"the way to a man's heart ..."
My first bout, against the doc, was fine. He hasn't been for a while and his hits were a little harder than usual but he remains a precise fencer who places his epee exactly. I enjoyed fencing him. It was just a kock-about - no-one was scoring. Then, after a pause for conversation with the women fencers, the youth suggested we fence.
I've mentioned before that the youth likes hits to the mask - and these don't always work. If you're fencing epee and go for mask hits, you miss all the target areas on hand, wrist and arm. This gives your opponent, even when it's someone as slow as me, a chance to get some hits as soon as the mask-hitter's arm comes within reach, The disadvantage is that, once the mask-hit is launched, it will probably land, even if it is too late to score.
The youth went for mask-hit after mask-hit. At first I was scoring some hits - some mine alone and some doubles. But we weren't fencing a bout with a cut-off point so it didn't stop. Had we fenced to 15, I wouldn't have had to take more than 29 mask-hits, but it went beyond that. The youth's mask-hits are hard and my head was ringing and beginning to ache. I began to wonder how long I could go on.
It became a question of endurance rather than trying to land a hit. Eventually I decided I would take five more mask-hits and then, if he didn't change target, I would stop. I was thinking of the kind of damage boxers suffer. I counted down, "5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (bash, bash, bash, bash, bash)." I took off my mask and held out my hand. "Why the mask hits?" I asked. (I think I may have used more expressive language.) "I was avoiding your arm," he responded and implied I had made a fuss about being bruised. But I never make a fuss about being bruised - bruises simply became a subject for discussion, as they often are among women fencers.
I mentioned to another fencer that I reckoned I'd taken about fifty hits to the mask. He dismissed it immediately saying he would have stopped fencing long before that. But I still reckon fifty is a modest estimate.
I had a headache for the rest of the evening.
I fenced the Man man, pretty badly, and then the intermediate woman who has seen the joy of epee. That was a gentle bout which, predictably, I won but not that well.
Then, as I was standing with the other woman, a coach caught me by the waist from behind and told me to practise my lunges. It's true I haven't been lunging properly. He insisted I push off my left foot. I tried to explain about the policeman's foot - and that my heel would hurt in the morning. He didn't pay much attention and I didn't want to seem feeble. I tried to lunge. I didn't succeed very well. It was plainly time to remove my fencing kit and cycle home.
As we stripped off jackets and plastrons, I caught sight of the T-shirt worn by my female opponent. Its slogan fitted my mood perfectly. "FENCING," it said, in large letters, and, below that, "The way to a man's heart is through his ribcage."
The following morning I tottered out of bed. I couldn't put weight on my left heel. I still had a headache. A little later, I discovered I'd chipped a tooth. It may not have been caused by the mask-hits. I'm not looking forward to the dentist.