Whatever you do don't follow the dictates of that old rhyme:
When in danger ....or maybe you should, because, finally, the most dreadful thing in the whole World has happened. Conkers is under attack!!
Or in doubt,
Run in circles,
Scream and shout!
Yes, in leafy lanes all over England the national sport---the autumnal raison d'être---nay the very life-blood---of the under-fifteen-British boy (and latterly girl too!) is being ripped, still beating, from his manly breast (and latterly womanly too). And just 'for the sake of a riband to stick on a coat' no ... that was for something else. No... in in this case it's just for the sake of being a namby-pamby, politically hyper-correct Nanny State, and I've no idea where they can stick that!
Oh! The injustice! The inhumanity! The inconkerity!
Well having got that of my manly chest, I suppose I should explain, just for the sake of you poor benighted colonials, what Conkers is, and why at the moment it seems to be moving towards isn't.
In the mid-seventeenth century the tree Aesculus hippocastanum reached the shores of England's England's scepter'd isle and demi-paradise, not much more than 50 years after Shakespeare said that was what it was (thereby making him just that little bit more truthful), and bringing with it its famous seed, the horse chestnut.
By the mid nineteenth century, after some apparently unsatisfying experiments with hazel nuts, snails and the like, British schoolboys (and in those former days girls not at all) made the momentous discovery that suspending a horse chestnut (for no very clear reason renamed a 'conker') on a knotted string whilst some companion thwacked at it soundly with another conker, similarly strung, and then keeping score as one or the other shattered was a great substitute for the more usual schoolboy activity of beating each other up.
The sport of Conkers thus was born and has never looked back, but has leaped from pinnacle to pinnacle, higher and higher, until it even has a world championship!--complete with people from OTHER COUNTRIES competing (though England does have an a-typical and rather embarrassing tendency to win).
A recent Conkers World Championship
And so conkers sat at the peak of sporting, with a future as rosy as its past, until a few years past when Local Government looked up from beating its wife to notice that young children were playing at conkers in an unsupervised, unregulated, and worst of all unstructured way; even (with the exception of Cummersdale Primary School, in Carlisle) without wearing OSHA approved industrial safety goggles!! And so Local Government girded its loins (not that, with loins like theirs, there was much point to that exercise) and sallied forth to wield what might be called the slash and burn attitude towards child safety--to create a cordon sanitaire around their primary schools with rage, and axe, and chainsaw. Bureaucrats (who while probably not actually evil dictators, often play one on Television) have been out in arboricidal force, from Norwich in the East, to South Tyneside in the North, hacking down conker trees or, when feeling rather more kindly than usual, merely trimming them down to a nubbin. It's the child-rearing equivalent of creating a desert and calling it peace!1.
And anyway, since Conkers is but one manifestation of that deep need in our children for the destruction and death of small inanimate objects, whatever the loco-bureaux-fat-crats do, it's bound to re-emerge somewhere else like, ... like the endangered Whac-A-Mole under the mallet.
And this is certainly demonstrated by the fact that whilst doing the research for this essay I discovered that Musical chairs is now 'too violent' for children--The traditional children's party game of musical chairs has been accused (in a booklet, launched by Britain's Education Minister Margaret Hodge a few years ago) of breeding violence. She suggests that nursery schools should consider playing a less aggressively competitive game - such as musical statues.
Or, might I suggest, they just stick with Conkers?
Cheerio for now
from Richard Howland-Bolton.
"... creating a desert and calling it peace" 'solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant' was how old P. Cornelius Tacitus
put it in his Agricola.
And here are some links to prove I don't make this stuff up!
Conkers hit by legal fears
Fury at lopped down conker trees
Conker trees face the chop
Pupils wear goggles for conkers
Dangerous Musical Chairs
Government urged to give children more opportunities for unstructured play
Even the French get in on the Conker act.
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