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PLAYING THE GAME
What could be more placid than a British angler? If you answer 50 British anglers, you're wrong. When 130 scullers racing on the Thames rowed through the lines of 50 fishermen engaged in a competition of their own, the anglers started throwing rocks.
Roger Croome's boat sustained a direct hit, creating "a hole the size of a teacup." Croome managed to row a mile farther before he sank. He got out and, shouldering his boat, ran with it along a towpath for almost another mile to the finish line. He didn't win, but, as Grant-land Rice observed, it's how you play the game. Croome's is one of the more interesting ways of playing rowing that has come to our attention.
HAIL THE CONKERING HERO
The Conker Championship of Great Britain was contested recently on the village green at Ashton Wold, Northamptonshire, and the new champion and possessor of the Great Britain Conker Cup and a silver pint tankard is Sid Walden, a retired naval officer.
Mr. Walden took up conkering only last year, but the game has a long and illustrious history. The present version dates back to the 16th century, when the horse chestnut was introduced into Britain from Asia. Before then the sport was played with shells, and the word conker is probably derived from conch.
Nowadays a conker is a horse chestnut attached to a string, and, in its simplest form, the game consists of its two players taking alternate downward swings with their conkers at each other's conkers until one conker is fatally smashed. Each autumn British schoolboys search for "the ultimate conker"; one conker is reputed to have survived 1,143 games—a record.
According to the etiquette of the game, overlooked only by cads, conkers should be played in their natural state, and not be steeped in vinegar, soaked in alum or smeared with butter and baked in an oven. One ardent conkerer, a teacher, once confessed on the BBC that he had resorted to these sharp practices, but excused himself on the grounds that he wasn't a public-school man.
Cheats or not, conker players stand together in preserving their sport from commercialization. Some time ago a manufacturer of a plastic conker had no success whatsoever. He served only to create a sense of national outrage that boiled over into the correspondence columns of the London Times.