So: Mr Blue-Shirt’s forge. Ever since we viewed Casa Girasole he’s been on the lookout for a suitable building within the immediate vicinity where he can resume his career as a blacksmith. Although we have the space at the house, we both agreed very early on that we didn’t want to have the forge here. Having lived ‘over the shop’ in Lincolnshire for some fifteen years we are only too familiar with how running a business from home can over time muscle in on every aspect of life. No, this magical place that had captured our hearts pretty well the moment we saw it was above all going to be our home-with-a-capital-H. Casa Girasole, we promised one another, would be a place of relaxation and renewal, of comfort and calm; a place to feed the soul and ease the mind, to live, to laugh to love; a shared expression of more than three decades of ‘us-ness’.
We had realised that for the whole of our married life, where we had lived had been entirely defined by Mr Blue-Shirt’s job, with the result that it could never be left at the door. During his time in the forces, we had always lived in married quarters, either on a base, surrounded by khaki-clad comings and goings, or on a purpose-built military housing estate where every occupant had the same job and every house was identical to the next, with no possibility for alteration or personalisation. Then, when he finished his forces career and Mr Blue-Shirt re-trained as a blacksmith, we moved straight into The Forge. Well, naturally we actually moved into the cottage that was attached to the forge, but in retrospect the name of the place was very revealing: once again, the job defined our living space. And when it comes to blackmithing, which involves nothing that is small or clean or quiet, it is a job that was very well placed to muscle in on our life there more effectively than most. So we were adamant: we were not prepared to risk ending up living at a forge with a house attached again.
His search for a forge has in effect been a variation on our early property searches here when holidays were spent bouncing down white gravel roads and clambering over ivy-choked ruins. On practically every trip to the builders’ merchants over in Villa Potenza, or to the quarry down in San Firmano, to the vet in Piediripa, or even to the supermarket in Trodica – and certainly while out on his Sunday cycles down to the coast – he will detour off along this, that or another track in search of a potential forge. Even I join in, keeping my eyes peeled for ‘Vendesi’ (for sale) signs on the way to or from teaching jobs in Recanati or Castelfidardo, in Ancona or Macerata.
He’s not asking for much: a free-standing building, preferably with a footprint of about 60 square metres, running water, mains power and a bit of outside space; a place where he can hang up his collection of blacksmith’s hand tools, set up his anvil, hearth and power hammer, and install a work bench, welder and spray bay. But just as with our initial property search, Mr Blue-Shirt’s hopes have been repeatedly raised and then swiftly dashed when a place that looks ideal from the outside or on paper turns out to be a non-starter as soon as he sets foot inside. Too big or too small; too far down a white road or too close to housing; too much land or no outside space at all; too much restoration work or too much finishing off.
Thinking more laterally, he even considered a small plot of land on which he could erect a small pre-fabricated workshop and went to the local planning office to find out whether this might be a feasible option: it wasn’t. The piece of land Mr Blue-Shirt had earmarked as a potential location for a forge – a small parcel of land adjacent to that of our neighbour’s about six hundred metres along the road – was designated as agricultural land and as such could not be built on. But in conversation with the helpful and chatty planning officer, Mr Blue-Shirt learnt that until recently Montelupone had in fact had two working forges. One had closed because the aged smith had died, and the other had closed because the not quite so aged smith had retired. But their premises were still there even though their hearths had grown cold. Not one but two forges in the village where we live? Was this some kind of omen..?
With the map marked with two red crosses that the planning officer had printed off for him clasped in his hand, and his heart beating fast, Mr Blue-Shirt set off to investigate. The forge that had belonged to the smith who had retired was sandwiched between two modern-ish three-storey apartment buildings on the southern side of the village. An anonymous cube-shaped building with roll-down shutters and a shallow pitched roof. And decorated with a web of alarming cracks running up the buff-coloured walls – yet another a victim of the earthquakes that shook the region in 2016. So that was another one crossed off the list; there was no point even looking inside. The bureaucracy, time and money involved in repairing any earthquake-damaged property made it a complete non-starter, no matter how suitable it might otherwise have been. One down, one to go.
The second forge was a little further from the village centre, down the hill heading towards our place; we had both driven, walked, cycled and run past it on countless occasions but would never have imagined that behind the folding zinc doors there might be a forge. Tucked in among a couple of light industrial units and attached to a modest 1950s apartment building, it looked very promising. There was an area of hard-standing big enough to store Mr Blue Shirt’s shipping container and to park his van on: tick. It had plenty of height and natural light, three-phase power and water still connected: tick. A washroom and a cubby-hole that could serve as an office: tick. And even the remains of a hearth that it might be possible to coax back into life: very big tick. Plus a stiff-hipped widow, delighted at the thought of selling her late husband’s forge to a blacksmith. But… it was simply way too big for Mr Blue-Shirt’s needs and consequently came with a price tag that was way too big for his budget. So that was that one reluctantly crossed off too.
The search for Mr Blue-Shirt’s Goldilocks Forge goes on…