La porcellaia. Lo studio. Il box. The pigsty. The workshop. Our nemesis. Or so it feels, at least. It is the approximately 60 square metre single storey outbuilding that stands a few metres behind the house in the slightly elevated north-west corner of the plot. It was also one of the many features that originally attracted us to the property as it also came with planning permission for conversion to a living space, and having a pretty little holiday let to contribute to our income had always been part of The Plan.
As living space for pigs, though, it has never been a thing of beauty. Beneath a sagging pitch roof stand four brick pig pens along the far side, each with a gnarled wooden door sporting a heavy rusty bolt and latch. The side facing the house was originally enclosed only with chunky metal mesh, with the tiled roof supported on heavy timber uprights, all now riddled with woodworm holes and alive with ants. Since being semi-converted into a workshop by our predecessors, though, this half has been closed in with a haphazard collection of redundant plasterboard panels, sheets of rain-warped plywood and a jumble of abandoned sun-bleached doors, with a plastic and chicken wire covered heavy metal gate serving as its door. Low-ceilinged and windowless, it can be hotter than hell in there, but despite the steamy gloom, it has provided a surprisingly practical workspace. Indeed, it was from here that our predecessor, a skilled carpenter by training but who could turn his hand to anything, built a staircase, created a kitchen, and fashioned shelves and doors and cupboards. And Mr Blue-Shirt has continued the tradition. Having an extensive list of jobs to start on the moment we moved in, he very quickly fitted the workshop out with an impressive range of tools and equipment to cover carpentry, electrics, plumbing, painting and decorating, and general building work. While some were bought especially for the particular needs of the house, most had been acquired over twenty-two years as an engineer, a further fifteen years as a blacksmith, and a lifetime as a hands-on doer and maker. From this airless, dingey space Mr Blue-Shirt has, among many other things, mended, moved and fitted lights, sockets and switches, mended, moved and replaced sinks, lavatories, taps, shower heads, pipes and drains, designed, built and installed pan drawers, kitchen doors, shelving units and created an entire walk-in pantry. There has been barely a day when the workshop hasn’t been buzzing and whirring with activity, its door flung wide from dawn until dusk, and Mr Blue-Shirt purposefully bustling back and forth, as happy as a pig in muck.
Even when we had workmen here for a couple of weeks to re-render the entire house, almost the only job that we have needed external tradesmen to do, it was business as usual for Mr Blue-Shirt, who interrupted his own work on the inside of the house only to show them whereabouts in the workshop they could help themselves to a socket if they needed to plug something in, or the tap when they needed to mix the next bucket of goo. So it remains our steadfast conviction that one or more of these workmen had something to do with the subsequent theft of every single item from the workshop when it was broken into barely a week after the workmen had finished. The Carabinieri agreed that it was almost certainly no coincidence, as did our insurers and, grudgingly, as did even the building contractor who they had worked for.
From that day onward, the workshop was never the same again. It was tainted. There was, we felt, something malign about it. I could barely bring myself to set foot in the place, but Mr Blue-Shirt, driven by sheer bloody-mindedness, I think, managed to find the strength to go back in, first to make good all the damage the thieves had done, and then little by little to turn it back into a functioning workspace, albeit on a much diminished scale. And sure enough, in the months that followed, he has crossed a further succession of repairs, improvements and modifications off the never-ending job list. But by this time, the workshop was living on borrowed time. Not just because of the break-in and not just because it was getting ever more decrepit. The heavy-duty plastic that covered the worst holes in the roof had finally given way, the old cracks in the coarse render had widened alarmingly while the web of new cracks was expanding by the day, and the internal walls had started part company from one another leaving gaps between them you could put a fist through. No, its time was also running out because the revised planning permission for the holiday annexe had finally come through, and with it the green light for the workshop’s demolition.
Within weeks, though, came the second break-in. The big one. The one that was personal. The one when those who had stolen all Mr Blue-Shirt’s tools and robbed us of our innocence came back again to finish the job and this time robbed us of our confidence and trust along with all our remaining valuables. And in trying to adjust to the shadows that now play across our dreams, the need to rid ourselves of this decaying, poisoned hulk has become our driving force and an essential part of our healing. So it is going. Panel by rotting panel, brick by grubby brick, Mr Blue-Shirt has begun dismantling this blight on our lives that has become as corrosive as it has corroded. Somehow, he has so far resisted the urge simply to smash a sledgehammer through its crumbling walls. Instead he has been almost surgical, first levering off and then burning the sections of makeshift front wall, and then removing, pressure-washing and neatly stacking the heavy terracotta tiles from the first quarter of the roof. And most recently removing the first couple of metres of internal wall, chiselling the flat, slim bricks out one by one, pressure-washing off the Marche mud that had held them together, and stacking them together with the tiles. For, once purged of their painful associations, they will all be re-used, re-cycled, and somehow even rehabilitated as we are determined they will all be reincarnated into something new and whole and good. Many are destined to become the low curving wall that will frame the driveway, others will provide the foundations for the terrace that will soon surround the house, and others will find new purpose in whatever finally stands on that knoll in the protective shade of two tall olive trees and looks over to the pink-hued village and down through the fruit grove to the glittering sea below.