LET me introduce you to the conker.
I am in England, in autumn, and as the leaves turn red and yellow and give in to gravity one becomes aware of conker trees.
I only mention them because they add a new perspective to the serious and sombre image of the English.
The conker is actually a horse chestnut. Why they call them horse chestnuts I can’t tell you. Certainly not because horses eat them.
Nothing eats them. They taste disgusting even if you boil them for three years, pulverize them to a fine powder and add copious amounts of honey.
Conkers grow on trees 20 metres tall, or more. They burst out of their prickly green cases about the size of a small hen’s egg, shining brown as a French-polished coffee table and slightly softer than a rock.
The lower limbs of most horse chestnut trees are generally in ruins from September onwards as small boys, too impatient to wait for the ripe nuts to drop of their own accord, hurl sticks and rocks and other small boys, hoping to knock conkers down.
Well, firstly because their fathers are too embarrassed to do it themselves, and secondly â€“ so they can play conkers.
Small boys and their fathers (this is a macho thing) have been playing conkers in England since before William the Conqueror (pardon the pun).
It works like this: you take your shining brown nut and you skewer a hole through it. You then take a shoelace, knotted at one end, and thread it through the hole, turning the conker into a small but effective cosh swinging on the end of a piece of string.
The game requires two people thus armed. One holds his conker hanging on its string at about chest height. The other wraps his conker string around his fingers, takes aim at his opponent’s conker with his own, and tries to smash the living daylights out of it.
They take turn and turn about until one conker shatters (or sometimes both) and the shrapnel reduces the lounge windows to shards (better to play it outside, but even then, the lounge windows are at risk).
If you miss-hit, and the strings become entangled, then whoever yells “strings!” first gets a free go, assuming the entanglement didn’t actually sever any fingers.
The surviving conker at the end of this fracas is a one-er. If it smashes a second conker it becomes a two-er. Anything over a fifty-er is probably a lie, but if a new and virgin conker should destroy a veteran fifty-er, then the new one becomes a fifty-one-er, even though it may never have been in the ring before, so to speak.
Conkers is an annual ritual played in schoolyards and on street corners (and in lounge rooms until the mother finds out). It is played by boys of all ages from five to 95. The older ones froth green foam from the mouth as they play, especially when they lose. This is because, as the players grow older, winning seems to grow more important, as in real life.
Why do they do this? Because it’s there, is all. It’s a Pom thing.
And why am I telling you?
Because I’ve heard Poms laugh at such ordinary items as yabbie pumps and stubby holders, and I think they’ve got a nerve.