Flashing blades give sibling rivalry cutting edge at St Albans Fencing Club

n St Albans: a city rich in heritage just waiting to be explored. But if you re not a tourist and are still in the prime of youth, is there actually anything to do here except go to the pub? I ve lived in St Albans for my full 22 years of life, and it s a

n St Albans: a city rich in heritage just waiting to be explored. But if you're not a tourist and are still in the prime of youth, is there actually anything to do here except go to the pub? I've lived in St Albans for my full 22 years of life, and it's about time I found something fresh and fun to do with my evenings.

So I've set myself a mission: to find interesting clubs, classes and societies in the city, to go along and get stuck in and then to report back to other restless souls in St Albans.

Charlotte Morgan

INSPIRED by my editor's recent resolution to get back in shape (read all about it in his fortnightly column in the Herts Advertiser), I decided to push myself to the max this month by trying out one of the most challenging clubs our city has to offer - the St Albans Fencing Club.

When I think of fencing, the first thing that springs to mind is a scene in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice TV series when, after Elizabeth Bennet rejects his proposal of marriage, a proud Mr Darcy heads to the local fencing club to vent his frustrations with a spot of sword fighting.

But all dreams of Colin Firth aside, the extent of my actual experience with fencing is limited to a 10-minute taster session at Center Parcs years ago and so I was rather nervous about challenging the St Albans fencers to a duel. Thankfully my sister Elise was on hand to give it a go as well and so the two of us bounded off together for one of the club's sessions at Marlborough School's sports hall.

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A strapping young gentleman called Jon was our instructor for the evening and after introducing us to the rest of the club, he kitted us both out in full fencing gear. With more layers than an onion, this involved dressing up in everything from an underarm protector - or Plastron, to use its proper name - to a Michael Jackson-esque white glove to be worn on our fencing arm.

Ready and raring to go, our first task was to master the basic "en garde" manoeuvre: stand sideways on with your front foot facing forwards, extend your sword arm in front of you and then shuffle smartly forwards and backwards, keeping perfectly upright and balanced at all times. To attack, lunge forward and aim your sword (we were using foils, the lightest of all the fencing weapons) at your opponent's torso.

Sounds simple enough, but maintaining ones balance whilst wearing a giant steel helmet is pretty tricky. I could barely see my arm through the meshed visor, let alone aim for Jon, who had kindly offered to be my target for the evening. But practice makes perfect and, after we had mastered the torso-poke, Jon let Elise and I loose on each other ("sibling rivalry makes the best matches", he told us).

Forget petty squabbles and name-calling: the time had come for Elise and I to settle our sisterly differences with swords (don't try this at home folks) and, supervised at all times by Jon, we took our place on centre stage. Remembering to salute each other first (a must in the gentlemanly game of fencing - if you forget, you face disqualification!), Elise and I launched into a full-blown sword fight.

Being by far the taller of the two of us, Elise made the most of her lengthy limbs to attack me from afar but, determined to impress my newfound fencing friends, I had a good go at nimbly dodging her attacks, making use of the 'parry' move (use the butt of your sword to push your opponents sword away) to deflect Elise's attacks.

Goodness knows who won the match (the experienced fencers link themselves up to electronic scoring point apparatus to keep track of successful attacks), but Elise and I had a great time poking each other with our foils until we were forced to call time out, boiling as we were under our many layers.

The rest of the evening was spent watching the pros at work - we caught a great match between Will and Rob, whose electrically wired jackets buzzed them with every hit - and learning about the history of the sport from fellow fencer Peter who, sporting a smart moustache and dressed head to toe in white, could easily be mistaken for one of the musketeers.

So if you are looking for something more gentlemanly than football and like the idea of swishing a sword, fencing is definitely the sport for you. And if you do decide to pay the St Albans Fencing Club a visit, be sure to take a sibling with you. Fighting over who gets control of the TV remote hasn't been the same in our house since.

Where? Marlborough School sports hall;

When? Normally every Thursday, 8pm;

How much? �6 a night or �52.50 per quarter. Beginners courses available.Contact: Jon Daley via www.sa-fc.org.uk