Health and safety first…
The English people are deeply indebted to the great work of the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), which strives tirelessly to protect and keep us safe. No longer are lives put at risk from lethal hanging flower baskets outside pubs. We can sit in the sun and sip our beer, perhaps sad that a little bit of colourful frippery has been lost forever, but relieved that the maiming and killing from the avalanche of hanging baskets has finally stopped.
And as autumn arrives, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the vicious game of conkers is one step closer to being outlawed everywhere. For visitors from overseas, a conker is the shiny seed of the horse chestnut tree. Conkers is played by drilling a hole through a conker and threading it onto a piece of string. Two opponents take it in turns to smash the other’s conker. The winner is the first one to obliterate the other’s conker.
For hundreds of years, children have loved gathering these gleaming autumn trophies. Playing conkers in the playground is just a harmless bit of fun, isn’t it? No. Not if you consider the effects of potential nut allergies, potential blindness from flying bits of conker, potential thumb and knuckle bruising, and the disrespectful treatment of the conkers themselves. Fortunately, council officials have cut down horse chestnut trees planted by misguided Victorians in urban areas. Falling conkers are every bit as vicious as hanging baskets.
So if you want to play conkers, you will need to do so under the cover of darkness, wearing goggles, padded gloves and carrying an epinephrine autoinjector. Or you could go to the World Conker Championships held in Northamptonshire in October. Here, 5000 people witness this annual gladiatorial event, flying conkers in the face of the HSE, our national killjoys guardians.
Extracted from The Oddball English by Annie Harrison.