Saturday, August 12, 2017

Gleaming gladiators

I love this as a memory of collecting chestnuts and conker fights on cold, windy, wet autumn days in England in the mid-sixties. We searched out the hardest, most resilient conkers and threaded them on a string, ready to do battle on the playground at school during break time, battling other small boys in uniforms with their fearsome conkers.

You stood a few feet apart, one holding his forlorn hope conker for the other to take a swing. Hit or miss, the other then had to take his turn with conker on the hanging rope. Each took turns whacking the other conker till one cracked under the beating.

In the contained circle of small boys on the playground, conkers were known by the count of the number of other conkers they had broken. Hence "proud fivers." In our small contests of great intensity, challenges issued, conkers sacrificed or horded, there were strategies and tactics to defend or attack. We were learning and probably learning things of great value, but learning as boys do, through doing and not through books.

Horse Chestnut
by John Greening

Grandfathers who have spiky outsides
Can be fun inside: a gallows humor,
Hanging their youth out to be hit

By kids who have not had to bake
Or save, but possess proud fivers
On shoelaces they have grown out of.

Yet the young do not recognise the tree
In winter. Only now there is a hoard
To be scavenged from the park.

They do not think of it as an alien
Or worry about it being too near
The house. They have their collection

Gleaming gladiators in a bowl,
And have no doubt that they will shine
Right through and on beyond Christmas.
The Spectator 19 November 1994

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