The epeeist's guide to bike maintenance
"Sorry," gasped the chef as her blade slammed into my collarbone, "are you allright?"
As soon as I'd got my breath back, I assured her I was fine. Then, a few minutes later, she hit the same spot with extra force. "Sorry," she said again, "I'm really sorry."
Fencers apologise quite a lot. Actually the chef had no reason to apologise. I'd had a long, trying day at work and was trying to transform annoyance into speed, aggression and accuracy. Possibly this alarmed her. I was certainly getting more hits than usual, especially at the beginning of the session. She naturally transformed the tedium of her day into a similar level of aggression which led to a high number of doubles. The chef reckons too much anger damages her accuracy but I find it helps me.
I'd been up since 5 and working without a break. The hits pleased me. But the next session reminded me how much I have to learn. My opponent has been training and competing hard as a wheelchair fencer, at national and international level, though he stands when fencing on club nights. It's a few weeks since I've fenced him and his increased accuracy is startling. I tried to move fast, since that's the only way I can get an advantage, but it didn't help against the speed of his reactions. I think he let me take a couple of points but most of the time I was nowhere near him. But I was pleased to fence so expert an opponent.
I was tiring when the fencer I call the Man-man invited me onto the piste. The Man-man has a mission when fencing me. He wants me to maintain a better guard and, in particular, keep my elbow behind the guard. Within seconds my arm was aching. Yet I did try to keep my arm up, I managed a few parries leading to hits and the Man-man said I'd improved, so I walked off the piste feeling good, but very tired.
The chef, similarly tired, suggested we leave early and for once I didn't dissent. She watched me get onto my bike, which was just as well. I'd unlocked it and filled the basket when I realised that, although I'd picked up my swords, my backpack was still in the hall. The chef held my bike as I returned to collect it.
As I mounted the bike (I'm getting better at balancing the swords) she pointed out that my tyre was flat. "I think you've got a slow puncture," she said. I planned to take it to the bike shop, being short on time and competence. But work was busy and it was only this afternoon that I found time to take my bike anywhere. I thought I'd cycle to the chef's house first and give her a globe artichoke.
The chef had already suggested (a) that I should mend my own bike, (b) that she should do it for me, and (c) (when she discovered the level of my incompetence) that she should show me how to change an inner tube. I had resisted all these suggestions but, when she assured me it would take only five minutes - and that I could have a cup of Earl Grey tea too - I succumbed, thanked her and watched.
The chef produced a wonderful array of technical equipment. My dad, who had also suggested I mend my own bike, said I'd need two forks but the chef had some useful implements made of blue plastic as well as a remarkably sophisticated bike pump and an adjustable spanner. She also lives round the corner from a bike shop so that, once we'd located the puncture, I could buy a new inner tube.
There was something impressive about the way the chef took my bike, stood it upside-down on the decking and began to attack the bolts with her spanner. Unfortunately the bolts were jammed tight and needed WD40 as well as epeeist super-strength to undo. But then the chef impressed me with her speed and competence. She made me locate the minute hole and showed me how simple it was to insert a new inner tube.
The chef is not just a domestic goddess. Perhaps she'll start forging her own epee blades next week.