The Worlds’ Greatest Sporting Challenge

 Spartacus, Mohammed Ali, Popeye, Eddie the Eagle – the Gods grant few the opportunity to compete for greatness. A few brief moments to pit strength of mind, muscle and sinew against a worthy adversary and be crowned with the Victor’s laurels. Today is such a day.

Great ceremony heralds the day’s sport as gladiatorial tension builds among valorous competitors and the crowd gathered. Shakespeare’s ‘…tide in the affairs of man which, if taken at the flood leads on to greatness…’ is upon us. Caesar must have known such days.

Stay focused.

 A pulse racing must be calmed and irrational thoughts of defeat must be subdued. Every sense is now heightened. Vision has Eagle clarity, every tiny movement observed in sharp relief and focus. Cat like hearing brings the subtlest sounds to immediate recognition. Mental checks, strategies and plans are reviewed coolly in the sharpness of an adrenaline quick mind. Energy  is honed, harnessed and stored with the promise of immediate speed, strength and agility when summoned.

Stay focused.

Two Nuns stand nearby, each considering who may be the Mother Superior by the end of the day. A team of World War One aviators sport silk scarf covered wire coat hangers and banter confidently prior to the first sortie. Several Red Indians anticipate the taking of the first scalp as three cowboys consider the ‘OK Corrall’ they are about to enter. Tin-Tin (no Snowy) chats amiably with Bob the Builder.

 Stay focused.

 Nerves can shatter into trembling despair at moments like this without the steel of resolve.

 As a thunderclap announces the storm to follow, the bell rings for the first contests to commence. The World Conker Championships, Ashton, England is underway.

Round One. Stay focused. At last I enter the arena and climb the podium to face my opponent. A handshake, the steward reads the Rules of Engagement, and I hear echoes of countless such contests from millennia past as the first swing is made - too late to rue lack of preparation now. Confidence soars with the first solid strike – now prepare to face the retaliatory return. A strike, but thankfully an inspection reveals no apparent damage. The bout lasts two minutes, filled with strikes, ‘strings’ (three and you’re out), and misses, before a Conker shatters. A frozen moment that lasts the space of a single missed heartbeat – his or mine? English sporting tradition dictates that I keep the wave of rising elation hidden behind gracious self-deprecating commiserations – Round Two beckons!

Many have now found their range while some have progressed without inflicting a single strike  (their hapless opponents suffering ‘collateral damage’ to their own Conker during an assault). The veterans speak of the merits of a well practiced side-swing technique, approaching the target at 40 degrees to strike the vulnerable softer armoured surface. At this late stage, I think, stay with the game plan. The playground stuff will get me through.

Stay focused.

 Another round another Conker. Another win with little damage sustained other than bruised knuckles.

In retrospective analysis it is difficult to isolate the cause for defeat in Round Three. A tankard too many or maybe a lapse in concentration as ego allowed me to momentarily dream of progression towards the final. Over confidence? A heroic exit though. None of the waiting lamely with mortally wounded Conker to be dealt the executing blow, but a glorious splitting and shattering of the brave nut as my Conker flew in a ferocious but Kamakaze fatal onslought on my opponents obviously illegal Conker. The benefits of switching to side-swing tactics at this point came to mind.

Free now from contest concentration I look around to see one of the Nuns engaged in bitter combat with Bob the Builder, one aviator remains flying, and every Indian has retired to the solace of Fire-Water.

Defeated but rich in combat experience for next year I crossed the threshold of the beer tent – now the only challenge to my focusing ability.


A lady with a load voice wears a silly hat and announces the opening of the event 

A hardy Veteran prepares to employ the devastating 'side swing' on his unsuspecting opponent.

Emma takes careful  aim while her opponent's guide dog looks on in disbelief!

  The venerable King Conker attempts to keep pace with the competitor's heroic drinking feats

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