It's fall here in the U.S. where we are living right now has very few conker trees, actually called horse chestnut trees. For as long as I can remember I went looking for conkers to collect, when my brothers were old enough they would join in. We would run in excitement from tree to tree as we walked down a long sunny leafy lane, that was known village wide as Conker Lane. Leaves crunching under our wellington clad feet as we scoured the ground for the round green spiky cases that contained the prize we desired. Often these cases had broken open and the beautiful hard shiny conker could easily be prized out of the case and into our eagerly waiting hands. I can remember holding particularly large and perfectly smooth conkers in my hand, running my small fingers over it and marveling at how smooth it was, often still coated in a thin film of white pith, like that of an orange from the protective layer of it's well armored case.
We carried either a bag or bucket to collect our goodies or if we were on an unplanned walk through the lane would stuff as many conkers as possible into bulging pockets.
The best time to go conker collecting was the chilly autumn morning after a wet and windy night when many of the "fruits" would have fallen to the ground. On these days the lane would be busy, filled with young children and teenagers eager to get the best conkers for themselves. The older boys would throw large sticks up into the trees trying to force some of the bigger conker cases down from the high branches. We would take home our prizes and spend hours counting them, comparing them, who had the most and the best collection, sometimes there would be sibling fights when one of us stole another's "best" conker. I am sure I was sometimes guilty.
As we grew older and we would join in the conker fights at friends houses and at school. This involved putting a skewer into the hardest and best looking conker we had and threading a string or even better a shoelace through it. Baking the conkers in the oven was believed to make our weapons even stronger.
I think I am right in saying that conker fights have since been banned in schools, rather sad as there were always eager groups of children of all ages gathered around the older boys as they took turns in holding their conker still on it's length of string while the other took aim, trying to hit the opponent's conker as hard as possible. The winner was the one who's conker remained intact. Conker pieces often flew off into the cheering crowd of children, the younger ones in awe of the older ones. Often fingers and hands were badly bruised as the solid conkers missed their mark, often ending in tears. It was all part of growing up and we soon got over it, the fun outweighed the pain. Occasionally these fights would break out into a real fist fight or wrestling match if one of the boys was accused of cheating in some way. Then the whole playground would erupt into chanting "fight fight fight" over and over until a teacher on playground duty came to break it up, sometimes even sending the culprits to the headmaster which was never a good thing. This punishment could bring anything from a lecture to caning, after school detention or even being banned from school. A visit to the headmasters office was something to be feared even by those with the hardest don't care attitude.
Years passed by and I repeated the enjoyment of my childhood with my own boys and their friends. Now living in a different area our best conker area was the local cemetery. Those were the days of walking each way to and from school, there was a short cut through the cemetery where there were so many trees to choose from that even with the flood of school children running through there each day there were plenty of conkers to go around. Before they were of school age I would take my boys during school hours so they could run from tree to tree without any bigger more aggressive hunters being nearby and we could take out time. They too were in their wellies (wellington boots) splashing through puddles, stomping through wet leaves and having a wonderful time. The simple enjoyments in life are truly the best, what wonderful memories. As I sit here recalling these times this would be a perfect day to go conker hunting, a beautiful autumn day, a little chilly, the day after a wet and windy night. My boys are now adults but I am sure they still remember those fun times, or will with a little prompting.
They would store their prizes in empty shoe boxes after doing their counting and comparing, often storing them so long the whole box would end up being full of moldy conkers and would need to be thrown out. Every year we would plant a few of them in pots or outside and see how tall they would grow, sometimes they were really successful and grew into a good sized tree, occasionally having to be relocated to a better growing position.
When my eldest son was still just a toddler we took him to visit my dad who still lived near my childhood home, yes we took him for a walk down "Conker Lane" the same one I walked down so many times as a child. It was still just as beautiful, the sun shining through the trees, all was quiet with just the squirrels playing among the trees gathering acorns, it was even conker season so we were able to collect conkers together, it was a strange feeling revisiting an old haunt. The old church we used to run past in our eagerness to reach the best tress was still there. Although I remember the lane as being a really long walk, as an adult it seemed so much shorter than I remembered, still just as pretty and if looked at from a child's point of view, just as magical. I wonder if it is still there? I hope so as it gave so many children over the years so many happy hours. I still don't know the real name of the lane or even if it had one, Conker Lane is what it will always be to so many families that lived in that small village.
Do you have a special place from your childhood with fun memories? Where was it and what were the memories? Have you returned as an adult? Had it changed over the years? Was that a good experience or do you wish it still looked the same?