It’s the time of year for conker fights. Maybe you can win a few. See if you can have a tenner. Some boys at my school – Nunthorpe Grammar School for Boys – bragged that they had a hundreder. How could we know? There were some cheggie trees in the school grounds, and a few off Scarky Road. The key to success was getting your conkers rock solid. Most boys would leave them for days in malt vinegar. I am talking about the seed of the horse chestnut tree. Often a challenge was to find any cheggies, especially near school. The parents or bigger boys threw the sticks high in the tree. I would run under the tree to get what had fallen. Who would be fastest?
‘Fight, fight!’ This was a familiar cry in our school yard. Crowds would gather, fists would fly and a teacher would come. The crowds for the cheggie fights were also big, especially when a winning conker was involved.
Maybe you don’t know how the fights work. Skewer a hole, insert string about 20-30cm long, knot one end, tie a loop at the other, and you’re ready. One person holds their string, and the conker hangs. This is the target for the opponent, who has to hit and, to win, destroy yours. Players take it in turns until a conker has been completely destroyed.
How to get a good strike? Put your middle finger through the loop at the end of the string, hold the conker with your other hand, raise it above the finger through the loop, aim and flick forward at high speed. Defence for a damaged cheggie was always tricky, but exposing its weaker side would end in defeat. There was foul play, of course. The worst example was softening up your adversary by accidentally making your fiftyer crack into his knuckles. I can’t remember if there was gambling, but it’s likely bearing in mind what went on in the lunchtime whist and blackjack games.
Really it was about pride, honour and status. Maybe world leaders should have a best of five, as a way to solve disputes.
The leaves on the fully laden horse chestnut tree, 150 yards from my room, are brown and the cheggies are ready. If you climb over the fence after dark, I won’t tell anyone.