So we are finally there. It’s taken three years of searching, evaluating, head-scratching and agonising, but a plume of white smoke has at last been seen wafting over Montelupone: habemus workshop.
For the first eighteen months of Mr Blue-Shirt’s search for suitable forging premises, everywhere he found that came anywhere close to fitting his vision of a cosy little forge tucked in the Marchigian was either already occupied, way too expensive, or required too much renovation. By late 2020, however, two perfectly viable opportunities had presented themselves. One was an 80m2 workshop located about 12km down the hill in Trodica at the premises of Giovanni, the chap whose firm installed our solar energy system; the other was a 70m2 corner of a huge warehouse leased by Antonio, the chap whose shipping company had transported Mr Blue-Shirt’s shipping container full of forging equipment over and in whose goods-yard down by the coast it had been sitting ever since. The problem was, after more than fifteen years’ hitting hot metal in a two-hundred-year-old, circular forge that oozed charm and character from every soot-stained brick, he simply found these brutally utilitarian spaces rather sterile and uninspiring. But by this stage, even though he was not quite ready to relinquish his dream all together, Mr Blue-Shirt was beginning to realise that he was at risk of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good and that he therefore probably needed to decide which of these two options might be, if not perfect, then at least good enough.
Before Mr Blue-Shirt could make his mind up, however, two further waves of Covid and another round of lockdowns put everything on hold, but at least it gave him another few months to resolve his head vs heart dilemma, and eventually it was his head that prevailed when Plan A was reluctantly abandoned in favour of Plan B. Having ruled out Giovanni’s place on cost grounds, he formally accepted Antonio’s offer of space in his warehouse – not least because all Antonio wanted by way of ‘rent’ was for Mr Blue-Shirt to carry out maintenance and repair jobs around the place as they arose, but also because the place had already effectively become his overflow storage area for all sorts of materials and equipment: it was almost as if mentally he had already moved in. The decision might have been a bit of a no-brainer in the end, but this did nothing to lessen his relief at finally having somewhere to hit hot metal which was matched only by his eagerness to crack on with unpacking the shipping container and setting up his forge after all this time.
What’s that old saying about not counting chickens before they’re hatched, though? For Mr Blue-Shirt didn’t even have a chance to unload as much as a single hammer before we both went down with Covid-19 and while we were out of action, the whole arrangement was put in doubt when Antonio’s landlord unexpectedly made some significant changes to his lease and suddenly it very much looked as if Mr Blue-Shirt’s wouldn’t be unpacking his container any time soon, if at all. But while he was still nursing his disappointment and beginning to wonder if he’d ever be able to swing a hammer at his own anvil, there was a further plot twist in the form of the Plan C that hadn’t even been on the table until a few weeks earlier.
Out of the blue, Francesco, a local farmer and motorcycling pal of Antonio’s, had casually offered Mr Blue-Shirt some space in one of his barns, pointing out that it had the 3-phase power supply that Mr Blue-Shirt needed but that Antonio’s warehouse lacked. This had always been the main ‘but’ with Antonio’s place, and the only viable (but still far from ideal) solution was to buy a generator, so Mr Blue-Shirt had decided that he couldn’t afford to pass up Francesco’s invitation and at least go and have a look. The space in a corner of what turned out to be a fairly anonymous-looking concrete barn set among wheat fields and mature olive groves did have a lot of what he had been looking for – including the kind of location he had long dreamt of – and certainly had potential as a forge. Then again, although it was under 3km from home – something else on his wish-list – it seemed quite a lot smaller than the space at Antonio’s, plus Francesco was likely to want a commercial rent. And apart from anything else, as we had become firm friends with Antonio and his wife Lori over the preceding months, Mr Blue-Shirt had been very keen to avoid offending Antonio in any way, so in the end, he had just said he’d have to think about it and left things there. But that was then. Now, though, with everything at Antonio’s up in the air, surely he’d be crazy to turn down a perfectly workable alternative and risk having to start the whole search from scratch again?
In the end the decision almost made itself. Firstly, the recent spike in diesel prices had made using a generator prohibitively expensive; then Francesco confirmed he didn’t want any rent, just a contribution to electricity costs and maybe some maintenance work on his fleet of agricultural vehicles. And finally, Antonio made it plain that in taking up Francesco’s offer, Mr Blue-Shirt, far from causing any offence, would almost be doing him a favour: even the ever-optimistic Antonio could see that the chances he would have no choice but to withdraw his offer of space were becoming greater by the day. So from the ashes of near disaster, we suddenly had a win-win-win situation on our hands – and Mr Blue-Shirt had a workshop.
Within a few days, Francesco had freed up a much more generous amount of space in his barn than he had originally proposed and Mr Blue-Shirt had started unpacking his shipping container and ferrying van-loads of tools and equipment up from Antonio’s place. Then, once the container was light enough to move without having to hire a crane and a flatbed truck, they forklifted it onto the trailer hitched onto the back of the tractor in which Francesco had trundled down to the coast, towed the whole thing back up the hill and slid it into position in its new home behind the barn.
Almost every day since, Mr Blue-Shirt has been making the 5-minute trip to the barn where he has been happily pottering about, gradually getting things positioned and set up just as he wants, scarcely able to believe just how well things have worked out in the end. For not only does he finally have a space that meets all his ‘head’ requirements, but tucked in the hills with its magnificent views over fields of sunflowers to the distant Sibillini Mountains, it goes a very long way to meeting his ‘heart’ ones as well.
So very soon there will be a real plume of white smoke wafting over Montelupone. And it will be rising from the chimney of what perhaps should be called Phoenix Forge.