Autumn meant going back to school and a reloading of the academic armoury.
Binders, pens, pencil sharpeners, school uniforms and shoes. I hated the shoes
part most. It was assiduously left until the day before school started, meaning
a frantic hunt around depleted shops. Dragged from store to store, I would
endlessly protest that the shoes I was trying on were perfect. My mother would
have none of it. I had to try every single pair "to make sure". We pretty much
always ended up going back for the very first pair I tried on.
Traipsing through the school gates in those hard, unloved shoes, only the sight
of friends' faces was any consolation to the impending shock of the blackboard.
We met up at breaktime and immediately started complaining about work and our
new teachers. We lived for breaktime, and knew we only had to wait a month or so
before things really kicked off. October, you see, meant daily checks on
The rest of the year, these trees held no interest for us, being notable only
for their leaves, which looked like the fingers of some giant green alien. In
Autumn though, spiky little planets would appear on their branches. When the
time was right these would fall to the floor. Inside each was a conker, a
polished little wooden jewel. We'd collect as many as we could and take them
home to be prepared for combat.
Those who cared enough would go through many methods to harden their
conkers. I could never be bothered. I cut straight to pushing a screwdriver
through the middle of the conker before slipping a shoelace through and tying a
knot at the bottom. Back at school the next day, we'd swing our conkers against
each other to see which was the best. Every once in a while these would turn
into real fights.
Sometimes I'd even take a screwdriver to school and prepare my conkers there,
using the shoelaces I happened to be wearing. I could never be bothered putting
them back, and I'd wander round for the rest of the day loosely shod. This drove
my mother mad but was, I felt, ample retribution.
Once you get past a certain age though (eleven? twelve?) you become too grown up
tightly laced --
I walk past the conkers