Sunday morning and I was skipping the club run to drive up to Southwick with the family, and it wasn’t to watch me race either, although we were travelling to watch a sport …kind of. My oldest daughter is the proud owner of a Purple Blue Peter badge. A few weeks ago at some event or some one had noticed it, they got chatting to my wife and let on that Blue Peter were planning to film at the World Conquer Championships at the Shuckburgh Arms, Southwick. Since both girls are fans and its fairly local, we obviously had to go.
These were World Champs in the tradition of darts or snooker in that the majority of competitors were British. The venue had the atmosphere of a village fete rather than the Olympic Park; there were craft and charity stalls, tombolas and face painting. Food was from a smoky BBQ and tea was from the village hall while stronger refreshments were real ales direct from the barrel. No generic lager and all the better for it. But we were here for Blue Peter more than conkers and presenter Lindsey had been spotted near the entrance so off we trooped.
We spotted her and with a bit of physical encouragement to overcome their shyness the girls went up to say hello. Lindsey was lovely. She commented on I’s Frozen top and wellies and asked all about S’s badge. Then she asked if they wanted a photo. Of course they did. We said good-bye and as we walked off heard her greet another group of children with equal enthusiasm.
Not long after, Barney and Radzi, the other two presenters walked through the gates with the rest of the film crew. Barney noticed S’s Purple badge and immediately made a beeline to her to ask how she had got it.
The conker arena was set at the rear of the pubs extensive garden. At one end was a scaffold for the commentators and at the other a gazebo where the competitors lined up. In the arena were four podiums for the players to battle upon. In between round bellied men with pints judged the competition. It was a knockout (what else) competition and there were rules. Each player took a shoelace from a bag from which dangled their conker for the game. The shoelace was wrapped around fists and the remaining length measured (not too short and not too long). Each player took a few turns hitting the opponents conker then swapped. If, after 5 minutes, both conkers were still attached, the game went into a kind of penalty shoot out. Each player had a an equal number of swings and who ever gained the most hits won. The winner was given their conker as a prize and proceeded to the next heat while the loser was unceremoniously striped of their competitors vest.
From the Blue Peter team Radzi was up first, and went bee against bee with last years Conker Queen. Fancy dress was the order of the day but this was a tough first round draw for the presenter. Still like a professional, he stayed calm and took the win, much to the children’s delight. Lindsey and Barney fought each other in the first round. Before the game started the judges’ mugs of beer disappeared from the edge of the podium, showing sensitivity to younger viewers. I put my own pint of accurately named Dark and Delicious out of camera shot, lest I jeopardise the girl’s chance of a Blue Peter background appearance. The game was slow to start with Barney gently swinging his conker from side to side. The judges weren’t happy, but he persisted, playing up for the crowd. In the end his unsporting behaviour was reined in by a yellow card, then he went on to take the win.
After the game the GoPro came out. A favourite tool of extreme sports, I doubt the makers ever envisaged the use it was about to be put to now. Tied to a piece of string the camera substituted a conker and the Blue Peter players started first swinging conkers at the camera then the camera at the conkers. Next, a camera man lay on the ground while one of the crew threw bits of shattered conker at him. All tricks of the trade and it was interesting to see. Meanwhile the presenters were chatting with the children and it was Radzi’s turn to spot S’s badge, but it was Barney who demonstrated just what utterly brilliant people Blue Peter presenters are. He was chatting with the girls again and he had remembered I’s name. A small thing perhaps, but they must go through this sort of thing week in week out, meeting the same types of eager, shy and rowdy children, yet they made time for everyone one of them with and genuine enthusiasm too. I can’t imagine how many kids days they have made, but they certainly made it for ours.
Anyway Radzi was knocked out in the second round while Barney defeated an elderly school boy. His luck ended against a pro-conkerer – his conker was smashed spectacularly with just a couple of hits. They had a replay with exactly the same result.
It was a good day out, we met up with some friends too, although next year may have a hard time living up to this year’s big draw. Perhaps…