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jay with acorn

The Conkering Heroes

Sunday, 6th October 2002, West Yorkshire


Recently we've walked over a carpet of hop galls followed a week later by a sprinkling of crunchy knopper galls. This weekend its acorns that provide the crunch underfoot as we walk through the wood. There's a raucous calling of a jay from amongst the trees in the shady old quarry, while a pheasant grockles by the overgrown hedge at the edge of the wood.

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The other sound is the 'pwiff!', 'clonk!' . . . 'pwiff', 'clonk' of a boy and his friend using an air pistol to shoot at some of the aluminium drinks that litter the wood. They've lined them up under the spreading branches of an oak tree like a row of prisoners in front of a firing squad. I feel that each should be asked whether it has one last request.

conkersconkers More violent sports; a man is sitting in front of his shed in one of the small front gardens of the old weaving cottages by the dam. He holds a conker threaded onto a string steady as his young son takes a swing at it with his conker. The boy misses and now, as the rules of the games go, its dad's turn to have a crack at it. He takes aim with the controlled power of a footballer taking a penalty kick. I don't see the results as we walk past but I imagine dad hitting it squarely and the unfortunate son's conker being smashed to smithereens.

conker collecting You're actually far more likely to see children collecting conkers, sometimes by the carrier bag load, than playing the game. When newly out of the spiny seedcase they shine as if freshly polished and, even after all these years, I can't walk under my mum's horse chestnut without picking up the conkers on the driveway that might get squashed by cars.

This afternoon several of the horse chestnuts in Thornhill Park have their attendant conker collectors.

Fish Scales

weigh in One more sport, and I mustn't even in jest, refer to this one as violent. Not with all the haddock that I eat. A fishing match is just finishing down by the canal. They're weighing the contents of each anglers keep net. As we pass the net being weighed has plenty of fish but they're almost all no longer than a finger. There's just one larger fish and from its orange fins I guess that it is a page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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