Conker Season

Conkers were everywhere I went this week. Perhaps for the first time I can recall, streets and pavements practically carpeted with them. Is it a bumper crop this year or simply that kids no longer collect them to play conkers? I could not resist collecting some with my seven year old and introducing him to the game that is so synonymous with my schooday memories of autumn term. It came as a great surprise (and something of a disappointment I must confess) to learn from him that no-one in primary school is playing conkers any more. Can it die out so quickly, within a generation? I suppose some of the reason could be the safety concerns that led some schools to ban the playing of conkers but I suspect it is simply that kids are less in touch with nature than we used to be in my childhood.

Either way it is sort of heartbreaking to walk past the gleaming glossy nuggets lying uncollected and unloved on the ground. In my day there would be kids there, cramming bulging pockets with choice chestnuts for threading on a piece of bootlace.

I’m not altogether sure I remember the playground rules of conkers but this is the version we played :

  • Bore holes through your conkers, thread on a string or shoelace and slide down to rest on a big knot tied in the end. Wind the string around your fingers to hold firmly.
  • First player dangles their conker as a target.
    Second player takes aim and tries to strike with their conker. (You have to wind it shorter around your fingers for this; there is a fine art to it. I find that about 3 inches of string is just about right for the striking player.)
    When you miss, your turn is over. If you hit, then you get another try.
  • Keep swinging and striking your opponent’s conker until you miss, (or possibly until your own disintegrates – it happens!)

Strings rule – if you tangle the strings, the other player gets a free shot.

Stamps rule (I never liked this in the playground but it’s what I remember) – if part or all of someone’s conker lands on the floor, bystanders can call ‘stamps!’ and stamp on the conker with their shoes to crush the remnants. Cruel lesson in losing.

  • Continue until one person’s conker breaks and flies off the string. The player whose conker lasts longest and is still on the string is declared the winner.
  • Scoring is such that all new conkers start at zero. After one victory it becomes a ‘1-er’

After two wins a ‘2-er’ etc, but if the conker you defeat has already accumulated a score from previous battles you add one to that score and take on their score of the one you have defeated. So for example after beating a ‘6-er’ it becomes a ‘7-er’.

These are the basics of the game of conkers as I recall them, but I would be interested if anyone has other recollections. I grew up in Huddersfield and I don’t even know if there were regional variations in the way the game was played. These could be just West Yorkshire rules! I would love to hear in the comments if anyone has memories of conker games or other versions of the rules or even from anyone who has never played conkers -I find it quite unthinkable, but logically there must be some younger people who have never been introduced to the game. Do let me know your thoughts.

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