So after more than a year of ultimately fruitless exploring, browsing, asking and searching for a workshop to use as a forge, Mr Blue-Shirt suddenly has 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. But he is doing his best not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good while trying to work out which, if either, might turn out to be good enough.
Option one – chronologically anyway – is about twelve miles away (already a minus) in a former furniture factory that has been empty for about three years. The site, which is down at the coast just outside Porto Potenza Picena, has recently been taken over by Mr Blue-Shirt’s chum Antonio who runs the shipping company that transported Mr-Blue-Shirt’s container over from Lincolnshire and in whose goods yard it has stood since its arrival in April last year. Having inspected the entire site, which consists of three or four spacious sheds, an office building and several large areas of hardstanding, they have decided that the best area to set up a forge is a corner of the seven-hundred and fifty square metre warehouse in the far corner of the site. Once cleared of three years of detritus and pigeon droppings, this would offer Mr Blue-Shirt more than enough space for all his forging equipment while still leaving a huge area for an industrial tenant to use – always supposing any such potential tenant would be prepared to share the space with a blacksmith, of course. And since his space could at best only be screened off from the rest of warehouse, he would also have to make sure that his shinier tools weren’t at risk of going walkabout. That said, he could use his shipping container for lockable storage since the full height sliding double doors to his end of the warehouse would allow it to be craned into the space, which offers a flat concrete floor, mains power (although possibly only single phase), high ceilings and lots of natural light as well as a generous area of covered of hardstanding outside. Moreover, with a broad, deep ditch to the rear, two-metre high link fencing around the rest of the site and an imposing pair of gates providing access from the main coast road, Mr Blue-Shirt has few concerns regarding security – something that remains high on his list of priorities having had every single one of his tools stolen the first time we were burgled a couple of years ago.
Option two, meanwhile, is one of two unoccupied workshops at the premises of Giovanni, the chap who owns the firm doing our solar energy installation, and (a big plus) is only about six miles away in Trodica, a largely commercial suburb just off the dual carriageway that runs between Umbria and the Adriatic coast. The larger of the two spaces is at the rear of the site and has all the essentials, including the all-important three-phase power supply essential for running his power hammer, welder and hydraulic press. However, one wall of the simple, square building has a large and vigorous bush growing through it, the small extension containing a washroom seems to be parting company from the main building, and, strangely, has a suspended ceiling of the type found in large office buildings. It is also currently chock-full of what looks like several tonnes of redundant heating and air-conditioning equipment from Giovanni’s business. But then again, it is a good, square shape, is completely self-contained and easy to secure. The smaller of the two, on the other hand, is in much better condition, is already completely empty and also has all the necessary facilities (but minus the three-phase power supply). However, it is a rather strange L-shape and is located right next door to Giovanni’s showroom and directly beneath an apartment, so in Mr Blue-Shirt’s view noise could be a bit of a stumbling block, even though Giovanni has already dismissed these concerns. The site is surrounded one three sides by other commercial and residential premises and the heavy, sliding gate opens onto a well-lit, reasonably busy road, so Mr Blue-Shirt’s security concerns are minimal.
And yet…. Well, they just don’t make Mr Blue-Shirt’s blacksmithing heart sing. Our two-hundred-year old circular forge with its twin conical rooves was designed by John Nash and oozed charm and character from every smoke-stained brick; a hollow had been worn in the floor between the hearth and the anvil where successive smiths had worked hot metal, while their callused hands had worn shiny the handles of the tongs hanging on the racks that still lined the curved walls. Our office had spent the first century and a half of its life as an open-fronted shoeing shed, and Jim from next door would still lean over the stable door to reminisce about pumping the bellows when he was a lad and earning a penny or two from ‘Old Tom’. So I suspect he simply finds these brutally utilitarian spaces rather sterile and uninspiring. In his mind’s eye he had envisaged something cosier and much more bucolic; something, perhaps, with far-reaching views across the rolling Marchigian hills to the soaring Sibillini mountains that he could contemplate while waiting for his metal to come up to forging temperature; somewhere he could even offer tourists and visitors hands-on forging sessions. But although he has reluctantly concluded that such a place, should it exist at all, is either already occupied, not for sale, or for sale only at a price that exceeds his budget by at least a factor of five, he is not finding it easy to relinquish his vision. And after more than thirty years together, I know all too well that if Mr Blue-Shirt has set his heart on something, then…