As autumn approaches, every young boy of Conker age, keeps a watchful eye on the growing fruits of his favourite horse chestnut trees. And it is common, especially among the eager, to prematurely harvest the crop before somebody else does.
Harvest usually takes place on a nice sunny autumn afternoon, blue skies and a cool fragrant breeze, nothing more. The harvest is affected by means of climbing, which turns blue jeans to green jeans, branch shaking, and surface-to-tree stick-throwing. The whole affair is almost religious in its dedication and annual recurrance.
The harvested conkers, split prematurely from their bright green spikey shells under foot on the nearby roads, are white in appearance, and take several days in the airing cupboard to reach the colour of their naturally ripened and de-shelled brethren. The roads around the scene are left littered with browned decaying half-shells, and a few dead conkers, the latter having been smashed into oblivion during the de-shelling through accidentally over forceful stamping. The victim trees are left battered, bearing an inevitable few missing branches, with giant fingered leaves leaves scattered everywhere.
It is during the harvest that our story begins. I remember one particular year, up near Toft Hill, a friend and and I happened upon a row of conker trees next to the busy Southam road. Being on the periphery of the village, these were unmolested by our rivals.
The trees were parallel to the road, squeezed between the pavement, some bushes, and an adjacent field which had horses in it. We were able to break through the bushes and into the secluded haven nestled safely under the bows of the trees.
These particular conkers, were odd, in that some of them had smooth shells that took on a colour that was more olive than the bright green of their pointed neighbors. Nethertheless, these trees had some real monsters on them. Shells that were bigger than our fists!
The thing with giant conker shells, is that they typically turn out to have multiple conker seeds inside. Doubles perhaps being the most common, followed by triples, singles, and sometimes even quads. More conkers per shell however, usually results in smaller conker seeds. So the desire when a monster shell is spotted, is that it contains only one or two monster seeds, and when this rings true, a boy can know no comparable pleasure.
Anyway, to get back to the point of the story. My friend Richard and I spent the Saturday afternoon collecting conkers from the grove, and we amassed a bucket full at least. For some reason we got the idea that we had collected 500 conkers, although we never counted them.
Richard, being the enterprising type, came up with the idea that we should try and sell the conkers at our middle school on the coming Monday, and I agreed. It was clear that we had far more conkers than we could possibly use ourselves. Richard decided that for 500 conkers, a fair price would be £5, a penny per conker. £5 was a lot to me, my weekly pocket money at the time being 40p. The sale would net us each £2.50, more than 6 weeks of pocket money!
When Monday came, I packed the conkers into a blue rucksack, struggled to zip up its bulging contents, and headed off to school in good spirits.
Richard was quick off the mark and as morning break came around he went straight over to his buyer. A farmer type guy known as Brandle. It was apparent that he already had Brandle in mind, and I could tell from his approach that he was able to play this guy like a true salesman.
Richard worked his magic, and after a few minutes, had Brandle willing to hand over £5 for the “500” conkers. Brandle looked excited, and clearly considered it a great deal. At this point the morning break ended and we went back inside.
During the interim work period, before lunch break, in a feat of salesmanship as conniving as it was brilliant, Richard came up with a scheme to double the profits.
I was to approach Brandle and make the claim that Richard himself, having been the broker for the deal, had decided that in fact he wanted the conkers for himself, and was willing to offer me £7. For now it seemed I had become the “owner” of the conkers.
I warned Richard that this might be pushing it too far, that we should be grateful for £5, and I tried to talk him out of it. But he was my best friend at the time, and so eventually I agreed to it.
So, when lunchbreak arrived, I approached Brandle before he went outside, and set about explaining the situation. I explained as best I could how Richard, having had a close look at the Conkers, was now interested in them himself, and I told Brandle that if he really wanted them, he would have to pay £10. Richard was watching eagerly over my shoulder all the while.
At first Brandle seemed to respond positively to the proposal, but then Richard started playing up the role of “interested buyer” a bit too enthusiastically, and ultimately perverted it by symultaneously giving the hard sell in encouraging Brandle to take the deal. And so, as quickly as the original deal had been setup, and as quickly as it had instilled me with the warm belief that I’d soon be the owner of a nice £2.50, the deal toppled and crashed upon the floor. It was wrecked. Brandle had backed out of the deal, having been pushed to the point where his senses came back, and the allure of “500” shiny conkers was lost.
Dispondently, I furrowed my brow and started thinking. After a couple of seconds and an idea flashed into my head. There was only one thing for it. I knew exactly what to do. Excitedly, I took my rucksack and rushed over to the bottom playground. It was already populated, since we had spent several minutes presiding over the deal inside.
I went to the top of the steps which overlooked the playground, unzipped the bag and shouted, as loud and protracted as I could:
whilst tipping the conkers out of the bag. As they bounced noisily down the steps and onto the grey asphalt, children were already running over, having heard the celebrated and familiar call of scramble and were rushing to collect as many conkers as possible.
“Ashley!” came a commanding shout from behind me “What the hell are you doing! Pick those up at once!” bellowed the on-duty teacher. Sheepishly I said “OK” and felt a little bit worried, but as I looked up my worries evaporated, a smile cracked across my face. There was no longer any need. The conkers were already gone!