Meadow: Conker Season

I never met anybody who fully understood the vagaries of our changing childhood ‘seasons’. 

Still their coming and passing were universally respected and seldom went challenged.

Just now and then some half-hearted objection would be heard, normally from someone who, just at the time of the changeover, was recently triumphant in the fading season’s skill.
‘But my chezzie’s now a conquerer of 12,’ I objected strenuously. 
‘It defeated Vincie’s that was a champion of 11 and the street champion this last fortnight!’
And it was hard won.  I had used a boomerang-shaped branch-end to dislodge the maturing nuts from very high up in the chestnut tree (where, everyone knew, the best conkers were located) up the Camlough Road between the Wheel and the Egyptian Arch.  If the fruits survived the fall, and the wheels of passing vehicles, we’d recover our booty and secrete it about our persons to be prised open later and the precious nuts removed. 
We’d occasionally have to run the gauntlet of irate owners of those passing vehicles who foolishly interpreted the curving rain of our projectiles as a danger to the pristine paintwork of their shiny new cars!
White at first, the nuts would turn brown all over (except for that creamy circle on top) as they slowly dried out.   Up to a point, the drier they were, the better for then the hard, outside shell could survive successive blows from one’s opponent’s conker which was also suspended – via a centre hole and an end-knotted 8′ length of string – from his outstretched hand.
Occasionally the drying process was hastened – the season was short – by placing one’s conkers in a low-heat oven for a carefully gauged length of time.  After cooling a nail was used as a gimlet to carefully bore that centre hole.  The trick here was not to leave a ragged end, or crack, that could quickly open to chasm proportions on impact with an incoming similar missile!
The local butcher – in my case, Keenans of Monaghan Street – was happy to supply an appropriate length of suitable string from that fat reel suspended from a wire above his head in the shop.  It was used then to tie up his brown paper parcels of meat, in the days before plastic bags and cellotape.
It was easier to verify the end of the chestnut season than that of any other.  The trees by then were simply bare of fruit, and their discarded nuts were too desiccated to withstand any physical punishment.
Petty enough excuses, I felt then, that I’d finally attained the status of ‘top notch’, owner of the conker that was street ‘conqueror’.  
Therefore somebody had to be dispatched to verify the season’s status with ‘gangs’ from adjoining areas.  Unless that is, there should come a visiting cousin or friend with the fateful news.  So it happened that day.
It was all too clear to me.  My reign as ‘king’ of the conkers had lasted only overnight. The season was over and my ‘dinger’ was redundant!

 … Blackberry Season ? …

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