WAS in the park with the dogs and noticed all the conkers lying on the ground. Years ago kids would have been competing with each other to find the biggest, toughest conkers on the planet.

Having a sixer (a conker that had destroyed six others in ‘combat’) gave a boy great status and there were all kinds of theories on how to create such a champion.

Some kids polished their conkers with linseed oil while others soaked them in vinegar. My pal used to put his in the oven for a couple of hours and they were invincible until I discovered a cobweb-covered bag in my granddad’s greenhouse full of horse chestnuts.

I don’t know how old they were but these conkers were indestructible. They gave me great leverage in the playground.

For one October my usual listless walk became a swagger. I was The Man.

I find it a bit weird that kids are now expected to wear ‘safety goggles’ to play a simple game of conkers while their minds are subject to hours of Xbox exposure.

You couldn’t really play conkers in your bedroom, well...you could but no one did. Conkers was a social activity. Conker fights took place in the playground and in the street. You might get 20 kids watching and cheering at a good game.

The internet generation has brought us some wonderful ways to interact. It’s fantastic that you can keep in touch with your family wherever they are, whenever you want. No waiting for that Christmas Day phone call.

We shouldn’t turn the clock back...just throw in a game of conkers for the kids now and again.


I WAS in the doctor’s surgery today and the waiting room was standing room only. I only live two miles away and the journey took 20 minutes door-to-door.

It doesn’t matter in which direction you travel there are houses going up at an alarming rate often in areas where the traffic is already gridlocked.

So what’s going on? You don’t need to be a genius to see that as all these developments are occupied, the infrastructure simply won’t cope. And yet there appears to be no forward plan.

When Cheshire East Tories get a minute in between loading Cheshire Police with caseload after caseload of their alleged internal ineptitude and investigating their own management at monumental cost they may want to tell us what plans they have for the creaking infrastructure.

Infrastructure...that would be things like roads, transport, schools, doctor’s surgeries etc. An Idiots Guide might be useful such as don’t wait for total gridlock before building additional roads and do try to keep the streetlights on after you’ve wasted taxpayers money erecting the damn things.

Oh yes...and if you could stop banging on about ‘historical issues’ it may free up a few thousand hours of council time during which you may finally ‘see the light’.


It started as a normal Sunday morning up at 6.30am, exercise the dogs, coffee and a natter with Mrs B before heading off to run Sunday morning dog training class.

I was in a good place, calm, peaceful and relaxed...I should have known better.

Tregony, my long-standing assistant, is a very kind lady, great with dogs and as eccentric as Miss Marple on steroids.

She has been known to bring a stuffed Bengal tiger to class to ‘get the dogs used to seeing them’. As if meeting Asian tigers was a daily occurrence for dogs around Cheshire.

In Treg’s world all these crazy ideas make perfect sense and everyone loves her for it but on Sunday she outdid herself.

We had a full class of owners and dogs marching around in a circle when Treg suddenly whipped out her phone to order a supply of hay for her horses (as you would bang in the middle of a dog training session).

Apparently the ‘Hay Man’ didn’t answer and Treg slipped the phone back into her pocket without turning it off.

At the end of the class Treg discovered she had made an 11-minute phone call to the Police Terrorist Hotline with me stood beside her yelling “make them come to heel,” and my repeated commands to “lie down!”

“How in God’s name did you manage to phone the Terrorist Hotline?” I asked, more than a tad concerned about the consequences.

“I’ve got it on speed-dial.”

“You’ve got it on what?” I yelled.

“It’s in my favourites folder.”


‘Yes look,” and she handed me her phone that showed she had four favourite numbers three of which were the Police Terrorist Hotline, the Hay Man and me.

“Why would you have a Terrorist Hotline number on speed-dial?” I asked. “How many cells of insurgents intent on undermining western democracy are you likely to discover in a dog training class?”

“You’ll thank me for this one day,” and with that stunning response Treg drove away leaving me to my fate.

So, dear friends, should you not hear from me for a while it’s likely I’m being water-boarded by the CIA at some undisclosed location.

Thanks Treg.

By Guardian columnist Vic Barlow