Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A Short History of Conkers – Part 1

And now for something completely different. My friend Terry Hampton wrote this piece for The Pilot magazine in 1994 when he was Rector of Grouville. Terry had an impish fun side that strained to get out, and often did, and while “The Pilot” was a church magazine, this light hearted piece isn’t really religious in any shape or form, but just good natured humour, of the sort that brings forth groans as you spot the terrible punning references to conkers.

But it is certainly the right time of year for this, as the horse chestnut trees are already giving up their nuts. If you take the walk from the car park opposite the Elephant Park, and go along the path by the side of the road towards the railway walk, that will take you past several trees.

In my youth, I used to get some from a tree in a lane in St Lawrence. We were friends with the Le Feuvres, and spent quite a lot of time there, and sometimes walked down the lanes to “stock up” with conkers for school.

Of course, when you played conkers, you occasionally got your knuckles hit and aching, but that was part of the fun. When you are young, a few cuts and bruises are part and parcel of life, and you think nothing of it. But today, I fear the health and safety inspectorate have ensured that conkers will not be a playground pastime at school, at any rate.

And yet all my time at school, I never saw another boy with broken hand or fingers through playing conkers. It really seems such a shame that such a wonderfully seasonal pastime should be so frowned upon.

But enough of that. Come back with Terry, as he takes you on a meandering journey through the byways and backstreets of the history of the conker. And groan...!

A Short History of Conkers – Part 1By Terry Hampton

AUTUMN is not only a season of mists when the leaves are green then turn to brown - but to one group of misunderstood people it is the most important time of the whole year.

Autumn means conkers. The prickly green husks are cracked open and the glossy contents eagerly examined for the perfect conker. (Pearl-divers have a similar tho'.more valuable hobby.) I. was in England for last autumn and taught my two nephews David and Daniel a much more excellent way of playing conkers. But first, a bit of perhaps not well known history of the humble conker.

JULIUS CAESAR is the first recorded, unashamed conker player - did you know that? His famous Latin boast was VENT, VIDI, VICI - which translated means "I came, I saw, I conquered." (Notice how non-conker playing historians have altered the spelling of the original "conkered.") The date Caesar was playing conkers? About 46 BC.

Conkers were also involved in Caesar's assassination. Again, the clue here is the famous -question the dictator asked Brutus -ET TO, BRUTE? (tr. and you, Brutus?"). What really happened was that the avid conker champion Caesar was asking Brutus if he'd remembered to bring his conkers. to the Senate house that morning. Clearly Brutus had forgotten his nuts, and in a terrible fit of pique he stabbed the divine Julius to death. Moral - always carry your conkers with you.

An English (well, Norman really) King everyone has heard of was William the ... yes, Conqueror! Ah - you had never realised the significance of his name before had you? William was conker champion of Falaise and brought his reputation with. him to England.

But what about the first historical really English person who was a conquer freak?


You may not be too conversant with this name, but I: assure you it. is honoured when all true English conker players gather together. The aforesaid king lived in a .splendid palace at Fishbourne (Chichester). It's been excavated and superbly roofed over to make visiting it a pleasure.

Now, the name Cogidubnus has been tampered with. once again (see Julius Caesar Latin trans.) A very early Roman manuscript, called the Codex Britonsis, tells us that the original name of this British king was actually CONKIDUBNUS - but clearly scholars with an anti-conker bent have quietly changed. the name - so please no longer be fooled. If you visit Fishbourne Palace you might care to write on the Roman walls "Long live CONKIDUBNUS" - but don't do this when any staff of the Historical Monuments Commission are around!

CONKERS AND INDIA. Did you know that the humble conker played a quiet but vital part in shaping the beliefs of the great Mahatma Gandhi? No? It happened like this. The youthful Gandhi wished to play conkers-in Indian, the game is called "galli chandar" -but because the local fads were of a. lower caste than him, Gandhi was forbidden to play. This both upset him and made him question the whole, evil caste systems, which he then spent his life trying to change.

WHAT ABOUT THE HYMN BOOKS? You may well ask. If you look the A. & M Revised. .hymnbook, No 191, you will read this line:

"Conquering kings their titles take
from the foes they capture make."

Clearly the translator (from the Latin) of this hymn is referring to-the many kings in history who have not spent their days cooped up in their money-laden counting houses, but instead had been spending their kingly time in the far more energetic and challenging sport of conker-combat.

Part 2 to follow....!

No comments: