The unusual wisdom…

…of fencing coaches

Other than my first coaches, those wonderful men who were generally too busy trying to stop 12-year-olds smacking each other with swords to focus on much else, I honestly believe that fencing coaches say some of the most insightful things you are ever likely to hear.

More often than not, the profound nature of these statement is not immediately apparent, and you are left with the unshakeable feeling that they have misunderstood something of great value.

My very first teachers notwithstanding, I have had three coaches who, in their own unique ways, have shaped me as a fencer and as a person.

Laszlo:

With the exception of my dad, I think Laszlo has had a bigger impact on my life than any other man.

Student 5 nations in (possibly) Dublin in (possibly) 2006.

Student 5 nations in (possibly) Dublin in (possibly) 2006.

Not in a Mr Miyagi, student/master zen-type way, but through the very practical fact that my decision of where to go to university was based almost exclusively on the fact that he was there.

So the four years that I consider to be the most formative time of my life, the years in which I decided who I wanted to be, and that made me who I currently am (the two things are not the same right now) where all experienced because Laszlo exists.

He was a constant presence, a more essential part of my university career than any lecturer.

Patient when I was struggling, over-joyed by my successes, deeply sympathetic when I was injured.

Generous with his time. Committed to his students young and old, no matter what their level.

A kind soul and the kind of man you would never want to disappoint.

I once worked out that I had more contact hours with Laszlo per month than any professor in my department. Which explains a lot.

I will always, in my heart, be part of Laszlo’s Fencing.

He taught me to love fencing and respect opponents. To be a good loser and a good winner and to learn from other fencers as well as him.

I think that every single one of his students learnt something from Laszlo that made them a better person. I certainly did.

And he did all this with a wonderful turn of phrase that often leaves his students baffled, but somehow happy.

Some of the more memorable Laszlo-isms are:

1) (On meeting me for the first time when I was about 15 and excessively gangly having just grown several inches) “You have no idea how tall you are, but neither do your opponents, and you have longer to find out.”

2) “You must be prepared, like hedgehog.”

3)  (After I managed not to get injured during a training camp) “I am pleased you did not break, maybe next time you will work more?”

4) (Directed at the then British number one) “You used to move like old woman. Now, sometimes, you begin to look like fencer.”

5) “Your arm is like a sewing machine, stop it.”

6) (Directed at a consistently brilliant fencer) “Chris, you have the timing of an orangutan.”

7) “There is not enough room in your head for you to let other people inside.”

8 ) “Even when you are being slow, you must be fast.”

9) “You must work at everything.”

10) “Keep leg straight, like chicken.” (Thanks to Andy for reminding me of this one.)

James:

“Terrifying” was my first impression of James. Ex-Olympian, ex-army, stacked as all hell, and not afraid to yell.

He also taught me how to let go of what happened on the piste once you stepped off it, how to stay focussed, and how not to let the noise other people made distract me.

As the only native English speaker in this post, James’ wisdom does not have the ‘lost

Commonwealths - 2006 NIR vs Eng (possibly) (I'm not pictured as I'm taking the picture)

Commonwealths – 2006 NIR vs Eng (possibly) (I’m not pictured as I’m taking the picture)

in translation’ charm of the other two, which is coupled by the fact that he was always very direct with praise, criticism, and all his other opinions.

If Laszlo taught me to train hard and be dedicated, James taught me not to moan and just get on with it.

1) “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

2) “Tell that to someone who gives a damn. That ain’t me, by the way.”

3) “If you can talk, you can fence.”

4) (After a particularly brutal lesson)

“You need to make sure you get back for your parries.”

Me (standing very upright, breathing very steadily) “Ah-huh.”

“You need to really use your length when you lunge.”

“Ah-huh.”

“You need… to vomit don’t you?”

“Ah-huh.”

“Leave.”

5) “You don’t need a jacket for the lesson, if you do it right you won’t get hit.”

6) (In a text message, sent on a hot day, having not seen or spoke to him for several months) “If you’re thirsty, it’s too late. Stay hydrated.”

7) “She’s not as good as you, she just doesn’t know it. Remind her by winning.”

8 ) “Just do things better than the other person. It’s easy.”

9) “Stop whining, get fencing.”

Christophe:

Whether he knows it or not, Christophe has pretty much kept me sane for the past few months.

A spell of unemployment, followed by being thrown into a shift pattern that risked turning me into a hermit with insomnia, training with Christophe as often as possible is keeping me happy, healthy, and focussed.

He is (slowly) teaching me the principles and techniques behind an entirely new weapon, and to think in the long term about what I want to achieve four and five matches down the line.

More than that, he is re-teaching me the joy of fencing that I somehow lost along the way.

He also has a turn of phrase so similar to Laszlo’s (right down to the animal similes) that I am convinced they are in some form of clandestine coaches club. Although there is a little bit of James thrown in for good measure:

1) “We need to make you a plan, like an octopus.”

2) “I don’t want slow, fast. I want fast, very fast.”

3) “Don’t go as I finish stopping, it needs to be as I start stopping.”

4) “I can tell from your fencing that you are very bad at maths.”

5) “See? It is better when you just don’t think.”

6) “Sometimes I think you might be a good épée fencer. Possibly.”

7) “What is wrong with you? If you do that again I’m going to hit you.”

8 ) “Allez! You’re not tired. Your mind is lying to you.”

9) “Your brain has to connect everything, but let them all do different things.”

CIMG2133

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A celebration…

…even if it is on the wrong day

Happy Mothers’ Day America! You might get this wrong along with a load of other things (use of the letter ‘u’, pronunciation of lieutenant, etc etc) but that doesn’t make it a less important version of the holiday than the British one. (It kind of does.)

On a serious note, a special very first Mother’s Day to the wonderful Carolina who gave birth to Julia Marie a mere eight days ago and who is basically amazing and one of the only people I know who can rock the hospital gown look.

Because this is fake Mothers’ Day, I have decided to repost something I wrote for my mum last year, but which got lost in the great blog disaster of 2012.

This has the added bonus of meaning I don’t actually have to think of anything to write today.

So here it is:

“My mum… and just a few of the things that make her my mum.” (First published March 18 2012)

1) She once forgot I was in the back seat of the car and drove all the way to college only to have to turn around and drop me at my grandma’s house.

2) She made me wear a blue, knitted jacket with a bell on the hood so she didn’t lose me in shops. It made me look like Noddy. (For this I have always blamed my brother who used to hide from her in clothes racks.)

3) She once forgot where she left me and was fairly surprised when she walked into her friend’s house to find me there. She later admitted this on BBC’s Woman’s Hour to the hilarity of all concerned.

4) When I forget to get in touch, she thinks it is a good thing because I must be having fun.

5) She was always right when she told me to take a jacket and I would never admit that I regretted not listening to her.

6) When we went on ferries she dressed my siblings and I in the same outfit so she could show people in case one of us got lost. (Again, this is totally my brother’s fault.)

7) She definitely isn’t eccentric.

8) When having a bad hair day she drives wearing a woolly hat to flatten her hair.

9) In recent years she has been on more jaunts, adventures and trips than I have managed to fit into my entire life. (2013 UPDATE: She will be spending Christmas and New Year hiking to the Everest base camp. Obviously.)

10) When we were growing up, she kept our baby teeth and now has no idea what to do with them.

11) She’s always right, even when she’s not.

12) Sometimes, when she is laughing at something, she sounds exactly like Eeyore.

13) One year, when asked what she wanted for her birthday, she said ‘An Indiana Jones pinball machine’ (we’re still working on it.)

14) She plays the drums.

15) If she pays for things on her credit card, and then doesn’t open the bill, it doesn’t count.

16) She really definitely doesn’t snore.

17) When I was 18, she bought me a plane ticket and packed me off Greek island hopping. In the months I was away she only called me once because she thought something felt wrong. My purse had been stolen an hour earlier.

18) She has absolutely no frown lines, or wrinkles at all really.

19) If people take the time to listen, her life stories are some of the best they will ever hear.

20) She’s a journalist who would rather stay silent than tell a lie.

21) I miss being small enough to curl up in her lap.

22) Every night, she would read to us for half an hour. When we got older we all wanted different books, so she had to read out loud for ninety minutes every night. I used to follow her around and listen to the other stories as well.

23) When she read, she did all the voices.

24) She strives constantly to make me more organised and less of a procrastinator despite the fact that this has been a losing battle since the day I was born.

25) She came on our school trip to Cadbury World and so I wasn’t restricted by the spending money limit the school set.

26) She once made bread and butter pudding without the butter.

27) When my dad was on a teacher-training course, she set the fish fingers on fire and he came home to find her putting out the flames in the back garden.

28) She won’t be called grandma, but my brother’s and sister’s kids don’t know how lucky they are to have her as their not-grandma. They will one day though.

29) Sometimes, she doesn’t know what country she’s flying to until she gets to the airport. Sometimes not even then.

30) She doesn’t want me to grow up, come home, or settle down.

31) When we speak on Skype, I can only see the top half of her face and her collection of model cars. They aren’t toys, they’re models.

32) She used to sing ‘You are my sunshine’ to me until I fell asleep.

33) She introduced me to The Beatles and, at five, I would bounce up and down on her bed singing all the words Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

34) We’re undeniably similar, and I long ago gave up fighting turning in to her. There are far worse people to be.

35) For more about my mum, visit www.notdeadyettravel.com – says it all really.

Doing all the voices for a whole new generation.

Doing all the voices for a whole new generation.

PS, I already did the discussion of where the apostrophe should go in my real Mother’s Day piece.

Being a grown up…

…and how I am really bad at it.

First off, sorry it has been a month since I managed to put fingers to keys and write anything. A lot has happened in the past few weeks, mostly good, some bad, and nothing that I intend to dwell on for long.

The main news is that, after months of wrangling, foot stamping and form signing, I now have a job (woop) and the incredibly messed up sleep schedule that comes with shift work.

Hence the prolonged silence.

Not that I am complaining, I am loving work and I still walk in to the new office and think “wow, I work here, that’s amazing.”

There are various blog posts milling around my head at the moment, vying for attention like children trying to be picked first in class.

In my half befuddled state, however, I am incapable of putting most of the more complicated ones in to words.

Well, I could put them in to words, but those words probably wouldn’t make sense or be in the correct order.

I haven’t really been working long enough to write anything about that other than ‘ahhhhhhhh, why do people think I know what I’m doing?’ and another post which will come about as close to writing about politics as I am ever likely to get on here is probably best left until I can form sentences without having to check if I’ve used a verb or not.

As I write this, it is about 6.30pm, a thunderstorm is raging around my building, I have been up for slightly more than three hours, and I am wondering when it will be a reasonable time to go back to bed.

It reminds me so much of university that I have decided to finally come clean and write about a fraud I have been perpetuating since I graduated nearly five years ago.

Are you ready?

I am not a real adult and I have no idea what I am doing most of the time.

Seriously, I spend much of my day blagging my way through life and hoping no-one notices that I basically have no idea what is going on.

I am also constantly wondering when someone will catch me out and realise I don’t understand how tax works and I can’t tell the difference between types of wine and I would be perfectly happy building a pillow fort or climbing trees.

I think a major road block on my path to becoming a grown up is the fact that I don’t like muesli.

As a kid, I remember looking at the glass jar of muesli in our kitchen cupboard, with its heavy top that I couldn’t remove, and being vaguely aware that it was ‘for the grown ups.’

I would contentedly tuck in to Rice Crispies or Cornflakes (or their sugary alternatives Coco Pops and Frosties depending on how amenable my parents were feeling) and eye the jar of muesli with half a mind on my glorious future as an erudite adult. (I probably didn’t think the word erudite.)

Then I got to be an adult in the strictest, chronological, sense of the word and realised that muesli is basically bits of cardboard with fruit added in an attempt to fool people into thinking it is food and I would much rather be able to get away with eating something that makes the milk go chocolatey.

And yet I still buy it, just like I pay a mortgage and have boiler insurance and cook healthy meals. Because that’s what people do.

You remember at 10 or 11 when you started ‘big school’ and you looked at all the cool kids in sixth form who didn’t wear uniform and had a common room and were really together and smart and mature?

And then you got to be one of those kids and you wondered when you would start being really together and smart and mature? But you didn’t want anyone to know you weren’t so you just kind of acted cool and hoped no-one would notice.

That’s how I feel all the time.

And around me, everyone else seems to be taking growing up in their stride.

I look at my friends who are getting married and having children and doing all those things and genuinely marvel at the fact they are capable of looking after a whole other human when I occasionally lose my cat.

Somehow, though, I seem to be able to keep alive the myth that I am responsible.

So if you see me, suited and booted, carrying a handbag, wearing glasses and heading for the newsroom, be safe in the knowledge that not 20 minutes earlier I was dancing around my bedroom in flares and a superhero t-shirt, secretly craving coco pops.