Monday, October 12, 2009

Horse chestnuts and water babies

click photo to enlarge
When I was a boy autumn was the time of year for gathering the seeds of the horse chestnut tree, known to children throughout Britain as "conkers". Of course part of the fun of childhood is anticipation, and as August turned into September, and the growing, green, spiky shells that held the coveted conkers became visible high in the trees, we could often wait no longer for them to fall to earth. So, armed with short, stout sticks we went to where the favoured trees grew and hurled our pieces of wood, aiming to knock the conkers down, remove them from their shells and carry off our trophies to be hardened, skewered, strung and used in our playground game.

The trouble was, the first conkers we knocked down were often not ready, and instead of being glossy brown were white or skewbald. Those that fell due to the wind or ripeness were invariably the biggest, brownest and best, but that meant waiting until the end of September and often into October - and small boys hate to wait.

The group of trees where we usually gathered our conkers grew in a row by a public footpath, and one of the rites of passage for boys in my Yorkshire Dales market town was to learn to distinguish between the trees that were "good uns" and those that were "water babies" (this name pronounced in Dales-speak with "a" sounded as in cat!) The latter were conkers that were small, remained white, never hardened, and were soft because they were full of a watery liquid. Their shells were a duller green/brown, and they had fewer (often no) prickles, compared with the big, spiky light green shells of the good uns. Another distinguishing feature was the leaves. They had the big "fingers" characteristic of the tree, but these were usually smaller, less vigorous, and as the autumn progressed they coloured in a different way to the favoured trees.

The other day, as I walked near Aswarby in Lincolnshire, I came across a group of horse chestnut trees, and noted with surprise that every one was a water baby. Why, I wondered (temporarily rolling back the years) would anyone want to plant such trees? Near the front of my house is a row of horse chestnut trees by a stream, and, I'm glad to say, each one is a "good un"! So, today I present, for your edification and delectation images of leaves from these locations, with the good un first and the water baby second.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Photo1 (Photo 2)
Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 79mm (158mm/35mm equiv.):(150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.))
F No: f4.7 (f5.6)
Shutter Speed: 1/800 (1/640)
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On