Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Shades of Scarlett conquering

Fiddle-de-dee.

Rummaging for my keys this morning in the junk-that-comes-out-of-your-pockets bowl in the kitchen, I automatically picked up my current Lucky Conker, as I usually do, and had another flashback to the past weekend's Duckie, when I talked chestnuts with live artist/photographer Harriet Poole. It made me aware of this particular quirk that I have - even if I didn't have the LC on me on Saturday. Here it is, though, with Saturday's Tube ticket:



I call it lucky but that's really just to justify carrying it around; I'm not especially superstitious and don't think of it as any sort of talisman. It's more a throwback to the childhood hoarding of "treasure", magpie-fashion: very shiny coins, shells, glittery pebbles - essentially worthless objects considered inherently pleasurable. I suspect quite a few people do this to some degree.

I picked up the current LC a week or two ago, when meeting a colleague for dinner, in Twickenham. There was a big horse chestnut tree, spilling grizzled brown-green casings and excitingly shiny, new-looking conkers onto the pavement (one landed on a car bonnet with a metallic bonk, as we passed). If I hadn't been in self-consciously sensible work mode, I'd have stopped and, in all likelihood, stuffed my suit pockets. As it was, I surreptitiously bent down and scooped one up when he wasn't looking.

We used to live just off a park which had several chestnut trees, and I'd collect them every day to and from work. They'd sit on windowsills and kitchen surfaces until, eventually, I conceded that I had to throw them out (they're not as seductive once they lose their fresh-from-the-shell gleam) to make space for more. These days, I've pared down my conker-acquiring urge to just the one at a time.

Apparently the game of Conkers was originally played with snail shells or hazel nuts, the horse chestnut not being native to the UK. Oddly enough, although I have all sorts of memories of throwing sticks in trees to try to get 'em down, I don't recall much actual playing of the game itself. I suspect many kids were, like me, more attracted to the idea (having seen Dennis the Menace and the Bash Street Kids get overexcited about Conkers) than the pastime, which all seemed a bit of a hassle. I did, however, dutifully file away in my head all the sneaky conker-hardening methods (baking, soaking in vinegar) in case I ever did find myself competing in the World Championships.

I seem to remember a brief craze, on Blue Peter, for stringing huge numbers of conkers on string, with groups of people proudly claiming to have strung five billion (or however many), pointlessly. This is what we did before t'Internet.

Ah, well. A woman must have everything.

5 comments:

The Rognon said...

I don't find this odd at all. Conkers are wonderful things, and they feel like hard velvet with the contrast of the rough old nub. And they are a perfect colour. And they're transient and therefore precious.

Pogonophile said...

I always feel like I ought to be doing something constructive with them - I dunno, planting them in yoghurt cartons or summat - but somehow, when the burnished gleam's left a conker, I can't be arsed with it any more and want a new one.

I'm sure this is a metaphor for something...

SubtleKnife said...

Sorry to disapoint, but you're not strange. There was a huge old chestnut tree in front of my old primary school. It's gone now. Both of them are, although they rebuilt the school... That was the. best. thing. ever! to have in the playground.

I just loved to have them around, much like you, and the teachers would have lots of easy lessons, encouraging us to make figures out of matchsticks and chestnuts (although I don't know how no serious accidents happened trying to drill holes into them). And they wouldn't go until my mother made me throw them out...

Robin said...

My current conker's sitting on the computer desk :)

I carry conkers around too, though I tend to only do it for the first couple of weeks of Autumn.

And yes, it's true that they're not quite as satisfying once they've ceased to shine.

Pogonophile said...

Subtleknife, those look like the molecular modelling doodahs they used in Chemistry - if your Chemistry teacher were the Blair Witch...