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Some people think I’m conkers, but I just think I’m free


(No law at all, skip if you are busy)


I was walking my excitable (and occasionally rumbunctious) dog this morning and we came across our first conker of the year. It was nothing special, just a small brown sphere, but it took me back over twenty years (who am I kidding, nearly thirty) to a time when conkers were the most important thing in the world to me for a few short months.

I spent my autumns collecting conkers, getting out early at the weekends and spending hours either looking down at the leaves on the ground to see if amongst them lay the spikey green case that promised conkers, or up in the branches to see the ones gathered that offered promise of being a good one. I gently prised them open (if they are hard to open, they aren’t ready, so I would leave them) and hoped that they would open cleanly and produce a shiny glistening perfect conker, not the ones coated in sticky white goop. Then I would go home with my haul, usually a couple of carrier bags and sort through them, finding the best ones. By winter, it wouldn’t be unusual for me to have two hundred or more that had made it to the “keep” pile. Then they would harden and wizen like wooden balloons and my mum would throw them away.

I have never played a game of conkers in my life. Not once did I ever pierce one and hang it by a shoelace, or coat one in nail varnish, or bath one in vinegar or bake one in the oven.

Looking back now, I can recall the delight and sheer joy of finding the perfect conker – it has to be very round, a good size, the flat part has to be entirely on the bottom (I hated lop-sided conkers), no cracks along that base, the perfect deep shade of brown and the shiniest surface you could encounter. I remember that feeling very vividly, but I can’t find any recollection as to just why it brought me such joy – why I spent so many hours foraging for them and sorting through them every time I had a new batch to see if some of the previous “Keeps” were now overtaken by new ones.  Why did I do it? Why did I bother? I honestly have no idea now, years later.

I spend my professional life now, trying to understand and predict people who are strangers to me, but I can’t perfectly understand the person I lived as for many years. There are limits to what all of the knowledge and information and documents will ever give you about another human being – I don’t even think we really get to know ourselves totally.

The writer Neil Gaiman speaks about the perfect story in your mind, when you first imagine it, being like a bubble – perfect and spherical and shiny and ever so fragile, and that almost all writing is about trying to get farther away from the lumpy flawed version that comes from your mind onto paper and closer and closer to the perfection you imagined it might be.  That’s what I was searching for with my conkers, I suppose, the idyllic perfect one of my imagination.


Sorry for being all flowery and Pseud’s Corner on you, but the memories and recollections of what Chesterton called “numinous” – those times when you can just feel awe and wonder and delight in something which appears so simple are something dear to my heart. We get only flashes in adulthood of the wonder and delight that came to us so frequently when we were children.


(If you want to read a proper writer describing a numinous experience, G K Chesterton’s essay “On a Piece of Chalk” is linked here, and it is probably one of my favourite ever pieces of writing. )

About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

12 responses

  1. That is beautiful and reminds me so much of my childhood days.
    My days were full of adventure and fun and my love of nature abounded.

    I never had a perfect story that formed as a bubble in my head. From a very young age I was aware of the imperfections of people and life.
    And so I never looked for perfection as I knew it did not exist in people and only existed in nature.
    Perhaps that is why you also sought and found something perfect in nature.

    I was also made aware that life was precious and whatever man could shatter God could mend.
    So when I used to sit in a beautiful field on a warm summer day watching the butterflies
    flitting about and rabbits hopping around, oblivious or unconcerned of my being there, I

    thought how beautiful life really is.
    And what fools we would be if we did not believe that what man could shatter God could mend.

  2. toni macleod aka stella

    rather deep for a wednesday afternoon…..

    although a very apt reminder its the little simple things in life that can cause the most tranquil peace

    most people miss out on just enjoying the world around them nowadays with the hectic roles we currently live in too busy rushing from one thing to another

    so much beauty in the world corrupted by greed and selfish needs to gain from others misery often its nice to think back to a time when we were happy just from being happy reminds me of my favourite psalm 1 not exactly sure why but it does

    (yes the mad lady who favours the c f and t words as a part of her every day vocabulary can quote the bible and does say her prayers at night ….. who’d have known :p )

    The Way of the Righteous and the Wicked

    1 Blessed is the man[a]
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
    nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
    2 but his delight is in the law[b] of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
    3 He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
    that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
    In all that he does, he prospers.
    4 The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
    5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
    6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.


  3. )

    Yes, while colouring in and forming the horrors and twisted faces with blood red and greens on the muddied picture, the most essential colour white, the underneath was not seen untill the realisation that all along it abounded.
    Is it not also true of people and life. When waters are muddied on a person, the white is often lost yet the most important white abounds and in reality they are no more imperfect than oneself.

  4. A lovely piece and interlude…..thank you….it reminds me of a poem by Tagore, an idyllic vision of childhood that I believe we should all aspire to…..

    On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.

    On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.

    They build their houses with sand and they play with empty shells.

    With withered leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them

    on the vast deep.

    Children have their play on the seashore of worlds.

    They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets.

    Pearl fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships,

    while children gather pebbles and scatter them again.

    They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.

    On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.

    Rabindranath Tagore.

  5. I think children have a more direct and spontaneous relationship to things in the world. A few people keep that facility. I guess that`s why we need to be reminded by the poets.

    Nice post.

    • What is the greatest gift that a parent can bestow on a child. For me it was honesty.
      It comes with its downfalls, people may believe that no-one is that honest and believe you a liar, some people can be scared of you in case you reveal a dark secret, some will think you pompous, aloof or a snob.
      But the good thing about being honest, is that you always remember what it is like to be a child.
      Perhaps thats what makes a good poet or artist.
      And that is why an honest person can see all the beauty in nature as there is nothing more honest than that.

  6. I like chestnuts. The sort you can eat. Roasted. Yum-yum!

  7. Lovely post, especially as I now find myself in the position of the mum who throws away the conkers in the dead of winter :(. Thank you!

  8. I remember as a child believing father Christmas delivered the presents in the bedroom on Christmas Day, even trying to stay awake to see if I could catch him doing so. Such was life that eveything seemed magical to my innocent mind.

    Most children today lack this innocence, the telelvision and internet has created an unnatural world for them and it is not surprsing many suffer mental ill health. We are all to blame as adults for this state of affairs.

    I aso recall the large old chestnut tree whose conkers were a source of child like enjoyment and the cherry tree whose symbiotic lichen got me curious to study it for a project. The trip to a pig farm was fun too. Today health and safety rules abound and children do not even know where their food comes from.. unless it is the supermarket.

    • Yes Edna, you are right to point up this modern world which promotes an illusion which we are supposed to embrace as progress. Not all changes are progressive, without sufficient insight into the damage they may inflict on the innocent children who are subjected to them without thought. The internet, which had the opportunity to become a great gift to humanity was corrupted early on in its infancy, by money and base human motives. It should have been constructed with this potential in mind and appropriate protective measures deployed, but it wasn’t and it has allowed extreme deviant content into most homes in the land…..deviant content which children can readily access. It is now beyond control, in democratic and liberal societies.

      The politicians who allowed this social cancer to invade our domestic lives now charge parents with the responsibility for policing their children’s ability to access this filth.

      I view this as yet another sign that human culture and domination is at risk. I have lived through the greatest period of technological and social change that the world has ever seen, and we approach a tipping point of no return. Once innocence has gone it has gone for good.

      This became apparent to me a few years ago when I worked on a helpline giving primarily careers advice to young people. I received a call from a young woman of 14 who asked me for advice on how to become a porn star. I thought she was joking but she soon put me right about her intentions. This was the first in a small but growing number of calls we took about young people viewing becoming a porn star as an acceptable career choice.

      The loss of innocence in childhood should concern us all but it doesn’t in real terms. I am not a puritan but I believe that children should live and grow in a protective environment, free from the worst excesses of the adult world which WE have allowed to proliferate, until they attain an age where they can understand and question it, but they are precipitated into a cauldron not of their making but which will make them into the adults they will become.

      I have a grandson of 8 years old and we have managed to promote the illusion of Santa Claus until now, but I fear that Santa’s time has come…and gone….so it goes as Kurt Vonnegut observed at the death of an innocent….so it goes

      • Boxerdog, I do not think that so much actually has changed as you seem to imply, save that maybe some of us were more innocent longer than others.

        The worst aspects of life were still common for many children, who tend to copy the adult world. Infact some of the recent ‘Savilgate’ type relevations are worrying, both in view of what you write here about the young people whom you speak to and what I remember from ‘too fast growing up’ by some young girls in the ‘Savile’ era. None of these suggests young people all behave innocently by any means. I suspect that this has been so since man was on this earth.

        The societies we create and the rules and attitudes created are changing all the time- that is what confuses, the technological/ material is confused with the psychological for many. Few children relate to simple or natural things for their age because they do not know what these are anymore- save unless some expert or professional states this in some book or other or by ‘lecturing’. That goes for many parents too it seems..

      • A little sum for you. Take the amount of children taken into care each year. Add up the number of foster homes and children’s homes each child has lived in. Add up the approx. number of carers to each child during their time in care. Add the number of restraints both legal and illegal to each child. Add the numbers of children who are in care with labels i.e. emotional and behavioural etc. Add up the numbers of care children in each local school.
        Add up the numbers of children leaving care who are homeless. Add up the numbers of children who as young adults end up before the courts on criminal charges and/or go on to a custodial sentence.
        For many of these children their innocence did not leave them within their families. It was lost in care.

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