One more time,’ Eddie shouted, as I leaned back and threw the long stick at the tall chestnut tree. A shower of spiky chestnuts fell to the ground and we watched, hawk-like, to see where the biggest were. ‘That’s mine,’ I screamed greedily, snatching up a big conker. Yes, conker season was great fun, and with my new prize I looked forward to a successful conker fight at school.
The next day I jealously guarded my conker, checking my pocket to make sure that nobody had pinched it, as such thefts were not uncommon.
At break-time we headed for the school yard where a number of games began.
Over the excited talk Dave Flynn shouted ‘Hold it steady, Ryan,’ taking aim. He eyed Ryan’s still conker, and in a flash made a swing. There was an explosion as Ryan’s conker disappeared into a hundred pieces that were immediately trampled underfoot. Flynn’s supporters chanted ‘Champ-ion, champ-ion.’
‘What number is that?’ someone asked.
‘Number forty-two’, Flynn sang smugly, as I produced my conker, offering a challenge.
‘Stampies out,’ I said, as the crowd around us grew.
‘OK, let’s go,’ Flynn said, as he stepped back and took aim again.
There was silence, as Flynn swung and completely destroyed my budding champion. He jumped about, swinging his winning conker flamboyantly above his head. I was devastated and looked down at the scattered, broken remains of the contender.
Later, when I told my big brother about the contest he burst out laughing. ‘Those big shiny ones are useless,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Follow me; I’ll get you a winner.’
In the shed he rummaged about before finding what he wanted. ‘Ah, here they are,’ he said wickedly, emptying a small leather bag onto the floor where a dozen or so wizened conkers rolled about. ‘This is what you need’, he said firmly ‘and you’ll teach Flynner a real lesson.’
‘You cannot be serious,’ I cried, when he handed me an ancient conker that God might have used. ‘This is useless,’ I added, turning the small object over in my hand. It was hard, no doubt, but it could never beat Flynn’s brute.
‘It will,’ my brother added, as he drilled a hole in the contender. He threaded it with string and then tied a large knot.
The prune-like conker swung easily but I was far from convinced. ‘Now, tomorrow I expect you to bring the champ home. And remember to take a deep before swinging. Ok?’
‘Ok,’ I said, taking a few practise swings.
The next day there was the usual mayhem in the yard as games of conkers were in full flow. I showed my new conker to Ed who laughed out loud. I couldn’t really blame him as it looked so small and not much bigger than the knot it sat on. If it was support I wanted then I wasn’t getting any from him. ‘It has no chance,’ he said, ‘and you should keep it well hidden. It might be embarrassing Danny,’ he added warily.
I watched a lively contest that was quick and furious before another Flynn’s voice rent the air.
‘Number forty-nine,’ he shouted, as his admiring fans slapped him on the back and chanted Champ-ion, champ-ion’.
After a few nervous moments, and with my brother’s words ringing in my ears, I pushed through the heaving crowd and slowly took my new conker from my pocket. ‘Right, Flynner, fancy another go?’ I said.
For a couple of seconds he said nothing before a big smile spread across his face. ‘You must be joking Danny, that’s not a conker – it’s a pea’.
The crowd howled, and moved back to give him room for another easy victory.
I held my conker steady and watched Flynner closely as he grinned and swung aggressively. His aim was not perfect and it only managed to hit my conker a glancing blow sending it spinning around my finger. Everyone tensed up, as I took a deep breath and remembered what my brother had said. I exhaled slowly and took my time before delivering a shattering blow that smashed Flynner’s conker into what seemed like a thousand pieces.
There was a stunned silence before Ed grabbed my arm and pushed it into the air chanting ‘Champ-ion, champ-ion’. His cry was quickly taken up by my new supporters who let it be known that fifty was now the magic number.