fencing the chef
"I am a culinary genius," my opponent declared on Facebook last week.
It's probably true. One of her plans for the future involves opening a cake shop She's the only person I know who makes her own crumpets.
However, culinary genius has its effects, I observed, as I helped her zip her jacket last week. (I had to breathe in to manage the buttons on my breeches but that's lack of exercise and not genius.)
"I can't breathe properly," the chef said. "Oh good," I responded, "that will give me a chance."
But it didn't. We fenced steam epee, as the pistes were taken. The hall was still packed with keen beginners and eager intermediates so we didn't even have a whole piste, just a little space. I was hit quite a lot and, in return, I hit the air around the chef's arm and head. I wondered if I would ever hit anybody or anything at all.
We took a break and conceded the space. "Let's try sabre," I said, thinking that I might manage to hit her with a slashing motion. She wasn't keen. She wanted to try foil. But she accompanied me to the weapon store. There weren't any sabres. "I think it's telling us something," she said. "It's telling us to look for sabres elsewhere," I suggested brightly.
We found the sabres. They were in use. So we tried foil.
I kept hitting the chef's bib, or her mask, or her arm. She kept hitting me. Then she suggested we pause after each hit and analyse it, so that we could describe the fencing phrase and work out who had won. "Like in American football?" I asked ... and somehow that led to a discussion of American football and ice hockey. It was interrupted by the reasonable request, "Can we have this space if you're not using it?"
We retreated to the sidelines, realising we hadn't behaved well, and tried to recruit a fencer to help us to analyse fencing phrases and assign points. But all the fencers wanted to fence. Eventually we found a space again and fenced foil some more, trying to analyse each point. Mostly we analysed the different ways in which the chef had hit me or the ways in which I'd failed to establish right of way, so that my hit didn't count.
I went home wondering whether I could ever progress in fencing, or whether age-related deterioration had set in. The chef is less than half my age so has the advantage of youth.
She has the advantage of fitness too. She cycles everywhere, even up hills, and goes to the gym a couple of times a week. I walk, take trains and read in bed, which isn't quite so effective. However, yesterday her Facebook page announced that she had "failed miserably to go to the gym" and had gone to the pub instead. "Aha," I thought, "I'm in with a chance."
It didn't seem much of a chance but this week my epee seemed more comfortable in my hand. Before leaving the house I'd watched Joe the cat fending off an attack from a large, cross, grey fluffy cat, who has been in the habit of visiting our house on occasion since his kitten days. The grey fluffy cat has lately developed a bad temper, hissing and growling on the most minor provocation. During Joe's recuperation, we shut the cat-flap so that Joe couldn't get out and other cats couldn't get in. From Grey Fluff's point of view, his territory had been stolen. A new cat was encroaching on his empire (Grey Fluff tries to control a number of houses, threatening the occupants until they provide fuss, warm beds and cat food.) Earlier today, Joe responded to Grey Fluff's attach with a sleepy and surprised stare. In the evening, he finally fought back for a moment and Grey Fluff disappeared through the cat-flap, though a moment later his paw reached back in, claws at the ready.
I was appalled at the little outbreak of violence and the cats' quick shft from hissing, growling anger to the rapid whirr of paws and claws. But when I held my epee later in the evening, something in the speed of the cats seemed to inspire me. For the first time in weeks I moved faster and more fluently, gaining accuracy at the same time. It wasn't brilliant - except for me. I started to land hits on the chef - not all the time, but about as many as she landed on me. I was hitting her right arm. OK, she hadn't been to the gym and, as I learned later, her arm was hurting even before I started hitting it, but I felt as though I was moving with greater agility.
Later I fenced a good epee fencer who had been unable to fence for some months. Usually I can't touch him when he's been away because he compensates for stiffness in movement with devastating accuracy but this time I managed to land hits - not the majority of hits but many more than usual. I was tiring, however, and my hits became less frequent. My arm was aching and I was relieved when he signalled that the next point would be the last.
I didn't get as much fencing as I'd have liked. The hall is still crowded and fencers wait for steam space as well as pistes. The coaches are kept busy. The club is popular just now, with sabreurs in particular doing well in competition. But tonight I regained something I'd lost in the last few weeks: the sense that I can still improve and, on occasion, go beyond my expectations. Tonight, once again, I felt like a fencer.