waterbottles and library books
If there are any readers left out there after my long absence, I apologise. I'm back. I shall try to post more frequently.
When New Year arrived, I contemplated giving up fencing. I was feeling my age. Compared with some veteran fencers I know, I was feeling much more than my age. I expect this to be a regular theme now. I have been fencing for several years and I doubt I can get faster. I don't learn as quickly as I did when I was young - and I was never quick at grasping physical manoeuvres.
I went to the club Christmas dinner. It was an enjoyable event. A splendidly large and shiny sword was presented to the Mistress-at-Arms - a new trophy since it's new to have several women competing in all three weapons. All the time I was thinking "This might be my last fencing occasion." I wasn't sure I had the energy or determination any more.
The following week saw me spending three hours in a long, tedious and not entirely pleasant meeting at work. It was hours till the first fencing club evening of the year. As I looked at my colleagues and listened to their words I was struck with the thought, "I want to stab someone." Since duels in the workplace are almost certainly against health and safety rules (and I didn't even have my epée with me) I thought it best to head to fencing. Just to be on the safe side, I signed up for another term.
My fencing has been erratic, even by my standards. Every so often I land a series of hits that please me - or even reach the score that is my secret target. I've had two or three one-to-one coaching sessions - one when I was so tired I could take nothing in and simply gave way to laughter at my own incompetence but at other times I've made some slight progress which pleases me.
Two coaches have attempted to instruct me in the ceding parry (which I persist in thinking of as the "seeding parry"). It's a splendidly strategic piece of swordplay in which the fencer appears to give in to an opponent's strength before suddenly changing the direction of the blade and launching an unexpected attack. On a good day, I can manage it in slow motion two times out of three. I don't think this is quite good enough to try using it at full speed in a bout but it's good to know how it works and perhaps, one day, the opportunity to use it will present itself. Meanwhile I continue to work on stance, lunges, point control - all the basics that drift if I don't keep thinking about them.
Work is, for me as for many people, a perpetual source of anxiety. In the current climate of cuts most people know that their jobs are at risk, whether directly or indirectly. Coming home after a particularly tough day, I consoled myself with the prospect of an evening's consensual stabbing. I got as far as changing into my breeches when I was presented with a disaster - my water bottle, which had spent the week in my back-pack with the rest of my kit, had leaked. My breeches weren't just damp - they were sodden. Nonetheless, I tried struggling into them in the hope that no-one would notice. They might, I reasoned, dry off as I cycled to the leisure centre.
This attempt at self-deception didn't last long. If I wore the wet breeches I would be dripping over the leisure centre floor. I wondered idly whether it would be safe when wired up for electric fencing but couldn't make up my mind. I struggled out of the breeches and laid them on the radiator in the vain hope that they'd dry in ten or fifteen minutes. They didn't. Later inspection of my water bottle showed that the thread on the screw top had perished in some way - it was no longer possible to tighten it.
I made up for my disappointment in fantasy fencing. Shocked by the current threats to public libraries, which have been my refuge and source of inspiration since childhood, I rejoined the local library and took part in the national Save Libraries day. Looking for books to borrow, I chanced on Isabel Allende's novel Zorro. I remembered thinking I'd like to read it when it came out - I've enjoyed other novels by Allende - but never got round to it. It's my current choice of bedtime reading and highly enjoyable, if a little sketchy on the finer details of fencing technique.
I also came across the best use of fencing in an advertisement. It helps that it includes Zinedine Zidane. Some people have suggested that it isn't really Zidane fencing or even that there's a switch from epée to sabre in the middle of the sequence. I refuse to believe any of it. Why wouldn't Zidane take up fencing now that he's retired from football? - and of course he'd be an epéeist.
Thrilled by all this fantasy fencing, I returned to the fencing club with renewed vigour - and a new water bottle. I bought it in a sale immediately after our local Save Libraries event, which attracted 400 people in addition to the 300-400 regular Saturday morning users - not bad for a suburban public library. I haven't seen a library so crowded since the days when I was sadly dependent on a mobile library which came on wheels and wobbled when anyone entered it.
I must have been over-excited by the prospect of saving libraries as I allowed the chef to persuade me into the purchase of a water bottle with a slightly unsuitable slogan. It seemed funny at the time but on club nights I find I'm hoping no-one will notice it and try to keep it in a position where the delightfully decorated message on the bottle faces the wall.