How can anyone not succumb to the majesty that is the Olympics? Watching superhuman athletes like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps perform is nothing less than a privilege and, better still, we have our very own triple gold legend in Edinburgh’s Chris Hoy.
All this talk of gold brought fond memories flooding back of a car I used to drive – and the prose she inspired. I don’t think I had ever poured my heart into a piece of writing as much before or since. It was only ever meant for my close friends to read so apologies in advance for any in-jokes, but this seems like an appropriate time to give “Tribute” its first public airing…
November 20, 2001.
That might just look like a random, meaningless date but it’s far from it. That was the day M657 DGB became my own. Yes, the Fiat Punto that you all know and love which has been my trusty sidekick for the past 40 (yes, FORTY) months.
I remember that winter evening well (okay, so I had to look up the exact date). There was a chill in the night air but the sky was clear with the moonlight shimmering between the trees, and the Evening Times ad was my Star of Bethlehem that guided Dad and I to the sleepy town of Pensionville, aka Knightswood.
There she was, leaning off the kerb like a hooker when I first set eyes upon the dazzling, glow-in-the-dark mass of Italian metal that would soon be my first ever automobile. A middle-aged couple were selling her, the husband making up some story that the wife wanted a smaller car, but that mattered little to me – what mattered was that they wanted £3500.
But a shake on £3200, a rattle of my shiny new car keys and a roll off on to the tarmac and this epic chapter of my life on the road had begun…
Any soccer manager will tell you that the key to developing a young player into an all-conquering world class superhero is to nurture their talent without stifling their natural ability. Getting to grips with a new second hand car is similar. You have to know where, when and how far you can push it before the dash flashes more lights at you than a Vegas casino and the suspension starts shaking like a washing machine in an earthquake.
Much like its new owner, I soon discovered that the Punto wasn’t one for the mornings, reluctantly showing signs of life on the first spin of the wheels, whilst moving up through the gears at speed was about as safe as a day-trip with Jack Bauer.
But, like a child with learning difficulties, you got used to living with these “characteristics”. Sure, sometimes you wanted nothing more than to give the thing a right good slap, but you also knew that patience and understanding yielded enormous rewards.
To each of you the Punto will spark your own personal memories.. be it comical over-capacity journeys with folk in the boot or across laps; seeing her transformed into the coolest looking all-in-one DJmobile; sitting with the engine off duetting to indie anthems at dawn; handbrake turns in the ice for laughs in the West End; the three-week holiday loan; roving from one end of the city to the other to deliver the Glasgow Uni Guardian; the post-pub taxi; the occasional romantic moment (you know who you are!); electric window races; the outings to the Burn and back; being the perfect location for an emotional goodbye; the legendary T in the Park road trips…
The Punto’s colour was always was a matter of some debate. Official MOT certificates listed her in different occasions as yellow, green and yellow/green. Some passengers swore it was mustard, some bronze, others urine-coloured. My personal preference was gold, also backed up by the fact that the Spandau Ballet song of the same name was dubbed the car’s official theme tune by a certain lady. With everything the Punto had overcome, the lyrics felt quite apt.
For all the car endured at my own hands – the bumper bumping parking manoeuvres, the constant lane-swapping, the tuneless singing, the daily motorway dash, the “biatch” namecalling – when I needed her most she didn’t let me down. One such time sticks in the memory when I was running late (shock horror!) for a wedding. Despite getting alarmingly lost, slamming the front tyres against a pavement and neglecting conventional roundabout protocol, she still managed to defy all the odds – and every speed limit in North Lanarkshire – to get me there on time.
More recently, the Punto enjoyed a remarkable new lease of life. Having become part of the family, it was not unusual for her to get presents from time to time, from de-icers to scrapers to alloys. But the coup de grace undoubtedly came in Xmas 2004, when she received no less than a compact disc player. Having chewed mix tapes throughout her entire existence, to the Punto this was the equivalent of acquiring a new superpower. Not only that, with the car now more than 10 years old, this one gift from my generous sister had the effect of instantaneously trebling her market value and making her a high theft risk.
Seeing her “souped up” and resonating proudly in stereo sound brought a tear to the eye. It was like sending an old dog out into the wide-open spaces of the countryside to roam free in the last days of its life (RIP Lucky).
The historic event also coincided with what would prove to be the Punto’s last major adventure, when the newly-christened “Party Car” took some city kids to the Highlands and islands for the New Year. It was an unforgettable trip. Driving back home on the wrong side of the road at 75mph in a rainstorm with the right-hand wiperblade not working pretty much made sure of that.
Above all, the good times far outnumbered the bad.
So for every engine that dropped out in the middle of Finnieston, there was the glamorous chauffeuring of drum kits and guitars and rock stars.
For every piece of junk and litter she habitually accrued, there was always a McDonald’s drive-thru within a five-mile radius.
For every parking ticket slapped on her windscreen, there were countless days of crafty rule-bending and double-yellow evasion.
For every £800 bill for petulantly reversing into a Post Office bollard, there were fantastic memories of trips to castles and cottages.
For every vehicle safety recall notice from Fiat headquarters, there was the incentive of a free service check and a rare clean.
For every time she was overtaken by a faster car, there was a kick-ass soundtrack to make the slower journey all the more satisfying.
And for every orange & lemonade, there was always a car-full of the best drunken banter.
These are the experiences which truly provided us with the spirito di Punto.
Alas, this chapter has come to an end. Our ever-present travelling companion has given us all so much that she can physically give no more. I hope you will join me in paying tribute to her as she sets off for the great scrapyard in the sky. I leave you with the lyrics to her signature tune:
Always believe in your soul
You’ve got the power to know
Always believe in
Because you are
Glad that you’re bound to return
There’s something I could have learned
Always believe in.