So autumn is well and truly upon us, and nothing could have demonstrated this more acutely than what I got up to yesterday: I played conkers. But not for fun, no. I took part in a proper conkers tournament in a drizzly beer garden upon a mushy carpet of fallen leaves and twigs. I'm not sure you can get more autumnal than that.
Despite going on conker collecting sprees as a child (I recall my entrepreneurial brother planting them in pots and selling them to his friends - to be fair, one such conker is now an impressive tree in my Grampy's garden), I can't remember having played conkers before. However, the prospect of going to a pub in Dulwich, drinking hot chocolate, raising cash for charity and potentially winning a trophy wasn't too hard for me to resist.
The tournament in question is called D.I.C.K; a childishly amusing acronym which stands for the Dulwich International Conkers Knockout. It turns out that conkers is an extremely fun game to play, and to watch, especially when it's a simple knockout process. Sadly the knockout nature of the competition meant that my professional conkering career was extremely short-lived. It's fair to say that my hand-eye coordination isn't the best in the world (with the odd exception of drumming) so I wasn't holding out much hope for victory, despite my ever-present conkpetitive spirit. So it was no surprise when I got knocked out in the first round. Though, to be fair, my opponent was a previous 'conkerer' from a couple of years ago, and his aim and power were undeniably good.
The rules for the tournament were nice and simple; each player has three attempts at striking their opponent's conker, and they each take it in turns. If both conkers are still on the string after four minutes of this it goes to sudden death, where each conkpetitor has nine attempts to simply make contact with - and not necessarily destroy - their challenger's conker as many times as possible. Whoever makes the most contacts wins, so it's about accuracy rather than power. The one exception to these simple rules is the 'snag clause', which was apparently introduced for the first time last year. This basically means that if you 'snag' your conker with your rival's (i.e. your conker gets all tangled up with theirs when you're attempting to hit it) three times in one match, you're out.
People were knocked out of the tournament in all manner of fashions; mine was a traditional exit in that my conker was swiftly destroyed as a result of my opponent's brilliance (he's laughing because I was so rubbish); other people were disqualified via the snag clause; others accidentally destroyed their own conkers by making an unfortunate contact with their adversary's target. One chap even appeared to conkpromise his horse chestnut's durability by wearing a shinpad on his forearm; a good way to protect your limb from bruising as a result of the speedy follow-though action, but it undoubtedly weakened his conker since it was constantly being buffeted by the hard protective surface.
The trophy for the winner was impressive:
I will most definitely be going back next year for another chance to claim it as my own. Let's be honest, though, that's never going to happen.