Conkers are bloody dangerous

The act of writing an honest blog can often involve sharing information which does not necessarily present any advantage for the author.

To my mind that’s the worth of the format, the realisation of a faithful communication between writer and reader, even if it makes me seem feeble, weak or absurd.

But sometimes a little too much honesty can be uncomfortable. I can imagine my dad, for example, reading what I’m about to write, shaking his head and quietly mumbling ‘Jesus Christ.’ Others may have the same reaction. So be it.

I think it’s safe to suppose that this one can be safely stored in the ‘It could only happen to me section’.


It was a couple of days ago that my son first mentioned conkers. I was only half listening at the time because he was directing the conversation towards mummy while I was enjoying some valuable moments of respite.

I don’t think he had any proper understanding of what a conker is, or what he could do with one. Presumably he had picked something up from a playground conversation and merely had a vague idea that it was a concept he should express an interest in.

I didn’t think any more about it. Not until this morning when I found myself in the grounds of a hotel in Dublin staring at a tree.

I was there for a conference but, as I’d turned up a little early, I’d gone for a walk to pass the time. There were several beautiful trees and one of them was a splendid horse chestnut which had shed an array of ochre leaves and fat conkers on the surrounding grass.

Suddenly I remembered my boy’s words from earlier in the week. It all seemed to fit. Here I had been presented with a sure way of getting some super daddy bonus points. I stuffed a dozen or so of the conkers into my pockets before I went to work.

It was only much later in the day, as I drove back north, that my thoughts returned to the seeds I had collected. I was a little excited but it was tempered with caution. I knew that conkers was a game I had enjoyed in my youth but the world has changed so much. There were half-remembered snatches of stories about conkers now being regarded as a dangerous activity for young children, schools which had banned the activity from the playground and the insistence that youths wear safety goggles to participate.

While I didn’t want to be on the wrong side of the conkers argument, I figured that a lot of this was erring too far on the side of caution. Using a sledgehammer to crack a conker, you might say. 

I got home. Because I had been in Dublin my son was spending the afternoon with his grandparents. This gave me a little time to prepare the conkers. I soaked them in vinegar and baked them in a very hot oven as I had memories of doing from decades ago.

Then I set about piercing the conkers. At this point I exercised extreme caution because I remembered stories of boys who had suffered nasty injuries by sticking pencils or screwdrivers into their hands when holing conkers.

I was slow, steady and deliberate and after about half an hour I had ten conkers which were successfully pierced and dangling jauntily from pieces of string.

Then I drove off to pick up my son. I brought the conkers along also because I had assumed,my boy would be so excited he would want to play with them without haste.

Half an hour later I was at my in-law’s house and proudly presented the two largest conkers to my son.

He looked up from the game he was playing for the briefest of moments.

Then he said: ‘Mummy got conkers for me yesterday daddy.’

And then he went back to his game. I was left feeling foolish with an unwanted conker hanging pathetically from a length of cord in each hand.

Then we drove home. My son is going through a phase where he is fascinated by the physical world and he insists on bringing a large light-up globe wherever he goes. Still reeling from my conker rejection I thrust the globe onto the front seat of my car alongside the conkers and headed back.

By the time we reached our house I was pretty firm in my conviction that my son’s fleeting interest in conkers had long since evaporated. The truth was that I was more interested. I was pleased with the conkers I had found and nurtured and I was unwilling to let go of them too readily.

I carried his stuff indoors and laid the objects on the living room floor. My son’s globe is attached to an electrical cord and plug. Somehow the strings from the conkers had wrapped themselves around the cord in an unseemly, tangled mess.

Now, this was an obstacle which a person of patience and a reasonable mind could certainly have overcome.

I was not that person.

After a couple of minutes of useless fumbling I began to pull the conker strings agitatedly in an effort to free them. This only succeeded in creating a large, stringy knot around the cord which was bound so tight that none of the conkers could be extricated. My son sat and watched me as I struggled with the strings.

I lost my composure and went straight for the kitchen to grab a knife. At this point I have a memory of a passing thought that scissors might be a better option, although this may merely be hindsight trying to recover some of my grace.

I began to cut the conkers free.

At first it worked well.

Then it didn’t.

What happened next is entirely predictable but also quite hard to explain.

As I hacked at a string I was overcome by a wretched stinging pain in my fingers. I knew at once I had cut myself and that it was a nasty gash. I leapt to my feet and muted my profanities because my son was still beside me.

He followed me as I rushed from the room, blood dripping and leaving a trail on the floor like a slug.

I put my right hand under the cold water tap and identified a long gash on my right index finger. Even though I was forcing considerable pressure onto the wound the blood kept coming. At this point I noticed I had also sliced my right thumb.

I wound the cloth tightly around my thumb and finger but the blood still kept coming, turning the material a deep and startling crimson.

Now, and I admit this was an unexpected development, I realised I had also opened a sizeable wound on my left index finger.

I should explain that I’m left-handed and hold the knife handle on that side. To cut two fingers on my right hand was unfortunate but I could just about understand how I’d done it. To add a further gash to the hand which I use to hold the knife had left me scratching my head, or it would have done if I’d had any undamaged finger left to scratch with.

But it was not the time to ponder my folly because I was bleeding all over the kitchen floor. I managed to prise open the first aid box and pulled out a box of plasters with my blood saturated fingers.

And now I realised the glaring flaw in the design of sticking plasters. You need working fingers to open them. I struggled gamely with the little plastic covers but it was like trying to knit while wearing oven gloves. Meanwhile the blood kept flowing.

In desperation I attempted to gnaw through the plastic covers but succeeded only in biting a plaster clean in half, leaving a strange antiseptic taste on my tongue.

As I did this I realised my son was still watching the whole performance. My son who is supposed to learn from me, to follow in my footsteps, to enjoy the benefits of all my wisdom.

I smiled and laughed manically.

‘Daddy’s just playing a game buddy. It’s great fun!’

Eventually I managed to prise some plasters from their covers and stuck them to my injured fingers. It wasn’t elegant but it held the bleeding back.

Soon after my wife returned home. Pathetically I showed her my bloody hands. She smiled, a smile that said I’ve seen it all before.

‘Come on, let’s get you cleaned up then.’

With my hands properly bandaged I started to feel a little better.

However, as I think Newton’s third law of motion states, for every staggeringly stupid action there is an equal and opposite staggeringly stupid reaction.

Having both index fingers injured curtails your ability to do simple tasks.

Like putting your pyjama trousers on.

Which probably explains why I fell over and bumped my head while doing it.

I’m in bed now. My fingers are throbbing. Which is good in the sense that it takes away from the pain of the bump on my head. No more harm can come to me tonight. Surely.

And it all goes to prove that my earlier fears should not have been so quickly dismissed. Conkers are dangerous, nay, lethal objects.


Postscript: The next major parent/child interactive task in our house will be the carving of Halloween pumpkins. I think I’ll leave it to mummy.

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