Gucci, the Goldfish and the Fiat 500

On a recent trip to Turin, I was delighted to see that there were Fiat 500s everywhere on the streets along with the new Fiat 126 which used to be known as the Bambino.   Well, it is Turin after all, and ‘FIAT’ stands for ‘Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino’.)  This week at the Motor Show in Geneva, two special Fiat 500 models are on view, one called the “Fiat 500 Coupé Zagato|”(the last time the car designers played with the 500 for a Geneva show was in 1950.)?The other is a collaboration with Gucci, to celebrate the 90th?anniversary of the Italian fashion house. It even has the Gucci logo on the wheels.


In 1978 Fiat introduced a 126 Bambino in the kind of zingy bright green a sportswear catalogue might now call ‘gecko’. In 1978 I learned to drive and I had a baby daughter.   For six years I drove the bright green Fiat Bambino, before somewhat regretfully trading up to a hatchback so I wouldn’t have to put the gas canister on the passenger seat when getting re-fills and I could get bars on the boot so the dog wouldn’t be able to clamber all over the seats trying to sit beside me. When the sales manager at the garage saw my trade-in, he covered his face with his hands and wailed “How am I going to get rid of that gadget?” I couldn’t understand his lack of enthusiasm and told him people would be queueing up for a car like that “they’ll be queueing up for a good laugh” he replied.


I can recount all this verbatim, because I was a working journalist at the time and wrote about it in an article called “Farewell to a Faithful Steed”. That little car saw many noteworthy events and even carried many famous people.  A “Fiat Embryo” my colleagues used to call it.  Once, going over on the ferry from Cobh to Spike Island prison in Cork Harbour, which had been set on fire by the inmates, my fellow journalists teased:  “Did you hear about the Kerry joy-rider?” they asked…. “He stole Isabel’s 126”.   They could laugh, but I knew that my Bambino often got me to the stories before the big boys, weaving effectively between a pantechnicon?and an Expressway bus, out of the traffic jams and onto the open road, leaving the Audis and Beemers steaming in fury.


The little car was so easy to park that I would go into town and just leave it….often parked at right angles to the kerb.  I did sometimes get into trouble, and once, the Warrant Officer was sent to discuss with me my disregard for double yellow lines and parking tickets.  He said if I didn’t pay up, or appear in court, I would be sent to jail.  “Right” said I “send me to Limerick prison….it would be great; I’d be clothed and fed, the ‘phone wouldn’t be constantly ringing, and the State would have to mind the daughter while I just sat about and read, or sewed a few mail bags, which would suit me fine.”  But the warrant officer wouldn’t accept my stubbornness, and I agreed to go to court and the Guard and I stayed talking about poetry until two in the morning instead.


So I went to court and wore a pink cloche hat to flatter the judge – and myself – and when his lordship accused me of “causing an obstruction” I pointed out that with a car the size of mine, you couldn’t possibly cause an obstruction because it was too small, and anyway, if I got in anybody’s way they usually just lifted the car and moved it a little bit. I often came back to find that my car was in a different place to the one in which I had parked it.  (It actually all worked out fine until the time we were shifting it a tad out of the way and the bumper fell off.)


Then there was the time I was on my way to Dublin and was delivering the child and the goldfish to be minded by my sister while I was away.   The goldfish was in the vegetable crisper from the ‘fridge in the front of the car and the child was in the back and I was reading the advertising hoardings on the side of the road, and I sort of went forward and committed an act of vehicular sodomy with the car in front, and the driver got out peppering and the daughter wailed “Goldie…..where’s Goldie?” and I had to pacify the other driver with “I will talk about the tip when I find the goldfish. ” (Actually, his official name was “Gerald Y Goldfish” after a prominent Lord Mayor of Cork, Mr. G.Y.Goldberg, but he, and the Lord Mayor, were always known as “Goldie”)


Three minutes later the goldfish still hadn’t been found and the other driver was getting agitated and the small daughter was wailing and I was saying “I’m sorry love, but that’s it, he couldn’t possibly survive without water this long”(I knew this because our previous goldfish had committed suicide by jumping out of the same vegetable crisper into an armchair in whose cushions we found him…well…crisp, two hours later.)


But something made me look in the glove compartment.  With the impact, a pair of my high heeled shoes had been catapulted from the floor onto the open shelf of the glove compartment and the goldfish and a sizeable amount (size 37actually) of water containing the goldfish had also been catapulted up there and into the shoe, and there he was, hale and hearty, swimming around. When the police arrived they asked if anyone had been injured and the daughter piped up “We thought the goldfish was dead but he was in Mummy’s shoe……..”

Isabel Healy

Isabel Healy

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  •    Reply

    My three year old niece pronounces Gucci as “gucky” – perfectly reasonable pronunciation in my mind!
    Lovely, lovely story though – I think we all have fond memories of our first car. When I bought my first car, my friends insisted that we all go to a drive through together, seeing as I’d never driven through one before. It’s now become a tradition with car #2 going through the same right of passage before Christmas.
    Long live Goldie by the way!

  •    Reply
    Susan Stewart March 7, 2011 at 09:49

    Great stuff. I love the uplifting end. You are definitely one of my favorite authors now! Keep posting!

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