Let’s Play Totally Monkers!!
There’s no doubt that Autumn is here. You can feel that cold chill in the morning and the leaves on the trees are starting to turn. As a child this was a moment I had waited for all summer. No I wasn’t interested in the science of abscission (that came later when I did Botany at Uni) for me it signalled the time to call on my mates, head down to the horse chestnut trees and gather in the conkers.
But this wasn’t about picking them delicately off the surrounding grass, no this was a serious operation, we needed equipment, a special piece of equipment – a large heavy stick or even better a bit of 4 by 2 from your Dad’s shed. Then armed with these tools it was off on our bikes to the woods. Here we would spend hours throwing the heavy sticks up amongst the branches to bring down the conkers, aided by someone climbing the tree to act as a spotter. Then having retrieved them came the tricky part of getting the spiny case open. A carefully weighted stamp, was the best method, but it had to be gauged just right so you didn’t crush the potential ‘tenner or fifteener’ nestled inside.
With pockets bulging with bright shiny conkers we headed back home to find some string and one of Mum’s meat skewers to make the holes. However before battle could commence in the school playground your conkers had to be prepared to endure many rounds of battle. We all had our favourite way of hardening our champions. Soaking in vinegar and baking I recall was one of mine. Although I was never convinced it made a difference but it was good fun experimenting.
Why have I recalled all this, because the other day Steve and Dean, two of our play team, were out in one of the communities with our Doorstep Play project and were keen to revive the art of conkers. Armed with conkers, string and Kevin (senior playworker in years that is and chief stringer) they started playing. The children loved it, many not having any idea of conkers, but one or two knew the finer points of the game – tuggsies, when the string get tangled and stampsies, when your mate’s conker comes off the string and you try to stamp on it before he can pick it up.
But what if you haven’t got any conkers, or better still how can you play during the ‘off season’. Dean and Steve in true playwork style came up with the answer. Dean just happened to have a box of mushrooms in the van (one of the ingredients for his dinner) and that’s how Monkers came into being. String a mushroom instead of a conker, they don’t last as long but it’s great fun. And the possibilities are endless – Bonkers, bits of banana, Stonkers, with strawberries, Ponkers with potatoes ……….
So I’m off to pickle and bake my mushrooms for a game of Monkers.
Watch the Totally Monkers video here.
Andy Grout is Chief Executive of Milton Keynes Play Association (MKPA).