Conkers plonkers

Share
Related Topics
First there was the sprinkler ban, which reduced grown gnomes - sorry, men - to tearful mourning for their raddled lawns. Then the car's weekly wash and polish had to go, turning Saturday morning into an empty wasteland of waiting for the start of Grandstand. Now the long hot summer of '95 has made a final assault on masculine pleasures: the nation's supply of conkers is in crisis.

"Because there was less water around during the summer the horse chestnut trees have had to ration supplies," explained a spokesman for the Forestry Commission. "The conkers have not had a chance to develop to their full potential before dropping. Not only are they smaller, they are also much less durable in combat."

Naturally, the nation is up in arms. "It has been a disaster," said Simon Dabell, who has been forced to cancel the annual Isle of Wight championships. Next weekend's World Conker Championship is also in jeopardy. John Hadman, secretary of Ashton Conker Club in Northamptonshire, host to the event, has issued an SOS appeal for 1,000 conkers of the right shape and size.

Where, then, are the freckly boys in caps and short trousers protesting outside town halls? Or begging grandpa for his veteran ninety-niner? Indoors, of course, practising their Power Rangers moves. For, like the lawn neurotics and car cleanliness fanatics, today's conker player is invariably a middle- aged man. John Hadman is a 63-year-old archeology teacher. The nation's most famous player is probably Michael Palin, aged 52, thrown out of the 1993 Isle of Wight championships for tampering with his conker (baking and dousing in vinegar, apparently, to make it harder). For what the Daily Mail has named the "great conker crisis" is in reality a panic about growing up.

Like the overgrown schoolboy Brandon Lee, like the sad world of balding trainspotters and stiff-boned model railway enthusiasts, these paunchy conker lovers want to stay pre-teen. Life as a modern man is just too complicated.

What makes the Peter Pan syndrome so ubiquitous is the nation's mist- eyed nostalgia for "innocent" pre-Bulger childhood, when little boys walked to school down leafy streets and country lanes, filling their pockets not with porn mags and violent videos but with sugar mice and bits of string and big, shiny brown conkers. We all mourn for September days filled not with fatigue and SAD (seasonal affective disorder, already here, thanks to an exceptionally rainy month), but with the thrilling crunch of autumn.

There is something doggedly nationalistic about this nostalgia - the same nostalgia that is currently powering the metrification panic. Oh, the sweet pleasure of breaking into private gardens to steal the shiny fruit - harmless fun, no worse than those traditional English pursuits, scrumping apples, poaching pheasants, robbing from the 'hood.

Oh, the joy of snapping green branches, vandalising growing trees! Boys will be boys, won't they, just like William. Sixteen ounces to a pound and 14 pounds to a stone? Only the bloody wops have 10 fingers and toes, don't you know?

However, this mourning a lost England is not without poignance. The vast majority of children are now driven to school and can tell a Rover from a Roller but not a chestnut from an oak.

But innocent pleasures? As my brother-in-law remembers it: "The appeal of conkers? Violence." Smashing things up. Fighting. Hitting. Hurting. In my school conkers were banned after flying chips maimed childish eyes. So the boys - and it was always the boys, already learning the importance of possessing the hardest phallic symbol - went and did something less disruptive, like attaching a firework to the tail of my friend's cat, or pulling the legs off spiders. Ah, old-fashioned pleasures!

David Aaronovitch is away.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk