Wednesday, 1 October 2014

A Short History of Conkers – Part 2

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.

Here is the second part of his article on conkers.

A Short History of Conkers – Part 2
by Terry Hampton

THE BIBLE' AND CONKERS. I am indebted to keen Bible students from St Ouen's for pointing out that. the good book. does. have some references. to the noble art of conker playing, St. Paul writes in .Romans 8:37 that "we are more than. conquerors." Perhaps Paul had a low view of this sport because he wasn't. very good at it? This spurred, me on to look up Revelation 6:2 which says He went forth conquering," which is a verse of enormous encouragement to the often looked-down-on conker players. (If you look up ASB p439, the Epistle for Advent 4, there is a wonderful promise for all conker players - "He who conkers...)

WOMEN CONKER PLAYERS. Did you know that the original word for these ladies of athletic prowess was Konkerbine? (It is nowadays spelt concubine," another piece of evidence for the malicious work of those who in writing history have tried to hide the deep influence of, conker playing on our culture.)

Sometimes it is recorded, that, these young, keen, attractive girl konker players preferred older men to play with, we know .that King Solomon had several hundred of them. Some Arab princes still have them, and they play with imported nuts. I. am greatly indebted to an attractive, short lady konker player for this information.

ANOTHER ROMAN REFERENCE. The Latin poet Ovid refers to the custom of throwing one's nut down onto the opponent’s nut which had been placed on the, ground, with. the intention of trying to split it. Ovid used to play against his brother Ibid (there was clearly a shortage of string in Roman times): This comes from an old friend, Peter Gem.

ONE-EYED CONKER PLAYERS. The sport can be dangerous and historians tell us that possibly the first famous handicapped player was Horatius. He was the Roman who defended the bridge against the army of Lars Porsena –I knew you would remember.

The tale is told by Macaulay .in his "Lays of Ancient Rome." Horatius' full name was actually Horatius Cocles, which means Horatius the one-eyed." Other famous figures include Horatio Nelson (clearly named in honour of the great Roman player) and Moshe Dayan, the Israeli General.


It is essential in any sport to understand the special terms used, e.g., leg-breaks, birdies, line-outs, tai-otoshis; and deuce. Konker playing also has its own esoteric terms, the origins. often lost in the. mists of antiquity

Most begin with the K, the original spelling of the word. But some .important words don't -see below.

SNAGGERS: Name given to the dangerous and .devious: opponents who attempt to snag or tangle the two conkers. Variant names are "clinkers" or ".twits." If the opponent's conker falls to the .ground the cry of "Stampers” is shouted and the fallen conker is jumped on and victory is claimed, a practice that all true players abhor. One of the most infamous users of this technique was John Snagge, the BBC commentator, whose forbears clearly used this method.. Snagge dropped the final 'r' which would have made his crimes obvious, It was he, when commenting .on the Varsity Boat Race, in a mist shouted: "I can’t see who's ahead, but its either Oxford or Cambridge!"

NUTTERS. These are really dangerous opponents, the veritable All Blacks of the conker playgrounds. No attempt is made to hit the unmoving conker, instead, deliberate aim is taken on the area below the belt, and severe pain is caused to gentlemen players. Players who are "nutted" often. speak in a high pitched voice for some time afterwards, and walk in a rather hunched up way. (Treatment is with TCP and TLC.)

LOW-FLYERS. An American term for Nutters. They "aim to maim" and their target area is known to men players as the "fly." This term has nothing at all to do with trout fishing.

Now to the special K words:

'KIO!' A terrifying shout uttered at the moment of attack by really hyped up conker players. (Compare the judo 'KIA'.) The initials stand for "Knock It Off" referring to the opponent's conker. The word is sometimes shouted by the entire crowd watching a conker contest, i.e., anything up to three people at a time.

KNACKERS. A term of affection and respect for anyone who has the "knack" or craft of conker combat. Used in ordinary speech, e.g., "He has the knack" or she is a knack-hand with pastry." The working class version of admiration is to say "he's really knackered."

KNUCKLERS. Another variation on damaging your opponent and not his nuts. A disabling blow is struck to the hand holding the conker. Usually accompanied by a totally insincere, 'Terwwibbly sowrry, old chap."

KNEELERS. The very lowest form of physical attack. Can really only be done on taller opponents, as little fellows' knees are too close to the ground. Opponents retire hurt and a "technical knock-out" is claimed.

K'OFF! This stands for "Konker Off “and is said loudly and sometimes with an accompanying gesture to encourage another player to depart quietly without saying goodbye. Often used by members of the craft against Kamikaze Konker players. . see below.

KAMIKAZE KONKERS. An Oriental and highly dangerous import, due to be banned by ICKE, the International Commission of Konker Experts. The attacker's conker is filled with Semtex and at the moment of impact both conkers explode. Quite often the contestants do as well plus some of the judges and the odd spectator. Kamikaze players are viewed by the Olympic Committee as being on a par with drug takers and turtle eating soup athletes from China, though' as one, un-named official said, 'They do help to make things go with a bang."

GET KNOTTED. A phrase used by fathers to their sons from time immemorial. It refers, of course, to the ancient skill of tying a sufficiently large and stable knot at the end of the string to prevent the conker sliding off, or being hit off and "stamped." The choice of string is vital, as too thin and it cuts into the conker, too fat and it won't go through the hole. The best are shoelaces, which also have a metal end bit which doesn't go soggy when pushed through. The holes are made with meat skewers and must be dead central. (Notice that the word 'knot' begins with a K, sure evidence of its ancient links to konkering.)

HARDENING OFF. Not a K word but referring to the vital skill of how to make your nuts harder than the other fellow's. Much nonsense talked about this, e.g., stories of putting conkers in compost heaps (rots 'em), vinegar (pickles 'em), ovens (makes 'em brittle), etc. The best way, and here I give away a secret hoarded for over 45 years, wrap the new conquers in an old, unweighed football sock and keep in a cupboard for a year. Don't open the bundle before the new season or you can get; the same effect of an oven with a sponge inside. It is believed that the sock fragrance hardens the konkerfibres.

And finally, though' we have only skimmed the surface of this ancient, honourable, fascinating, dangerous and character building sport, the names of some of the greatest conkers, which are spoken of in reverent tones whenever true conker players congregate.

The CANON..A rotund Guernsey variety with a resounding rumble when struck in contest. Occasionally available from a stall in Winchester Cathedral. (It has been rumoured to be. growing locally in St Pierre du Foret.)

The KARDIFF KRUSHER. A rather maverick Welsh variety, involved in countless tussles over many years. A good hearted variety, can sometimes be purchased outside Cardiff Arms Park when Wales are playing..

PS. There is a rumour of an Autumn Highlands Evening Class in learning about the history and skill of conker playing. Watch this space!

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