Saturday, 10 October 2009


The Horse Chestnut tree (Aesculus Hippocastanum) is one of our most endearing native species. It has a splendid display of flowers in the spring, looking like candles on a decorated tree. The flowers are either white or pink. In the autumn, when the multi foliate leaves start to turn amber brown, the tree drops its fruits.
Horse chestnuts (Conkers) are not an edible nut for humans, but the squirrels will eat them and they are consumed by some other species. As a youth, I recall the significance of this fruit. It was used in games to challenge all opponents in the school yards and on the streets. Much rested on your prowess as a conker competitor in the Autumn season.
The challenge was simple. Collect lots of conkers and select the best - the largest and most spherical specimens. Use a knitting needle to pierce the conker through the middle and thread it with knotted string. The length of string comming from the conker should not exceed 12 inches. Armed with a few prepared conkers you were ready to go.
The challange was simple. One person suspended their conker on its string so that it hung motionless. The challanger would be allowed only one strike with their conker to try and split your conker. Rolls were then reversed - proceeding with 1 strike each until one conker split. The winner was the person with the intact conker, who would then tie a knot at the end of the conker string. The winning conker was referred to as a one-er. If it was used to win another match it was a two-er, then a three-er. The person with the conker that won the most matches was held in high esteem for days.

Cool baking the conkers, or soaking them in vineger was frowned upon as this was seen as cheating. It all boys stuff really.

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