For second time in a little under two years I had an oppurtunity for a day out where I dressed up like a ponse and parade about with a bit of paper. It was great to see all the gang from the masters class again. We hadn't been all together in the one place since the last nights of college and much of the day was taken up with polite questioning of "what are you up to now?" and then a series of recipricating and appreciative noises as one would explain ones current situation. I think my own explanation of being an international fencing bumb had to rank on the higher end of the scale of things.
Aside from those forced niceties it was great to share some time again with these people I had wasted a year with. Old private jokes soon resurfaced and soon it was as if we had never left those uncomfortable chairs in Smurfit.
The ceremony itself was the usual drab, formality. Nothing of note came to pass save for all my row and the next not receiving blank pieces of paper when they went to receive their masters degree.
When we had finished the ceremony in the O'Reily hall in UCD we went down to the Smurfit School for a reception. With Dinner still a few hours away, I tucked into the garlic bread to tide me over while I talked with lecturers and friends from the class.
I was going for a meal with my family and Rachel in Dali's (Here's a link) in Blackrock at around 7pm. We had an hour or two to relax at home and then I set off to pick up Rachel, who'd been on placement during the day, while the rest of the family headed on to Blackrock.
The food was absolutely fantastic and I'd heartedly recommend it. The ambiance , decor and service were all top-notch and it was a lovely meal.
When the meal was over myself and Rachel headed into town. With the Five Nations the next morning and captaining the sabre team, I knew I shouldn't really drink that evening or get home too late. I took the car into town so that I'd have a perfect excuse not to drink and a way of getting home easily.
Not being plastered didn't really have any effect of my enjoyment of the evening and it was great to catch up with my friends. Sadly though, tired already from the long day I had to leave relatively early and took off around midnight as I knew I'd have to get up early to be out in DCU by 9 the next morning.
Friday, March 30, 2007
For second time in a little under two years I had an oppurtunity for a day out where I dressed up like a ponse and parade about with a bit of paper. It was great to see all the gang from the masters class again. We hadn't been all together in the one place since the last nights of college and much of the day was taken up with polite questioning of "what are you up to now?" and then a series of recipricating and appreciative noises as one would explain ones current situation. I think my own explanation of being an international fencing bumb had to rank on the higher end of the scale of things.
Posted by Owen McNamee at 4:33 p.m.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Wednesday and Thursday evening I went to train in Salle Dublin and UCD respectively. If I am to be brutally honest, I was somewhat reminded of why I have to leave. The sole sabreur in Salle Dublin on Wednesday was Stephen. I don't know how he doesn't go mental. Not only is he surrounded by Trinity folk in the club (that may be a joke) but it seems he's nearly always the only sabreur there.
I gave him a few matches on both days and he was absolutely shattered (by his own admission) after a few bouts because no one around was really pushing him that hard.
I'm not belittling anyones efforts or anybodies club but something really needs to be done if we are ever to bring the level of fencing up to a decent standard in Ireland. While it was a great ego boost to temporarily be top-dog again it was not one which I particularly sought or appreciated.
Nonetheless though it was great to see everybody again in UCD. Although my time in the club may be dwindling if not already past, I've made some great friends there. The great positive atmosphere within UCD Fencing is one of the keys to the college staying on top for so long now.
Posted by Owen McNamee at 4:22 p.m.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
I arrived back in Dublin on Wednesday the 28th of March for what was to be a busy couple of days. Wednesday itself was my brothers 21st birthday, Thursday I was going to go training and had a fair few jobs to do, Friday was my masters graduation, Saturday was the Five Nations in DCU and my brothers birthday party, Sunday I was going to need to sleep a bit and Monday I was supposed to be leaving on a ridiculously early flight.
Posted by Owen McNamee at 4:17 p.m.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
As we approached the airport there was a checkpoint. A soldier or police officer, they seem to be much of a muchness there, checked under the cars in front of us with a tool that looked very much like a giant version of the mirror that dentists use for checking out-of-reach spots of the mouth. I can only presume he was looking underneath the cars for explosive devices.
When we got out of the bus and approached the door we had to go through our second check-point, which was a metal detector and x-raying of our bags. With 20-odd fencing bags in one group to go through this slowed us down significantly.
Upon arrival at the queue (yes, just the queue) for Air France our tickets were checked and we were handed departure cards. On these cards we had to fill in all the same information as the arrival cards and in the forms for our visas. We entered the queue for one of the few flights out of dodge that day. Once we had our tickets, which were hand-written (in this freshly Japanese built and designed hundred million dollar airport) and had our bags checked in, we had to go another desk in order to get those tickets stamped and validated.
Once that was done we made our way upstairs to the departure gates. Firstly we had to wait in-line for half-an-hour as, our visas were, exit cards and validated tickets were checked. Some of the French team had not realised they needed there tickets validated and so had to go back to the end of the line. The usual rigmarole of a lot of staring at the documents, then at the person, then back at the documents was followed for several moments before the endless series of stamping began for each person.
Eventually when that was done we went through the usual secutiry check which included a madatory frisking. I was able to bypass the next security desk which was just customs and made my way to the departure lounge for the short wait before we would be board.
When called to the departure gate we were loaded onto a bus for transportation to the plane. While it had been pleasently warm the whole time we had been there, this day was by far the hottest day. With the bus completely full and not many chairs on board... we sat there... and waited and waited. Half an hour to three quarters of an hour after getting on the bus we set off for the plane. After about a ten minute drive to what must have been the furthest runway away (were we still in the same airport) we arrived at the plane.
At this point our progress was once again halted... and we waited... and waited... Another half-hour must have passed. A Police 4X4 arrived, with a sniffer dog. At this stage the large luggage drums were all lined up in front of the bus. All of the drums were emptied and the luggage placed out on the tarmac. The dog was brought along all the rows of baggage. Eventually when that check was completed, the doors of the bus were finally opened. Our tickets and passport were checked and we were asked to put our luggage back into the drums.
As we finally approached the plane another of the same type of large buses was lined up in front of the stairs. Our tickets and passports were checked as we entered the bus again. The our carry on luggage was searched by police inside the bus as we moved through it before one final frisk and ticket and passport check before boarding the plane. I presented my boarding pass to the steward and finally took my seat.
Just as one final reminder of the mental nature of the country it is a apparently Algerian law that a Bug bomb be set off in the plane before take off. The steward set off the aerosol and then paraded up and down the cabin covering us all in lovely bug killing carcenogenic goodness... Bizarre!
That really some up the whole trip really...
Saturday, March 24, 2007
With no fencing for me on the second day (again), I return to the venue to watch what turned out to be an eventful days fencing. Algeria marked the return to fencing, after a three month absence through injury, of Olympic champion Aldo Montano (he's standing six foot away from me as I write this in the bleachers at Warsaw). His return was certainly dramatic, if not necessarily for the right reasons...
He was going strong after the poules, I had picked him out to win the tournament in a pool with the Brits. In the last 16 he faced Nicolas Limbach in a match some thought could produce the eventual winner. He seemed pretty relaxed going into the match, having a smoke before he warmed-up. In fact he seemed pretty relaxed all day, walking on his hands, posing for photos with his adoring Algerian public.
When it was time to fence though, he was all business. Limbach had the edge for most of the match, which was fenced at a ferocious speed and intensity. With Limbach in the lead entering the final stages Montano launched a comeback. With the score at 14-all Montano caught a parry and launched himself at his opponent - one light. He had just about enough energy to salute his opponent before collapsing on the piste, coughing up his lungs. My money really didn't seem very secure.
His next match was to be against the Pole, Gorski, who had been in top form all day, in the quarter-final. The match again was fenced at a tremendous intensity but the real drama was yet to unfold. Gorski was leading throughout the match by three or four points but Montana once again launched a dramatic comeback and the momentum had definitely swung in his favour.
With the score at 14-13 to Gorski, Aldo made him fall short and launched a counter-attack. The French referee somehow saw a preparation in the attack and awarded the point to Gorski. To say that Montano "lost it" at that point doesn't do justice to the lunacy that followed. He had already returned te his line in anticipation of the final point. When the ref had awarded the point, he flung his mask down in front of him and charged up to the ref, screaming in his face "No, No, No!" The ref was obviously reaching for his black card at this stage but was restrained by another French ref. Montano stormed back to the piste throwing his weapon into the surrounds of the piste.
He'd just about returned to the piste when suddenly he turned and bolted for the president. Several members of the Italian team immediately restrained him and he wrestled against them to try and get to the referee. The ref, taken aback and obviously slightly shaken had not option at this stage but to give him a black card.
Eventually the Italian team seemed to have calmed him down somewhat. They lead him away over to the other side of the venue. He threw his jacket and lamé to the side and walked away.
Out of nowhere, he turned and once again charged for the referee from the other side side of the arena, maybe 30 metres away. I've never scene someone moves so fast. As quickly as his sprint began, however, it was brought to an abrupt end when the stocky Italian team physio intercepted his march and rugby tackled him to the ground. Immediately, he was joined by the rest of the Italian team who piled on top of him to restrain him while he reeled on the floor.
Finally, the excitement was over. A couple of minutes later I passed the French referee outside, his hands visibly shaking as he drew his cigarette to his mouth. No one could believe what they had just witnessed. Events were to take an even more strange twist however...
Shortly afterwards as I sat near the French team, they were approached by the head of the Italian delegation. He said that Aldo wanted to apologise. I joked with the French guys around me, that it was a trap and that he shouldn't go. Nonetheless though he met with Montano, who duly apologised. The most miraculous thing of all though was that the black card was taken back... it really helps to be Olympic champion sometimes, I suppose.
After that, the rest of the tournament paled into insignificance. Of most note, was the performance of Tim Morehouse, of the US team, who went all the way to the final against Pillet. He ended up losing by the narrowest of margins 14-15 after Pillet produced a one-light counter-attack on the final point. The result meant that the US team had a member in the finals for the previous 6 tournaments. They're truly now a force to be reckoned with on the international tour.
Oh yeah, that and Réné Roche, the president of the FIE, turned up for a bit to watch the finals. I think I passed him in the restaurant later as well. Pretty unimpressive really.
That evening back at the hotel I ate with the French team and packed my gear in preparation for an early departure on Monday.
Friday, March 23, 2007
After a reasonable nights sleep, even with the coffee table beds, I got up refreshed after eight hours and made my way to breakfast. I had a reasonably light breakfast of cereals and fruit and still had an hour or two before we left for the venue. I headed back to my room to relax and prepare my equipment.
When the time came to leave I got on the bus with the French team. We waited on the bus for the best part of half an hour for whatever reason I don't know. I guessed that we were perhaps waiting for a police escort which never arrived as this was the one trip we took without and armed escort. Ingeniously enough this was also the one trip we took with a driver that had no idea where he was going. This gave us ample oppurtunity to see the Algerian countryside from the motorway. Every junction we passed without fail had several policemen with Kalashnikovs doing absolutely nothing apparently.
We drove and drove. None of us had any idea where the venue was but we were begining to get quite frustrated given the entry forms claims that it was 5 minutes from the hotel. After 45 minutes we reached the back gate of what was we hoped the venue. The driver drove through a make-shift shickane and up to the security gate. A heated exchange followed where the driver, I presume was telling him that this was a team for the competition and the security guard was telling him he'd have to use another gate and beckoning in a large oval indicating where the gate was to this large complex.
In the end the security guard would not give in and the bus began to slowly reverse out through the shickanes to rapturous applause from the French team. It was now only 5 minutes before the scratch. Just as we had negotiated our way backwards through the shickane another car drove up, presumably someone from the organising comittee. He berratted the security guard and beckoned to the driver to come through the gate. A series of varying salutes were given to the security guard as we eventually passed.
There we were the entire French and Irish teams should have been disqualified from the competition because of the incompatence of our hosts, for arriving after the scratch. Standing at the entrance of the venue it was possible to see our hotel.
The venue itself was a bizarre circular arena, shaped somewhat like a giant short white mushroom on the outside. Inside seating sourounded a large circular floor. Where eight pistes were set up (four of which were to be used for the competition). Despite there being plenty of room on the competition floor that was only open to competitors it was insisted that we leave our bags in the bleechers that were completely open to the public. Many school kids had been brought in for the day for the event and it was hard not to feel that this was not the best place for our bags.
As it happened I was to be in the second batch of poules and so our late arrival didn't make that much difference. I headed to weapons check straight away nonetheless, where the great inefficiencies of Algerian society were further displayed to me. I waited in line with Alex Rouseau and Nourdin Marouf from the French team. We had arrived at the weapons check behind the large Italian contingent. Aldo Montano, the Olympic champion, was before us in the queue. His hair gelled back, his armani jeans almost around his knees barely held up by his sparkly D&G belt. This was his comeback tournament after 3 months of injury. Right at the minute he was changing the visor in his mask.
The Algerian, the one singular Algerian, who was running weapons check was in no hurry with dealing with the Italians. He laughed and joked with Aldo, saying something about knowing his father. After each, piece of equipment was given a cursory glance, his cigarette hanging precariously from the side of his mouth as he squinted at Lamés or masks. Several of the Italians body-wires actually failed but after a series of "EH!" and some convicing shrugging of shoulders they were given there weapons mark.
Eventually my gear was inspected and past, one of my body wires checked and tagged twice and I went about warming up for the competition.
I should have seen the warning signs. My poule was completely mixed up. While the other poules all had a smattering of African fencers two or three in all of them, mine had only one Senegalese and no Algerian. Instead we had a Algerian referee (i.e. a crap one!)
ROSE Julien (GBR), MAROUF Nourdin (FRA), AIBOUCHEV Dmitri (RUS), ANNIBALDI Daniele (ITA) and OUEDRAOGO Julien (BUR) made up my poule. By no means an easy one particularly when compared to some of the others in the tournament.
Rose was my first match. He's a very decent fencer and highly ranked in Britain. The match went to 4-4 all. At this point rather than attacking I drop back and made him fall short. My final attack was just milliseconds to slow though and he was able to get me with a counter attack. That was a match I could have one and I knew I'd be hard pressed among the other fencers to find one that I could beat.
The ref was refusing to call the next match up and expected everyone to constantly look at the poule sheet for the next match. After getting a wrap on the knuckle I'd taken my glove off to have a look. I was surprised then to hear my name being called to the piste. When I arrived on the piste without my glove the ref summarily gave me a yellow, despite the protests that this wasn't necessary from my opponent Nourdin. While this is in the rules it is very rarely enforced and I was somewhat taken aback by the pettiness of this ref who then went on to make a balls of every second call in the whole pool.
My match against Marouf was very different to my first. Marouf is quite a short but lightning fast fencer, who's very entertaining to watch. On the other end of the piste however, I hesitated to much in my attacks and let his speed dictate the match from the start. It was a somewhat dissappointing bout and over too quickly.
Aibouchev the Russian had been frustrated by some absolutely awful refereeing decisions from the terrible referee which had handed the Burkino Fassoan an unlikely victory. By the time he reached me though he was in full flight and against my stumbling form tore me to pieces.
Annibaldi the lanky Italian was always going to be a difficult prospect and with my chances of going through beocoming slimmer by the second my spirit was whaning. Faulty electrics which I was almost certain was the cause of dodgy Italian body-wires that were allowed to pass by the dodgy Algerian doing the weapons check were the cause of us eventually moving piste. Where the faults continued but the result was never really in question.
Ouedrago - a consolation match against the bunny in the poule is not a very pleasing place to find yourself but nonetheless I tore into him and proved that I could fence to anyone watching and salvaged some dignity. My single victory of the tournament.
One victory is rarely going to be enough to secure passage to day two of a world cup and this was to be no exception. For the second week in a row I was to miss out on indicators with some one win fencers going through. I think I was the first or second elimination again.
I was thuroughly depressed after the poules and for the rest of the day really. Lunch didn't particularly help, when I found that the 3 day old greasy chicken was raw in the inside and the potatoe was all but entirely butter. I drank the juice and ate the bannana, the rest wasn't fit for much except the bin.
The novelty of the women's sabre WC poules did not entice me to stay at the venue for the afternoon and I soon left for the hotel after the lunch.
Drowning myself in the swimming pool crossed my mind but when I arrived in the pool in my hotel I was informed this was only for women and that the mens pool was over in the other hotel building. Somewhat adgitated by the news I left for the other hotel to see if I was bothered having a swim. When eventually I found the other pool in the other hotel building (which was incedentally, far nicer and much more populated than our own) the pool was so crowded mustachioed men and boys that I really couldn't have brought myself to go for a swim.
I went back to my room for the evening, only to emerge for dinner from the buffet alone. I wrote about the tournament in my fencing journal, watched some French TV and then went to bed on the rock hard bed, wiching I was back in Ireland at the Nationals that I might have won.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Not surprisingly there aren't too many airlines fly to the somewhat turbulent state of Algeria. Alitalia and Air France in fact are the only two European carriers who fly there.
Sitting in the Air France departure lounge, I stocked up on my newspapers once again (The FT, The Herald Tribune, Le Monde / Le Figarro, L'Equipe, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal). I generally don't buy the paper while I'm hear, so I use my frequent flights with Air France to stock up on a supply that will last me the whole of each trip. The one story that I've been following keenly through the FT is the Chinese Vs. European Global Positioning Systems (I don't know why there just seems to always be updates on the situation when I've been flying - maybe a topic for a post on its own).
As I've mentioned, this was one of very few flights to Algeria from Europe and the lounge soon began to fill with familiar faces. The German, Polish, French, Spanish and Russian team were all on my flight. I was also joined by Chris Buxton from the British team, who'd flown in from Hungary that morning. We talked for a bit, while through the window we could see the baggage handlers struggling to fit at least 40 fencing bags onto one plane. Sure enough the flight was delayed as a result and I prayed that my bag would not be one of those left on the tarmac.
During the flight, the man middle-aged man next to me, turned to me and asked me something. What he had said was unclear and I stared blankly back at him. He repeated what he had said in what I now realised and understood was a Geordie accent. It turned out he was a oil worker for Statoil going out on a six week rotation in Algeria. I could tell he wasn't particularly fond of the place, least of all because it kept him from his wife and children for a month and a half at a time.
We exchanged pleasantries and I spoke about why I was going to Algeria. The general theme of our discussion was 'why would you want to go to Algeria, if you didn't have to?'. Aside from the on-going terrorist threat and recent travel advisories given by many European states and the US, Brian also suggested that the recent earthquake in the last year which killed 30,000 people was another good reason not to go to Algeria. I paused and then asked -
"What do you do in the case of an earthquake?". I remembered from American shows talk of standing in doorways.
"No, you just get the hell out of the building"
"Oh, right", mentally patting myself on the back for choosing to go to Algeria.
"If you're stuck get under a table but mainly you want to get the hell out of there".
Talking to this friendly Geordie certainly passed the time quickly during the flight, if not also thoroughly terrifying me and we touched down, after what seemed like no time at all, in Algers International Airport. The Airport was very modern in fact and had apparently just been completed by Japanese contractors in the past year or two.
Before, we reached the carousels there was a huge queue to get through passport control. This was to be the first occasion where the farcical nature of Algerian society was to be revealed to me.
The process of clearing the passport and visa was of course a lengthy one and each person had to spend the best part of a minute standing in front of their little boxes as the passport police scrutinised them, their passport, their visa, their landing card (which contained all the same information as the passport and visa) and then them again. When this process was complete the was a lengthy series of stamping and more stamping and some more stamping for good measure before the person was allowed pass. The guard would then obviously take a few seconds to collect himself to collect before calling the next person.
As one could imagine then, the 5 queues that had formed went all the way to the back of the hall space available for them and were all maybe 50 people deep. All of sudden however, a random man with a suit, walkie-talkie and of course a powerful mustache came forward and started beckoning all the fencers to come forward to one line. He positioned us all in front of one of the boxes, at which point the guard at that box left his post, never to return while I was there. The Polish at this point tried to skip to the front of the queue to the left of us, to the muffled cry of "mfuff offff!" in countless languages.
I seized my chance while I could and while the Polish were being berated and turned to face their critics I nipped in ahead of them. I went through a quick (pointless) x-raying, metal detector and frisking (I couldn't understand having this at this point) and went on to the baggage reclaim. My bag was already waiting for me there and I wandered on through the exit expecting to see members of the Algerian fed to greet me... but no...
Walking out along the railings there was no sign of anyone official, least not someone fencing offical like. There were a group of inbred-looking football hooligans waiting to welcome back their team after some foreign triumph but that wasn't very comforting. I must have been the first fencer out the gates by easily half an hour. I went to the information desk and asked them in French to call members of the Algerian federation to the desk. I'd texted back to Dublin to check that there was to be a pick-up arranged for the airport but was soon texted back to be told that the Algerian federation weren't answering their phone.
Eventually, the various teams began to arrive out of the gate and I felt somewhat safer amongst there number. In hindsight I'm not particularly sure of the wisdom of standing in the middle of the French team given France's roll in Algerian history but wait I did. All the teams were already out and waiting before anyone came from the Algerian federation.
Finally, buses arrived and I was put in with the French with whom I was to share my hotel - "le Centre National de l'Armeé" [The National Headquarters]. We waited for our police escort and then set off through the suburbs of Algeria.
One of the most bizarre things about travelling around the roads of Algers is that at every possible junction between two and six policemen armed with Kalashnikov's will be standing around by all accounts doing nothing. I was told that Algers has something like 130,000 active policemen in active duty. We must have seen a fair portion of these just on our trip to the hotel.
Huge, dilapidated apartment blocks seem to be the stable of Algerian architecture. The towering blocks would be placed haphazardly over uneven ground, some would have bizarre extensions to them hanging precariously into mid-air or over other buildings. The vegetation which interspersed the blocks however was quite lush and green and not the arid waste land one might have seen in the likes of Greece. The vegetation and even grass had a very lush tropical sense to it. One got the impression that there was a country of great natural beauty out there even if it was covered in the excrement of hundreds of year of human hostility and unrest.
The five star hotel was quite nice. While it definitely wouldn't have been a five star hotel anywhere else in the world it was obviously the best that Algeria had to offer. Bizarrely enough it was divided into two entirely separate buildings. Myself the French and the Italians were staying in the slightly smaller of the two, which still possessed a lavish marble reception, swimming pool and saunas.
My room was very spacious with a remote control for the lights as well as the TV. I brought my bags in and then flopped down on the bed, tired from travelling. Crack! The bed was rock-solid. It was as if the bed-sheet were a table-cloth on a mahogany dining room table. This would probably prove a challenge, I thought to myself.
Jean-Philipe Daurelle (my coach from USMT and French National coach [name dropped]) had suggested that I eat with the French team that evening and with the alternative being eating alone, I gladly accepted. There was a buffet laid on for us and I carefully skirted the salads and anything else that may have been touched by local water and had some lasagne in the end. It was a good chance to get to know a few more of the guys from the French team and I made whatever small talk I could before calling it a night at a reasonable hour.
The problem of the rock-hard mattress was eventually solved by taking the two pillows off the second double bed in my room and draping myself across them. Miraculously, I got to sleep quite quickly and had a reasonable nights sleep. Still I have no plans on sleeping on my kitchen table when I get back home...
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
The resolution to my tales of Visa's and Rent Allowance...
Monday, of course the Algerian consulate was closed. So I arrived at the consulate at 9.30 on Tuesday just as it was opening to hand in my passport so that my visa could be rushed through. Surprisingly enough this wasn't actually that much hassle, save for having to queue for a bit outside in a queue I'm sure I didn't belong in. I gave in my passport and I was away to the CAF centre to give in my forms for my rent allowance. That was even easier and only took 2 minutes.
On wednesday, I went to the Algerian Consulate in the afternoon at the time I was told to collect my visa, fearing the worst... but everything was fine. That was, until I checked the Visa and they had spelt my name Mac Namee. Despite having it spelt correctly on 5 different forms, sometimes several times and despite sticking it in to a passport with my name spelt correctly. They smudged a bit of tip-ex over the offending "a" doing nothing about the addition of a space and gave it a stamp of correction of some kind. I left praying that this would not cause me any grief on the way into this bananna republic.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
The bus to the venue was early the next morning and having nothing better to do I went down to the venue to watch.
Keeth Smart's gear had never arrived in Tunis from the states so I lent him mine. It was all very amusing to see the Bronx-born former world number one warm-up in the Irish Track-suit and breeches on St. Patrick's day. We all had had a good laugh, that is, up until the Irish colours proved as unlucky for him as they had been for me as he lost out to a Russian in the Last 64.
Just as I had done, he promised he'd pretend he'd never been to Tunisia and particularly not to a fencing competition there.
The competition however went a lot better for some of his team-mates as Morhouse reached the Last-8 and Williams and Hagamen reaching the Last 16.
Before the finals there was a break of a few hours so I headed back to the hotel with the American team. There was no buses provided at this stage and we needed to get a taxi back. This proved to be trickier than at first it seemed given the large number of fencers who had the exact same idea and the enormous amoung of luggage in the form of fencing backs this also entailed transporting.
Eventually however I got a taxi with Tim and Jason and we were quite quickly back to the hotel. This was in no small part thanks to our driver, who drove like an absolute lunatic. We ended up arriving before some other members of their team who had left 10-15 minutes before us.
When we reached the hotel we headed for the pool. It was around this time that we got to witness the full fervour of Tunisian customer service. The US team wanted to take a sauna. So, they went through the seperate doors from the pool, downstairs to the sauna. They had already gone down to the sauna when I arrived to find that had got into a bit of trouble. Aparently the sauna was run by a seperate company and they were charging a ridiculous €15 for half an hour use. The US team had walked by the desk since there was no one there but the receptionist had soon arrived and started berrating them for going into the sauna.
One would think it reasonable enough in a supposed five-star hotel to have the sauna included in the price, but no and no she was laying in to them over there apparently "crazy" actions. She was even giving out to myself and Jason the last ones to arrive who were the only ones who spoke French. Even though they had only spent 5 minutes in the sauna and none had decided to stay when they heard the ridiculous price, they were insisting that they all payed. The general consensus however was that they could go make sweet-love to the nearest camel... and eventually nothing came of it. We enjoyed the free swimming pool and soon it was time for me to get back to the venue from where I was to get a lift to the airport.
I took the name of the venue from the poster in the foyer of the hotel and asked the hotel to call me a taxi. I assumed that the hotel would explain to the taxi where I was going, or even the doorman but no and it was a drawn out process which took several phones calls to explain to the driver where the venue but eventually I got there ok.
The French and the Russians however, had the strongest teams and they were bound to dominate the tournament. The semi-finals saw Yakimenko Vs. Pillet and Reshetnikov Vs. Anstett. Yakimenko eventually ran out the winner against Pillet and Anstett beat the other, previously unheard of, Russian. In the final, Yakimenko proved too strong for Anstett despite a very close fight and won 15-13.
I have the most part of those matches recorded and I'll post them up when I get a chance.
I my back to Paris was uneventful and why I returned from the most miserable St. Patrick's day ever the last thing I needed to hear was that Ireland had missed out on the 6 Nations because of the decision of one stupid Irish video ref and one stupid decision not to go for a penalty...
Ah well there is always next year for Tunisia, the Six Nations and St. Patrick's day...
Friday, March 16, 2007
Up early after a good nights sleep, I went to breakfast early enough that it would be well settled before the competition.
I had drawn my team-mate at Metro Alex Woog (FRA), Koniusz (POL), Tim Hagamen (USA), Thiam (SEN), Dekkiche (ALG) and Sarris (GRE).
First up was my match against Sarris. After some initial problems with the pistes we moved to another one with score 0-1 agsainst me. I found myself quickly 4-1 down, sleeping at the start of the competition. I clawed my way back to 4-4 and on the final point he rushed and missed and I counter-attacked and won the bout. Quite pleased with that how I fenced, I was content moving on to the next fight.
The next match was against Thiam from Senegal, a very athletic but straight forward fencer I had him tagged as one of my must win fights before the poule began. This was a foolish thing to do in hindsight and I put too much pressure on myself to beat him. A sloppy parry/clash of blades at 4-4 that he he some how got a one light from and I'd lost the bout.
The next match was against Hagamen of the US. A very tall fencer I was able to make him fall short easily enough and then patient began building my attacks. Two of my attacks however were cancelled by the ref for a white light before they landed (despite this white light making no difference to the attack). Instead of facing a match going to 4-4 I was 4-2 down and flustered from having to change my weapon twice and my body wire - I lost the last point.
Next against the Algerian Dekkiche (who was really pretty shit), I was really pushing myself to win (not holding out much hope of being able to be Woog or the Pole). I gave away stupid points to the midget and became frustrated. Despite trying to clear my head I somehow managed to lose the last point - I can't even remember how.
While I tried my best against Woog and Konsiuz they were by far the best fencers in my poule and I couldn't match them on the day - particularly with the wieght of inevitability weighing on my shoulder. Konsiuz I took to 5-3 but he proved to be too fast. Likewise against Woog I went tit-for-tat with him for a few points but he came out on top 5-3 and I ripped back the nail of my thumb for good measure after a clash of guards.
Thoroughly dejected I waited for confirmation of my elimination. Although from talking to the Americans it seemed as though there might have been enough 1 victory opponents to secure a place on day 2. Having my hopes raised slightly only made it sting more when I was the first to be eliminated (of 53 to qualify I was 54th).
So that was a pretty depressing day all round.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
My journey to Tunisia was very straight forward. I travelled out to Roissy with my packed lunch and waited around Charles de Gaulle until it was time to depart. I'm really getting a accustomed to travelling Air France. I take the oppurtunity to take a copy of all the free papers, in French and English. I start with the FT, work my way through the Herald Tribune, breeze through the Wallstreet Journal and USA Today, then read through L'Equipe and Le Monde (or Figarro). It's the only time during the week I really get an oppurtunity to read the paper and I use the oppurtunity to catch up on world events as best I can.
A full strength Russian team (except for Pozdnyakov) were on my flight. My bag was already waiting for me when I reached the reclaim area and I strolled out to meat the waiting organisers. It was sometime again before all the Russians got there bags and came out, along with the Greeks and the Polish. I was in the same hotel as the Russian team and while the Greek and Polish team left for there hotel we waited for a delayed flight with more fencers for our hotel.
After about an hours delay at the airport and repeated apologies from the assembled Tunisian federation officials we left the airport for the hotel - the Irish team (me) and the 15 strong Russian team. We came to a fairly battered mini-bus and loaded all the fencing bags on through a window. With all of us slightly cramped but aboard, we set off... with Jennifer Lopez blaring... on tape. I chuckled to myself as we set off and laughed even harder when after the first song was over, "Get Right" I believe, there was some fumbling with the tape deck and then half a minute later it started playing it again. It was all too amusing to think that he might only have the single of this terrible song. The joke lost it's shine however as I soon realised that it was an entire album of J-Lo I was to be subjected to for the trip. 45 minutes of trundling along Tunis' motorways later we arrived at the hotel.
This was a 5-star Summer resort hotel, the Al Mouradi - Gammarth, albeit a North African five star hotel. The place was as if the shining was filmed in sunny north Africa rather than the Rockies - miles upon miles of empty corridors; the place was almost completely empty.
That evening I was pleasently surprised to see the US team arrive at the hotel. I was somewhat releaved that I wouldn't have to try and speak Russian for some company in the hotel. The Spanish team were also staying in the same hotel, so there was plenty of English speaking fencers around eventually.
That night I ate with the Americans and then went to bed reasonably early before the competition the next day.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
After booking my flight for both Algeria and Tunisia, it wasn't till a couple of days later when both federations were contacted - that I realised I'd made a small mistake. To paraphrase the email from the Tunisian federation - "While we one happy to unrange pick-up for your fencer and accomodation, we should inform you that his current flights well leave him late for competition which starts on Friday".
I went to recheck the dates and see if I could change my flight. The dates on the calendar of the FIE site still said Saturday and Sunday but when l checked the entry form the competition it was indeed changed to Friday and Saturday. Just to be sure l checked Algeria too and exactly the same was true. I had to change all my flights. Tunisia l could change over the phone but Algeria had to have paper ticket (which incidently had to be sent to my address in Ireland, a sure sign of awkwardness to come in terms of travel to Algeria).
Neither of the changes were going to cost me money, so I was happy enough about that at least. Luckily enough, my tickets to Algeria had just been posted to me and arrived that very day. I set off to the nearest Air France office which was wittier walking distance, just off Bastille. I explained the situation to the teller there, who was very helpful, and went about printing new tickets for me. As she gave me the tickets she asked me whether I had my visa for going to Algeria. My what? This was the first I'd heard about this. My only experience previously of having to get a visa was at the airport in Turkey and was a two minute transaction. For this though I'd need to go through the Algerian consulate.
Information on how to get a visa was hard to come by. The number for the Parisian Consulate gave nothing but an answering machine, so I decided to give the consulate in London. Which also covered Ireland a call. They told me I had unrung the wrong pant of the consulate and that the visa section was closed for the day.
The next day when I rang back, they ware as helpful as an American flag in Iran. They told me nothing much except that I was going to have to go ltruough the consulate in Paris and giving me there address and telephone number, both of which I already had. Between the many different consular websites, it seemed that I would need a confirmation from my hotel, some sort of proof of occupation in Paris or some form of invitation from an official Algerian body. I decided on option number three and asked Nuala if she could get an invitation for me from the Algerian Federation. It didn't arrive till last Monday - and the consulate was closed.
Tuesday, I decided to tie up a few bits of annoying paperwork and had all the documents needed for my CAF as well as the bits and pieces for the visa (the application form in duplicate, a photo-copy of my passport, the invitation arid two passport photos). The consulate was in the North-West of Paris, on Rue Bercy incase you are ever looking for it, a half hour or so away by metro. Wary that it had weird opening hours I arrived in good time in the morning.
The downstairs lobby of the Consolate was packed. I was sent by the receptionist to the second floor for a business visa. When I arrived there was two men ahead of me. One was French, he wore an leather bikers jacket and scarf, an artist I would later learn, the other an Algerian, a young smartly casually dressed business man who regularly travelled to and from Algeria. The Frenchman approached the window, the woman took his documents and then told him he need some other form of documents and sent hi to photocopy them. Then without further word she dissappeared.
When she eventually returned, the Algerian, who was familar with her and who chatted with her as he gave her the documents, approached the window. He two was told he needed some other documents and was sent off to get them. It was about this time that the Frenchman returned, but she was already gone again, without a word. When she was back in place, he gave her the documents she had commanded and she called me. I gave her the documents I had which all seemed to be in order. I needed to make a photocopy of something, so I too needed to go down to the lobby and find the photocopier.
When I returned both the Frenchman and the Alegerian had run into the brick wall of Algerian democracy, which I was soon to encounter. The letter from the French artist from his patron in Algers was not good enough. He explained that he had the full sanction of the Algerian cultural authority as well but she was having none of it and he became more and more irrate. The Algerian had been told he needed some other form as well that would be awkward to him find. When eventually I was called she began to pick at my application. I had entered student as my occupation (rather than bum) and she wanted some kind of proof that I was a student. Knowing well that my student cards were all out of date, I said that I didn't have them with me in France. Then she wanted me contact the college to get them to fax me some sort of proof. I told her that this wasn't possible either.
As luck would have it, I also had with me forms for the Aide de Logement with me and she took my lease as some sort of proof that I wasn't going to stay in Algers (my growing annoyance with this backwards state wasn't enough). I was sent was again to photocopy this document. Eventually when I came back and gave her all the forms, photos, and photocopies she began scurrying in and out of the office for no reason and dealing with other customers. Myself, the French Artist and the Algerian joked about the ridiculousness of the situation. Eventually after maybe 45 minutes had past she called me once again (a very large and disorganised queue had developed at this stage). She told me that everything was finally in order and that I should go round to another office to pay for the visa. She had my passport still but I assumed that it would be returned to me once I had paid for the visa.
I had assumed wrong. I paid for the visa and was handed my receipt. When I asked for my passport back the teller laughed. "We need to keep the passport while the visa is being processed". This was ridiculous, they had two photocopies of my passport, countless documents and now they wanted to keep my passport as well. I wasn't particularly happy with leaving my passport in the hands of these nutters anyway but I explained that I would be leaving Thursday for Tunisia and needed the passport. "Then why did you apply for the Visa now?" Ugh!
In the end I have to return to Algerian consulate early on Tuesday morning with my passport so that it can be rushed through by the afternoon, so I have it before I have to leave for Algeria on Thursday.
My brief follow up to this bureaucratic mess was a return to pure French bureaucracy. When I went to find an office to give in my application for Aide du Lodgement, the first office I chose to go to was a good 20 minutes from the nearest metro right at the edge of the city. By the time I got there it was closing and I was told that they don't deal with the applications there and to go to an office on Rue Nationale.
When I eventually reached that office, queued for twenty minutes and then handed in my forms, I had forgotten my proof that I have a French bank account (RIB) and would have to come back when I got back from Tunis.
Posted by Owen McNamee at 7:27 p.m.
Monday, March 12, 2007
I've learned I'll be captain of the Irish Men's Sabre team for the 5 Nations in Dublin. It's a great honour for me and a responsibility I intend to take very seriously.
Posted by Owen McNamee at 10:54 p.m.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
...The one where Cheddar is laughed at!
We left for the Circuit National in Charleville on Saturday afternoon as the competition was to start early on Sunday morning.
The trip to Charleville passed without incident much like the actual town of Charleville. We walked around Charleville on a Saturday night for almost 2 hours looking for somewhere to eat. Despite being somewhat picturesque, the place was an absolute ghost town. Those restaurants which were even open were full and laughed at us, at the suggestion that we might get a table without a reservation (there was 8 of us, so this was somewhat understandable).
Eventually, much to my discust we found an Welsh bar (apparently they do exist) and we ate there. Reasonably cheap pizzas were greatly appreciated after the long walk. Less appreciated was when I managed to pour my entire beer into my lap - absolutely soaking my trousers. Between that and stuffing my Calzone pizza with chips I amused my French team-mates at least.
The next morning we travelled to the venue which was over half-an-hour outside of Charleville. The setting was incredible - it was a lake-side sports/conference centre in the middle of an evergreen forest. All this on the warmest day of the year, with blaring sunshine twinkling off the lake.
The setting seemed to suit me and produced my best performance at a French competition so far. While the referee in my poule was absolutely blind (afterwards he went back to his actual job at the refreshments stand), I managed to rescue my poule with two victories (but that really should have been at least 4 were it not for the ref). I was ranked 41st and in the Last 64 managed to overturn my opponent who was seeded 24th after the poules.
In the last 32 I faced Lombolay (the junior world #1) who I had faced in Budapest a couple of weeks earlier. The first couple of points went against me but then I started to get on a roll. I was really in the zone and started picking him off with counter-attack after counter-attack and when I launched my own attacks they were landing perfectly. Eventually, I found myself 14-9 up. Needing only one more point to secure a very impressive victory.
I suppose I started thinking of the victory too much, I suppose that when he started getting points back I panicked somewhat. Anyway, somehow I let the match slip away from me and what could have been an awesome victory turned into a crushing defeat. Damn.
Anyway, like I was saying, this was still my best performance at a French Circuit competition so far and I know myself now that I can perform at that level and improve my future results.
The journey home to Paris was not too long. We listened to the England - France rugby match, which was completley incomprehensible for me because of the speed at which the commentators spoke. I ended up thinking that France one and it was till the next day that I realised otherwise.
As we approached Paris, Jacque Chirac was making his final official address to the nation. I wish all french people would speak as clearly as he did - I could understand him perfectly.
Friday, March 09, 2007
I've no idea what I did from the 3rd till the 9th of March. Bizarre as it is, I know I went training and the usual mondane things but this has to have been one of the most boring weeks of my life.
Posted by Owen McNamee at 10:52 p.m.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
...by which, I mean fencing.
The very next morning after the fencing, I travelled back to Paris on the 7am flight.
I trained as usual on Tuesday and Wednesday. I wasn't to be alone in Paris long at least as my friend, Martin, was visiting for the end of the week.
He arrived on Wednesday afternoon (and I still went to training) but afterwards we to the Chameleon Jazz bar, near St. Michel. Over the next couple of days we did all the touristy stuff that I've all but ignored since I've been in Paris - The Eiffel Tower, Musé D'Orsay, The Louvre (although I go there pretty regularly) and all that sort of thing.
Thursday night we ate in the Refuge De Fondue. I'd invited David from the Irish College along the day before but for some reason he thought it wasn't a fondue restaurant. I still maintain this was the fault of the temporary insomnia he was suffering when I invited him, rather than my sarcasm. Words cannot express the guilt I felt when after coming all the way over to the restaurant he decided to leave, as he hates fondue.
Eventually we were seated next to a group of Americans, who we got talking to throughout the meal. They'd been there 3 times in a month which is a true testament to Americans fondness for cholesterol. The loudest and most drunk soon pronounced herself to be Irish-American, her parents having left Belfast when the getting was good. A conversation soon erupted, spewed if you will, over the nature of origins. The other Americans, Two Jewish Americans (one Croatian-Jewish American man and one quiet polite Jewish-American girl) and one loud Romanian-American.
Like the congealing cheese in front of us, the conversation soon turned far too heavy, for our tastes and became some sort of rant on the meaning of existence by Romanian-American who was countered by the Irish-American girl telling him he was full of crap. Then there was some sort of debate over the validity of national identities - this nearly crept into questioning the validity of the Jewish-American identity, which was immediately rebuked by the Zionist Croatian-Jewish-American.
Myself and Martin, watched on amused at how these people who were obviously American to us could tie themselves in knots over such a trivial matter such as where their ancestors came from. Anyway, that provided plenty of entertainment for us for the rest of the evening.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Since the 'varsities I've been inundated with emails, text messages and phone calls congratulating, thanking and many more just asking for the full story about what happened on the weekend.
Many have asked me to recant the fictional story of the fictional character called 70's Porn Man and the fictional characters he interacted with, who I invented over the course of the weekend. Obviously any resemblance to real people living or dead is completely coincidental. 70's Porn Man and his actions are entirely a work of fiction in no way based on real life. Enjoy...
Dr. 70's Porn Man was the honorary president of X University Fencing Club. His predecessor won something like 16 'varsities or at least his team did while he did nothing. X college haven't won since he took over 6 years ago. He decided this year was going to be his year and started getting the team together, coming down to training, taking attendance at training, encouraging as many of them as possible to go to Salle X and buying them all green arm bands with XUFC to wear during the 'varsities.
I'd seen him around the odd time before but the 'varsities weekend was the first time I've been exposed to him for any prolonged period. He wears dark sunglasses all the time, has ridiculous oily shoe-polish-black hair and has incredibly bad teeth. He's also a tremendous windbag and I'm fairly sure I saw him carrying around a picture of him on some team or other on the weekend. All his conversations start with "Back in my day..."
This was all well and good before the 'varsities, XU were happy enough to take his money and have rally the team a bit and no one else gave two shits what he was doing. He was hanging around all day one of the 'varsities cheering on XU really loudly and being a bit of a dick we noticed him and gave him the name 70's Porn Man because he looks like some sort of aging sleazy seventies porn star and director or something. On day 1 he'd made a complaint to the DT about Stephen trying to influence the ref in some match or other... complete bullshit considering how much he was bothering the refs and the first sign of things to come.
The shit started to hit the fan on day 2 though (the shit being him). We were winning by 2 weapons to 1 after day 1 so that must have rattled him a bit. I saw him wandering around talking to fencers from other clubs and then eventually he went up to DT. News quickly spread over to me that he was making a complaint against UCD. I went over to the desk to hear him suggesting that UCD should be thrown out of the competition because they had failed to have the trophy on show (Aidan had it back in his room and was going to come with it later). I laughed at Des and said something along the lines of "So we're going to let some randomer make up the rules of the 'varsities now". Des wanted to appease him, so I brought Stephen over and he got Aidan to bring down the trophy. As we walked over to the table he slow-clapped us. We were just thoroughly bemused.
Talking to Hugh afterwards he told me that 70's Porn Man had been trying to convince him to go up and complain with him too, so it seemed like a few universities were annoyed by this. At this point 70's Porn Man who was walking into the other hall, made a detour from the wall, walked into the crowd of three of us and barged his way in between Hugh and whoever else it was I was talking to. Shouldering them and sarcastically saying thank you before walking off again. It was around then that Cahill and Keith came in hung-over and wearing big aviators. I borrowed Keith's aviators and marched up to the DT desk and demanded that I wanted to launch a complaint against XU. All the while 70's Porn Man was right behind me.
We went back to whatever we were doing but 70's Porn Man continued. Next thing he went over to try and use the same line about each of the individual trophies. He corned Lorraine and started berating her. I could see her over with him for at least half an hour but I was fencing a match at the time and by the time I was finished she had walked away - crying! I talked with her for a bit then made my way to the DT desk to try and get that shit thrown out of the hall. Des and Jonathan talked with Lorraine but were again reluctant to cause a scene and he remained.
Marcos went over to him to appease him and let him rattle on to him for ages about 70's Porn Man's plans to take over the Fed! Marcos of course said we'd support him if he'd just shut-up for the day (yeah right!).
It was pretty quiet up until women's sabre began. As the probably the best sabre president there, I was asked to ref loads of the sabre. I reffed all the teams including XU and I reffed them all well. He was standing down XU's end and cheering for them for some of them and I was joking with Kate that he was making it very difficult for me to give them points. The things was - XU thought he was a dick as well and didn't want him representing them at all. They were already quite embarrassed about what he was doing and worse was yet to come.
I was asked by the girls on both teams to ref the UCD vs. Trinity match. I made sure that both teams agreed to that before the match and neither had a problem with it. It was a very difficult match for me to preside and if anything I overcompensated in favour of Trinity - and Kate agreed afterwards, when we had won, and thanked me for the presiding along with the rest of her team.
They were very pleased with my presiding and so much so that they sought me out and asked me to preside their next match against Colraine - a match they were almost certain to win and that I had no problem reffing. I had finished two matches and was changing over to the third when 70's Porn Man came up and squared off to me -
"I've asked the DT that you be banned from reffing all our matches. That's the way it works you don't ref us and we don't ref you. Now we'll have to find another ref."
"Well you're team has just asked me personally to ref them". The Ladies sabre team started backing me up and confirming that I was a good ref but he persisted."I very much doubt that you'll find another ref willing to take this match if you have me removed", I continued. "Now if this is not what the team captain (Colin had come-over and sided with me) or the team itself want I'm going to have ask you to back off"
I was shaking with rage at this stage, quite close to actually decking this shit. "I'm so close to having you expelled from this venue"
Jonathan came over at this stage to calm me down and explains things a bit. He claimed that Lorraine had allowed me to be banned - so I went off to Lorraine. She had obviously said no such thing; she had said that if they didn't want me to ref they themselves would have to tell me. So, I went back in to ref the match.
As the two fencers got ready for the next match, I leaned over to 70's Porn Man who was sitting down the end of the piste grumbling loudly and pointed and winked at him saying "I love you, 70's Porn Man". He immediately stormed up to me and squared up to my face - "Do you have something to say to my face?” So I laughed in his face and said "I love you, man!" patting him on the shoulder. "You do in your arse!" He grumbled and walked away. "Are you accusing me of sarcasm? And I'd watch that language or you're going to get carded. Now stay the hell away from my piste!"
At this point he got up and stormed across the piste out into the other hall. I thought he was going to go attack poor Lorraine again so I told Tony and Marcos to go interject. As the bout finished though, the XU captain walked up to me shook my hand and said 70's Porn Man had resigned and he thanked me wholeheartedly, as did the sabre team and any other XU members around me - it was incredible. So he'd had enough of them being ungrateful of his meddling and resigned - Result!
So I was a hero of XU they joked about me being the next president. The world has been turned on its head by one cantankerous old fart.
So there you go...
Once again I'd like to point out that 70's Porn Man and any other person mentioned are purely a fictional characters and is not based on any real person living or dead. The events depicted in this blog-entry are fictitious. Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental.
Our hangovers couldn't hold us back in Men's Sabre and we finished out the weapon undefeated in the morning despite the best efforts of UCC who gave us a very good match. With men's sabre finished it was 2 weapons to 1 in our favour. The intervarsities however is always judged on total team victories so our superior performance in men's sabre might have given us breathing space of a couple of matches.
Despite the debut Irish appearence of a French top-20 epeeist for Trinity our girls took them very close but the pivotal match in Women's Epee went to Trinity. Our girls didn't drop any other matches however. A similar story in Men's Foil, the pivotal match was UCD Vs. Trinity but Trinity managed to get the upper hand in that match also.
UCD were always going to favourite in Women's Sabre and I helped warm them up for the event. In the end, UCD were undefeated in women's sabre destroying all in their wake.
Finally, after possibly the longest weekend of my life the Intervarsity was secured for UCD in the most closely fought 'varsities in years. This was UCD's 20th intervarsity victory and our seventh in a row.
After the bad nights sleep I was up early to fence Epee. I had a light-breakfast of museli and some toast. I was delighted to see my fellow Epee team members tucking into an enormous fry half-an-hour before we were to start fencing. I managed to scrounge a lift across to the venue from Sonja, so we were over there in two minutes.
Epee, it must be explained is a unknown foreign land to me. I've spent the last 3 years training exclusively in Sabre, the most frenetic and immediate of the weapons. Epee is the aboslute antithesis of sabre, patient, often slow and methodical.
After our warm-up, our first match was against Queens. This was not the Queens of previous years by any stretch of the imagination. Some of the experienced fencers they had previously had left and some of the experienced fencers they still had didn't show up - so they were left with a team of beginners. 10 minutes of them walking on to our epees later and we were finished.
This didn't really work in our favour as our next match was against our main rivals Trinity, who while we had been able to snooze through our first match had been given a good warm-up by a decent UCC team. Colin, our no. 1 epeeist had a disaster, as did I. Aidan carried the team during the match but it wasn't to be enough and I had to endure my only team defeat of the weekend - ugh, how horrible!
Things went according to plan after that. We crusied through most of the rest of the matches, that is until I was faced with Noel from Maynooth. The man will not attack, will not make any offensive action, will not do anything except wait for a definite attack and then parry reposte. My matches against him have always been frustrating as a result. The sheer monolithic boring nature of his tactics always enfuriate me and this match was no exception. I freaked out a little and after one more match, I had had enough of Epee for the day and was subbed out for the more than capable Matthew, who had a blinder for the rest of the Epee.
We finished second in men's epee behind Trinity after our sole defeat to them. As that was happening our women's foilists were cleaning house and destroying all in their wake, including Trinity which on paper seemed like it would be a closer match. It was 1 weapon apiece as we entered Men's Sabre, back to what I do best.
Men's sabre was a cruise for us with myself, Stephen, Julian and Ken tearing lumps from most including a very one-sided match against Trinity. Trinity however were destined to suffer with a weaker men's sabre team. They lost to us, UCC and Royal College of Surgeons (forgetting about the very talented foilist and sabeur, Mohammed). As the day wore on it seemed likely that despite everything, Men's sabre was going to run onto the next day. We were going to have to fence again in the morning, hang-overs and all.
The evenings entertainment was exceptional and it was great to get a chance to talk to everyone after being away for a while. The intervarsities Initiation was the usual law-suit-waiting-to-happen drunken slip-fest that it normally is and UCD won the boat-race at a canter (Stephen and Eimear displaying what stunning drunks engineers are).
I took a backseat to the madness for the most part and took the oppurtunity to catch up with people I hadn't seen in ages.
The night just wouldn't stop but at 4am in the residents bar I felt it wasn't going to yield much more and decided to call it a night.
Friday made the mammoth trek to Maynooth's Glenroyal Hotel.
Maynooth is a weird place. It's situated maybe 30 minutes outside Dublin when there is no traffic. It's quite blatantly a suburb in Dublin's great conurbation which stretches well past this small Kildare village. All that being said the locals seem determined to be as country as possible perhaps as a reaction to being swallowed by Dublin. The pubs are very much country pubs (albeit bigger and full of students), the hotel is very much a country hotel with weddings with people with mustaches on-going 24 hours. Although it's a poor reflection on me I was quite taken aback when the owner of the Centra spoke to me in Irish. Anyway, to me it might as well be Ballybunion as 30 minutes from my house.
Getting out there on a Friday evening it might as well be BallyNaHoolieWoolie with the M50 jock-o-block the entire way out to the exit for Galway and the N4 snailing along after that. The team had a meal together in the hotel that evening. As the time crept on towards ten we headed in to the main street to meet up with the other teams for the draw that would decide the order for the weekend.
We headed down to the Roost and when most of the teams were there we made the draw. I didn't stick around too much longer after that, as I found myself pretty shattered once again.
The idea for the team to all travel and stay in the hotel was a master-stroke. There was a real sense of togetherness about the whole thing and making a weekend of it, even if we were so close to UCD.
Well it seemed like a good idea until I tried to get to sleep in my room. Just outside the window there was a vent for an air-conditioning vent which was making a noise like a tractor, right outside the window. Shortly after 11pm that noise was joined by the noise of the nightclub which must have been directly below us, the throbbing irregular beat of the base from whatever best of 90's trance CD that they were playing filled the room and there was no way I could get to sleep. Eventually just before 2, I went down to the desk to complain, they apoligise and told me that there wasn't much they could do tonight but tomorrow they would change the room. The nightclub was due to close at 2am anyway, so with the promise of quite to come I returned to bed.
At around 2am the nightclub finished and by about 3am the stragglers who had been talking loudly outside it's door, also under the window had been cleared. I was just about getting to sleep when someone statred shouting in the corridor. I soon overheard that it was some female knacker with a thick Dublin accent who was very tired and emotional whaling down the phone to someone called Sharon "Shrad-don" as only drunken scum no how to do at three O'Clock in the morning. Eventually it stopped but at 4am she came back and I could take no longer - I got and got my trousers on again, ready to smash her head in with the nearest fire-hydrant. Luckily enough as I poked my head out the door some hotel staff were coming down the corridor to collect her.
Finally, I could get to sleep... for 4 hours!
Thursday I spent running errands during the day and taking it easy at home; watching a few DVDs that my brother, Niall, had bought since I've been away.
Training that evening in UCD was pretty good. I was glad to be back and see everyone and training was packed as I was told it had been for several weeks previously. The team was working hard towards the weekend as we knew it was going to be close.
I did a bit of epee again just to get my eye in a bit (although later I think I would have been better working on instinct for the weekend) and finished off with some sabre towards the end of the night, including a bit of an exhibition against Marcos. His DKIT lads watched on as we fought. As a gentleman, I shall save the blushes of my coach and not elaborate on the score.
After a good session, I went home for a relatively early night as I knew it would be a long weekend ahead.
Wednesday 21st February I returned home to Ireland for the Irish Intervarsities. I'd changed my flight from the Friday to the Wednesday since there was no training in Paris that week since the club was closed for the mid-term ski holiday. Hence I thought I'd get a couple of days at home before the weekend and maybe get in a few training sessions back home.
I flew CityJet/Air France back to Dublin and arrived mid-afternoon. After returning home and recanting my stories from the last two weeks to my Mum and Granny. I went to training in Salle Dublin.
There was myself and another sabreur, Stephen, that's all there was to fence in sabre. It reminded me why I left, I suppose. I don't know how Stephen puts up with it. The two of us were fencing weapons other than sabre on the weekend so we took the oppurtunity to fence epee or foil; so that saved the session from being a complete waste.