In a previous life, I was a fencer. Three years of practice and a couple of medals marked my only sporting achievement – 6th in Great Britain, Under-16s Girls’ Epee.
As you might imagine, these skills come in handy very, very rarely.
I recently moved onto a narrowboat, however, and have been enjoying both the ‘Captain Morgan’ references and the foam joke swords I found at the back of a cupboard. I took them with me to a play session where they were seized instantly, and with enormous enthusiasm.
“I know proper fencing!” one girl said. “I did it in Year 10. EN GARDE.”
It was true, she did know ‘proper fencing’. She had a strong wrist and an excellent set of parries and reposts that had me dragging up half-remembered footwork and skittering across the icy playground. When we were done, she saluted me and ran off to the swings.
A boy had come with his two sisters, beautifully dressed for a party at the nearby Sikh temple. When the first girl left he stepped in from his place on the sidelines, grabbed both swords and left me a long rubber tube to defend myself with. He struck a pose, his chin raised.
“I’m so good at this,” he said. “I do it at Temple!” He then ran at me screaming, slashing left and right. A born sabreur. I raised my arms to take the hits above the elbow and he struck hard, then ran past me to turn and face me again. His style was wild, twisting, pure ferocity. We fought for long minutes, chasing up and down the grassy mounding, him flashing past me and me scoring sneaky hits on his back. Then he came at me again, grabbed the grey foam tube out of my frozen hands and laughed.
I sank in my knees in the icy mud, head bowed in surrender, as he stood with my captured sword by his feet, his own blades crossed over his chest. I begged for leniency, but he leapt at me and cut my head off.
He ran past me then, laughing, and shouted over his shoulder.
“Get up! I want to kill you again!”