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, June 27, 2008


I think I could do with a squire - not that I could afford one. I don't like the idea of having a servant but a squire might be a sort of apprentice, who could undertake helpful tasks while viewing me with respect.

The chef occasionally undertakes the sort of tasks I might entrust to a squire. For instance, she helps me zip up my jacket. (If I'm ever rich, I'm going to buy a fencing jacket with a zip at the side.) Sometimes she holds my sword bag while I get onto my bike. But I'm afraid that, as she admitted at the pub after fencing, she doesn't view me with the respect I'd get from a squire. For instance, she watches me get on my bike with fencing kit for the entertainment value.

While I lack a proper squire, there are plenty of people who help along the way. For instance, there's the cobbler. At the chef's suggestion, I took my sword bag, which had an awkward hole just the size of a foil-blade, to the local cobbler. I don't think he'd ever been asked to mend a sword bag before but he assessed the task, worked out what would be required, asked for £3.95 and gave me a receipt for the bag. When I returned two days later, he didn't demand the receipt - for some reason he remembered me. He'd fixed the bag with a neat leather patch which reinforces the whole bottom of the bag.

Another helper came to the rescue at fencing. This time it wasn't me who required help but the newish left-handed foilist (and occasional eppeeist). When I entered the women's changing rooms I found her searching for a lost earring - a special one that had been a 21st birthday present. Apparently she'd taken both off carefully before putting them carefully in a plastic bag - only to discover that the bag had a hole in the bottom. One earring was safe but the other had vanished. Together we searched everywhere - even a rubbish bin - and came to the conclusion that there was only one place left: inside the grille of the radiator behind the bench. The chef joined us as we headed to the reception to ask for help. A young man accompanied us back to the women's changing room. He assessed the problem and realised that the radiator would have to be dismantled - then told us to continue fencing while he looked. He came into the hall half an hour later with the missing earring in his hand. I noticed that he'd cut himself dismantling and reassembling the grille. He was blushing - I think with pride in his achievement but he may also have been embarrassed by the time spent in the women's changing room.

Either the cobbler of the dismantler of radiators would make an excellent squire. They have such useful skills. I think the chef would prefer to recruit her hairdresser who is called George and, in her view, "lovely." He certainly did an excellent job of cutting her hair, though she worried that it wasn't staying straight and in place under her fencing mask. Apparently George is also expensive so perhaps he wouldn't want to be a squire, even though the chef is planning her move to Paris which would provide him with opportunities for travel and a new clientele. And I fear I don't have the fencing skills that a good squire might wish me to impart.

Lately, I have not been fencing well. I like to blame tiredness, since I've been short of sleep. But I fear there are other causes: an insistent ache in my right shoulder and the continuing problem of policeman's foot. And then there's ageing. Perhaps I can't ever expect to get any better, which is a sad thought. Sometimes I wonder if I'll continue fencing after the summer. I'd like to continue, I think - but am I good enough to go on?

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

the apprentice and the Cardinal's men

The chef blamed it all on Surallan, a sinister character who stalks through The Apprentice making bad decisions. Worst of these, in the chef's eyes, was his decision to fire Lucinda, who had good taste in shoes.

In my opinion, Surallan's worst decision was to appear on TV on fencing nights, luring epeeists away from the piste and into comfortable armchairs.

The chef was torn. She wanted to fence but she also wanted to see the last episode of The Apprentice. She seemed to think it her duty to criticise Surallan's choice while drinking gin with a friend. She's finding it hard to make fencing at the moment. Next week she will be indulging in academic frivolities instead of serious swordplay.

Through Facebook, we arranged to arrive early and start fencing straight away, although the chef had second thoughts as we stood, epees in hand, occupying the space that could become a piste. "But people will watch us," she said. I hadn't thought her so self-conscious.

We waited a few minutes until a few other fencers had begun. The beginners were warming up by running round in circles. No electric pistes were ready. The chef and I fenced steam for a while. The chef suggested I could make a buzzing noise whenever one of us landed a hit, but I declined. I wasn't sure how to indicate red or green and I wasn't entirely sure how well our hits were landing. Meanwhile, at the other end of our space, people who knew how fiddled with the electric boxes.

Wires and boxes have halted fencing quite often lately. The chef and I pondered over possible solutions. We could try to learn how to mend them, but that would take time and more equipment than we could muster. The obvious solution was new boxes.

Last week I attempted to find a new use for child fencers. (The chef said I should have made it clear that the small fencer didn't fix the epee, by the way - a magnetic screwdriver was required.) This time my suggestion was perhaps a little unusual. Perhaps, I suggested, we could kidnap some of the beginners and use the ransom money to buy new boxes. "But how shall we choose which ones to kidnap?" asked the chef, who prefers grown-ups to children.

I thought the easiest way would be to choose the smallest candidates as they would be most portable. The chef and I don't have a car between us and I'm not sure my bicycle basket is big enough. But the chef suggested it would be better to choose the wealthiest, because then we would need fewer. "Look at their trainers," she suggested.

We contemplated the beginners' trainers, gradually realising we didn't know how to identify expensive trainers. Fortunately at that moment the youth, who had been fiddling with a box and a wire, stood up and indicated that it was done.

When we inspected his handiwork, there was something strange about it. Two reels had been connected to one another. The youth challenged both of us to a duel, simultaneously.

At first the box refused to register hits. The chef and I fenced the youth singly. He was hitting hard and parrying my blade with such strength that I found it impossible to disengage. I managed some surprise hits, noting his habit of raising his forearm slightly, leaving a neat target if I could manage to lunge fast enough. Mostly I couldn't. But later, against the chef, I suddenly managed and accelerating lunge and found that the change of tempo took her by surprise.

Then the chef made the linked boxes work and somehow persuaded the chef and me to accept his challenge. "It will be humiliating," the chef said. I tended to agree but it was also a bit like the movies. The chef suggested a strategy. "I'll distract him with swordplay and you come in and hit him."

It didn't work. The chef and the youth fenced rapidly down the piste and I ran after them, trying to catch up. They waited for me. Then the youth hit me.

After this had happened a couple of times, I remembered the movies. The youth, with all his callow determination to win, was plainly d'Artagnan. The chef and I were the villains - the Cardinal's men. We didn't need to play by the rules. Why stop just because the youth had hit one of us or because we'd fenced him off the end of the piste.

Lawlessness was much more fun ... and made sure we got some hits in. "This is much more like real life," I said cheerfully. In real life people don't stop fencing just because a light comes on or they here a buzz.

"In real life we'd both be dead," said the chef sternly, "and there'd be blood everywhere."

"Well, allright ... it's like the movies."

Then the chef set off for her date with Surallan and the youth acknowledged that he, too, might head home to watch TV. What with the football and Surallan there were hardly any epeeists, although there were still queues for pistes.

I was about to pack up and go when a newish foilist - a left-hander who's fenced a lot elsewhere - asked if I'd like to fence steam foil. I was about to say yes when I remembered she'd mentioned an epee that she'd bought buy never used. We agreed on epee first, then foil.

I know enough about fencing to know that she was still half in epee mode - aiming for the body and exposing her forearm and elbow at times. This would have helped me if she hadn't been so fast. She didn't have the foilist's useful fault of hesitation (to establish right of way). I managed the occasional hit on her mask, leg and arm as she's not used to defending them, but, epeeist though I am, I was outclassed by a foilist.

Then we fenced foil. I think one of my hits might have been valid. She smashed me. "Half my age," I told myself. "It's OK."

It was still daylight when I cycled home. The elderflowers were in full blossom and beginning to weigh down the hedges by the cycle path. In a week or two there will be tiny purple fruit - and birds and insects.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Life in the medium lane

The chef opted out of fencing this week. She'd intended to go but the lure of gin and The Apprentice on TV lured her away from the salle (OK,. the leisure centre). I haven't watched The Apprentice but feel I'm in a minority. It's discussed on Facebook, in all the papers and at fencing.

The hall was still crowded and there were eight other epeeists - all male - as well as sabreurs, foilists and a large number of beginners and intermediates. I was tired from work, worry and insomnia and didn't have the energy to seek out bouts. I did my best, accepting three offers, trying to keep my guard up. "Remember your elbow," a fencer hissed," as I attached my body wire.

I remembered my elbow and noticed the way it crookedly evaded the protection of the guard. I took a few hits, though not on my elbow, and also managed a few - I'm not sure how. A couple of hits to the forearm pleased me but too much of the evening passed in a blur of exhaustion.

For the past two weeks, fencers have been plagued by technical problems. Last week, the foilists and sabreurs were having problems with an electric box which decided it would work only for epeeists. A small group of fencers stood around making helpful suggestions about further tests that would locate the fault. This week, an epeeist was affected as two tiny screws flew out of the button at the end of his blade. After ten minutes in which several of us stared and patted the floor, both were located and the attempt began to re-attach the button. "This needs small hands," the epee's owner groaned, so I found a small intermediate fencer and asked him to help. I suspect it's the fencing equivalent of finding a child to go up a chimney.

Eventually the blade was restored to health, I had another bout and decided to leave in daylight. My arm was hurting - it still is, though there aren't many bruises. I think I must have been holding it at an awkward angle. Cycling was slightly tricky and at one point I swerved as I approached one of the sleeping policemen. (Note: "sleeping policeman" is a name given to a bump in the road that slows down the traffic.)

I think I'm moving as well as before the fall now but I still need opportunities for exercise without putting too much pressure on my foot - the "policeman's foot" continues. Today I had the chance to go swimming - a friend offered me a lift to the pool. I'm even more out of practice at swimming than fencing and decided beforehand that I'd set myself a limit of 30 lengths (750 metres).

I was tired at first but the tiredness receded as I swam alternate lengths of breast stroke and back stroke. It wasn't exciting like fencing - and I carry on worrying as I go up and down. There were fewer people in the pool than at a usual fencing session. My friend - also out of practice - headed, as usual, to the slow lane. Before I took up fencing I'd have been there too.

These days, I swim in the medium lane. Sometimes people overtake me - today two girls discussing their social lives easily overtook without pausing in their conversation. The medium lane makes its own demands. Sometimes I have to struggle to keep up. Swimming in the medium lane may not see much of an achievement but I'm pleased to be there.

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