It was in mid-February just before we went down with Covid that Francesco mentioned it. Mr Blue-Shirt and I were with our friend Antonio down at the site that the classic motorcycle club he runs had used for social events for the previous few summers. Along with a few of his other pals, we were helping clear the site of all the club’s accumulated stuff as the owner had decided he wanted to use it for something else. Francesco had come down in his tractor so he could tow the huge, classic American-style caravan that serves as a clubhouse and store to its temporary home in Antonio’s goods yard at the shipping company he runs a few kilometres along the main coast road.
While the others were getting the caravan ready for its short journey, Mr Blue-Shirt told Antonio about the difficulties he was having sourcing the type of generator he would need in order to be able to run his forge from the space Antonio had offered him in one of his warehouses as there is no mains power on site.
“I’ve got some space you could use in my workshop,” said Francesco conversationally as he shoved his unruly mop of curly chestnut hair back from his face with his wrap-around sunglasses. “And it’s in Montelupone,” he said, lighting yet another cigarette. “Just up the road from your place, in fact.”
“A posto!” bellowed the others, giving a collective thumbs up: the caravan was good to go. Francesco swung himself up into the cab and turned the tractor’s ignition. “It’s got three-phase power too,” he shouted over the throaty roar of the engine, ramming the huge beast into gear and swinging it into position with practised ease.
This brief conversation, which had gone no further as we had an extremely heavy 12m long caravan to shift, came back to Mr Blue-Shirt when we were just getting back to normal after Covid and he called Antonio to check it was OK for him to start the long-awaited task of un-packing his shipping container and beginning to set up his forge. For in response, Antonio told him that the owner of the site – completely out of the blue – had just informed him that it had become necessary to renegotiate his lease as they needed to do something else with the site. Suddenly the absence of a generator was the least of Mr Blue-Shirt’s concerns: depending on the outcome of these renegotiations, he might not even have a forge anymore. So after a brief exchange of messages with Francesco and having confirmed that his seemingly casual offer had indeed been serious, Mr Blue-Shirt arranged to go and have a look at his workshop the following Saturday afternoon.
The location pin Francesco sent took us to a large coral-pink house with white shutters and an abundant vegetable garden to one side that was no more than 3km from our place and that we realised we drive past every time we go to Macerata. This was the family farmhouse, Francesco explained as he shoo-ed a very yappy Jack Russell back inside, but he and his girlfriend lived in Montelupone itself. The space he had in mind was in one of the farm’s barns about a kilometre away just along the main road and down a lane, and so he climbed into the back seat of our car to show us the way.
“Turn left just up there,” said Francesco, pointing to a gateway onto a tree-lined, white gravel track that meandered gently down the hill between mature olive groves and neatly-ploughed fields, across which a tinge of fresh green was just beginning to spread. A couple of minutes later we crunched to a halt alongside a grey, metal barn with a terracotta-coloured corrugated roof and magnificent views across to the snow-capped Sibillini Mountains.
Francesco un-padlocked the pedestrian entrance in the huge sliding doors across the end of the barn.
“Prego…,” he said, elegantly gesturing for us to enter.
Shafts of brilliant sunlight streamed in through the skylights in the roof, illuminating several huge pieces of expensive-looking agricultural equipment that dominated the space. Huddled around them out of the spotlight were a couple of large workbenches strewn with tools, several pieces of metal-working apparatus, piles of metal and timber offcuts of the ‘might come in useful some time’ variety, and an apparently long-since abandoned restoration project in the form of a dust-and-cobweb-clad Ford Panther missing its roof, seats, steering wheel and tyres. Mr Blue-Shirt was clearly itching to have a good poke around inside it, but limited himself to a cursory once-over and a quick “I could help you get that sorted out, if you want” before returning his attention to the barn’s potential as a forge.
Yes, the place was a bit of a tip at the moment; yes, it might mean quite a lot less space than at Antonio’s, and yes, Francesco was likely to want a commercial rent for the space. But it wouldn’t take that long to shift things around to create a useful forging area, and there was space outside to store his shipping container. Francesco had also offered Mr Blue-shirt the use of any tools and equipment he needed, and it already had three-phase power, and it was under ten minutes’ drive from home. For goodness’ sake, it even had the kind of marvellous views he had long envisaged being able to contemplate while waiting for his metal to come up to forging temperature. And yet…
Mr Blue-Shirt looked carefully about the place, assessing what was on offer and weighing up his options. He said very little, though; he was clearly torn. It had taken him several months to come to the conclusion that Antonio’s warehouse was the best (if not the only) option available, and had now become fully invested in making work. But if what by then had become Plan A was at risk, he knew he’d be foolish to pass up a perfectly workable – and completely serendipitous – Plan B, even if it did mean totally re-designing his carefully thought through forge layout and re-calculating his running costs. After all, to turn down this opportunity could mean having to start the whole search from scratch again – and leaving his forge crammed in it steel box for yet another few months.
“Well?” said Francesco’s raised eyebrow as he locked the door behind us.
“Ci devo pensare,” said Mr Blue-Shirt. “I’ll have to think about it.”