The Sport of Kids

I was listening to NPR recently and heard something that I had trouble believing. However, I can now verify that the frankly astonishing claim of American ignorance is in fact correct. One hundred percent of Americans I surveyed had never even heard of one of the great UK sports; no one here seems to know of that great playground gladiatorial contest we call conkers. (I know that sentence would be less impressive, if a little more honest, if it had started with Both Americans, but hyperbole is my right in my own blog. Word’s US spellcheck does not recognize the word conkers, so that would seem to serve as further verification of this knowledge void)

As a service to any American readers of my blog, I thought I should describe the basics of this game. It is traditionally played in schoolyards during recess. A conker is a brown nut that grows on the horse chestnut tree. They are not edible, unlike those that come from the sweet chestnut tree. To play the game, you make a hole through the centre and thread about a foot of string through the hole. Each player has a conker and they take it in turns to hit their opponent’s conker. If your conker is the target, you let it hang from the string and once it is still your opponent gets to attack. Your opponent wraps his string around one hand, takes the conker in the other, and draws it up and back. The idea is to aim the swing when released so that it hits the other conker. If either conker breaks, the contest is over. If both conkers survive, the players swap roles.

If your conker wins its first battle against another untried conker, it becomes a one-er. If you win another fight it becomes two-er. If you two-er then losses to a new conker, that conker is now a three-er, taking credit for both the fight it has just won and the two victories that the now shattered nut had previously racked up.

Baking conkers in the oven or soaking them in vinegar hardens them and taints your record in much the way it would if Barry Bonds was ever found to have taken steroids.

This traditional childhood pastime is under threat in the UK. There was a school that required pupils to wear safety goggles when playing conkers; other schools have banned them as offensive weapons. The fear seems to be that a piece of flying debris will injure a child in the eye; though I am not aware of this ever having happened.

The local pub in the village in which I lived in the UK held a conker re-enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar. What will happen in future if new generations do not have the skills to participate; will the event cease to be, or even worse, will the French win? The loss of an eye did not prevent Lord Nelson leading the British fleet to victory in that decisive naval battle. I think it is important that we continue to encourage the playing of this great game, especially if only the British play it – this should ensure that there is one sport in which Britannia can continue to rule.

Published in: on 10 December, 2007 at 21:31  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. SHHHHH! Didn’t you know? There is an embargo on Brits talking about conkers while overseas; if word spreads to the Australians they’ll spend 15 years in rehearsal, then proceed to crack our conkers for fifty years.

  2. lol my god… what would this world come to without concord fights?

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