What is a conker worth?

Rev Hilary Bond reflects on conkers, and how the environmental crisis puts such ordinary things at risk.

For me, part of it at least was the conkers. 

I’ve always loved conkers. The glossy brown slightly damp smoothness of one newly opened; the protectively spiked outside of the case, and the softness of the equally protective blanket inside it. 

And that beautiful tree. Upright candles of white or pink bringing beauty of their own and a promise of something even better to come. 

Occasionally – the wonder of opening one that was not quite ready and watching as the white seed – looking like an enormous insect in grub stage – slowly turns its proper colour almost fast enough to see the change happening. 

There was a conker tree in the rectory garden and at that time of year me and my friends would walk home along the outside of the high wall looking for early autumn treasure. Sometimes I would easily fill my pockets and still have one – or more – to hold and to turn over and over in my hand on the rest of the walk home. Sometimes though there would not be a single one there. When this happened we would pause for a moment and wait. Danny lived opposite and while we were at school he would often collect the conkers that had fallen during the day and put them into empty crisp bags ready to hand them over to us as we headed home for tea. Our parents would not have been happy had they known. Danny was one of those odd old men of whom the grown ups seemed to us to be unreasonably suspicious. We weren’t worried. He smiled, and chatted in his hard to understand voice and handed over conkers that smelled of salt and vinegar or cheese and onion. 

At home, some of the conkers would have holes made through their middles with a metal skewer and a string pushed through ready for games that children don’t seem to play any more, and the rest would sit on my bedroom windowsill. There was always an element of sadness. The gleaming skins quickly faded and the fat roundness wrinkled and shrivelled. But I still kept them and kept them – until the next year, the next crop.

I still love conkers. I love having one in my pocket to hold and turn and turn and hold.  I love to share with others, children and adults, the magic of finding two, three or a whole family of conkers in one shell. 

Last year conker trees – horse chestnuts – were put on the list of the top 200 endangered tree species; and I found myself picking some of this year’s crop and imagining a world without conkers. 

I held one in my hand and imagined trying to explain conkers to my as yet imaginary grandchildren – the feel – the fascination and the mystery.

I held one in my hand and imagined having to explain conkers to my as yet imaginary grandchildren because they would never see a real one. 

I held one in my hand – and it made me want to cry. 

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