Sunday, 12 September 2010

CONKERS!

September and October mean several things for my family  - The British Speedway season ends, time to put the mudguards back on my Mountain Bike, the leaves are changing colour, my kids are planning their Halloween costumes…and conkers! Yes, we've been out in the woods today collecting conkers and came home with two carrier bags full. So... to hell with H&S guidelines, my kids will be playing conkers and getting bruised knuckles just like I did back in the 70s.
Now it gets serious though, how do we make our conkers unbeatable? Many people have different theories as to how to harden conkers but here's what I do together with notes based on 40 years of experience...
1. Freeze them overnight and then leave to mature for at least a year.
2. Soak them in vinegar - only for a few minutes though, otherwise the conker goes soft and starts to rot from the inside.
3. Roasting a conker toughens up the shell - you want to bake the conker slowly at a low heat oven until the shell hardens. Roasting them at too high a temperature just makes the shell go all wrinkled.
4. Soak them in vodka or whiskey - if they do go soft you can just drink the "juice".
5. Paint with clear nail vanish.
6. Spray with cheap hairspray.

Of course,the best conkers are the oldest, as Roald Dahl explains in his biography ‘My Year’- “…a great conker is one that has been stored in a dry place for at least a year. This matures it and makes it rock hard and therefore formidable." Hardening your conker on purpose might be considered cheating and this year contestants at the Poulton International Conkers Tournament on October 2nd will have their conkers subjected to forensic testing to crack down on cheats at the village competition if judges suspect foul play and contestants at his years World Championships will not be allowed to use their own conkers. Instead they will be supplied with conkers from the organisers "Conker Pool", but hey, it's just a bit of fun and I want my conkers hard! Remember also the importance of taking the time to drill the hole for your conker carefully. Hacking out a hole with a nail will cause splitting and weaken your conker.

Conker challenges have been around as far back as 1848 in the UK with the World Conker Championships starting in 1965. Originally, the game was played with snail shells!!!  but today it’s the conkers of horse-chestnut trees that rule supreme, and my kids and me are doing our bit to make sure this bit of autumn fun does not die out. It appears that schools have banned kids from playing conkers cos' it's too dangerous! One school local to me even supplied kids with safety goggles last year so as to avoid any eye injuries... what has this namby pamby country come to? Go on, get your conkers out.

2 comments:

  1. You sound like a professional conkerer!! LOL. I didn't realise they were ready - my son will be desperate to go out and collect them. Your pic makes them look so lovely and autumnal!! I agree with you that we've gone H&S mad and are bringing up a generation of risk-averse, fearful kids - scuffed knees, bruised eyes are all part of it!!

    I also heard that if you put a conker in your room, it keeps the spiders out - so my son in his wisdom has stuck two conkers with blue tack to the ceiling of his room, which incidently is spider-free!!

    Enjoy your world-champion conkers.

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  2. Hi Marmalade, one little tip I forgot was to rub handcream into the shell after it's been baked, makes the conker more resistant to impact Honest.... I've just been reading about the spider thing on the RSC site - hope you have posted your results on being spider free...

    One last thing to remember, when you find your first conker remember to say "Oddly Oddly Onker My First Conker", Saying this brings good luck and less tangled strings.

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Whitehaven, Cumbria, United Kingdom
Disenchanted City Boy who rode out of the fast lane and into the back lanes! Life on Two Wheels is so much fun.