Worlds’ Greatest Sporting Challenge
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.
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.
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.
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.
can shatter into trembling despair at moments like this without the
steel of resolve.
a thunderclap announces the storm to follow, the bell rings for the
first contests to commence. The World Conker Championships, Ashton,
England is underway.
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!
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.
round another Conker. Another win with little damage sustained other
than bruised knuckles.
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.
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.
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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