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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Heads or Tails Tuesday



Today's Heads or Tails gives us the choice of Heads only. However, it's still a very flexible option, as participants are being asked to write about anything that begins with the letter C. Most people who know me, are probably expecting me to write about cats, chocolate or cacti, three of my favorite things, which coincidentally start with the letter C. But that's just too predictable. Instead, I shall be talking about the traditional British game of conkers, beloved by generations of school children.

So what is a conker? Well, it's the rounded, hard, inedible (to humans, anyway) seed of the horse chestnut tree, not to be confused with the edible sweet chestnut. It grows on a very large tree, which can have white, pink or red flowers. Some varieties are cultivated, others are wild.



The hard, brown seed, or conker, is protected during development, by a prickly green casing, which stops it being consumed by birds, squirrels, bugs and other hungry creatures.



When the conker is ripe and hard, the prickly green casing splits open, allowing the seed to fall out and hopefully, grow into a new tree.



However, when these seeds hit the ground, usually in September and October, many British children gather them up. It's time for the annual round of playground conker contests. Traditionally, when someone finds their first conker of the season, they're supposed to say: "Oddly oddly onker my first conker". This is meant to ensure good luck, not just in the ensuing conker contests, but also through the autumn season generally. However, this little-known part of the tradition, is rarely, if ever, practised by children nowadays.



After selecting a hard, symmetrical conker, free of cracks, the next step is to drill a hole through its centre.



A length of string is then threaded through the hole, and a large knot tied in the string, to prevent the conker falling off the end.



In a game of conkers, players take turns at hitting each other's conkers. I can remember, from my own childhood, that a conker strike misdirected at a finger can be exceedingly painful. Basically, one player leaves their conker dangle from their hand, whilst the other player wraps much of the string around their hand. The striker then draws back their conker strikes their opponent's. If a player misses their opponent's conker, they get another two strikes. Should the strings tangle, the first player to call "strings" will get an extra turn. If a player, in hitting the opponent' s conker, causes it to whirl around in a circle, this is known as ‘round the world’. The striker scores another turn for doing this. If one of the players drops their conker, or has it knocked out of their hand, their opponent may yell "stamps" and jump on the fallen conker. But if the owner of the fallen conker manages to shout "no stamps'" first, then the opponent cannot jump on the conker. A conker match ends when one of the conkers is destroyed.



Sadly, this traditional game, which I played frequently during my not so distant childhood, is declining. This may, in part, be due to the over-protective attitude of many schools, in today's highly litigious society. Although injuries caused by conkers are rare, a large number of schools have banned conker games from school premises, in case a child is hurt, and the school gets sued. But properly supervised, a conker game needn't be a cause for concern.

Anyway, that's my Heads or Tails for today. Happy Tuesday!

Please do not credit me with any of the above images. They were obtained from Flickr, under a Creative Commons licence. Click each image to discover the identity of the photographer.

17 comments:

Hootin' Anni said...

Those look like what we call a buckeye in the USA.

Interesting "C"

Mine is posted too. Come "C"

Secret Agent Mama said...

Siani, your post is my favorite of the week! Such tradition. I love it!!

Dragonstar said...

Believe it or not, I never knew how to play conkers! Thanks for enlightening me.

I recently discovered that a fungal disorder called "Bleeding Canker" is affecting many Horse Chestnut trees. It sounds on a par with Dutch Elm Disease, and could bring an end to conker games.

jenn said...

That sounds like so much fun! It's a shame that kids can't play it at school anymore. They are banning so many games these days!
Have a great tuesday!

Baldwins Girl said...

That was really great. I've heard of conkers, but never really knew how to play. Thanks for the info! loved it.

Robyn Jones said...

I live in Canada, and when I grew up on Vancouver island, I had a tree next door that produced something very similar...Never heard of conkers before though....

Skittles said...

I was going to say this game sounds like it could become painful if a conker went astray. I could still imagine my own kids trying to play it if they had known about it. :)

Daisy said...

I think I would like to play that game!

Sanni said...

Ooooh, I loved playing with conkers when I was a little one. The German word is "Kastanie"... I guess that´s why I didn´t think about listing them *smile*

FRIGGA said...

I hadn't ever head of that game - but it sounds interesting and inventive! Happy HoT!!! :-)

Misty Dawn said...

Wow! You just taught me about something I had never even heard of! As hootin' anni said, they look like Buckeyes. We had one of these trees when I was growing up, and I actually thought they were Buckeyes, until my husband argued... I mean corrected me. However, my cousins' and my game with these was to just throw them at each other (yes, we were evil with each other).

Rambler said...

hey very nice post and game.. nice to discover this one ...

Natalie said...

I've never heard of conkers, sounds like I would've liked it as a child.

bundle-o-contradictions said...

Fascinating! Having grown up with mainly evergreen or aspen trees, the only thing I ever learned was crafts with pine cones. Not nearly as cool.
Happy Tuesday! :)

vixensden said...

Siani, that is a really great post. I was fascinated by this game. What a wonderful, wonderful tradition. Too bad the schools are so over-cautious these days. I love learning new things and today you really helped satisfy that craving. Thanks so much for sharing this.

Happy Tuesday.

Andrée said...

That's really fascinating. Cool game. But I'm confused about chestnuts now. I thought conkers WERE chestnuts. That is how they are sold here. I've never eaten one because I never figured out how to get into one. You mention there is another sweet chestnut?

Mike said...

This is perhaps the most interesting post for this meme that I have seen. It's neat to learn about things from other countries other than my own (US here)Many games here in the states are being banned at school playgrounds to prevent lawsuits. What a shame that children can't learn some of these neat and fun things anymore. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

 
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