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First the leopard-print undies with the froth of lace vanished from my line. Then a few pairs of plain Bonds, a must in any Aussie girl’s top drawer. The beribboned duds with ‘Lucky’ scrawled across the bum disappeared and finally, one of my bras.
I lived with a bunch of other expats in Singapore, and replacing stolen frillies was not as simple as nipping down to Target. In this tiny equatorial country I was a Gorgon, a Charybdis, a female monster of inconceivable proportions; simultaneously too gigantic to escape from yet invisible to the naked eye. I’d been ignored or tutted at in a hundred clothes shops, and once even shown the door with directions to a “caucasian store where they can help you”.
In addition, in Singapore’s 99 per cent humidity everything grew a flounce of mildew, like a closeup in an Attenborough doco. Sluiced daily in waterfalls of sweat, even my back went mouldy. The only non-revolting clothing I had was jealously guarded, hand-washed and mended. The stolen bra (of a magnitude only useful to locals as a baby sling or maybe a potplant-holder) was a bridge too far.
This meant war.
Once you pick up a sword, it never leaves you. Fencing is said to get into the blood – only returning when you’ve a heavy weapon in your hand and can stare down your opponent through a thick mask and a curtain of sweat.
While Olympic fencing is related to Renaissance-era duelling, it only really took off in these parts after WWII. Hungarians were fleeing the horrors of Soviet occupation and immigrating to our shores in their thousands, and brought with them to Melbourne not only delicious smallgoods and cheeses but also a talent for the blade the likes of which had not yet been seen in this country.