Maybe I am imagining it, but did conkers used to be bigger? Perhaps it is just that I have grown, but even in my daughter’s small hands there are no Goliaths in our selection of shiny brown nuts from our local horse chestnut tree.
Conkers are the very essence of autumn. They signal that blackberry picking is over and it’s time to embrace burnished amber leaves, pumpkins, colder nights and warming fires. They ignite memories of childhood and conker games. They are often our first forged connection with nature, they are instantly recognisable and have a special place in our collective consciousness.
I have developed a rather morbid fascination lately. I count the number of carcasses I can spot littering the road side during my twice daily school run. Specifically, pheasant carcasses, because they are the ones I see most often. My record was 8 in a 5m stretch of country lane. I find their limp rag doll bodies so sad; feathers frayed, buffeted by vehicles. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I wonder if any other animal ended up dead by the road as often, there wouldn’t be some sort of outcry? To me, they are a disturbing symbol of our disposable lifestyles.
International Coffee Day, Chocolate Week, Halloween, my mum’s birthday, the extra hour in bed: some of the reasons I love October. But here’s my confession; I don’t like ‘spiced’ things – lattes or biscuits, I can’t stand pumpkins (except carving them), I’m no fan of trick or treating (American import) and I don’t like dark afternoons. I do like getting cosy though and starting the move towards winter hibernation and everything hygge. To the Anglo-Saxons this time of year was known as ‘Winter Fylleth’ because at the full moon winter was supposed to begin.
I used to think blackberries were only for picking in September; a truly autumnal fruit, so I thought. Every year I was disappointed to have missed the best of the crop. Amateur. Because the secret to blackberry picking is to go earlier than you think. The last couple of weeks of August is probably the best time, before the birds have pecked at them, before the weather rots them and before others pickers have been out. This year they seem to have ripened even earlier.
I have always gone foraging for blackberries – even in London on Putney Heath. Blackberry picking offers rewards …