The Nostalgia of Conkers

Today, class, I want to talk to you about these.

It is virtually impossible for me to walk past a conker without picking it up, which is why I was so dismayed when I witnessed a few kids walking through a field strewn with the little brown gems and not stoop to pick a single one up. In fact, I was so distraught I tweeted about it.

I think many of those who belong to my generation or older will be able to identify with the whole conker thing. Many a happy memory is stored in my mind, slightly saturated in that Technicolor glaze that you get with nostalgic film, where I’m legging it through ankle-high grass beneath tree canopies with a couple of friends grabbing every conker I could get my little chubby hands on.

The bottoms of my jeans would get soaked, my trainers would become stained with mud and green smudges, and I’d generally have that foresty whiff that I imagine Ray Mears smells like – but I wouldn’t care. Conker hunting was all about competition: scanning the grass for the autumn sunlight glinting off a beautiful brown shell, and the excitement you feel in your throat as you spot one nestled amongst leaves, and dash to pick it up before someone else does.

Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you manage to find a conker pod that is untouched, either sat in the undergrowth or knocked off a branch with a stone. Gleefully, you press on it with your heel, exposing the treasure within. Could this be the pod that houses the conker of all conkers? Or will it be one of those annoying ones with a flat edge?

And so, you waddle back to the car, pockets bulging and the autumn sting on your cheeks. When you get home, you scoop out your treasure and lay them out on the floor, counting each one and comparing numbers with friends.

Next comes the meticulous sorting, picking out the champion of conkers which will grace your shoelace for playground antics. Bake at a low heat or soak in vinegar? Or, if you’re really dedicated, you stick the conker crème-de-la-crème in the oven and then coat in hand cream.

Then, weeks, months or even a year later, you break out your conker champion and go head-to-head with a classmate on the school field. The disappointment when you swing and miss; the glee when you connect well, and crack or chip your opponent; the triumph when you see shards of your opponent’s conker skittle across the grass as his shoelace swings naked in the cool air. Now and again, you’d find yourself in possession of a conker which was so victorious it gained legendary status and was retired from the game, forever destined to take pride of place on your bedroom shelf.

Nowadays, Health and Safety has got hold of the game of conkers and made it unplayable. And it’s because of this that today’s youth don’t even bother to pick them up. For me, however, it is akin to a horrendous crime to walk past a conker without scooping it up in your hand, rubbing it in your palm, admiring its sheen and nestling it in your pocket.

The conker is dead. Long live the conker.

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