Business as usual this Michaelmas term at the Oxford University Fencing Club (OUFC), with the anticipated jumble of old and new faces turning up Monday and Thursday evenings (and, so I’m told, unpleasantly early on Wednesday morning) to cram themselves into the Iffley cricket schools.
Anyone who has ever made a foray into the depths of Iffley will be familiar with the perilous trek to this destination: dodging the climbers hanging onto the narrow corridor, and avoiding the sprinters on the track to reach the Siberian outpost that is the cricket, shooting and fencing building. This noisy room, crowded with sweaty flailing fencers, would be eerily reminiscent of OUFC trips to Park End, if not for the greater likelihood of physical injury in the nightclub.
Things are gearing up for the main event of term, the first round of the BUCS fencing competition, at the end of fifth week. As always Oxford has a strong team – one of the few advantages of fencing’s private school bias – but faces competition for its spot at the top of the league from several London-based fronts, as well as the ancient enemy : the light blue-wearing, fen-dwelling Cambridge team. Varsity takes place in Hilary term, but BUCS competitions always provide a good chance to scope out the opposition, cueing involved discussions at the pub ofstrategies and tactics, before the arduous cycle back into town.
And no, I don’t think “arduous” is an overstatement; if anything it doesn’t quite do justice the Odyssey that is my bi-weekly cycle from Iffley to Worcester college.
UCL, as it turns out, now boasts a national foil champion, and Imperial has its share of more-than-competent fencers too, so things are looking interesting for the next few weeks. As a warm up for tough times ahead, we fenced a friendly against Trinity College Dublin last weekend. Clad in red and black socks, Trinity’s fencers made an imposing appearance, but were no match for an on-form home team.
If Ireland is the Persia of Britain, then Oxford is the Spartan contingent from 300. In all respects apart from appearance, number and propensity for inspiring speeches.
Trinity College also brought a novice squad to compete with ours; as with every year, a huge influx of enthusiastic novices have joined the club, who also get a chance to compete in various events, in particular Varsity. The coming term is key for the sporting success of the club as it gears up for said annual event against Cambridge which it has lost for two years running. This year is Oxford’s turn to host, with the Exam Schools providing the lavish and appropriately themed setting (think large paintings of 17th century academics for whom fencing was probably not a sport but a means of self defence). The battle frenzy tends to build slowly through the year, up to the familiar pre-match chants of “shoe the tabs” in Hilary and the always tense contest, which often comes down to a few points, and a whole lot of yelling.
Despite all the fencing yet to be fenced, OUFC is nevertheless planning to make its regular mid-term outing to Park End, with fencers kept under the watchful eye of the team captains.