It’s a strange omission, considering that there was a huge horse chestnut tree in our garden when I was growing up – but until tonight, I had never played a game of conkers. For me, it was always a spectator sport: something which I enjoyed watching in the school playground at this time of year – but, well, it was a sport, wasn’t it? I never was a one for sport, no matter how loose the definition.
Oh, I used to gather conkers, and jealously hide them in little stashes in the garden where the village kids couldn’t find them (they were always breaking and entering, and it made me slightly cross), but I never knew what to do with them once they were gathered. It involved sharp objects, you see – tools, most probably – and I wasn’t much of a one for tools, either. It was a “get a grown-up to help you” scenario, and I didn’t quite like to ask.
So when the subject came up this evening, I suddenly found myself possessed of a strong desire to right this great historical wrong. “Let’s go and get some now!”, I urged a somewhat puzzled looking K, in an all too rare attack of mid-evening spontaneity.
Off we went, peering our way down the gas-lit crescent unti we found a stash, just beyond the first crossroads to the right of the house. Well, until K found a stash, his conker-gathering instincts being more sharply honed than mine.
Back in the kitchen, I let K do the manly stuff with a meat skewer and some lengths of string.
“Hey, we could video our match and put it on YouTube!”, I chirped, eagerly.
“I am NOT playing conkers on the world wide web”, he retorted, crisply.
K gave me first dibs on choosing my conker. I went for the small shrivelled gnarly one, as I remembered that the large glossy ones were always the first to fall apart.
I was then given instructions on technique: instructions which I found quite baffling.
“No, you’re assuming knowledge”, I huffed. “You’ve got to take it from first principles. So I hold it like… no… well, WHAT then? Like that? But how’s that going to… well, you show me first, then I’ll copy you.”
K’s first shots were of a terrifying physical force. I never knew he was so butch. “You’ll have somebody’s eyes out! Is it safe? Shouldn’t I be wearing protective clothing? A rubber armband or something?”
As it turned out, I did need protection. For every shot which hit – or rather, gently tapped – at K’s conker, there were two or three more which missed it entirely, sending my conker smashing into my wrist.
“Look, I’m bruising. This is a vicious sport! Why was it never banned? OK, I’m getting a tea-towel and wrapping it round my… stop LAUGHING, will you!”
My only saving grace was the impermeable hardness of my chosen conker. No matter how hard K smashed into it, he couldn’t force so much as a hairline fissure. Eventually, his own conker started to crumble.
“Look, you’re winning”, he smiled, indulgently.
“Oh, don’t give me that. Are you deliberately cheating to let me win, like my grandmother used to do when we played cards?”
Ten minutes and dozens of queeny yelps later, K’s conker had flaked all over the kitchen floor.
“You’ve got a one-er there, Mike. If you win again, it will be a two-er.”
But the fight had gone out of me. This was just further confirmation, if any were needed, that I’m just not cut out for one-to-one combat.
Conkers, pah. ‘S for kids innit?
Nursing our wounds, we padded off to watch telly.