We’ve had several meetings with Giovanni. On each occasion he and Mr Blue-Shirt have sat poring over drawings, tables and catalogues, spent ages poking about in the boiler room and repeatedly plodded up and down stairs, pondering fuse boxes, cable conduits and central heating manifolds. It’s all part of Mr Blue-Shirt’s latest project: to take advantage of the fifty to sixty percent discounts on green energy installations currently being offered by the government as part of their post-lockdown economic stimulus package. Mr Blue-Shirt had always hoped we might be able to install a few solar hot water panels on our south facing roof to supplement our traditional energy sources, but these aggressive discounts have suddenly brought something a lot more comprehensive within our reach.
Over the course of these meetings, which have involved Giovanni explaining how different permutations of the different systems available worked, and how the discount scheme applied to each, he became aware of Mr Blue-Shirt’s engineering knowledge, and having seen some of the work that Mr Blue-Shirt had done on the house, increasingly impressed by his practical capabilities.
“So what was your job in England?” he asked during an early meeting after Mr Blue-shirt had shown him some ‘before and after’ photos of the house. “Were you a builder?”
“No, I’m a blacksmith.”
“Ah, interesting. Not many of those left now… Anyway, these slimline PV panels each weigh about…” and the conversation returned to air-source heat pumps, inverters, batteries and cables.
The next time Giovanni came over it was to talk us through his quote, which once again involved wandering around the house, discussing where to put the various pieces of equipment. Keen to be involved as possible in the project, Mr Blue-Shirt would interject every now and then to point out that he would be able to drill the holes for this or that cable, box in a control unit or make support brackets for the battery, most of which Giovanni responded to with jokey comments about hitting things with a hammer, making everything from metal or covering it with metal grilles. All very well-meaning, but slightly wearisome nonetheless, so when they had returned to the table on the terrace to run through their findings, Mr Blue-Shirt took his phone from his pocket, tapped on his photo gallery and showed Giovanni images of some of the pieces of work he and our team had produced while we were running the forge. He scrolled through the pieces of funky public art, (‘Che bello!’) the stainless steel military memorials mounted on marble, (‘Wow!‘) the classical balustrades and staircases for posh London townhouses(‘Fantastico!’), the matching pairs of driveway gates with wildlife scenes for a former hunting lodge (‘Mamma mia!’) and the huge, angular planters and pergola for a gold-medal winning show garden at Chelsea Flower Show ‘(Incredibile!’). Whatever Giovanni had imagined Mr Blue-Shirt made, it clearly wasn’t this.
A couple of weeks later, Giovanni asked if he could pop round again as he wanted to make some changes to his proposal. It turned out that the government had added further options to their incentive programme and had made it easier to access the discount scheme which seemed most suited to our type of house (old and not terribly well insulated). He had also decided to propose a different battery system which was more efficient, but which was a different shape and size from the one he had originally proposed. So this time he and Mr-Bule-Shirt spent ages in the hall, assessing which would be the best place to mount the battery and investigating different cabling and ducting options. Having final decided on the most practical yet least conspicuous position (hidden in the cupboard next to the front door), we were just agreeing a time for him to come back with his revised quote when he casually asked if Mr Blue-Shirt was planning to continue his blacksmithing here.
“Yes, definitely. But for the last eighteen months I’ve had all my forging equipment in a container in Porto Potenza Picena: I’m still looking for a workshop – although I’ve got the offer of one near where the container is stored which I’m still thinking about.”
Giovanni just cocked an eyebrow and nodded. “Ciao, ciao,” he said, bumping elbows with each of us. “Ci vediamo la settimana prossima.”
And the following week, Giovanni duly returned to go through his revised quotation and all the discounts, and to make one last tour of the house in order to finalise the location of all the necessary components. After all the weeks of to-ing and fro-ing it seemed that we were at last there: the number and type of panels (18, PV), all the tubing and cabling, the inverter (in the boiler room), air source heat pump (in the upstairs porch), battery (in the cupboard in the hall), two cooling/heating units (in the guest room and our bedroom), and car charging point (in the carport). And he’d even got the green light for the project from the planning office in the village. The only thing left was to see some of these pieces of equipment – the more visible ones in particular – in the flesh. So Giovanni invited us to visit his showroom that weekend, and – sensing that the deal was by now all but done – invited us out to lunch at his favourite fish restaurant on the seafront in Civitanova Marche.
“OK, I’ll book a table at ‘Il Gabbiano’ then, and we can go on there once we’ve finished at the showroom. And while we’re there, I could show you a couple of empty workshops I’ve got that you could use for your forge – if you’re interested, that is….”
So after more than a year of ultimately fruitless exploring, browsing, asking and searching, Mr Blue-Shirt suddenly had two apparently viable options to consider. While both of them would (on paper) give him practically everything he needs, neither (on paper) seem quite what Mr Blue-Shirt originally had in mind. So for the second time in barely a month, Mr Blue-Shirt is doing his best not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good…