Monday, 27 February 2012

Monday falls with a heavy wet splat

(Me talking about my fencing competition result: may contain tedium).

Actually, that's misleadingly negative. This Monday is balmy and packed with exciting things. It's just me who feels like a broken-down old man.

Why? I went to the Keele Open Fencing Competition on Saturday. I'm too old and busy to do many competitions these days, and I can't afford to do enough to chase rankings points - travel, hotel and entry fees most weeks of the year just became impossible while I was doing my PhD, and there's no going back. So I usually do the Shropshire Closed and Open events and the Much Wenlock Olympics when I can: it's usually held on my birthday, which is OK, but everybody seems to get married on July 14th or the nearest weekend these days: I've been to 3 weddings in five years on the same day, and there's another one this year.

Anyway, Keele's close and it's a smallish event, so I thought attendance would be fun, and I went for the foil competition - the days when I'd blithely sign up for all three weapons across two days are well behind me. I dressed up in all the England/GB kit I could muster, as a minor bit of psychological warfare. Nobody need know that I acquired it by going along as team manager rather than fencer. On arrival, it swiftly became clear that there were two competitions: balding fat blokes like me out for a bit of fun before a life spent in garden centres rather than sports halls on Saturdays, and lean tall fit thin young men displaying their properly-earned international stripes. No prizes for guessing in which category Plashing Vole was destined.

They say that if you can't see the rabbit in your poule, check your tail and ears: looking at the draw for mine, I suddenly had a desperate craving for carrots. In my poule was Sam Brougham, who took a Junior Commonwealth gold medal a week ago. However, I managed to get through the poule with 3 wins and 1 loss, to Mr. Brougham and much to my surprise came out with the 5th seeding. Obviously the humiliation was postponed to the second ranking poule. This time the poule was a lot harder, but my clumsy aggression (learned from my beloved Stoke City) befuddled the fencers who should have beaten me, and I only lost to Callum Gandolfi, a tricksy tall and very pleasant left-hander from an illustrious fencing family, who beat me 5-2 thanks to his astonishing athleticism. Amazingly, my seeding stayed at 5 and I got a bye through the first direct elimination round, when the fights go from 5-pointers to 15 points, rather than going home before lunchtime as is my wont.

My heart sank though when I found that my first DE fight was against Callum Gandolfi, though it did cross my mind that I'd be able to watch the Ireland-Italy rugby once he'd disposed of me. However, things didn't go quite according to plan: despite being fat and ageing, I somehow managed to turn my natural deviousness to good account and somehow beat him 15-11. The next DE was a lot harder: against the 4th seed, Mark Leech. Another left-hander, he dropped 7 points behind me thanks to my secret move reserved for our sinistral friends, but he's far too intelligent to lose like that, and he soon came back to level the scores. I pulled a few back, when the referee announced that I'd won 15-11. It felt a bit quick to me, but I had no idea what the score was. My opponent protested that the score was actually 14-11. If I was a proper competitive fencer I'd have insisted on taking the victory, but I'm weak, or nice, depending on how you see it and I offered to carry on. Oh dear… Leech took the next three points to level the score and I only won on a difficult decision when we'd hit each other simultaneously. I still don't know whether it was my point: we'd both run out of ideas and were just battering away at each other. Leech had also managed to gouge my knuckle - I didn't feel a thing and was quite surprised when the ref stopped the fight to point out that I was dripping blood everywhere. It was a tiny cut, but I guess the heart rate and adrenaline kept it pouring out.

Finally, I got to the semi-final, which was both shocking and a victory for sly fat blokes everywhere. Unfortunately, things came to a juddering halt in an unpleasant way. My opponent was Alex Schlindwein of the GB Cadet team, who turned out to be one of the rudest, surliest teens I've met in a while - I said hello before our fight and he couldn't bring himself to make eye contact or even speak, whereas his mother was very friendly. During our fight, he shouted in triumph every time he hit me, while finding something to complain about to the ref every time I hit him. I lost 15-9, which was a fair reflection of the quality gap between us, but even then he could hardly muster the required handshake, and certainly couldn't manage a couple of words. He beat Sam Brougham (who'd spent the week since winning his Commonwealth gold suffering vomiting sickness, it appeared) in the final while displaying a similar lack of grace. I took the bronze, alongside Gary Clark, another chap of increasing age and girth, so it's not entirely a sport for the gilded youth.

Ah well, he'll learn. Fencing's a very small world and active competitors meet each other almost weekly during the season - word soon gets round if you're a git. Everybody else was lovely - I met a couple of nice guys from neighbouring Wrekin Sword club, the Keele Uni fencers are talented and very friendly, and the Sussex Uni fencers were really friendly - even when they were knocked out they stayed kitted-up and gave me warm-up fights before my successive direct elimination fights. I also wandered over to the women's competitions and saw some really good, fast fencing.

So all in all, a great day's fencing: mostly lovely people, very well organised, a refreshments stall run for the Keele bone marrow charity and a freakish result. Obviously I've spent the days since in pain: apart from the multiple bruises and minor cuts, every muscle and joint is begging for anaesthesia or the sweet release of death. I'm definitely getting too old for this. The only thing that drove me to work this morning was the threat of Jonathan Safran Foer on Radio 4's Start the Week: I can't afford to smash another radio.

The other treat of the day is the Leveson Inquiry. I've really missed it over the past couple of weeks, though I should admit that I've got a lot more work done when it's not on. However, I suddenly realised today that as half my teaching load is in Media and Cultural Studies, obsessively watching the Inquiry isn't just an entertaining soap opera larded with schadenfreude: it's WORK! Farewell guilt. Farewell, also, all other work-related activity.

Happy days!

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