Monday, 15 July 2013

I must be 'owling mad

This particular Monday is more painful than most: I celebrated my 38th birthday yesterday by pretending I was still young and fit enough to don four layers of protective clothing (one of them made of metal) and go toe-to-toe in the relentless searing heat with a succession of lean, hungry youngsters eager for glory in the Much Wenlock Olympian Games fencing event. The Games have been running since 1850, and were one of the inspirations for the upstart international event: Pierre de Coubertin visited Wenlock Games to see what was possible. It's a brilliant mix of serious events (triathlon, fencing) and fun ones: bean-bag throwing and the Vintage Bicycle Race, spread over the beautiful Shropshire countryside.

I've tried to compete in the fencing every year, though last year's London Olympics and a succession of weddings on this weekend have sometimes interrupted my attendance. I turn up the day before and help set up the event, stay with friends and drink cold beers (essential to any champion's training regime), then lose badly the next day. This time I stayed with my coaches' neighbour in her rambling, comfortable, lovely country house. Books of the kind I work with everywhere, and decor/furnishing from the age before disposable fashion. It was like the country house in The Box of Delights or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: quirky, unpredictable, surprising and loved. And so quiet: woken by the humming of bees.

This time wasn't too bad. A mediocre showing in the poles (not helped by some refereeing slips) placed me 17th, then I miraculously beat a higher-ranked fencer in the knock-out stages, largely by bullying him rather than through pure skill. My reward was meeting the No. 1 seed, a humourless but talented young man. He beat me - handsomely - but I made him work seriously hard for it, which for me is a very satisfying result. After that, I refereed the kids' team matches (so young, so energetic, so much more ability than I'll every have) and went home exhausted, aching everywhere, and bearing an Olympian Games jug and a bottle of wine. Oh, and a birthday card from all my fencing chums.

The best thing was that my friend Matthew, who has a terminal cancer, came up for the weekend to spend it amongst all his oldest friends in the fencing world - sharing a convivial dinner, getting stuck in to the habitual gossip and (most characteristically of all) wittily abusing my fencing, win or lose.

A couple of days before, I actually took an afternoon off (the power kept going down at work so I didn't miss much). My mother and I visited the Saddest Zoo In The World, then went for a random drive and a pub dinner. The perfect day. The Zoo is really an animal sanctuary which takes in abandoned and unsuitable pets: there's a wolf, some lemurs, raccoons, wild cats and loads of owls and other birds of prey.

Here are a few of my favourite shots (click to enlarge): the rest are here.

Harrier hawk?

I feel like this when I'm hunting plagiarists

The academic spots the crumb of funding, just out of reach

Self-portrait in an owl's eye

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Vole, Having read this I celebrated my 53rd birthday yesterday by visiting the same zoo. I wish I lived closer to it. Wonderful and fascinating. Thank you. Without your mentioning it I would never have known it was there. Kat.