Miles Kington: The hazards of Chestnut Horror

Children no longer bothered with conkers, marbles, spinning tops or the old simple pleasures

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The chairman of the committee, Roger Blewett (Lib Dem), said that several studies into the effect of conker-playing had been made but the medical implications were unclear. On the one hand, there were minimal risks involved. On the other hand, anything that got children out from behind their computers and into the fresh air was worthwhile.

Stanley Wirral (New Labour) said it was poppycock to suggest the risks were minimal. If you had a game where two children were wielding hard objects with enormous force very close to each other, there were bound to be injuries, not to mention the piercing of chestnuts with skewers, and the heating of them in the oven. Conkers was a health and safety nightmare and should be banned. Even the slightest risk of injury was not worth taking.

Bob Bellis (Old Labour) said he had played conkers as a lad and it made him the man he was.

Sir Rodney Froop (Old Tory) said he had played conkers as a lad, and also as a grown-up and a father, and it was the most tremendous fun. He still had a three hundred and sixty-twoer stored away at home and was prepared to challenge Bob Bellis to a match any time he liked.

Bob Bellis (Old Labour) said he was on.

Stanley Wirral (New Labour) said he couldn't believe his ears.

The chairman said that the survey had also looked into the effect of conkers playing on the horse chestnut trees themselves.

Victor Sketchley (Second-hand Labour) asked how the chestnut trees could be affected as the fruit was already off the trees when they were turned into conkers

Because, said the chairman, children very often tried to remove the conkers by throwing branches up into the trees and knocking them down, which had a tree-linked danger potential.

Tree-linked danger potential? said Terry Heather (Failed Tory Leadership Contender). What did that mean?

The chairman said it was one of those awful New Labour phrases. Just as the Eskimos were said to have 100 different words for snow, so New Labour had spawned a thousand different health warnings.

Stanley Wirral (New Labour) said he would not rise to the bait, but he would point out that Eskimo was a term disliked by the Inuits, as they should properly be called.

The chairman said he was prepared to apologise to any Inuit present, if he would make himself known.

Or herself, said Stanley Wirral (New Labour). Laughter.

No Inuit having made himself or herself known, Sir Rodney Froop (Old Tory) said he feared the committee might find itself redundant, because in his experience children did not actually play conkers any more. Whereas once up on a time the contents of a horse chestnut tree were spirited away to be turned into conkers, they now littered the ground in their shiny mock-antique magnificence. Children, alas, no longer bothered with conkers or marbles or spinning tops or the old simple pleasures. What was the point of banning something which had gone out of circulation? One might as well try to make snuff-taking illegal.

Neville Bungay (Lib Dem) said that he wanted to draw attention to a new video game on sale, which was called Chestnut Horror and was an electronic version of conkers. The basis of the game was to imitate the skill of conker playing electronically, but you could, if skilful, kill up to a thousand enemy by swinging monstrous sized conkers, which reduced your enemy to a bloody pulp and sent his limbs flying. You could also attach your enemy's lost limbs to your conker for better leverage. That was where modern youth was at. That was what the committee should be worrying about.

The chairman said that at least they should be thankful that no one had yet derived any addictive hallucinogenic substence from conkers. He proposed that they should postpone further discussion to another day, and pass on to the next item, which was the health hazards involved in playing marbles.

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