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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I am getting old.

There's nothing exciting about that and most people reckon it's better than the alternative. However, I seem to be losing energy and enthusiasm.

There was a club message warning of less space than usual for fencing. It was the club's turn to play host to the local epée league and the beginners were taking part in their first match against a nearby club. Those of us not involved had the choice of queuing for the space not taken by the four electric pistes or watching the matches.

I walked to fencing. We've been lucky with weather compared to Cumbria but I felt too tired to cycle in the rain. I shouldered my backpack and sword bag and set out. I locked the house and turned the corner. Joe the cat emerged from the hedge and bounded hopefully beside me. I scooped him up and returned home. It's very hard to carry a cat as well as fencing kit but somehow I managed to lock him in. He wasn't pleased. Perhaps he'd overheard me talking about the mouse we saw the other week.

As I walked, I wondered whether I'd bother with the club championship this year. I may have been fencing a little better lately - with more desire to win - but the club championship is going to be a succession of defeats and I'm no longer sure I'll enjoy or learn from them. Besides, I have a lot of work to do, and I'm tired. d'Artagnan and Cyrano would have seen it differently but I've just started to read Les Miserables.

I determined to banish my autumnal gloom and, once in the leisure centre, started watching the first epée match. I arrived half way through and it wasn't going well. I joined the small group of spectators who clapped and called "good hit" encouragingly. I enjoyed watching the speed, accuracy and skill of the visiting fencers but could see that our team, while not doing badly, was not going to win. Every so often one of our fencers would win a few points in a row but the visiting fencers were far ahead and their progress was inexorable. They are top of the league and have won every match so far.

Before the second match, I managed some steam epée (not very well) but then returned to watch. The second team of opponents seemed less threatening, perhaps because of their youth and unconventional dress. One wore tracksuit bottom over his breeches while another wore jeans. Our team looked more cheerful - until the fencer in jeans gained a hit with a spectacular fleche. "That was a very fast fleche," someone said. Our team stayed ahead throughout but it never seemed easy. It looks as though the team will maintain its position at about the middle of the league.

Finally, as the visiting fencers packed their kit away, I had a chance to fence on the electric piste. I was uncomfortably aware of better fencers from another club watching curiously but I wanted to get in as much fencing as I could. My opponent had been away from fencing for a couple of months but he knew how to beat me. The few hits I landed tended to be doubles. I determined to try harder.

Suddenly I felt a pain in my left calf - not severe but more like a mild cramp. I tried to move forward with bent legs and it hurt more. I attempted another point. Then I stopped. I couldn't take up a fencing stance easily. Suddenly I was worried it would get worse. I ended the bout and walked away, hoping the sensation would vanish. It didn't. It was fine when I sat or stood but my calf ached when I moved.

I was glad I hadn't cycled - it meant I could accept a lift home.

Perhaps my calf will feel better tomorrow. Perhaps I'll fence in the club championship. I don't know.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Curry and high heels

I don't know how duellists managed in the 17th and 18th century. The extravagant menus must have weighted them down and as for the costumes, and the shoes ...

My most recent experience of fencing reminded me of them - and I felt more sympathy than usual for the rich, well-fed and elegantly dressed.

The team lunch at work was my idea. We needed to prepare for a meeting at lunchtime. There were the usual possibilities: bringing sandwiches, going hungry, cheese and biscuits in the pub. But there's also an excellent South Indian vegetarian restaurant round the corner offering a bargain 3-course buffet lunch. I thought a meal there would be a cheerful occasion - and it was.

But by the time I struggled into my fencing breeches, I was feeling uncomfortably full - not the best beginning to the evening. And after a couple of weeks with few epeeists, a couple of the regulars had returned. I'd have liked to fence well. Perhaps the lunch wasn't such a good idea.

Halfway into my first bout against the doc, I noticed another problem - an ache in my ankles. Perhaps the elegant shoes I'd chosen for work (a bargain from the Marks and Spencer sale) weren't such a good idea either. I suspect the ache came from running for the train in high heels - trainers would have been more comfortable. I did my best but I didn't even try any deep lunges. I knew my limits.

All the same, it was good to have an epée in my hand. A younger fencer invited me to fence foil as well and I enjoyed that too, though I kept having to remind myself about right of way.

While I was glad to fence, I was also pleased when it was time to go. But just as I walked to the side of the salle where fencers leave clothes, water bottles and spare swords, I noticed something small and dark scurrying around, slithering on the shine of the floor between the kit bags. It was quickly out of sight but I'd seen the sleek fur and a black sparkling eye. I felt sorry for the mouse - it was cold and damp outside - but it was at risk from a fencer's foot. Nor would a fencing kit bag be the best or safest place for a small animal.

The mouse was evidently too fast to catch but the doc joined me in steering it away from the kit bags. It ducked beneath the first of the double doors and headed towards the car park, but was then caught in a frenzy of anxiety. It tried to climb the wall and managed so well that the doc had to scare it down by hitting the wall with his sword. That's when the mouse gave up and jumped over the step of the second door, which we'd opened, and out onto starlit tarmac.

I hope the mouse has survived. There have been torrential downpours since then and I'd like to think he found a warm, safe shelter.

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