Barry Band: It’s nuts how popular conkers matches used to be

Lancashire Evening Post 1981 Youth conker championships
Lancashire Evening Post 1981 Youth conker championships
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By Barry Band

“Got any more old stuff in the pipeline?” a friend ventured. I’m not sure if he was looking forward to more “old stuff” or was passing a hint.

Barry's tree

Barry's tree

I ask you, Blackpool’s showbusiness heritage – old stuff?

Well, matey, here’s something from school days, when we lads were looking forward to autumn and the school conker championships.

It’s not allowed today, due to the concerns of Uncle Elf and Auntie Safety.

Kids might get conked in the face by a king conker swinging wildly on its piece of string.

Back in my youth, to make the conkers harder, several unproven methods were used. Soak them in vinegar, put them in the oven for a while, keep them in the dark for a year.

At this time of the year I’m reminded of school conker wars because I live under the daddy of all horse chestnut trees.

It was in full leaf before the end of April, well before the elms and sycamores, and is now in full blossom.

Every year it sheds a shed-load of inedible horse chestnuts – I’d guess about a hundred kilos – but nobody wants them.

In the old days I could have made a bundle, flogging them round the school.

Nowadays, I try to convince folk that the horse chestnut will keep the spiders away.

Spread them along the window ledges and place them in dark corners where the ugly creepy crawlies may hide.

The lady of the house – my lady wife – says her craft club friends are split 50-50 on whether this is effective.

All I can say is that we’ve “conkered” the spider problem with fresh nuts each year.

There is a problem, though, in living under this big old tree, which has a girth of 2.5 metres.

Our neighbours, Cyril the Squirrel and his offspring, will soon be active on high, stripping the young conkers on the branches and nibbling the tasty bits.

Flakes of conker shell flutter onto the side path.

In the big fall we’ll need hard hats when going to the rubbish bins, and at night we often hear the sound of bongos – horse chestnuts dropping onto the bin lids!

Cyril and company will also spend hours burying the nuts in the grass and flower beds, saving them until autumn.

Until then, he’ll be having a go at the bird feeders, hanging by his tail in order to get his snout into the tray of seeds.

In between times, Mr Crow and his cronies will keep Cyril on his toes.

They dive-bomb the feeders, tipping out the seed or swinging on the lip of the tray. The magpies keep away.

They prefer to find their own food.

At quieter times the little ’uns nip out of the rhododendrons to grab a beakful of seed.

We have robins, chaffinch and great tits.

Inevitably, the clumsy pigeons arrive to mop up the dropped seeds, while a pair of collared doves do it more gracefully.

But there is a mystery over the feeders.

They may be half full when it goes dark, but at first light they are often empty.

There appears to be a night creature working 9 to 5!

Four months to go before the conker harvest.

If only I’d lived here at the age of 12!