Conkers

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I painted “conkers” a few years back, and the painting sold fairly quickly, and can be seen on my website davidharmerwatercolour.co.uk. I thought I would do another version, so assembled this little still life from a neighbouring tree, a few weeks ago, and photographed it, to do later at my leisure. It is very important that the conkers are fresh from their husks so that the finish is nice and glossy in order to reflect the light. These are beautiful like polished mahogany

If you were a schoolboy in the 1950s like me, these were highly prized as they would be used every autumn in the game of yes,…conkers. They are, of course, the nut from the horse chestnut tree, the non-edible version. We would drill each one with a skewer, and thread them with string, tying one end off with a large knot. Then let combat commence. Players would take it in turns to bash each other’s conker until one split and fell off the string. The one left intact was the winner. Players would count the number of “kills” and accord them to their own champion, so it would be a “sixer” or “tenner” or whatever.

Competition was fierce and led to devious practices, like baking your conker in the oven to make it rock hard, or soaking it in vinegar so that it pickled. I was never sure that helped, but people did it nonetheless

Sadly, in this millenium, the game was banned by several schools, thanks to a jaundiced view of people’s safety. Headmasters thought a piece of nut could fly off and hit someone in the face! Anything is possible, but in my long experience of the game, nothing like this ever happened. Someone even suggested that players were at risk from “nut-allergy”!! Absolutely no evidence for that whatsoever. Incredible when one thinks of the disabling injuries from playing rugby or from boxing, which young people are encouraged to play

I haven’t seen anyone playing conkers now for years, probably because a generation have never known what it is, so the tradition hasn’t been handed down. I believe that the game of conkers has resurfaced in the United States, so maybe it will come back to us from across the pond. ¬†Comments appreciated if you have any information on that

In the event, my interest for now is in the aesthetic as much as the nostalgic. I have made a drawing from this grouping, which is rather too faint to show, so I will get some colours together, and post another time about the painting exercise

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7 thoughts on “Conkers

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed the nostalgic post. It reminded me of another post, read a few months ago where someone was writing that trees are being cut off in Canadian schools and neighbourhoods because fears were kids might try to climb them, fall and break their arms. I personally don’t know how to climb a tree but my mum does and grandma was a champion of climbing trees. But my younger cousins (who happen to live in Canada) don’t even know if people ever climbed something called a tree but they know every wrestler, boxer and Porsche on the TV. It’s sad that the future of our world would one day lie on their fragile shoulders.

    Monsieur, you could teach our grandkids about Conkers. You and other elders could form a local society to help these games from being extinct. A lot is possible if you have help.

    Anyways, thank you and hopefully I’ll use that for TPA.

    P.S: Could girls of your time play Conkers or was it just boys game?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t remember girls playing conkers, although no reason why they shouldn’t have. Gender roles were much more clearly defined two generations ago, whereas today all games are open to everyone, and quite rightly too. They did climb trees though and often better at it than me. Girls who liked playing boys games were known as tomboys. You don’t hear that word now, as girls play football and rugby, and boys do cookery at school as a mainline subject, which is good,
      I shall look forward to reading your link

      Like

  2. Monsieur, I was rereading this post and noticed you used ‘sixer’ and ‘tenner’. What do they mean? Like six Conkers left or ten Conkers left?

    Also do you know if this game by played by French boys of your time?

    Thank you in advance.

    Liked by 1 person

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