors and singing: ‘Give me a candle, give me light. If you haven’t a candle, a penny’s all right.’ ”
Conkers. And then there’s “Bonkers About Conkers,” which the Discoverer describes as “a fun game played using the seeds of horse chestnut trees. Threaded onto string, the goal is to strike your opponent’s conker with sufficient force to break it.”
The Discoverer also cites the World Conker Championship, held in Northhamptonshire in 2019, amidst much humor, er humour, and medieval pomp.
There’s even a Wikipedia entry on Conkers. It has quite a heritage: “The first mention of the game is in Robert Southey‘s memoirs published in 1821. He describes a similar game, but played with snail shells or hazelnuts. It was only from the 1850s that using horse chestnuts was regularly referred to in certain regions. The game grew in popularity in the 19th century, and spread beyond England. The first recorded game of Conkers using horse chestnuts was on the Isle of Wight in 1848.”
Prep. A hole is drilled into a large hard horse chestnut. A piece of string about 8 in. long, traditionally a shoe lace, is threaded through the hole, with knots at either end securing the conker.
The Game. Two players face each other, conker à conker, as it were. They take turns attempting to “conker” each other’s conker: One player lets the conker dangle on the full length of its string; the other swings the opposing conker to hit the dangling one.
Scoring. A conker gains one point if it survives a hit causing the other conker to break. Either an attacker or defender can earn this point. No points if both survive; and apparently no points if both break.
A new conker is a “none-er.” A none-er becomes a “one-er,” “two-er,” and so on, with victorious hits.
In some regional scoring, the winning conker receives all points accumulated by the vanquished conker.
Hardening Conkers. A horse chestnut may harden with age; such conkers are called “laggies” in some regions; “seasoners” in Ireland or Liverpool. Other unorthodox hardening, which is uniformly dirty-conker, involve boiling them in vinegar or varnishing them (the conkers, not the players).
To the best of my research, aged conkers (or players, for that matter) are ok.
Entangled Strings. If strings get entangled (perhaps aided by player imbibing), the first player to shout “stringies” gets another turn.
Dropped Conkers. If a player drops the conker, the other can shout “stampies” and stamp upon the dropped conker. If the dropper first shouts “no stamps,” this precludes the stamping.
I like all the shouting. My kinda competition. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021
Lots of chestnut trees in Vienna. Just this morning I saw one of my favorite fall events for the first time this season; a crow playing “solo-conkers” (yes, I just made that up).
What I mean is a crow taking a chestnut in his beak, flying up high, and letting it drop on a hard surface (in this case, the nearly deserted 7 am Prater Allee). If the chestnut breaks, the crow has breakfast. If not, try, try again. I love crows. So clever!
Interesting that I saw this about 9 hours ago and then your post comes out!
Thanks for this, Jack. A wonderful tale. I agree about crows. We have them in our neighborhood that play noisy tree-to-tree tag. Good fun.
We had a chihuahua for 12 years in our current flat with a big yard (for a city flat) There are five or six really big trees in the back where a family of crows has always nested (bonus, they keep out the pigeons!).
Over the years the crows got to know us and Herkules (our 3 kg dog). Herki and the crows would play a kind of “tag” that we have on film. A crow would land and hop up close behind Herki who would pretend not to see the crow. Then Herki would wheel around and jump at the crow and bark. The crow would hop back a meter or so. Herki would turn his back on the crow and the game would begin again. So glad this happened in the age of camera phones so we have multiple captures of this!
Sadly we and the crows have learned that Shadow, our nearly 40 kg husky who we rescued after Herkules died, just can’t be bothered with chasing crows. So no more “tag.” Shadow is 13x larger than Herkule but is totally useless for keeping intruders out of the yard! LOL. In Shadow’s defense, on walks he totally protects his mama (my wife). Picture “Ghost” from Game of Thrones and you’re about right.
Delightful. Kenwood, our Husky/Malamute for 19 years, was a lover, not a guarder.
A favorite Kenwood tale: He would occasionally like to roam and would chew his way out of a flimsy wooden gate. His “trainer,” something of a misnomer, suggested getting spray intended to keep horses from gnawing corrals.
I bought it, sprayed the gate, and immediately threw up from the rotten-fish smell. Kenwood took one whiff and said, “Heaven! I’m home!!”