Around the Lakes with the swords: Italy, September 08

Arriving at Malpensa Airport on a crisp Tuesday afternoon in late September it was obvious even to the un-trained observer that this was a team of highly charged athletes on a mission. Clearly organised with efficiency worthy of a crack team of German synchronised skydivers there was a palpable sense of dread about the place as we sped into the distance in a pair of only slightly dented blacked-out people carriers led by the authoritative voice of Dolores the pre-programmed Satnav.

Despite having divided ourselves into what seemed to be two equally balanced teams, Car A was well onto the second round of welcoming Campari at Casa Speroni on the banks of Lago Maggiore by the time Car B turned up. Somehow this was deemed to be the fault of Dolores who, as a natural leader, sees no need to bother herself with those born only to follow. Inexplicably our host had found himself detained in New York by the tawdry world of banking, incredibly deeming his career to be more important than our visit, so we were welcomed by his esteemed mother :La Signora, as we came to know and fear her. Having eaten all of her food and drunk all of her best Grappa we despatched Will, guarded by Lucy, to the other side of the village to a safe house whilst Tim proceeded to beat the not-at-all competitive Adeel at a game of chess.

Wednesday began with an impressive group decision to engage in pre-breakfast running. Not everyone shared this enthusiasm for exercise, some of us deciding to conserve our energies for the battle ahead. Early evening found us heading to Gallarate under the watchful eye of Dolores who decided to exercise her sense of humour by taking the mountain route. Surprisingly the welcoming committee at the Gallarate fencing club had dispersed and the band been sent home by the time we arrived. As we stepped into the fabulously appointed airport-hangar sized salle you could tell that our elite team had filled each and every one of our opponents with a crippling fear. Clearly we meant business. Having sized up the opposition we took the wise decision to use the diversionary tactic of sending in Valeria first to charm the bemused assorted teenage boys in their Italian national kit before nipping round the back and getting Lucy to dazzle them with some unexpected moves and some terrifying shouting. Adeel challenged everyone with an assortment of weapons whilst the rest of us worked out whether pulling pigtails was an acceptable move to use on a 10 year old girl.

The following day, having streamlined one of the cars by dispensing, at some speed, with a couple of unsightly wing-mirrors, we decided to take a break from taunting Italian children and explore the lake. The day obviously involved a fair amount of eating and drinking, some of it rather better than others as we ended the day in possibly the worst and least popular restaurant in Italy. As this was on the recommendation of La Signora we thought it only fair that Armando seek to tell her the error of her ways in the morning. It turned out that this was not entirely necessary as she had guessed at our plight by the emptiness of her fridge, our having consumed its entire contents on our return.

Friday took us back to Gallarate via Varese where we were treated to the spectacle of a two-pronged assault upon the charms of the young lady in the tourist office by Will and Adeel, we were all impressed by this textbook demonstration of teamwork. Later we left Will and Yu at the mercy of the local sabre club where, behind closed doors, they laid to waste an entire kindergarten. Back at Gallarate the not-at-all competitive Adeel finally killed off his epee opponent from earlier in the week whose lack of capitulation on Wednesday had left Adeel so distraught that Tim had managed to beat him at chess again. Adeel then felt it necessary to beat the Gallarate Maestro and when asked how long he'd been fencing replied 'most of this adult life and all of the last' and not, as would have been rather more accurate 'a couple of years'. Dolores took us back to the sabre club where Will's victorious glow explained the sorry figure of a snivelling 11 year old being led off home by his mamma. From here we were taken to a local hostelry by our hosts who were especially welcoming and we repaid their generosity by consuming as much as was decent. And then slightly more. Dolores rewarded us for neglecting her by taking a particularly scenic route home occasionally dispensing with her usual calm refrain of 're-calculatingre-calculating' and replacing it with a peculiar chorus of 'what I say? What you do?' in an eerily familiar Romanian accent.

Saturday saw us heading to Milan where we despatched Will back to England and Lucy to more cultural enterprises in town. The rest of us headed off to the Mangiarotti salle for a spot of light armed combat. Once Tim had departed having insulted the Mini-Maestro by patting him on the head and asking him when his Daddy was going to arrive, we set to the task of covering ourselves in glory in the exalted surroundings. Again we were up against a troupe of accomplished teenagers but we reckon they were pretty impressed by our disciplined skills and dazzling technique. Saturday night came and Armando and Valeria disappeared into the night whilst our somewhat diminished group of now four headed off to inspect the Milanese nightlife. Dolores had one last joke and took us back home via a number of Alpine villages spread across several countries. On our arrival in the early hours, contrary to expectation (for reasons too oblique to divulge here), we were not arrested by the Carabinieri. In the morning we headed off to the airport via Switzerland and as we flew over Lago Maggiore, down below in a lakeside villa, La Signora was heard muttering something about not trusting Russians in striped socks.

Victoria Connolly

To Laveno

The Gate to the bigger World...

Adeel and Will

It's wet and windy on Lago Maggiore


Salle Gallarate

valeria, victoria, yu

We have three top cards to play


Not in a competitive mood: Adeel


The crucial moment: will Adeel ask for more oil and bread?

armando and valeria

Cannot hide the glamour!..

english atheletes

Varese sabre club: two of us against all of them


Next day reports in the media


That's grappa after the dinner


Will through the sepia sunglasses


Salle Mangiarotti, Milano


Victory! They're all hypnotised!


Last day: lost in Alps

Photos: Victoria, Yu, Tim

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