Saturday, 8 June 2019


We all remember playing conkers as a kid.  How many of us tried all the "special tactics" of soaking them in vinegar or baking them in the oven?  For us there was the added adventure of throwing things into the "conker tree" to dislodge a particularly juicy specimen, or trying to climb up to reach the one tantalisingly just beyond our grasp...and then there was the perilous task of trying to thread a cord through them.  We all remember it.  You probably just smiled at some long forgotten memory as you read that, conkers were just part of being a kid, but not any more it seems...
Jamie Normington (Education and Community Officer for Cumbria Wildlife Trust) is walking the entire Coast to Coast route to raise money for both Autism Awareness and to supply 200 schools in Cumbria with the superb The Lost Words book by Robert MacFarlance and Jackie Morris.  The book was inspired by the words vanishing from the Oxford Junior Dictionary - words like adder, dandelion, kingfisher and conker.  The book is filled with poignant short poems by Robert and gloriously illustrated by Jackie and is truly a thing of great beauty.

But why should we care if these words are vanishing?  Surely the world moves on and that's just the way of things?  The problem is that if people lose a connection with nature, even at the most basic level, they will stop caring about it and caring about nature, and protecting the environment is key to our survival.

As part of his walk Jamie is delivering assemblies to all the schools along his route (well, as many as he can reasonably cram in!) and, on top of that, he's also giving the occasional evening talk.  As we walked with him along a short section of his route around Patterdale yesterday we were chatting about the project and one story he told me really hit home.  He was delivering a talk to a group of 40 people, 38 adults and 2 children and, as part of the talk, he showed a picture of a couple of kids playing conkers and asked if the 2 children in the audience knew what was going on.  They didn't.  One of them asked if they were playing with acorns (on the bright side, at least they knew what an acorn was!)  How sad is that?

I was an urban kid.  I grew up on a council estate with a park at the end of the road and a strip of rough ground behind the house.  There were also 4 or 5 big "conker trees" in the middle of some large gravel patches which became the focus of our attention every autumn.  We didn't have any money and "playing out" was free, but from "playing out" I learned about seasons (conker season in particular), we made dens in hawthorn and learned how to avoid the prickly bushes and we also scoffed blackberries in the autumn and knew how to deal with nettle stings.  I learned all this first hand, some of it the hard way, and it had a lot more impact than learning it from Google.

Jamie is hugely passionate about his mission and, although I've not seen him in action, I should imagine he's enormously entertaining in school assemblies and great at driving his message home.  You can follow his epic trek on Twitter here or go directly to his Virgin Money Giving page to learn more about his mission and make a donation.

Jamie with Lost Words at Angle Tarn

The danger is that if we lose the words we could lose the species and if we lose too many species then "human" may also become a lost word.

No comments:

Post a Comment