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British Life and Culture

by Mandy Barrow

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British life and culture - England, Scotland and Wales
Kingers (Conkers)

Mark Cavanagh, from Rhode Island USA, contacted us and told us......

"I used to enjoy the game of "Conkers," or "Kingers," as we called it.


1964 in Rhode Island, USA.

We didn’t have much in the way of toys to play with as kids. We had homemade go-carts built of two-by-fours and plywood with bent nails to hold the axles in place. We had rusty, hand-me-down bikes with chains that were more off than on. We had the occasional good TV, which got three channels. There was little in the way of organized sports so pretty much anything could amuse us. We twanged the springy branch on a cedar tree for days on end. We sifted sand down ant holes, dug worms, and collected cigarette butts on the side of the road just for something to do. I had a hangnail once which occupied me the better part of Winter. But in the absence of toys and entertainment, our imagination soared. We made up games or played the ones that captivated kids for generations before us. One of those games was Kingers.

Kingers was played with the fruit of the horse chestnut tree. The nuts were magical things to us, hard, brown, half-dollar sized orbs which split out of spiny, green husks when they were ripe.

conker in shell

We would chose ours carefully, drill a hole through their center, hang them on a knotted shoelacs, and bring them to the schoolyard with pride. Two players took alternating whacks at the other’s chestnut until one shattered and the other was declared, “A kinger." Some nuts survived many battles and went on to become multiple kingers, the sum of which was added to yours if you demolished their nut. It was a serious game and you were not supposed to cheat by soaking your chestnut in vinegar or baking it in the oven to harden the shell. But the competition was fierce and most of us tried to cheat in one way or another.

My brother, Brian, lost a 29 kinger to a plumber’s son he didn’t trust and decided to abandon the rules. He hollowed out a chestnut with a lobster pick, filled the cavity with Weldwood Glue, and the resulting nut was indestructible. Brian racked up a 200 kinger before the shell cracked off and the rock of glue was exposed. It pretty much ended his career.

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Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consultant.
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.

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