Bullock's balls are just the business in Autogeddon

ROME DAYS

To drive a car in Rome takes balls, and I mean that in more senses than one. I am not just talking about the chaotically clogged, impossibly anarchic and often breathtakingly narrow streets of the Eternal City, although it certainly takes courage to brave them from behind the wheel for the first time.

Nor am I particularly referring to the stoicism it takes to resist the provocations of queue-cutters, traffic-light jumpers, bus-lane hoggers, foghorn-hooters, headlight-flashers and other assorted highway rogues.

I am not even thinking specifically of the salty, not to say testicular, language that comes in handy when confronted with the hand-signals and jibes of certain road-users who make insinuations about the sexual fidelity of your loved ones or the social origins of your mother.

No, the balls I am thinking of have nothing to do with the usual cliches of motoring all'italiana.

In fact, they come into their own just when you might have thought that all the terrors associated with driving in Rome have subsided - once you have turned off the engine and got out of the car. Sadly, it is the fate of car-owners in Rome that they can never really stop worrying. If they are not being persecuted on the highway by bands of souped-up Fiat Unos, they are worrying about the legality of their parking spots, the chances of having their bodywork bashed or - worst of all - the prospect of having their darling vehicles broken into or stolen.

All of these are very real fears. Bumps and bashes are the inevitable consequence of driving in streets laid out in medieval times. Parking nightmares are unavoidable in a city that has almost as many cars as peopleand precious few garages.

Finding a secure parking spot is often more to do with your relationship with your local traffic warden than with the legality of where you have left your car.

In the centre, where parking is theoretically banned for all but registered residents, drivers lay out all manner of documents on the dashboard - residency papers, rental leases, telephone bills, birth certificates - in an attempt to prove they have a right to be there. (The town hall does issue parking permits, but they are usually out of date by the time they arrive.)

But crime is the real worry. Car thieves in Rome strike every 10 minutes on average. Even though 70 per cent of vehicles have anti-theft devices or alarms, that does not seem to deter them. Most alarms can be disabled within seconds by an expert; as for the various reinforced steering-wheel clamps you see on sale in Britain, they are useless in Italy, since a well-trained thief will simply saw through the steering-wheel (average time: about 20 seconds) and slide the clamp off.

So what is a poor car owner supposed to do? Two weeks ago your humble correspondent sped confidently into town in a newly bought second-hand Renault. Perhaps the British number plates made it an irresistible target, because within a few days one wing-mirror had mysteriously disappeared and a back window was smashed.

But at least the vandals did not abscond with the whole thing, as no doubt they intended. Why? Because our zippy little car has balls. Or rather, what in Italy is invariably referred to as "the anti-theft device with balls", made by a suitably macho-sounding company called Bullock. This is a sprung metal clamp which you fix round the foot-pedals and lock into place - acknowledged by the experts to be the most efficient deterrent on the market.

The "balls", as it turns out, are no more than two rounded rubber covers on the ends of metal rods that rest against the floor of the car as you press the device into place. Rather puny little things, if you ask me, and certainly not worth all the fuss made about them. They always say that Italian men like to exaggerate in the genital department, don't they? Well, I don't care. These are balls that are really worth having.

Andrew Gumbel

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future