There's Beth of Screw Bronze, who loved to fence epee - and was way better than me - who is now fighting a far harder battle as she lives with disability and terminal illness. Beth has been competing in wheelchair races and every yard she achieves is a victory. She sent me a postcard of a woman with a sword; she still thinks of me as a fencer.
Then there's Jim, the Gray Epee, who is still fencing but not nearly as much as he would like. Jim has been hit by the recession and had to tak a job far from family, home and fencing club. He still fences when he can. Again, he's a more dedicated fencer than me. He competes, coaches and gives support to fellow fencers but has had to cut his fencing to the few occasions he can manage.
For me, the alternative to fencing is not fencing. That would be worse. So I've been taking advice from fencing, working harder and doing just a little better.
I asked the teacher of epee classes to take more lessons. He resumed his classes last week. I wasn't too thrilled when he explained that this week's focus would be three types of fleche. The fleche is not a strategy I expect to employ. "It's not running," the coach told me, having seen my first attempt. "You have to fly through the air like an arrow." I know the theory - it's the practice that defeats me. But I tried to fly through the air while parrying the coach's blade and changing the line of engagement. He smiled encouragingly but I don't think he was impressed.
Later I told the foil coach who fences epee about this. He's an excellent teacher - I watch him with the new foilists and they are filled with enthusiastic confidence - but he doesn't teach epee. But when I told him I couldn't fleche he made me hold my sword out, then took it by the blade and pulled me forward. I wasn't exactly flying through the air but I moved forward forcefully and at speed - and without falling over. It was quite different to previous attempts to fleche. "That's a fleche," he said. "That's how I show the foilists." He did it again and I now know what a fleche feels like. I'm still not sure I'll be doing it in bouts but perhaps I can practise a bit on my own, if no-one's looking.
I think over the past three weeks I've been improving again. A few weeks ago the Man man beat me 15-1 without trying. I managed to improve to 15-5 and at the last session I managed 8 hits to his 15, rather to my surprise. OK, he was tired but I landed the hits. Four weeks ago I'd have missed.
I've been enjoying myself too. I'm feeling slightly fitter; I've been swimming twice and even attended a beginners' salsa class run by a colleague to raise money for charity. Salsa was fun but I on't have a great sense of rhythm - I think I'll stick to stabbing people.
Cycling to and from fencing has become a pleasure, except for the week when the sky opened and I was soaked before I reached the leisure centre. Clambering back into my sodden jeans and hoodie was a low point.
The scents of May are exceptionally vivid in this rainy Spring. On my last ride through the night, I suddenly recognized the cloying scent of orange blossom, then the sweet weight of lilac which hung heavy above the cycle track. I prefer the smell of long grass and cow parsley - the lacy flowers line the paths of the water meadows and are now at waist height. Birds scream incessantly with the urgency of Spring. And the other week I caught sight of a darker black crossing the drive just ahead of my bike. "Cat?" I thought at first. But I knew it wasn't a cat. I looked across the meadows to see if I could find it again and the lights picked up its shape, catching its eyes and transforming them to two yellow-green blurs. "Not a cat," I realised, checking the silhouette and registering the sharp ears and nose. The fox and I gazed at each other for a minute or so. Then it turned and merged into the dark of grass and flowers.