For the past few years at this time, reports have emerged that conkers are under threat of disappearing – from our woodlands and our paths and our tree-lined pavements. A disease is attacking the horse-chestnut tree and is sweeping across the country. The disease is said to be causing bleeding cankers. But this is only one of a number of threats that the poor tree is having to endure. The trees are also being attacked by a species of moths that are said to have come in from Greece. The moths are destroying the leaves of the tree and the bacteria is causing bleeding canker. Many thousands are thought to be affected and the problem is being compared to Dutch Elm Disease that occurred thirty years ago.
Well it would be a shame to see the Horse Chestnut tree in decline. We all know how valuable trees are, not only in terms of the environment and their role as carbon sinks etc. but they are also a fresh and pleasant part of our visual landscape. But do we intervene or do we let nature take it’s course? There’s only so much we can do before nature decides to select a species for extinction. It’s one thing for us to meddle and bring about extinctions here, there and everywhere but it’s quite a different thing altogether when nature causes it. But then, you could argue that if we insist that nature should always take its course we would have to stop all inoculation programmes and allow the infectious diseases that attack humans to freely spread.
Well anyway, it’s conker collecting time which takes me back to many happy childhood memories. I once told you about my brother, the conker king and to repeat myself, I’m going to write about him again. They say that repeating oneself is a sign of dementia and my kids would definitely go along with that theory but I say it’s only dementia if you don’t realise you’re repeating yourself. Clearly I am fully aware that I’m repeating myself . . . so that would make me boring but not senile.
I used to love collecting conkers for my brother who was without doubt the school conker champion of the north . . . well, in an unorganised, schoolyard kind of way, although I hear there are proper official contests and things nowadays, with trophies and stuff.
Anyway, my brother, every year he thrashed his mates at conkers and earned quite a reputation for himself. He had nerves of steel when it came to smashing those conkers. Bashed and bruised knuckles meant nothing to him. He would be disgusted at the thought of pussy-wussy conker players wearing all those protective goggles and gloves. My brother was ruthless in his game. He just aimed for the conker with a single determination and any fingers caught in the crossfire, whether his own or his opponents, were brutally bashed and then brushed aside as collateral damage. There was usually not much left of his opponent’s conkers (or their fingers) after he’d finished smashing them to a pulp. Yep, he (groan alert) conquered those conkers every time.
He was also very protective of his conker collection and would spend ages polishing them all. The biggest one – his prize conker, he would guard with his life. We were not allowed anywhere near it but he did permit us to view it (from a distance) if we polished his shoes or brought him chewing gum. I’m serious folks!