Tuesday, February 20, 2007

History Repeating

On Monday night, while I was hanging around the Irish College on Monday evening, one of the inmates there, David, cut his finger quite badly. Well used to the situation I to wash the wound, elevate it and roll up some gauze in his clenched fist to stop the bleeding. The night-attendant in the Irish college insisted on holding the wound open while he doused it in sterile solution, which must have been excruciating but we were soon on our way.

Myself and one of the girls from the college, Suze, went down to the hospital with him to keep him company. It turns out he two had nicked a tendon, albeit on the ring rather than little finger, and required pretty much the exact same surgery as I needed.

I think the most important detail of the story though is that why did this grievous act of self mutilation with a brand new lethal samurai bread knife, he did it with that other great mortal enemy of man... a can of corn!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Back Again, Again to Training

I arrived back to Paris on Thursday in plenty of time for a training. The usual mini-tournament was held that night. The club also had visitors in the form of the Venezualan team who I'd met the week before. I joked with them they were following me around. "You're definitely following me around. I was in Budapest and Paris first".

I was reasonably pleased with how I fenced in the competition and hopefully I can build up some form over the next couple of weeks and tournaments.

Valentines Day

Fully convinced that I was broke in Paris, Rachel didn't expect me to turn up to her placement with French chocolates. I was in Dublin for about twelve hours and flew out the next morning back to Paris.

Needless to say she was surprised and seemed pleased but there was no fencing done, so this is hardly the place to discuss this.

Yay! Dealing with French Banks!

On Tuesday, I went about ordering my new French Bank card. There is a HSBC not too far away from me and so I strolled in to see if they could help me.

In some of the best French I have ever spoken I explained to them:

"My bank card was lost in Hungary and I've cancelled it. Can I get a new one?"
The Teller who I explained this to understood perfectly but at this point her superior interjected.
"You ze card with Ash-Ess-Bae-See?"
No, I'm just here to annoy you. "Yes, of course my carte bleu was lost and I had it cancelled"
"It's a French Card?"
Not being able to control my annoyance at these questions which were coming from her assumption that I was the stupid one, I answered sarcastically - "We don't have Carte Blue in Ireland so I am certain it is a french Card! I have a French bank account with HSBC. I cancelled my lost card, now can I order a new one!"
"Do you 'ave an account in zis branch?"
"Well Zhen you ave to go to your own branch to order it."
"But that is over the other side of the city and I have no money because I cancelled my cards. Can I not order a new one here?"
"Well we can give you money here but not order the card"
"Can I move my account to here?"
"Yes but you have to phone your branch for zat because it is on a different system"

"Fine, just give me some money then"

When I got to my own branch on Place Monge, not for the first time, I was held up in the security door and asked if I had an account there. I held up my cheque-book as proof and was allowed enter.

When I reached the cashier it was all going swimmingly up until the point where she explained that the card and new pincode would be sent to the branch. Fantastic! And zis will take about a week wiz zhe pin cod arriving at a few days later. Can I not get it sent to my apartment? No.

As it happens while I was waiting to be served I noticed a chart with the various banking fees. These included a €20 fee for cancelling a card and a €10 fee for the issue of a new card. Fantastic, thanks a lot HSBC!


That night at training it felt as if I had been away for ages and it was good to be back... up until the point someone mentioned about the rugby.

Hungary Epilogue: Hungary for Success Or A Sucker for Punishment?

The next morning I made my way down to breakfast. I said goodbye to the Americans who were leaving straight after breakfast and made my way back to my room to pack.

A minibus was arranged to pick me up from the hotel. To my surprise the British team, Neil and Julian at least were still alive and we laughed about the previous night's antics as we made our way to the airport. This was followed by some more hanging-around before check-in and yet more afterwards before it was time for my uneventful flight back to Paris.

I had €20 and no more, after cancelling all my cards, as I arrive in the RER station in Charles De Gaulle but eventually made it back to my apartment safe and sound.


So, what have I learnt? Now a week or so later I've taken an awful lot from my experience in Budapest. I've made extensive notes about my experience, my fencing and the fencing of others.

Was Hungary a set back? How I would like to frame it more positively, is as a wake-up call that I'm still definitely not there yet and it has made me more fully aware of the level of effort I have to put in if I want to get there. The absolute non-relenting self-sacrificing training of the Chinese has shown one extreme but I've also learned a lot from discussion with the US team who are acutely aware of the mental side of the game. I've began to look at my fencing and my mental state while fencing at a deeper level and I'm now sure that along with hard-work, that being aware and controlling my mental state is a key to achieving the best from myself.

The week afterall was invaluable to me and in that sense it has spurred me on in my pursuit of being as good as I can be.

Hungary Day 7: The Finals and Then Bad to Worse

I lay in my bed in the hotel, dreading the pain which I knew any movement would bring. I managed to reach for a water bottle near the bed and placed it on my chest. With the rise and fall of my chest the water lapped into my mouth. I lay there for some considerable time, until the water was all gone and until the horrible feeling in my head had at least subsided somewhat.

A shower helped somewhat but I still felt like death. I made my way to competition where I arrived just in time for the quarters. The British team were no where to be seen and I sat with US teams in some good seats down the fronts.

The finalists were Keeth Smart (USA), J.Z. Wang (CHI), Nicolas Limbach (GER), Gorski (POL), Dumitrescu and Zadomir (ROM), Jian Piero Pastore (ITA) and Zsolt Nemcsik the local hero.

In the first of the 1/4 finals Keeth faced Wang, who must be nearly 7 foot tall. At the break the score was 8-7 to Smart who had had the better of the match so far using his powerful attack and several lightning fast counter-attacks into the Wang's preparation. The second half of the match saw a different Wang however and he patiently waited on his advance drawing the counter-attack and then making them fall short or parrying. Wang began to pull away and soon closed out the match.

Limbach the gargantuan German dispatched Gorski with little fuss.

The all Romanian 1/4 final of Dumitrescu and Zadomir made for strange viewing as these fencers who obviously new each other very well cautiously second guessed each other into making mistakes. Both of the went for several parry seconde and invariably were hit by there opponent when they did so. Dumitrescu eventually ran out winner.

The MC gave Nemcsik a rousing ovation as he approached the piste. He took control of the match early on and lapped up the adulation of the crowd in between points. It began to get amusing however as with the score 14-9 in his favour several decisions began to not go his way. Several times he had his mask off to celebrate his victory before being replaced on the line by the ref. Eventually though he made his opponent fall short and planted the counter-attack. His mask was off his hands stretched out from his sides - we in the Irish and US section couldn't help but laugh as he milked it for all it was worth.

The two semi-finals were Wang Vs. Limbach and Dumitrecu Vs. Nemcsik both of which were to be quite dramatic.

Wang patience against Limbach as he patiently built his attack pressing the German from one end of the piste to the other was incredibly impressive and it was this that was repeatedly winning the Chinese his points. Limbach however was answering back with parries and counter-attacks and was tit-for-tat with this opponent who must have been quite a novelty for him in that he was taller than him. At 14 all, Limbach pressed Wang to one end of the piste but his attack fell short. Limbach strained repeatedly for contact as Wang patiently built his attack pressing him the entire length of the piste. With Limbach with only half a toe still on the piste Wang launched a giant lunge from which he landed completely on the side of his foot. The big man was down.

Medics rushed to the piste. After some time Wang was lifted up and with a coach underneath each arm limped back to his side of the piste. With the score still at 14-14 the two lined up facing each other. Allez! Into Limbach step Wang launched a powerful direct lunge - Attaque, contre-attaque. Wang wins, immediately after landing his front injured foot he pulls up in pain and was trapped in an odd moment of intense agony but joy.

In other semi-final, things didn't go according to plan for the home crowd. Nemcsik through the part of his opponent or through possibly through pressure put on him repeatedly failed to find distance against his opponent - his trademark throughcuts repeatedly missing there target. As he felt the match slipping away from him, his desparation through the match into the hands of his opponent.

So the final was to be Wang Vs Dumitrescu and while it would have been nice to see the fairy tale ending of Wang overcoming his injury, it was to be his injury which was the only talking point of the final. Unable to move for the most part, Wang was overrun by the able-bodied Dumitrescu who had to just wait for his opponent to pull up in pain for the most part before hitting him. The Romanians handshake afterwards was one of sympathy for his opponent and perhaps a sense of lack of fulfillment as his easiest match of the day was the final.


Still suffering badly from the effects of my self-administered poison I returned to my hotel room. Too hung-over to be bothered with trying to find an Irish bar I had the match streamed to my laptop. Surely the most soul-destroying match of rugby I have ever watched... I suppose the least said about it the better. Not that that was going to be the approach of my French Clubmates when I returned to Paris.

That night, thorourghly gutted, I ate alone in the hotel and went to bed early.

Hungary Day 6 Continued: Drowning my Sorrows

The Saturday evening I joined the British team, since they were not taking any further part in the competition either, for a few drinks. After a dinner of wild boar in a local restaurant and much pointing to the fact that I was a potatoe munching deviant, we headed to a local bar and then a night club. I assume that is what we did as there were a great many blanks in the night which will never be remembered.

The first bar we went to bar was really odd. We followed Chris, who lives in Budapest, off down random side streets until we came to a gateway with a small sign above it. Passing through the gateway we turned immediately into an old building which seemed like some sort of derelict house. There was two old arm-chairs and a pile of old childrens' tricycles in the corner. We passed through some plastic curtains, like you would find in a butchers, and through another and came out in this really trendy bar. There was salsa music playing, a balcony with green plants hanging down into the bar below, the furniture was all mismatched and the floor uneven. It was a fantastic spot.

After a few drinks there we took a tram to a nightclub not so far away. Again this was a bizarre building. First, you entered a large corrigated iron shed which contained the cloakroom and the first bar. After putting in our coats we passed through more plastic curtains through a tunnel with gravel underfoot and out the otherside through more curtains and past a tree. The club seems to have been in a roofed in courtyard. The surrounding buildings to the courtyard were gutted and contained tables and chairs. The courtyard was in an L shape and besides the entrance ran a long bar and at the bottom of the bar a packed dance floor. It all got a bit blurry at that stage - there was dancing, there was beer spilling constantly when trying to cross the dance floor. To the best of my knowledge a good night was had by all.

I parted ways with the British at a square near their hotel and continued on in the taxi to my own hotel.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Hungary: Day 6 - The Competition...

...All of it that I would be involved in.

Hmm... what went wrong I still haven't analysised my performance yet. Haven't yet picked it apart for something to learn, for something to grow from, from what was probably my least impressive performance at this level to date. So, I'm doing this analysis as I write this post.

To lose all my poule matches did not feel good. In fact it felt like a kick in the teeth... it felt like every time I feel I'm making progress I land on a snake that sends me all the way back to square one... I felt absolutely terrible.

Outside of the European championships this has probably been my hardest tournament. For the mean time I feel nothing but doubt. I hope I will recover from this immediate state but I just feel like I have so far to go to compete at this level, that I have such a gap to bridge and such a mountain to climb coming from my situation.

Actually, screw that... screw feeling sorry for myself... I just need to work harder, to take my training to the next level of intensity, to up my fitness - to get faster and to think better. So I'm over that momentary depression this post has been very therapeutic for me.

In the poule I had Igoe (USA) #105 in world, Lamboley (FRA) junior world #1, Bravo (VEN) #41 in world, Stanislawski (POL) junior world #24, Kocsis (HUN) world #102. Actually, having looked up the fencers in the poule make me feel somewhat better... for me to have beaten any of them would have been a big upset, they're all very established interational fencers.

I was training with Igoe all week and he joked afterwards that he'd learned all my secrets, my retort to this was that I didn't use any of them anyway. This was yet another attack of first match gitters for me. Where I should have used the first match to use the full length of the piece and clear out any cobwebs - I was snatching at oppurtunities and didn't make the most of any of them. A very disappointing 5-1 defeat.

I knew I had to lift my game for second match if I was to stay in this tournament and I felt I responded reasonably well. I was moving freely and chased him down the piste. The little shit score keeper would change the score before the referee had given the point one way or another. After a point I saw the score 4-3 and the referee had awarded the point to me but the score did not increase I pointed this out to the ref but he said the score was correct. I should have been focusing on the next point, which I lost - 5-3.

I'd been watching the Venezualan in previous matches and he had struggled in some and I half fancied my chances. The referee however had already decided I was shit and was determined not to give me anything. I saw my opponent stop his attack dead, I attacked - point to the Venezualan. This happened at least twice in this match and was the difference between us in the end.

I'd been impressed by Stanislawski in the matches I watches him in and new he had a good parry. I was determined not to rush my attacks and tried to bring him out of the centre of the piste as much as possible. Things didn't really go to plan and the final hit despite my feeling that I had collects his blade and reposted was given his way. (I hate referees).

Knowing that I was out of the tournament and with nothing left to fight for but pride didn't make the last match easy and when I saw it slipping away from me I could do little to rouse myself into action. A few dodgy calls by the referee and a salute later and I was confirmed out of the tournament. My first time at this level to have lost all my poule matches.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Hungary: Day 5 - Taking it Easy

After the exertion of the day before I took Friday as a day of rest to make sure I was in the best possible form for the competition the next day.

I rested in my room for the most part and went for a bit of a walk around the city.

I was feeling quite confident about the compeition after the weeks training. After a meal in the hotel restaraunt with the US team I headed to bed early and was in bed by 11pm.

Hungary: Day 4 - Training with Les Maitres

Thursday was a great day for training.

The morning session started at ten with the US, Chinese and Hungarian teams and we were also joined by the Venezualans who had just arrived. After fencing opponents across four continents in an intense session I made my way back to the hotel.

On my way in the front door I happened to run into one of the coaches from US Metro, Jean-Philippe Daurelle who is also the head French coach. As it happened I had also been invited to train that evening with the club of Laszlo Szepesi and thought that the French team would also be training there. Jean-Philippe confirmed that he and some others would be there too and I decided to travel with them to the club.

I realised on the Metro that it was only french maitres d'armes, five of them, who were attending the training to see how things were done in Hungary. We arrived at 5 and there were only children training. I was assured however that there would be adults to fence as well. They eventually arrived at six and in the meantime I was assigned the task of documenting the occasion by taking photos of the training. Imagine the opportunity for these young kids, none were much older than ten or maybe 12, being coached be the French national sabre coach. That is on top of being already coached by one of the most respected coaches and former French head coach and probably having 6 years experience under their belts already - it's another world altogether.

When the adult fencers arrived they included an Egyptian, Shadi, who new the Northern Ireland lads well. I learnt that this club was actually the same club as Akos Pathok coached in. Since the NI coaching debacle he hasn't been back because he left the club for NI and then the position didn't work out as planned. Anyway, he was a good fencer and after fencing him and one or two others I was exhausted, as this was my second training session of the day.


Once training was finished the coaches invited me to a meal in a local Italian restaurant. For the first while I tried in earnest to understand what was being said. Imagine the scene, myself and six highly qualified coaches all speaking French. I was craning into the table to try to hear the softly spoken Laszlo. After 15 minutes of conversation about coaching, I thought to myself, "I wouldn't be interested in this conversation if it was in English" and began to concentrate on my pizza exclusively.

All is well that ends well, however, and I got my free meal out it as I suspected I might. We are also now endebted to the French federation.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hungary: Day 3 - Not Unhumourous Chinese Food

After the drama of the day before Wednesday went pretty much to plan.

Training was to begin 9am. I awoke early, had breakfast and was ready in plenty of time to head over to the venue.

The camp consisted more more or less in its entirety of free-fencing. It was a great opportunity for me to get to fence these top fencers even if for the most part I was getting my ass handed to me. I fenced a good cross section of the fencers there and had maybe 6-8 matches in total on Wednesday.

Once training was finished for the day myself, Jason Rogers and Ben Igoe from the US team went to have a bit of a look around the city. We took a subway in the direction of the castle (which is on the Pest side... or was it the Buda side?) and after some deliberation and advice from locals we got a connecting bus to the castle.

Our plan was to head to the national history museum. When we reached the palace/castle which housed the museum we paused for a minute to take some photos of the outstanding view over the Danube and the city. We had our free visitors map laid out on the wall trying to recognise what was what when an old man approached us. He had a long mustache... but only on one side, the other side was far less impressive and shorter. The moustache as well as his grayish hair was stained yellow from cigarette smoke.

He began pointing at the map with his yellow-stained fingers. The fingers ended with bizarrely gnarled and rotten finger nails, which must have been result of some sort of fungal infection.

"Allow me to SHOW you someTHING", his intonation altered bizarrely as he spoke in English with a curious Bulgarian accent. My immediate reaction was that he was going to point out a few things on the map and then ask for a tip but for the mean time i was willing to see where the conversation was going and had no intention of ever giving him any money.

"Here is of BEing THe Hou..SES of parlia...ment. It is the largest houses of Parlia...MENT hon De ContiNENT", he looked around us mischievously - what nugget was he going to produce for us? "BigHu Benne and the BritEESH parlia...Ment are bigger... But they are not on the ContiNENT!"

I was barely able to contain my laughter as he continued.

"WherEH arE you Fromme?"
"We're from the States", I said quickly before the Americans could say we were Irish.

He unveiled to us the true meaning of this interruption - which was that he was offering us a tour of the surrounds of the palace. We had no interest and Jason started to tell him so but visibly annoyed he started once again.

"Allow me justE three sen...ten...ces and don't interrupt me, please." And off he went - he offered us a cheap and "not unhumorous" tour of the surroundings promising us that it would save us time and money "and of course time his mon-EY" he chortled in an obviously put-on way elbowing Jason slightly. He promised to show us the "hiiiden secReTS of Budapest that not even the locals were of knowing". And on and on he went "Ov coorse" punctuated nearly every sentence.

Having no intention of going on the tour we tried to tell him repeatedly until eventually at an aparent break in his spiel Jason attempted to tell him that we weren't interested and he flipped his lid. He began rocking back and forward repeating "I told of you not to be of interrupting me". Having realised long ago that he was absolute mentalist we took this oppurtunity to turn our back to him. He carried on ranting and raving until he eventually walked away about 10 metres... but continued yelling at us.

I found the whole thing histerichal and it was definitely the highlight of my day. After that it turned out that the museum was closed so we had to go round the Hungarian national art gallery which seemingly contained no paintings by none Hungarians and as a result no one I had ever heard of. Eventually we got a metro back to the hotel and got ready for dinner.


That evening the Chinese team invited the US team and the Irish team to a meal in a local Chinese restaraunt. The odd thing was the Chinese team had been eating in the restaraunt three times a day for the last couple of days. I know I don't go looking for hte nearest Irish restaraunt when I go abroad or even when I'm at home.

The Chinese team sat at a large round table and unfortunately there wasn't room for all of us, so I sat with the Americans at a seperate table. It was particularly good chinese and very very cheap so I was very pleased. When the meal was over the Chinese team were sent home to bed or so it seemed and we moved to the large table and talked with Christian Bauer (Chinese coach and former Italian and French coach), the head of the Chinese federation, the vice-coach of the Chinese team and also their translator over green tea.

The meal was the Chinese federations treat, so we are now endebted to them. Next time there in Ireland for the Easts we'll have to bring them out.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Hungary: Day 2 - Disaster, My Only Travelling Companion

I awoke at 7am, as I awoke from the haze of sleep I imagined for a moment that I was still in Paris and that I had the whole journey ahead of me that day. My head cleared quickly and I prepared myself for the day somewhat relieved. I went for breakfast which was a reasonable buffet including proper cereal and sausage and scrambled eggs.

When I came back to my room, around 8.30 I started to gather my gear for the day. I had all the fencing gear I needed in a bag and began to get together my other bits and pieces. I soon realised that I didn't have my wallet. I was positive that I had it the night before - I had paid for the taxi to PBT and gone back to my room and fairly sure I had had it on the bed the night before but now it was nowhere to be found. My jacket was one of the last places I had it so I checked it thoroughly. I checked all my bags, the bed, underneath the bed, rolled out all the sheets, even the bathroom and repeated the process again and again and again. It was positively not in my room - damn!

I checked down in the hotel restaurant but no wallet had been handed in. I asked at the front desk but to no avail. Now quite panicked I searched my room and emptied all my bags and coat again and again. All the while it was getting ever close to 10am when the training was supposed to start. I texted Keeth Smart from the US team, who told me they were already on their way to the venue. Unfortunately I had no idea where the venue was...

I went to follow after them, hoping that my wallet would turn-up but fearing the worst. It appeared that my wallet had been taken from my room while I was at breakfast and there were plenty of random cleaning staff hanging around the corridor when I returned.

Searching for the fencing hall in the Nepstadion, no one had any idea where it was. This huge Olympic complex with maybe 10 or twelve arenas and countless help-desk and no-one could help me. Flustered over my lost wallet and abjectly lost I wandered around phoning people at home about cancelling all my cards.

After walking down a wall that seemed to never end for ten minutes I gave up and decided to check back with the reception in the hotel. They had no idea, but, very helpfully, they rang someone to find out. The endless wall I had been following apparently would have eventually lead me to venue, so I had to walk it again and further.

I eventually arrived at 11am and fencing was already underway. Without my lamé still though I was reliant on borrowing someone else's but I got a fair bit of fencing in. The US, Chinese and Hungarian teams are taking part so it's an incredibly high standard (and then me).


When I got back to the hotel it was time to start worrying about my wallet again.

I turned over my room once again. My coat, my bags, the bed, the bathroom - every square in inch of the room combed but nothing. I admitted defeat, the wallet was gone. Finding the number for card cancellations online I began the process of having my cards blocked. Once that was done, I headed downstairs to check with the reception one last time.

They told me once again that no wallet had been found and informed me that they'd send the chamber-maid to my room. What was I supposed to do with that I wondered. Confront her? Shake her upside down and see if my wallet fell out of her pocket?

I returned to my room to wait. Eventually a knock on the door and some sort of head chamber-maid and maid were at the door. Neither of them particularly spoke English. I asked the one in charge whether they might have found it but they replied in Hungarian that they had not. 5 minutes of shaking heads and shrugging later we parted company. Once more I returned to the lobby to find the address of the police station to report my stolen wallet just in case it was found empty. The manager behind the desk, fully aware of what was being indirectly suggested about his hotel was cold at best. He gave me the directions and I went up to my room to get my jacket before getting going.

I returned to my room and picked up my jacket - my wallet fell out of the right-hand side of the jacket immediately. The funny thing about this is that there are no pockets on the right hand side. That knowing my jacket pocket was one of the last places I had my wallet I had checked it repeatedly, moved it about the room as I searched the bed, patted it down completly and checked the pockets and the sleeves repeatedly. Was I going absolutely mad?

Whatever had happened to my wallet I had it back which was the main thing. Unfortunately all my cards were cancelled and this process is irreversable, so I only have the cash I have in my wallet to last me the week.


That evening was very quiet compared with the drama of the morning. I collected my brand new shiney lamé from PBT, ate with the US team in the hotel restaurant and watched some Prisonbreak before heading to bed.

Hungary: Day 1 - Travelling

I awoke in my apartment early on Monday morning with most of equipment already packed and moreorless ready to go. I went through one last check-list in my head and went out the door.

It wasn't until I was cruising at 40,000ft that I realised that I hadn't packed my Lamé - damn! I remember having a dream something to do with my lamé and whether these lead to my confusion in my mental check-list I don't know.

I checked my bag and confirmed my fears when I landed in Budapest. Now I needed to order a new lamé so I could train the next day. Luckily enough Budapest is the home of PbT fencing equipment and shortly after I checked into the hotel I headed for the address of the PBT shop I had found on the internet. When I reached the shop I ordered an new lamé and also asked them to print the name on the back (mandatory at this level of competition). They told me "S'not possible, Wednesjay eveningk readyie" but I kept at them until they brought out a manager type who said it could be ready for tomorrow evening(k).

I returned to the hotel and crashed out for the evening. A lovely meal alone in the hotel restaraunt, as is customary for me on these trips, was had - salmon this time. I watched some Prisonbreak on DVD and then went to bed early to get up for the next days training.

A Visitation

The weekend of the 2nd of February, Rachel came to visit me in Paris on her way home from Erasmus in Belgium. No discussion of fencing, no extra training though so this is hardly the place to discuss this...

Parting is...

During the week, one of the best friends I have made since coming to Paris, Phil, left for Borneo - crazy fool.

To mark this tumultuous time there were a couple of drinks over a couple of days culminating in a steak at 5am in the morning on Wednesday on St. Michel (which is apparently becoming where I go to mark any sort of ending).

Knack-Pain in Strasbourg

I thought I best bring you up to date with my competitions before I start writing about my week in Budapest, so I'll fill you in quickly on my trip to Strasbourg.

The trip to Strasbourg called for another long minibus journey and another long lesson in how to play another French card game - this one even more upsurd then the last. Basically, the aim of the game was to get rid of your cards but losing the game meant you were given a penalty for the next round. If you came last you would have to give your two best cards to the person who came first. This lead to several hours of losing hands until I eventually scraped my way out of last place, by which time everyone had had enough and we gave up.

After a nice meal in the picturesque Strasbourg town centre, I had a good night's sleep blessed with the rarity of a room on my own.

As for the competition, I was once again disappointed with my performance in the poules. I managed to get through one round of DE, however, at the expense of one of my team-mates who I beat in the 128. My low-seeding however guaranteed me a tough next round and I drew Julien Pillet - the toughest possible. Despite some initial optimism and a couple of decent counter-attacks, he pretty much picked me apart and the match ended 15-5. It was a good experience and I really am in no position at the minute to challenge this multiple olympian and best french sabreur of recent times at the moment.

Again, I spent the rest of the competition as the club photographer... someday I may be a real fencer.

The competition ended at 6ish and we arrived home finally after yet another exhausting minibus journey around midnight. So after all that the highlight of the weekend for me whould have to be the discovery of Knack-Pain, a strasbourgeois delicacy. Pronounced it was basically two hot-dogs in a proper baguette. From this you should be able to judge how the weekend was for me.

I find my form still fluctuating as much as my confidence in my ability to fence and perhaps that is telling. After every time I get knocked down it's up to me to build myself back up again.

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