Crossing The Threshold

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Conckers

On the western edge of the world, as defined by the International Date Line, it’s Sunday afternoon. I’m sitting at 39,993ft above the Pacific Ocean, according to the screen in front of me, just under two hours out from Honolulu. From there I’ll have one more leg to fly before two days of travel will see be back home in Maui. Though right now I am feeling conflicted by that word ’home’. I am returning to where I live and more specifically to the house, the home that I share with my wife, my grandchildren next door, dear friends not far away. But I am returning from not only a life changing experience, the death of my father, but also six weeks in the city and country where I grew up. I have not spent so long there since moving to the US about 14 years ago. So many pieces from my time in Bristol, in Britain call to me of home. The smells, the sounds, the sights of the flora and fauna - they hold me in a way that other landscapes, however fascinated or pulled towards them I feel, never fully do.

I was in Britain as summer made way for autumn. September, the month which made up the majority of my stay, gifted us beautiful weather. More summer than autumn, though by the end of the month the temperature was just starting to drop. The leaves on the trees that line the road on which my parents’ flat is situated started to change from green to their autumnal colours. It won’t be long before they carpet the ground.

It is at that time of year that the conckers start dropping from the Horse Chestnut trees. Conckers are the chestnuts of Horse Chestnut trees. Here are a few that I picked up from the grass outside of my parents’ apartment building. The tree’s canopy aligns itself with the apartment balcony, and from there I watched the leaves change from green to orange, red and browns.

As a child, conckers were a part of school playground life for me as the autumn term started. The conckers would be strung onto a piece of string and one would take turns using your concker to break your opponent’s concker from its string. Pride was held in owning a concker that had fought and won many such battles and was still going strong. There were also various recipes which one could put your concker through, baking was involved in some of them from my memory, to harden it, assuring your conker’s longer life - though that was regarded as cheating.

A part of the concker season back then was not waiting for the conckers to fall, but knocking them out of the trees. Parents and children, would throw sticks up at the trees to free the conckers. I remember one particular road on a Sunday afternoon being populated not with cars but families throwing sticks up at the trees and running to collect the conckers that fell. Cars still used the road, but the situation on those afternoons was more one of sharing the road alongside the families. Here is a photograph of that same road during my recent visit. No concker collectors in sight.

Indeed I saw no one collecting conckers while I was back in Bristol. Walking past the school that I used to attend, I saw no kids outside in the playground having concker fights. Is this something else that time has seen the passing of?

The one constant in life is change. This trip home presented me with one of the most difficult manifestations of that. But I find it sad as well that such a simple pleasure as conckers, which took families outside together and was a fixture on the school playground, appears to have disappeared from British life. Someone please tell me it isn’t so.