The Italian Job

“Hang on a minute, lads. I’ve got a great idea.” It’s Michael Caine’s closing line in the 1969 classic gold heist movie set in Turin. But it could just have easily been said by Antonio when he had set out his action plan for the day a couple of weeks earlier.

And that plan was why a group of eight of us had gathered down at the site that the classic motorcycle club, in which Antonio is a leading light, uses for social events during the summer months. For several years, the club rented the generous patch of oleander-enclosed land from the huge restaurant and mini-menagerie next door. Recently, however, the owners decided they want the space for their growing collection of animals, so the club is having to vacate the plot. Consequently, our mission for the day was to clear the site of all the club’s equipment and, more particularly, move the huge, classic American-style caravan that serves as a clubhouse-cum-bar-cum-store to Antonio’s goods yard at the shipping company he runs a few kilometres along the main coast road. This is, incidentally, the same shipping company that transported Mr Blue-Shirt’s container full of forging equipment to Italy and where it has been stored free of charge ever since. In return, Mr Blue-Shirt carries out a whole range of maintenance and repair jobs for Antonio, as a result of which they have become firm friends and we have both been drawn into the social circle of the motor cycle club. Anyway…

Antonio’s idea was to pump up the caravan’s tyres, then lower it from its axle stands onto its wheels before pulling it out with the enormous tow bar mounted at the front and tow it to its temporary home where it would stay while details of the club’s new site were finalised. Easy-peasy. Antonio had got everyone lined up: Giordano was bringing his compressor to do the tyres, Mr Blue-Shirt was bringing a jack to get the caravan back onto its wheels, Francesco was bringing his tractor to tow it away, Lorenzo was bringing his truck to transport the ridiculously heavy metal staircase it had taken six people to detach from the caravan a couple of weeks earlier. And the rest of us were just providing extra pairs of hands to pack everything else into Lorenzo’s truck . Sorted.

Well, more or less. Giordano’s elderly compressor expired after barely a few seconds. After flicking all the switches, kicking it, checking the cable, the plug and the extension cable, however, Vittorio and Enzo eventually traced the problem to the socket it had been plugged into. So once they had located a socket that worked and it had wheezed back into life, the very rotund Giordano, who almost looked as if he had been inflated with this own compressor, puffed his way around the caravan, re-inflating each tyre. Meanwhile, Mr Blue-Shirt had been crawling around under the caravan identifying suitable jacking points, and as soon as Giordano had finished, he cranked it up a few centimetres, chucked the collection of makeshift axle stands fashioned out of bits of timber and chunks of concrete out from under the caravan, then rolled back out to safety before lowering it gently back onto its wheels. So far so good.

So far, but no further, though. The caravan was facing into the far corner of the space, meaning that there wasn’t enough room for Francesco to get his tractor in to hitch it up to the tow bar. And even if there had been, there still wasn’t enough room for him to turn the whole thing through 180° and tow it out through the gate. Cue much head-scratching, tooth-sucking and distance-pacing as a Plan B was hatched to try and rotate the van by hand and then hitch it up to Francesco’s tractor. The only problem was, as a grim-faced Antonio pointed out, it was just too damn heavy: it had taken the full weight of six people just to free up the tow bar, so shifting it by hand was never going to happen. And even without the tractor, the caravan’s turning circle was still too big.

While the others went back to head-scratching and tooth-sucking, Francesco slowly clambered down from his cab, lit yet another cigarette, shoved his wild mop of hair back from his face with his sunglasses and casually fiddled with the flap at the back end of the caravan. Then once Mr Blue-Shirt had cut the rusty padlock off the catch, Plan C was revealed in the form of a second towing point. This would allow Francesco to tow the caravan out backwards onto the spacious parking area in front of the restaurant using one of the sundry lengths of rope Mr Blue-Shirt always keeps in the van. There would then be enough room for Francesco to swing it round so it was facing the right way, unhitch the tractor from the rear and re-hitch it at the front. This left the large tree overhanging the gateway as the only remaining obstacle, but by balancing on the back of Giordano’s pick-up, Mr Blue-Shirt could just about reach the offending branches with the chainsaw he had brought along ‘just in case’. To Antonio’s evident relief, we were back on track.

And sure enough, barely ten minutes later, both the tractor and the caravan were facing in the right direction and ready to hit the road. Now with a huge grin on his face, Antonio leapt into his enormous SUV and roared off down the track towards the main road, with Vittorio, Mr Blue-Shirt and me hanging on for dear life as he flung it across the junction, blocking the road in both directions to let Francesco and his 15m long rig out. Enzo, with Giacomo and Giordano on board, followed suit with his car and then all three joined Antonio and Vittorio in the middle of the road where a lot of wild (and largely unnecessary) arm-waving and gesticulating ensued while Francesco calmly manoeuvred his load round the corner. Once he had safely negotiated the turn, everyone scurried back to the cars, Antonio screeching off to the front and Enzo lurching into position at the rear – for all the world as if they were squealing across the rooves of Turin in a convoy of Minis.

Half an hour later, the caravan was safely parked up in a secluded corner of Antonio’s goods yard following a masterclass in advanced trailer reversing skills from Francesco – accompanied by another spate of unnecessary arm-waving and gesticulating, and followed by much back-slapping, air-punching and whooping.
“Right, lads! Back to the club – lunch is on me!” boomed Antonio, now practically giddy with delight.
So we all trooped back to the bustling restaurant where we tucked in to great bowls of steaming pasta, washed down with copious amounts of rough red wine. But it was only as the lads tossed back their coffees and shots of grappa that Antonio seemed to remember that Lorenzo and his truck had been due at the club more than half hour earlier.
“Let’s get moving, lads!” he said, purposefully banging his glass down on the bar. “We’ve still got work to do.”

A totally unperturbed Lorenzo, who it turned out had been there for nearly an hour, flicked his cigarette stub into the bushes as we approached, and after a round of fist and elbow bumps, scrambled back into the cab and swung his truck through the gateway. The rest of us formed a human chain and set about passing from one to the next all the club’s chairs, tables and other stuff from the corner where they’d been stacked up to Vittorio and Mr Blue-Shirt who packed everything neatly into the furthest reaches of the truck, ensuring they left as much space as possible for the last piece, the unwieldy steel staircase.

This was quite a tricky job as not only was the structure massively heavy, it also had bars, brackets and corners jutting out all over the place, meaning that it was going to fit into the truck with only about 5cm to spare all round. And even then, Francesco had to lift it from a very particular angle, although this left it in danger of over-balancing and toppling off the tractor’s forks. The lads soon hit upon a solution, though. Emboldened by red wine and grappa, Antonio, Vittorio, Enzo and Giacomo clambered up onto the structure like a bunch of overgrown kids on a climbing frame in order to stop it tumbling to the ground. Enough to make any health and safety inspector’s hair stand on end, but it worked. After a few minutes of ‘Up a bit!’, ‘Down a bit!’ and eventually ‘Yesss!’ the staircase was safely on board and after another round of back-slapping, air-punching and whooping, Lorenzo trundled off down the road towards the goods yard. And with that, we were all done and dusted – and we hadn’t even needed to “… blow the bloody doors off!”

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