Back when I was a boy, horse chestnut trees such as the one pictured here, would have been bracing themselves for the soon-to-arrive annual attack of schoolboys desperate to harvest their fruit of conkers. Here in the UK (and maybe elsewhere, I don’t know), conkers was THE sport of the school playground come autumn-time.
For those unfamiliar with the activity, a conker is a hard, nut-like seed produced by the horse chestnut tree. They fall from the branches around October time. Or, as used to be the case, they would be knocked violently from the branches by thrown sticks and stones or pulled from branches climbed by brave individuals. Each conker would be safely cocooned in a heavy, spiky outer shell that, when ripe, would split to reveal the brown, polished, wood-like ovoid within. If you were lucky you would find a previously undiscovered tree that had dropped it’s fruit on the floor. Such rarity! Such treasures!
The game is played by making a hole through the centre of the conker and threading it with a length of thread – often a shoelace – and securing it at the bottom with a knot. Two opponents would then face off and take in turns to swing their conker with force, bracing the thread tautly across the top of the back of their hand, with the intent of shattering their opponents conker.
Dedicated proponents of the sport would engage a variety of techniques to harden their “team” of conkers to maximum hardness. Baking them in an oven, or pickling them in vinegar were both methods reputed to give a conker a shell that would challenge a diamond on the moh scale. Champion conkers would be given names and attain legendary status in the schoolyard.
These days the horse chestnut is in reprieve, the sport of conkers largely consigned to history by the youngsters of today. Part of this was down to a series of bans issued by schools fearful of children with conker fractured knuckles or missing front teeth, although nowadays it’s probably mostly because of videogames and the internet. Isn’t everything?
Bronica ETRSi, Zenzanon 75mm f/2.8 & Fomapan 100. Ilfotec DD-X 1+4 8mins @ 20°
Taken on 23 August 2020