E Jane Dickson: 'I'm going to fraddle your conkers tomorrow'

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The Independent Online

How do you fix the string in conkers? It is one of those ancient mysteries, like how the jam gets into the doughnut or the toothpaste into the tube. We have tried a screwdriver, and have two deep gouges on the worktop to show for it. We tried drilling with a hand drill, with the conker wedged in the crack of the kitchen door, but first the conker and then the doorjamb split. Conor is keen to try an electric drill, but my nerves won't stand it.

Still, the conkers look lovely heaped in a bowl on the table. If, I muse, as blood pools in my nail bed (hammer and tacks didn't work either), I added some plums and a russet apple or two, it would look like a still life allegory of autumn. Except that I don't have any plums and even if seasonal installations à la Martha Stewart were my forte, Clara would snaffle all the fruit in five minutes, leaving me to crash around bad-temperedly, wondering why I bother.

"Oh come on ," says Con, grinding his teeth in frustration, "you must have played conkers when you were a child."

Certainly I remember having conkers. I remember trying to eat conkers, unable to believe that anything so beautiful could taste so vile, and I remember having conker necklaces, but I don't actually remember whacking them around on bits of string. Still, someone must have bored holes in the damn things to make the necklace.

I could ring my dad and ask him the secret, but he's bound to say that I can't proceed without a fraddle, or some obscure implement that only ex-carpenters in their seventies know about. I try to interest Con in an exciting alternative conkers game, where you simply shy the nuts at small boys (taking care to aim below the knee), but my son is a traditionalist and there is steel in his voice when he tells me to stop my nonsense and get on with it.

"He's right, Mum," says Clara, lifting her head from the pages of The Little White Horse , "there's no point in pre-barricading." This is the problem with charming children's texts set in the 19th century. They leave your daughter sounding like a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Mme Defarge.

"It's 'prevaricating'," I correct her, "and anyway I'm not. Technically, I'm procrastinating. I'm suggesting that we watch The Simpsons now and leave the conkers for another day."

The rueful shade of Penelope Leach nudges the rueful shade of Martha Stewart, as I nudge my son away from his traditional childhood game and towards slack-jawed telly-watching.

"You're conkers, Mum," says Con, settling himself comfortably on the sofa with his feet in my face. "It rhymes with 'bonkers.' D'you geddit?"

"Yeah, well," I tell him, "your socks are really jelly." The effects of this hilarious rhyming joke are slow to abate (first rule of parenthood: "only distract"). But I meant what I said about procrastinating. I'll fiddle with a fraddle tomorrow.