petite anglaise

September 29, 2004

conquering conkers

Filed under: missing blighty — petiteanglaiseparis @ 1:09 pm

It’s that time of year again where the pavements are covered in leaves (despite the best efforts of an army of municipal staff whose sole purpose in life seems to be to hoover/sweep/blow them away) and I am obliged to bring the pushchair to a halt every few seconds to pick up a particularly shiny conker for the Tadpole to inspect.

Conkers. I have finally got around to googling them and am no longer confused about how to translate conker into French. The horse chestnut tree is a marronnier. But what the French refer to as a marron is not the fruit of the marronnier at all (those are apparently marrons d’inde), it’s actually a type of edible chestnut. The marron is used to manufacture a 1 part nut to 20 parts sugar, sickly sweet chestnut paste (often found in crèpes), and is also sold in boxes of marrons glacés around Christmas time. There was me thinking that French people ate conkers – but this is apparently not the case.

What they certainly do not do, is thread conkers onto pieces of string and have duels to the ‘death’ with them. At least not according to the Frog (an unreliable source, but the only French person I feel able to bore with all my stupid questions).

A couple

of years ago we were invited to stay with a friend in Hertfordshire who was hosting the annual “Redbourn Conker Tournament” in her back garden. It was a very grand affair, with free-flowing lager and coloured rosettes for the winners in each category.

The categories were:

  • natural conkers (untampered with, the current year’s vintage)
  • steroid conkers (pertaining to conkers which had been kept from the previous year, baked, pickled in vinegar, varnished or otherwise treated)
  • largest conker
  • smallest conker
  • best fancy dress conker

As I recall I was swaying too much from the lager to distinguish myself in the the first two categories, but I did win a rosette for my conker dressed as Kylie Minogue (sporting a fetching pair of gold hotpants). The Frog gamely gave it a go, but no amount of enthusiasm could overcome his opponents’ accumulated years of playground experience.

There’s one thing can be said for us Brits. We don’t half know how to have fun.


  1. I discovered conkers tournament for the first time 3 years ago. I just remember that it was fun, and that my knukles were painfull for 2 weeks.
    It’s not a game we play in France so you can imagine how surprised I was to see the entire institute [senior scientists included] giving in the conkers fights…

    Comment by emilie [mimile] — September 29, 2004 @ 3:17 pm

  2. Did you know there is a French Federation of Conkers? You Brits sure know how to export the best bits about your culture.

    Comment by céline — September 29, 2004 @ 3:20 pm

  3. I’m unsurprised to note that the FFC is located in the Dordogne, where there are more Brits than Froggies…

    Comment by petite anglaise — September 29, 2004 @ 3:29 pm

  4. OOOOhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh marrons glacés….. only a couple of months to go! :) Miam miam indeed!

    Comment by ViVi — September 29, 2004 @ 3:52 pm

  5. yuck, it’s roasted chestnut time of year here soon too. yuck yuck yuck. I hate chestnuts. (and I never mastered the art of conkers either)

    Comment by madge — September 29, 2004 @ 4:20 pm

  6. I grew up in Brussels and didn’t know what a conker fight was until I came back the UK for college. One evening a mate of mine walked up to me and whacked me round the knuckles with a conker on a string. I almost smacked him round the face until he explained that it was a national tradition. I was pretty sceptical at first but after a few pints I was knocking his conker for six! happy days

    Comment by Ms Jones — September 29, 2004 @ 6:41 pm

  7. A world of difference between “sweet chestnut” and “horse chestnut”. I think the flowers of the former are pink, against the latter’s white. Both lovely trees…..

    Comment by Ruth — September 29, 2004 @ 8:00 pm

  8. PA, if you haven’t discovered it already, do take a look at the Framley Examiner site. It will remind you of all the things you miss (and don’t miss) about blighty. It even has a conkers article:

    Comment by Nigel M. — September 29, 2004 @ 8:43 pm

  9. what a marvellous tip, thanks!


    Quantifiably Balti!!??

    Comment by petite anglaise — September 29, 2004 @ 10:18 pm

  10. What bizarre comments and quite frankly who gives a toss what colour the flowers are on the chestnut tree as long as it produces those wonderfully exquisite chestnut balls of joy? I have to add that several categories have been omitted from said conker festival, for example where is the conker most like its owner? Just thought you’d like to know that last year the winner, very topically, of the fancy dress conker was ‘Conkord’. Long live the conker and bollocks to marron-swinging ignorami!

    Comment by Sean Conkery — September 30, 2004 @ 1:57 pm

  11. Yes, they’re brilliant & all seem to write for Viz now, which isn’t nearly as funny as this stuff (though it occasionally comes close). Get either of the Framley Books. You won’t be disappointed.

    Comment by Nigel M. — September 30, 2004 @ 6:56 pm

  12. What do you mean? The French invented the game, then brought it to England with William the Conkerer.
    (Sorry. It had to be done).

    Comment by Raised By Chaffinches — October 1, 2004 @ 10:42 am

  13. I always feel sad that when I walk through the park in the village, all of the conkers will go unnoticed. Aren’t conkers poisonous?

    Comment by Anji — October 1, 2004 @ 4:41 pm

  14. I was visiting my uncle in New Jersey, USA, when we began a childlike game of knocking chestnuts out of a tree with rocks. . .this was at a solemn historic site where George Washington Slept for a night.
    Sadly we do not fight with chestnuts on strings. More things to look forward to when I get to England someday!

    Comment by Emily — October 2, 2004 @ 4:56 pm

  15. crazy conker news …
    KIDS have been banned from playing conkers at school – unless they wear SAFETY GOGGLES. Head teacher Shaun Halfpenny brought in the nutty playtime ruling to prevent eye injuries. It…

    Trackback by SoWeirdProductions — October 4, 2004 @ 10:53 am

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