This was good for me, I decided. And as it was a warm Spring evening, I could enjoy the scent of flowers and grass which was so strong that it overcame the car-fumes from the busy road. By the time I turned into the long drive to the leisure centre and passed the water meadow, I was feeling calm, refreshed and ready to fence.
Of course, it wasn't quite as easy as that. First I had to scramble into my kit, remembering the string the body wires through my sleeve and slot the saucer-shaped breast protectors into the jacket's pouches. Then I had to find an opponent. To my surprise a teenager came up to me. We've had interesting discussions on pacifism - he favours bombing people and wants a career in the RAF while I go on demonstrations outside the local barracks. However, he wasn't looking for a discussion this time. Instead he suggested a bout at epee. We've fenced foil in the past and he's always claimed to despise the greater freedom of epee. Trying not to blink too much, I agreed and he went off to search the cupboard for one of the club's few epees.
I was waiting in the middle of the hall when another fencer came up to me and offered a coaching session. I wasn't sure whether I should accept, since I was waiting for the teenager, but I knew how much I wanted to be coached. The fencer offering to help me isn't one of the clubs coaches but he's an effective left-handed epeeist with immense patience and enthusiasm to improve the basic elements of my fencing which always need work. So I mentioned that I'd accepted the teenager's challenge and embarked on some intensive training. Then we began to work on my guard and my lunge.
It's particularly helpful to have a left-hander check my guard as against left-handers I'm much more vulnerable to attack on my right forearm. I began to work on getting my stance and the angle of my guard right. "That's it," my teacher enthused. "You need a good guard. I'm 6 foot 1 and that makes me work much harder to hit you." I didn't point out that, given his speed and accuracy, he would manage repeated hits in any case - I could see how much more effective my stance was. But every so often he would warn me, "It's drifting," and reminded me to raise my arm and look down the blade before lowering my elbow into the en garde position.
By this time the teenager had returned and was watching with interest. The lesson continued and we moved on to attacks and lunges. "You can lunge deeper than that - see how far you can reach!" I saw - it was further than I thought, even though my lunge isn't splendidly deep. We moved back and forth with me mirroring my teacher's steps until he lowered his left arm as a signal for me to hit. I was tiring a little which showed how unfit I was. But I worked on the hits. Finally we fenced to 5 - an easy win for my teacher but I managed one great hit - a circular parry followed by a neat hit to the top of his wrist. It surprised me and my teacher exploded with delight, thrilled at what I'd achieved. "That was a lovely hit," he told me. "Keep fencing like that. Be aggressive." So I tried and he won the rest of the points. But he congratulated me on my fencing. "Did you see how much better that was?" he asked. I had to acknowledge I did. "And it felt good too." He beamed as I freed myself from the ground wire.
The teenager still wanted to fence me. He asked about technique. I'm no expert but I tried to explain stance and guard, based on what I'd been practising. My tips for beginners are basic and mostly about keeping going, turning everything into an attack. But he still stood like a foilist and, for all his greater speed, which ensured he could land several good touches, I think I managed to surprise him with the number of hits I landed. As we stopped, another epeeist came over and I suggested he might show the teenager some further skills. It was a good chance to catch my breath, take a drink of water and chat to a colleague whose son is one of the intermediate foilists.
I managed one more bout and didn't do well. I remembered what my teacher had advised but only after my guard had drifted or I'd failed to secure a hit that could have been managed with a lunge. I picked up a bad bruise on my upper arm - a fair penalty for walking onto my opponent's blade. Still, it had been a good evening and I felt that my new regime of early nights and sufficient sleep was paying off. So I turned down invitations to the pub and walked home through the fragrant dark.
This morning I collected my bike. Mr PH hasn't merely replaced the inner tube. He's added a tyre lining which he assures me is also used to make bullet proof vests. So anyone who tries to shoot out my tyres is in for a shock. And I'm happily back on the roads (and cycle paths).