Despite this strange summer-like weather we NYC inhabitants are experiencing, we have it on good authority that Blighty is undergoing a Fall (or, Autumn), of classic proportions – the turning of the leaves, the crisp chill in the air, and all that. For time immemorial, this changing of the seasons has meant one thing for British children (and some adults): conkers!
Conkers are the fruit of the horse-chestnut tree. Hard and shiny, they are attractive objects in their own right but seem to hold little opportunity for fun and games. Not until British schoolchildren came along! Ever-innovative in the face of a culture beset by frugality and tradition (see: spinning tops, jumping jacks, and paddle ball), they had the cunning to drill a hole through the rock hard little nuts, that lay with abundance and for free across the ground, and stick a string through it.
They now were equipped with a weapon of sorts and the premise for a conflict – hit each others’ conkers with your conker! Easy-peasy, the first conker to break lost! A yearly gauntlet was laid – who would have the unbeatable champion conker of the Fall. In pursuit of this title, children went to great ends, swearing by a plethora of different measures to harden up their little fighter: soak in vinegar, bake in the oven, or cover in varnish.
Played to the day in schoolyards, playgrounds and parks across Britain, this is a true Fall tradition. Horse-chestnut trees can be found across the US in wooded areas. If you’re lucky enough to come across one of the spiny little kernels, make sure to pick it up. Now you’ll just need, a drill, some string and a worthy competitor!