FIAT stands for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino – or, Italian Automobile Factory of Turin – so to say I went to the FIAT ‘factory’ is already to say too much, but anyway I did go to it, and I walked on its roof. They used to use the roof as a test track. The inners of the factory no longer grizzle with mechanical whistles and huffs (whether car production-lines ever did grizzle, I do not know), but the ramp that took the cars up to said roof still corkscrews right down through the building, and I walked on that too. It was one of the few times in my life when I’ve wished I were driving, not walking. The roof was pretty cool – you could see the Alps, which made me understand at last what Bruno Taut was on about, and also as an Under 11s 800m ace I have a deeply etched affection for stretched ovals and the FULL TILT spasms of speed they tend to encourage in moving bodies, whether those be the bodies of shiny-thighed tiny athletes running their dainty arses off for the Royal Town Of – Athletic Club, or compact yet muscular motors built by compact yet muscular Italians. But the idea of steering a car up and down the internal ramp was somehow even more appealing than scooting one round a roof. I don’t quite know why. It could have been for a number of reasons, so here’s two. First, the fat spiral of the ramp might easily have been built as a helter-skelter for giants, and I had neither been on a helter-skelter nor thought about giants for ages. The feeling of suddenly thinking ‘oh yeah, there are these things called giants’ was similar to the glittery feeling I get when I suddenly think ‘oh yeah, there’s a God’ (in that bare, brutal sense that humans just do have gods, before you ever get to the stage of having to consider whether you agree with their existence or not). Second, this internal concrete ramp reminded me of being driven painfully slowly by my mum through the concrete car-park that attached itself like a stubborn and somewhat angular slug to the equally concrete Gracechurch Shopping Centre in the suburb of the Royal Town Of –, the suburb where I both ached and ineptly refused, as you do, to grow up. The FIAT building happens to be a shopping centre now itself.
The places I grew up in go on growing in me in turn. They groan. They caw and croak. I keep spewing them up everywhere I go. It might seem like I live in London, but my viscera all still have a look of the hoary canals and motorway messes I habitually navigated as a youth. I mentioned that I made my febrile attempt at growing up in the Royal Town Of –, but actually until I was about fourteen the area we lived in was only ever ambivalently regal: really our house was situated in ‘Erd’, an urban district belonging to the city of ‘Brum’, and about a mile down the road from us was where the cars either slid off or were slurped up into an entity we knew as Spaghetti Junction, a massive intestinal tangle of asphalt and – here it comes again – coiling concrete. I think the interchange must have been built about the same time that the people of ‘Erd’ first started eating spaghetti on a relatively casual basis, or at least spaghetti hoops. To go to ‘town’ – the place my mum took me shopping when the Gracechurch got too local, too churchy, and the place we had to pass through to get to my Gran’s – was to surge under and above and through the loopy loops of Spaghetti Junction. I liked it in exactly the same blasé way I liked spaghetti hoops. It’s probably at the root of why I really took to the FIAT ramp and roof. Cars, concrete, spaghetti, etc. Brum Brum. It was more about Austins and Minis and Rovers where I grew up, but FIAT would do. In short, inside and atop the FIAT building I found myself smack bang in the centre of a sudden snap, crackle, and pop of connectivity. I was not so much in a specific place as in a shudder of déjà vu – another of those queasy, glittery feelings, and a phenomenon one of my brothers once explained to me with exactly the same greasy ease with which my other brother had already done away with Father Christmas. I can’t remember the explanation, though.
In Birmino/Turinham mountains can be seen from the streets. Bruno Taut’s alpine fantasies mutedly boom. Humphrey B. Manzino (known to most as Herbert B. Manzoni) was a perfect English gentleman and the son of a North Italian sculptor. The inner ring road, the innermost twist of the heart of England, was his idea.
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