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Conkers: conquerors compete in quirky quest

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia


Recalling carefree days playing conkers in an Essex (UK) primary school yard 80 years ago, I'd like to be in Ashton, an English village near Oundle in Northamptonshire, on October 8, for the World Conker Championships. After that, I'd make my way to County Kilkenny to watch the Irish Conker Championship on October 29.

The first recorded game of conkers took place in the Isle of Wight in 1848, and it soon became popular as a children's pastime played in school yards throughout Britain and Ireland. (I was a fanatical player in the 1920s). Then, in 1965 a group of drinkers in a village pub began playing conkers instead of going fishing. Their modest game gradually developed into a world contest.

"Thousands flock to Ashton to watch this great spectacle as modern day gladiators fight for glory armed only with a nut and 12inches [30cm] of string," trumpets the official website. Two contestants take turns to hit their opponent's conker with their own, until one of the nuts breaks.

The French Conkers Federation displays a well illustrated account of the Ashton championships on its attractive website. It reports:

10,000 persons, 450 players, all the present English media, arbitrators and officials everywhere around us. It is incredible, crazy, raving, they are Conkers's world championships. The second Sunday of October becomes the compulsory meeting of all the followers of the Conkers.

Every year since 1995, the members of the Team of France go in this temple to pick up the supreme title. At the moment, our best place is the second in male individual classification because 4 years ago, our team returned to France with the Vice-champion of Conkers's world, but the second place in this game, it is the place of the idiot!!!

In 1999, a report in the Glasgow (Scotland) Sunday Herald said times were changing at Tony Blair's old school, Fettes College in Edinburgh. The annual rugby and hockey competitions between masters and pupils had been scrapped and replaced by...conkers!

In some parts of England conkers are called obblyonkers or cheggies. Americans call them buckeyes. Ohio, where they're found in large numbers (although they're smaller than the European variety), is often called The Buckeye State.

"My grandpa gets buckeyes from his buckeye trees for me so I can make buckeye necklaces, bracelets and key chains," 10-year-old Gabrielle Dendinger wrote in a Grandparents' Day message in Ohio's Columbus Dispatch.

But I've never heard of a buckeye world championship.

FOOTNOTE. My 50-year-old Concise Oxford Dictionary states that one meaning of the word "conqueror" is a "horse-chestnut that has broken others in boys' game of conkers."


Golden Spurtle World Porridge-Making Championship

While the World Conker Contest is in progress in England on October 8, further north, the 13th annual Golden Spurtle World Porridge-Making Championship will take place in Carrbridge, Inverness-shire, Scotland.

The contest website says "The piper, millers, judges and entrants meet at the famous bridge for a complimentary dram to toast ‘The Porridge’ before proceeding to the Village Hall where the competition commences. Badenoch and Strathspey Pipe Band will play at bridge and then lead procession.".

What in the world is a spurtle? A year ago, Velvet Perston proudly told the Sydney Morning Herald's Column 8 that she had "been using my husband's spurtle every day of our married life."

Here's a definition from the official website:

Some say porridge should only be stirred in a clock wise direction using the right hand so you don't evoke the 'Devil'. The stirring is done with a straight wooden spoon /stick without a moulded or flat end and known is Scotland as a 'Spurtle' or 'Theevil'. Porridge should always be spoken of as 'they' and old custom states that it should be eaten standing up. A bone spoon should always be used for eating porridge.



Story first posted October 2006

Copyright © 2006

Eric Shackle

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