quaker fencer

kathz isn't quite my name. I may be a Quaker. If I'm a fencer I'm a bad one and I don't do sabre. If I'm a Quaker I'm a bad one - but you've worked that out already. Read on. Comment if you like. Don't expect a reply.

Location: United Kingdom

Saturday, July 22, 2006

fencing in a heatwave

Returning to fencing after a missed week is bad enough. But we're having a heatwave.

Ok, so it didn't hit 100, but it came close, and as the heat has lasted for days, people - even tough fencers - have begun to wilt. I melted into my mask. breeches and jacket.

Attendance was low and there were few chances to fence. After one bout at epee, I spent time on foil, when I could find an opponent. I scored few hits, even for me. I had forgotten everything I knew.

Between bouts I drank lots of water and found the coolest place I could - which wasn't cool. I persuaded a young man to divulge the most important piece of information in the leisure centre - the code to open the gym door. This is important because the one water fountain in the leisure centre is locked away in the gym - the code enabled me and other fencers to fill our water bottles.

We left early, because of the heat. I may not be able to fence next week and then there's no more fencing until September.

At least there were several storms and downpours today. The air is temporarily chilled.

Watch my aggression level rise as there's no-one to stab.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

fencer dances

For two weeks, my primary interest in stabbing other people has taken second place to the demands of work. I missed an evening’s fencing and, had it not been for the delights of Scottish country dancing, my aggression would have reached danger levels. A colour-coded warning system might help – it could shine red if I reach for the butter knife.

My first journey was a day trip to London. The little bit I saw was its usual messy self.
Perhaps a few more police were evident after the 7/7 anniversary, but not enough to spread alarm. Some security measures were primitive – but I’ve been used to bomb alerts since the 1970s. Notices urging vigilance remind me of my youth.

Last Wednesday I should have fenced, but I’d headed north to an international gathering. Work and wine werethe twin themes. Cheese and wine were served daily at 4.00 p.m. –perhaps an old Scottish custom with which I was unfamiliar. By the end of my stay, I’d developed a perverse craving for Earl Grey and cucumber sandwiches. Bottles of wine stood neglected amid general enthusiasm for water and orange juice. Had some Temperance League urged us to take the pledge, we might have begged to sign.

The wine wasn’t needed for the general bonhommie. Few of us had met before, but friendships commenced even before much alcohol was consumed. We looked out on the castle, across the hills, over the gleam of the loch - and found we had much in common.

Regardless of native language or country, we heard the news with horror and mistrusted our rulers. Our gentle alliances contrasted with the newly smashed lives in the Middle East. Word of bombings and atrocities trickled in during short gaps between formal and social sessions.

As a British traveller, I usually avoid the kind of events laid on for tourists but in this setting I realised their value. At the castle we were piped into dinner and after our meal we were expected to dance. Age has become an advantage. Now I’m past 50, no-one expects elegant dancing and I’ve stopped worrying about inviting people to partner me. As the ceilidh band’s caller showed delicate caution and the waiters concealed mirth in unfeasible solemnity, I indulged happily in the Gay Gordons, the Dashing White Sergeant, Circassian Circle and Eightsome Reel. Only the waltz saw me sitting out – some dances are meant for lovers and partners.

So we worried about the world, talked, danced and formed friendships. Amid fortresses and battlefields of the past, we found common ground in a brief escape. We talked about poetry and politics, and dreamt of a world as harmonious as the landscape.

By the end of four days alcohol and exhaustion were taking their toll.

We didn't quarrel - there still were instances of complete agreement - but conversation was just a little more of an effort. The hills looked attractively lonely and I began to dream of islands and the sea.

There was a last burst of drinking and dancing and we dispersed. The real world had been waiting for us all the time.

I'll be stabbing people again tonight.

Friday, July 07, 2006


A year ago I stood on the platform of my small local station, some way from London, and wondered why there weren't any trains.

The commuters indulged in usual grumbles about the privatised railway system. "Lost drivers", "lost trains", "wrong type of sun", we suggested as we shared anecdotes and excuses for cancelled trains. The man in the booking office knew nothing.

A new arrival talked of a gas-blast in London, of tubes and buses exploding. I rang home. My daughter checked the news. I rang work. "I might be very late indeed," I said.

Big inter-city routes were closed but cross-country trains were running. I was only four hours late. I may live in the Midlands now but by birth I'm a Londoner. Londoners don't stop for bombs. Mum lived through the Blitz. I remember the 1970s, when I.R.A. bombs and bomb-scares were a way of life. Sometimes I'd feel a quick chill in my stomach but I kept on as normal, so far as I could. When buildings were emptied by the bomb-squad, I shivered and joked outside. Londoners shared a gallows humour.

The King's Cross underground fire in 1987 came closest to unnerving me, perhaps because I'd left London. I dreamt of the man no-one knew. Sometimes I picture his modelled face as I use the rebuilt escalator.

When last summer's bombs came, I knew how to act. At work I confirmed I'd travel to London the following week. I paused at the posters asking for news of the dead - and then walked on. I got on with my work. At the one-week anniversary I stood on the pavement of the Euston Road as traffic stopped. A multitude of languages and accents hushed. The lights changed. We shook ourselves, acknowledged our neighbours and returned to life. One story of London is a tale of disasters survived.

I'm not in London today. I didn't observe the two-minute silence. I'll leave commemoration to the bereaved and survivors. I wasn't close to death. I stood on a platform, heard the news and was anxious. In global terms, the bombs in London weren't a major catastrophe, though that doesn't cut the suffering of those involved.

Commemoration by silence has become a regular event. What is the silence for? In Quaker Meetings I use the silence to listen. It helps me face the future with courage. But why this public silence now?

Last month Britain had its first annual veterans' day. The 25th anniversary of the Falklands War will be marked by state-run national rejoicing. There's a competition for the longest-lived survivor of World War I with the prize of a state funeral in Westminster Abbey. Government bulletins don't urge fortitude but tell us we're not scared enough.

I'm a Londoner. I don't scare easily. In time of trouble I don't dwell on grief or demand protection. The bombers and the government want me to be afraid. One day, I may be. But for now I'll just carry on.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Le jour du gloire est (presque) arrive - peut-etre

Some days just go well.

It wasn't so much the fencing as all the little things that fell into place as the heatwave broke - not with the storm I would have liked but enough rain to remind me what "cool" means. Even shopping for clothes was achieved as I filled a bag in less than thirty minutes in a sale in a clearance outlet. Ideas fell into place in a paper I'm writing (I'll be more critical when I look at it tomorrow), trains ran on time, holiday arrangements were improved - when time came to fence I was buzzing.

OK, the buzz didn't make me do press-ups at speed and I kept warm-up running to a sedate jog. But footwork practice was fun and I fenced foil and epee against a variety of opponents, mostly smaller than myself. The club's new epeeist has a repertoire of unfamiliar moves for me to counter - or fail to counter. Conversations with friends between bouts aided recovery from the heat.

But all the time there was one really important question - what was happening in the football World Cup?

I didn't mean to get involved. It's just that seeing France play - and the genius of Zinedine Zidane - recalled the victory of Les Bleus in 1998. That triumph was made even sweeter by the discomfiture of Fascist leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who had denounced France's rainbow team. Ecstatic celebrations seemed to defeat racism, for a while.

Hate wasn't beaten for ever. Recently Le Pen's Front National has scored uncomfortably high ratings in the opinion polls. But Zidane is still there and Wiltord and Henry - with newer talents like Saha and Ribery. The passion with which the team sings the Marseillaise may count for something.

"Contre nous de la tyrannie / L'etandard sanglant est leve," they sing, "the bloody standard of tyranny is raised against us". The footballers and their supporters sing with such commitment that I believe, for a moment, that liberty, equality and fraternity have started to make a better world.

I know. It's only football. I had a happy holiday once in Portugal, which liberated itself from fascism in 1974. I don't know what a Portuguese victory might mean. In the end, it's not about logic. My heart is with France.

I was home for the last fifteen minutes of the match. France led 1-0. Portugal pressed forward. When they got a corner in extra time, even their goalie advanced, ready to score should the chance permit. But the French Fabien Barthez, eccentric even among goalkeepers, held the ball tight to his chest when a save was required.

France plays Italy in the final on Sunday. Family, take warning This is mum booking the TV for two hours. I'll be watching. DO NOT DISTURB.