It's not the fault of the fencing that I'm awake; I've just reached a stage with work and other things where I've found myself in the habit of waking up in the middle of the night and worrying just too much to get back to sleep. Sometimes a large mug of a herbal concoction called Tranquillity Tea does the trick, but not tonight. So I'm working some of the time and surfing the internet in the intervals.
It wasn't a good evening's fencing, though a kind and much better opponent (well, they're almost all much better) encouraged me by saying how much faster I had become in epee. That was true - I was even quite impressed with my speed. It's just unfortunate that I rarely managed to conclude one of my newly fast attacks by landing a hit. And my failure wasn't just because my opponent was much more experienced; he's one of those generous epee fencers who always fences me at a speed I can manage and deliberately gives me opportunities for landing a hit. But even when I did touch him, I tended to hit with insufficient angulation to fix the blade. Eventually we concluded the practice by a brief bout and the only hits I landed were doubles. Oh well, perhaps next week I'll manage to combine speed with greater accuracy.
Apart from that, I fenced foil against a couple of the boys, including my son - again not well, but I did notice that one kept exposing his back which gave me the opportunity to land a few hits, and that pleased me. Mind you, even then I failed to land a couple of easy hits. I didn't get to fence any women this week. They don't fence epee and whenever I was looking for an opponent they were busy with foil and sabre.
Towards the end of the evening a fencer commented on the weight of the epee and I realised that this week I hadn't been consciously aware of it. That may be because I didn't fence as much epee as I do some weeks, but I like to think it's a sign that I'm improving - slowly, but still improving. Having had no expectations of myself when I started, I can still stop and marvel that I'm fencing at all.
I wonder how big a factor insomnia is in the popularity of blogging. It's certainly an anjoyable thing to do in the middle of the night.
When work gets lest hectic - in a couple of weeks or so - I must start working out the best way to add links, etc. I'm sure the information is all there but I don't even have time to look at it just now. Meanwhile I've found myself in that awful cycle in which worry stops me from sleeping and insomnia makes all the little worries seem worse. It's easy enough to analyse but hard to deal with when the insomnia's really bad. In a couple of weeks I'll probably be so tired my body will make sure I catch up on sleep.
insomnia and blogsearches
The muscle strain that impeded my fencing is still hurting, but I'm determined to fence epee on Wednesday, so long as there are generous epeeists around prepared to put up with my incompetence. However, it stopped me sleeping again. So I started searching blogs.
Previously I've tended to search blogs using key words related to 'Quaker' and 'fencer' - not very original - but tonight I decided to look up two other concerns.
These are to do with Bills currently before parliament. (That's the British parliament - I'm in England.)
The first is the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, a boringly titled Bill that few people have noticed. If it goes through - and it will be back in the Commons for its third (final) reading soon - it actually could undermine parliamentary democracy. It's hard to believe, but this Bill allows ministers to invent new laws and slip them through parliament without debate. This could include the invention of new crimes or even the abolition of parliament itslef. And taken in conjunction with the Armed Forces Bill 2005, which abolished the annual requirement to renew the army (and which proposes some other dodgy measure too) we have laws going through which enable the establishment of a military dictatorship.
That's probably not the intention, but no-one should have laws like that among their statutes.
Governments can convince themselves that the strangest things are for the good of the people they govern.
Sometimes I wonder if this is how democracies end - quietly and with very little fuss.
But a blogsearch on the title of the first Bill showed me that there are bloggers out there alert to this danger. So perhaps there's still a possibility that the Bills won't become law, despite the government's majority.
And now back to bed in the hope to mend the muscle strain in time for fencing.
Fencing injuries are all very well - off-target injuries in foil can even be a subject for pride if they mean my opponent didn't score - but an injury that hinders fencing is tedious.
I don't know how I strained a muscle but suspect it had something to do with carrying too many heavy bags to and from work. It wakes me from time to time but, worse still, it makes manoeuvring a foil tricky and holding an epee particularly painful. I'm a sufficiently incompetent fencer without the added ouch factor. Last Wednesday, ten minutes of epee practice (lots of misses) was all I could manage.
The fencers who let me practice epee with them show great charity. They fence slowly and make sure I have opportunities to hit them. They congratulate me when I land a hit. They even say sorry when I take a harder hit than usual, although it's often because I've walked onto the blade. And they point out when I've made a little progress, which I do from time to time, though very slowly.
Fencing is an odd sport for a Quaker but through fencing I've learnt a great deal about myself and others. It's a violent support but the violence is carefully controlled and totally consensual; fencers need to react quickly but thoughtfully and there's anger is counter-productive. Certainly the bouts may help me to channel aggression, but I never get to stab people who actually make me angry. I only get to stab people I like. I justify fencing to myself by pointing out that it's a long way from either contemporary warfare or spontaneous violence. I don't think it makes me a more violent person but it does force me to acknowledge that I have a capacity for and enjoyment of certain kinds of violence. I don't know if I can use this self-awareness in campaigning for peace but honesty is the best starting point. The people who take up fencing in their spare time - or as coaches - are as odd an assortment as I find in any Quaker Meeting; perhaps they are more varied and perhaps they find it easier to get on with one another. Bad fencer as I am, I certainly feel welcome.
Meanwhile, I want to recover from the muscle strain so that I can stab more people, more effectively, next Wednesday night.
I joined the march
It's over now. We accomplished our circuitous and inevitable shuffle from Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square. Like many people, I ended up in the National Gallery, reflecting on the wealth and power that caused so many splendid paintings to come into existence.
The paintings could not soothe me as they sometimes did, although I paused and was moved by Zurburan's tiny cup of water with rose and by Rembrandt's loving depiction of Hendrijke, her shift raised as she stands in water. But the tenderness of the paintings I love sometimes seems outweighed by the exultant cruelties elsewhere on the walls - and cruelty was in my mind, thinking of the inhumanity that drew so many of us to protest on a bitter, wintry day.
We're not - or most of us are not - the great committed protestors of our time. I think of Tom Fox and his fellow peacemakers. I think of Brian Haw, driven by conscience to camp in Parliament Square and search for the heart of government, if such a thing exists. I think of Lindis Percy and Anni Rainbow - and of so many people who live their beliefs and endure jail, brutality and worse to make a stand against evil.
In the end, a difference may be made. In the end, we may rediscover love and tenderness - and learn to allow one another space for the joys of daily life. Losing a day in protest is not so bad. Seeing all the others shuffling between the two squares and still determined and hopeful - that was worthwhile.
And so the resistance continues. "Resistance is futile." May be - but, even so, I resist.
on the march
Marching again. Against the war, the occupation, the atrocities, the torture, the militarism, the bombing, the loss of humanity. So many causes, and a march can do so little.
I don't like marches. I'm nervous beforehand. Afterwards I'm usually fed up because marches are born out of failue and we need - desperately - to accomplish something, somehow.
Of course, I shall march. I have to march because the alternative is hearing politicians say that no-one cares, that the "mature" way is to accept what happened, live with it and "move on". They mean, I think, that adult life here is the west is built on careful ignorance of horrors. They mean that we should accept the comfort of our lives and never pause to questioning what it costs. They would certainly prefer that no-one look too closely at the daily grief and terror they impose on others in Fallujah, in Samarra and so many other wrecked places. They want our quiet, unthinking complicity in acts of torture all around the globe. But the pain is still there - and growing. If I "moved on", where would I go? To some new planet?
Better stay and march. It's about all there is, for now - but nowhere near enough.
Hallo out there!
I'm not really expecting readers. This is just an experiment in making a blog; can I make it work? how will I feel when I've created it?
SOFTWARE - listen! - a lovely word - a sort of malleable, impressionable teaset - may grow archaic even as I post my thoughts. The words themselves decay - picture the silver slivers falling falling from each letter even as my fingers strike the keys.
Words don't last . The changing context robs them of themselves. They are reborn or wander vacant on a fading page.
And finding old, lost words - Cinna's poems are deciphered as I write - is either a lie or an estrangement. .
Find an old-fashioned book and read Hart Crane's poem, "My Gradmother's Love Letters". Words and meaning melt and dissolve even as you read.
I can't create that simultaneous presence and absence that so much great art evokes. But you find it in Vermeer (in his "View of Delft" or the maid pouring milk from a jug) and more recently in the work of Rachel Whiteread who calls up the spaces around objects already lost or destroyed. She makes the shadow of a bookcase and gives it solid presence by ripping up the books so that she can cast their visual echo. I don't have language for art - perhaps that's why it moves me.
You don't know who I am. Perhaps there's meaning here. Or do you read the ramblings of a drunk? a drunken lunatic? Everything I say about myself - it's little and most unlikely - may be untrue.
Virtual presence - no more than a vapour.
You won't remember me tomorrow.
But read on - I may come back and post again.