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

Friday, April 25, 2008

cycling in breeches

I blame the Gray Epee ... and the brown, high-heeled shoes.

"Why not cycle?" the Gray Epee asked, using his occasional alias of "Jim". He thought I could cycle with the chef. I wasn't sure I could cycle with the sword and I knew the chef wasn't fencing. She was taking a rest from her career as cook and swashbuckler and giving an academic paper. (It was a triumph, I later learned.)

I thought of all the excuses. There were plenty of reasons not to fence. I've never quite got the knack of cycling with a sword-bag and my front light was broken. That happened when I cycled too fast over a speed hump - and there are three in the driveway to the leisure centre.

My son took the Gray Epee's side. Of course I should cycle. I didn't have to go on a road, just a well-lit cycle track. It would be quick. I would like it.

I disagreed, though I wasn't wure how to get there. My heel was aching after rather too much walking in my best, brown, high-heeled shoes. I didn't think I could walk. (I wasn't sure I could fence.) I breathed in so that I could button and zip my breeches. It was a struggle.

And then I realised that, while I hadn't planned to cycle in breeches, they would at least be bright white on the journey home. And cycling might help in the struggle for fitness.

It's hard to get on a bike with a crossbar while carrying a sword-bag. I attempted to fling my leg over the cross-bar and hoped no-one was watching. Then I tried to balance the bag. The sword-tips wedged themselves precariously in my bicycle bag. I had to be careful. The bag isn't really meant for epees. I bought it when I bought my first foil since I thought I shouldn't carry a naked blade on the tube, in the Royal Academy or on a peace demo. Now I use the bag for two epees as well, it doesn't shut.

The cat came out to watch and offered to come with me. My son took him back into the house. Then I set out ... and the Gray Epee was right. Cycling is the way to get to fencing, especially on a Spring evening. (Spring had arrived shortly after lunch.)

Fencing with aching feet, plantar fasciitis and a still-swollen leg seemed slightly unwise. I joined in footwork practice, but the most I could manage was a shuffle. I couldn't manage more than the suggestion of a lunge and was glad no-one suggested a fleche or ballestra. Then I finished kitting up and faced my fellow epeeists.

There were only four of us fencing epee: me, the dancer, the doc and the youngster. I did not fence well. I feel almost as clumsy and slow as when I started fencing, but I kept going and managed a few hits. They may have been given away. I noticed that the dancer bounced as though his fight was choreographed by Bournonville. His bladework and footwork was elegant and fancy, which let me see the hits coming. Every so often I hit him. I mentioned this afterwards, because I was hitting him more than I should. Later it occurred to me that he may have been giving me a chance but, if so, he was polite enough not to say so. He's very good to fence.

I managed one good hit against the dancer. I slipped my blade below his guard, clipping it as I hit his wrist. He said "good hit" and I wanted to say, "Yes, it was, wasn't it?" It's one of the best hits I've ever managed and it will be a long time before I forget it - or manage another hit as good.

For the first time this year, we got hot fencing and opened the double doors to the car park. Then we got chilly and put our hoodies on.

For a lot of the time, my main aim was to keep my sword-arm up and keep fencing. I practised against the doc and the dancer twice and the youngster once. I kept going and was better than last week, which isn't a great deal. By the end, I was exhausted. And then I cycled home.

I think my opponents tried to avoid hitting my leg. My right arm is more bruised than it has been for a long time. I must sort out a co-ordinating blue and purple T-shirt.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

lttle fencing, much conversation

Four weeks ago, I had a plan. The chef was going on holiday and this looked like an opportunity. I would practise every week, take lots of exercise, eat healthy food and then, when she returned, I would amaze her with my skill and speed. I would beat her.

I don't know if it could have worked but my plan didn't involve tumbling from the loft down a defective ladder. It certainly didn't involve two weeks off fencing. I spent much of the time sitting still, often in the kitchen, which didn't help the healthy eating idea. Fencing was one of my first excursions apart from work and the chef's tea-and-gin birthday party, at which I consumed tea, gin and a range of foods including gin-and-tonic cake with Earl Grey icing. The party was a delight but involved no exercise apart from trips to the kitchen to load plates with food. Pleasurable as it was, it did not help my fencing.

It was very hard to fit into my breeches.

I took a cab to the leisure centre, having determined to use all my energy on fencing. I joined in the warm-up, only to give up a little later. The exercise involved touching the floor while running. I don't know if it was the running or my tight breeches that left me breathless. I certainly found it hard to touch the floor. Later I tried a little footwork. I was very slow.

When the chef and I started to fence, I wondered if I would score a single hit. Perhaps her holiday had involved a fitness regime. She certainly looked slimmer and healthy. After a while I began to score some hits. Perhaps she was inhibited by her concern not to hit my injured leg. The male epeeists were talking and laughing. I wondered if my incompetence had caused their laughter.

Fortunately the chef called an end to the bout. She said she was feeling the weight of the epee. My epee seemed heavy too - I'd forgotten the way my arm aches fencing epee after a fortnight off.

The hall was crowded again - I counted 47 fencers, including beginners, so there was a lot of waiting, and this was just as well. Standing up and making conversation was taking most of my energy. The chef and I fenced once again, briefly, while foilists checked defective bodywires. And later we found a small space - less than half a piste - and persuaded an injured sabreuse to ref. as we fenced foil. Epeeists fencing foil is not a pretty sight but it cheered up the ref. - she could hardly stop laughing to describe the fencing phrase. I'm afraid we are not good at establishing right of way or hitting to the chest but the chef is convinced that, with practice, we will improve. I suppose it's worth a try.

In theory we could have fenced for three hours. In practice we talked most of the time, and I was still tired when I left, 45 minutes before the session ended. To add to my annoyance, my heel was hurting in a way it hadn't while I rested. Policeman's foot is still a problem.

Evidently I'll have to take things easy at fencing for a while. However, I have had my bike repaired. The chef cycles everywhere and perhaps this is the source of her energy and fitness. (It may also be her youth, but there's not much I can do about that.) A couple of vigorous cycle rides may improve my fitness. And if I can find a way to seal my sword bag, I may even try cycling to fencing ... thought probably not in my breeches.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

spag. bol. and daleks


You may choose to stop reading here, but I suspect most fencers have had the experience of injury, although being hit by a flying sabre blade or stabbed by an unbaited epee is far more glamorous than a tumble from a ladder.

I am not entirely immobilised. I went shopping (by taxi, which felt luxurious) and even managed a day in the office (more taxis). I even managed a pub lunch with a friend. It helps to have an excellent local. And I dreamed about fencing.

The doctor signed me off work for ten days. When I asked him, he said very firmly that I mustn't fence last week, because any epee hit would aggravate the injury so that it would take far longer to heal. For a while I thought this might mean that I could fence this week, even though I was signed off work - some lack of logic there.

But I noticed I was tiring easily. Even the shopping trip left me shaky. And my leg remained stiff and painful, although the bruise, from my knee to the top of my thigh, was no longer the original deep purple. The day before fencing, I acknowledged that an ability to climb the stairs at home wasn't quite the same as agility on the epee piste. And I recognized that a light epee touch to the bruise might be even more painful than an affectionate cat patting me gently in his quest for food. Brief ideas of a little light foil were discarded too - my career as The Limping Blade would have to wait. I would spend the evening at home having supper in front of the TV.

The idea became more appealing when my daughter announced that she would cook supper, assisted by her boyfriend (the occasional sabreur). They are good cooks with a growing repertoire of dishes. Today's choice was the student staple spaghetti bolognese (vegetarian version with Quorn mince). As they took over the kitchen and began to chop garlic, I settled down on the sofa to watch the TV.

I rarely watch television although, at the moment, I have a weekly engagement with Doctor Who. I watched the first episode in 1963, when the Doctor was a stern, unpredictable grandfather, and have followed it ever since. The peak of my addiction was the period when Douglas Adams was script editor and occasional author and the doctor was reincarnated as Tom Baker, with wild hair, an absurdly long scarf and a penchant for jelly babies. My children had to make do with repeats when they were growing up, as there were no new series between 1989 and 2005, though there was a film. Then Doctor Who returned, better than ever, and I'm an addict again.

Instead of fencing, there was a programme that took me back to TV in my childhood. It was about live TV, back in the days when television dramas were broadcast as they were acted and repeats were repeat performances, often with a different technical crew. I don't know if any Doctor Who episodes were broadcast live - I wasn't paying enough attention - but at some point in the evening there was clip of the all-important episode that introduced the daleks.

Doctor Who and his companions move about time in their spaceship, the Tardis, which disconcertingly resembles (from the outside) a 1960s police telephone box. Originally the programme was intended to be educational - no aliens but history and scientific theory for children. Then the daleks arrived. They are impervious to usual methods of attack and their chief aims are domination of the solar system and the extermination of "inferior" species, such as humans. Their mechanical voices would rise to a screech as they repeated "EX-TERM-I-NATE .... EX-TERM-I-NATE", blasting fire and rays at the unfortunate beings who writhed in agony before them. They were deliciously scary and, when I was 9-years-old, I would hold my arms stiffly and attempt the dalek glide in the primary school playground. We were all daleks, screeching "
EX-TERM-I-NATE" at one another.

It's not so sophisticated as fencing. But the early daleks had a problem that regularly led to their overthrow: they couldn't go upstairs. Their thought processes were remorselessly logical too; imaginative fantasy confused them. And while daleks have become streamlined and colour-coded for the 21st century, those old black and white daleks took me back to my childhood and Saturday evening viewing: Juke Box Jury
followed by Doctor Who.

Supper was wonderful. Tagliatelli, which I prefer, had been used instead of spaghetti and the sauce was plentiful and well-flavoured. Every so often I would exclaim, "I remember that," or "Look, it's a dalek" and the teenagers would say "yes, mum," in a tone suggesting they were humouring the old. A glass of wine distracted me from my aching leg.

It must have been good for me. I'm definitely feeling better today. Next week, surely, I'll be fencing again.

Doctor Who is brilliant - but it would be improved by a bit more swordplay.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

where's the horse?

You know the scene. The hero has swung from the chandelier and fought his way (backwards) up a spiral staircase. Just as the villains close in, he finds a window behind him. He breaks the window, whistles, jumps and lands comfortably on his horse's back. Then he gallops off to freedom.

If you haven't seen it, watch Le Capitain, starring Jean Marais, for this precise sequence of events. The Zorro films show something similar, though Toronado has a mind of his own.

We didn't cover this in fencing class and, unfortunately, horses weren't issued as part of the kit. So I was neither practised nor prepared.

I had spent the evening going up and down the ladder to the loft (a grand name for the storage space in the roof), forgetting that I was ever scared of heights. The ladder was one of those collapsible types, which needed the extension pegged into place. I don't know quite what happened - there was only one peg and it may have broken or slipped - but suddenly I was tumbling down from the loft as the ladder collapsed beneath me.

I know I was indoors but in any decent swashbuckling movie I would have landed comfortably on my horse's back and galloped away, sword in hand. I wasn't holding my sword and no horse arrived.

I can't have fallen more than eight feet and I wasn't badly hurt. The ladder broke my fall and I ended up, shaken and bruised, on the carpeted landing. That was last night. This morning my right arm is slightly stiff and my right leg hurts.

And it's the one-hit epee tonight.

I know I hadn't expected to do well, but I had expected to get there and take part. And now I'm not sure.

I'm going to insist the coaches teach us about swinging from chandeliers. You never know when it will come in useful.

POSTSCRIPT: A friend persuaded me to see the doctor - and the doctor has banned me from fencing tonight. Apparently it could make the bruising and swelling much worse. Apart from that, I'm recommended anti-inflammatories, pain-killers, ice-packs and rest.

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