That old chestnut

One of the things I love about this time of year is gathering conkers. Yes, I may be middle-aged, but there’s something about them that gives me a sense of joy. So much so that I always have a pile of them somewhere in my office.

But is hasn’t always been that way. Just over twenty years ago, I started a postgraduate course where one of the other students had just returned from Japan where he’d been teaching English as a foreign language. Having been away from England for a while, seeing conkers again gave him huge pleasure. When he gave each of us on the course a conker as a welcome gift, my initial puzzlement was quickly replaced by a sense of gratitude that someone had taken the time to share something that was really special to him.

His gift also released a memory for me. When I was a young boy, each year I’d wait impatiently for the horse chestnut trees to produce their conkers. I’d enthusiastically throw sticks up into the branches, trying to knock down that special one that would beat all the others in the playground.

One day, I went to the park early and found dozens of conkers just lying there on the ground. Picking them up however seemed very wrong – for some reason it felt like cheating, and almost as big a sin as soaking them in vinegar to increase their hardness. So, I ignored the easy pickings and went about throwing my stick.

I’ve noticed I do this quite often. I ignore the easy way of doings things in the odd belief that rewards are only deserved if great effort is involved in achieving them. So now, the conkers sit in my office as a reminder not to over complicate things. Sometimes the easy way really is just as valid as the difficult one.  It’s just… well, easier.