Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

September 23, 2010

Conkers for fall

By Oliver Sheehan
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — Ever heard of a conker? Well, the fall is here and I am looking forward to it for many reasons, as well as rekindling some fond memories of autumns as a youngster in England, with conkers.

Of course, the cricket season in England is ending and the soccer and rugby seasons have begun, which for any Englishman who likes great and competitive sports, is always a plus.

In the playground at break time we used to kick around a soft squishy ball not bigger than the size of your hand. We did this in infant school (elementary) and in junior school (middle). It was great fun.

Then the leaves started turning. The sun would still be in the sky but the heat had clearly migrated elsewhere and a chilly wind started to creep in. Every shade of yellow, red and brown could be seen for miles, and if you lived in the country you were truly blessed with a sight to behold.

But the biggest thing in fall for me was always conkers. For the purpose of this article I will explain in advance that a conker is basically a horse chestnut without its prickly shell and is also an informal name for a horse chestnut. The nut inside the green outer casing is roundish, a dark reddish brown color and its outer casing is rock solid.

At the weekend we used to go conker picking, usually around October or November. We would go looking around the nearest horse chestnut tree in our Wellington boots, woolly hats, gloves and scarves. It was always a competition to see who could find the biggest conkers. It was a competition I never seemed to win.

It was a great fall game though, once you had picked your ‘weapon‘ of choice of course.

All you needed was the conkers, a cork screw and a piece of string. Make the hole in the conker, hook the string through, make a knot to stop the conker sliding off, and you are ready to play.

So we would stand there in the playground, taking turns to try and hit each others conkers until someone’s conker gave way and broke at impact, at which time you cleared up the shattered pieces of your conker-winning dream and started over. Occasionally you got one in the face, but it was still fun regardless.

Often when someone lost a game of conkers there was the accusation that you had baked your conker at home (supposedly it made it a tougher nut to crack) and I was even accused once of not having a real conker. The competition was fierce.

A few friends and I actually attended the World Conker Championship back in September 2007 in the picture book village of Oundle. The competitors were mostly English, with a few exceptions. There were players from Germany, Poland, Ireland and Argentina. The English guy won, of course.

It was a cool and windy day, the oak leaves had started to drift to the ground and all my memories returned. My childhood was simple, and even now it brings me a smile to recall playing these games.

I don’t know to this day whether it was just such a wonderful time that left such a lasting impression in my head, or just one too many knocks with a conker.

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Oliver Sheehan may be reached by e-mail at oliver@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? E-mail: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com