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Smallville: The Arts And Crafts Movement

So what do you do with 600 horseshoes? And what about the insurance? Peter B Farrell explains all.

“I could do better than that.” My wife - an art student before she was lured into becoming a shop assistant - was commenting on a recent purchase by her friend - a watering can, crudely painted black with a smattering of colour, supposedly depicting a floral scene.

Fast forward a few years. I was spending my retirement renovating and painting black, any old piece of metal she could lay her hands on from half-ounce weights to milk churns. A neighbour who worked at the local auction room proved to be a source of old watering cans, which when decorated with her unique artwork, became her speciality.

The acquisition of a number of farm implements resulted in her work enhancing a local restaurant, although we baulked at the request by a local trader to have his barge decorated in the canalware tradition.

The result of all this industry was for us to drift apart. That is to say I drifted outside every day, cleaning, scraping, rubbing, undercoating and top coating anything that didn’t move, in all weathers. I became an expert in removing nails from old horseshoes while my wife held court indoors and worked in acrylic paint on Folk designs from Eastern Europe.

During a holiday spent with my brother - a bona fide artist - we were able to join in intellectual discussions with his friends. “Me? Well I only use black, best Crown gloss, usually two coats.”

A gift of a horseshoe to a friend for his 50th birthday coincided with a win by his wife in the National Lottery. My observation regarding the vast number of lottery prizewinners couldn’t dissuade the couple from having a horseshoe for their son. Alas, a few days later, while out driving he had a puncture.

En route to our daughter’s home one Christmas, we called in at the local cattery to deliver our aged feline for a few days stay. The cattery also held many permanent waifs and strays, including two ponies, Elsie the sheep, a cockerel and a number of hens. All the paying guests were in for a good time with gifts hung up outside each pen, and piped carols playing in the background.

On returning however, we discovered our cat - a favourite of theirs - had looked homesick and had been put up in the spare room of the house, complete with all-night TV in case she was lonely. Touched by the care and attention she had received, the cattery owners were presented with a selection of my wife’s artwork.

Shortly afterwards we received a phone call to say that the visiting farrier, who had been called in to give the ponies their pedicure, had some horseshoes if we needed any.

”Brilliant, we could do with a dozen or so.” And I contacted him by phone.

“Just help yourself, I don’t need them.” was his parting message. As he expected to be out on call, he had left the horseshoes on the footpath outside his forge, which was in the next village.

Back home that evening I surveyed the mountain of horseshoes I had unloaded from the boot of the car. The return journey had been a harrowing one down country lanes, with the car listing to one side and the handling affected by the extra weight in the boot.

My wife looked ashen “About 600?”

“Yes, well he obviously wanted rid of them and I could hardly pick and choose.”

The amount of work involved to produce the finished article didn’t bear thinking about, but I devised a marketing strategy involving wedding celebrations and limited the output to a dozen at a time, depending on the demand.

Such things as cash flow, income and expenditure brought about concerns over tax. “If it’s in your name I’m sure you can earn up to £5000 a year, so you have nothing to worry about.” But my wife remained doubtful as my only knowledge of tax, and how not to pay it, was gleaned from reading about the conviction of Al Capone. However an enquiry to the Inland Revenue - resulting in a frantic accounting exercise - produced a series of journals and balance sheets, proving we were not undermining the economy.

“You certainly deserved it. I’ll display it in the Studio.” This was much later and my wife’s certificate from the County Craft Guild was given pride of place in what used to be the utility room. Her painstaking attention to detail had resulted in a more costly product, which only appealed to the more discerning customer.

We had had a successful day at a local Craft Fair, and apart from about four hundred horseshoes still awaiting preparation, had very little stock left over.

A letter from the Guild offering guidance on Insurance put the whole operation in jeopardy. The act of transporting goods for commercial purposes could cause problems with the motor insurance people. Also to comply with current regulations I should be wearing a facemask, goggles, safety helmet, gloves and heavy-duty footwear. The use of a power tool may require a certificate of competence, inflammable liquids such as household paint were a fire hazard and had we got an extraction fan?

A conversation with our insurers indicated the dangers involved in painting metal: inhalation of dust, possible damage to the eyes and the risk of a tin falling on my foot. Also, no more than twenty people could call at the house each calendar month.

“We wouldn’t have twenty customers in one month.” Perhaps not, but if we had seven and they each came three times we would be over the limit. No insurance, and what if someone tripped coming up the drive?

This begged the question “Who does the counting and how do they know it’s not the milkman/Avon lady/meter reader?” But I didn’t ask and instead decided to call a halt to the whole enterprise.

I have since used the skills I had honed to renovating and painting the railings, garage door and gates - black of course - while my wife has started applying her design work to all the pine furniture in the house.

And if anyone out there wants any horseshoes you are most welcome to have them, provided you come in small groups and don’t trip up in the driveway.

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