The number ’99’ is surprisingly ubiquitous. One shy of the more well-rounded ‘100’, ’99’ could well have been lost in the shadows of its more illustrious neighbour. After-all ‘100’ is a power of ten, that most noble of numeric families upon which the decimal system is entirely dependent. Our understanding of currency, measurements (presuming one uses the more sensible metric system over the perplexingly inconsistent imperial system) and even, to a certain extent, time (ok not really – seconds, minute, hours, days, weeks, months and years have little to do with decimalisation but when we get to the big measurements – decades, centuries and millennia – my point (sort of) stands) is all dependent on powers of ten.
For ’99’ to have carved out not one, but several identities, against that back drop, is pretty impressive. Ok there are occasions when the success of ’99’ is linked to its proximity to 100 – how many times are items priced at 99p, or £1.99, £2.99 (feel free to insert your own currency here if you don’t regularly use the rapidly diminishing pound as your money of choice) to create the illusion they’re cheaper than they really are (I’m not paying £3 for that mug when I can get this one for £2.99)?
Equally when Prince wanted to party like it was 1999, which is technically, I know, not the same number as ’99’, but he sang “nineteen ninety-nine” and not “one thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine” so my point stands, he wasn’t referencing that year at random, he was referencing it as being close to the year 2000, which is when we all thought the new millennium was beginning. I know there are pedants (and I’m not knocking pedants at all – I’m rather fond of a bit of pedantry myself) who will point out that the new millennium didn’t actually start until 2001, but frankly they missed the point, we were never really celebrating a new millennium so much at the fact that 2000 is a nice round number.
I like to think that ’99’ has carved out it’s own niche, slightly separate to it’s identity as being almost ‘100’. When Jay-Z sang about having 99 problems, I like to imagine it was because of the rhythmic and alliterative properties of ’99’ rather than it’s proximity to ‘100’. Although in my research for this ‘article’ I discovered that Jay-Z essentially stole the title and misogynistic ‘chorus’ from Ice-T. But the point stands – ’99’ is carving it’s own identity in politically incorrect rap songs without any references to its more illustrious neighbour.
Another example of the successful solo career of ’99’ is the British and Irish Lions, the rugby team, which tours a southern hemisphere country every four years and is made up of the best players from England, Wales, Ireland (North and South) and Scotland. The Scottish may take issue with that definition having been somewhat cruelly overlooked on the latest tour, but that is irrelevant to this piece. Also irrelevant is the fact that the latest tour was an absolute delight to both partisan and neutral fans alike and one of the (but not the only) reasons why I didn’t blog in June and July, because I was very much using the limited free time I did have to follow that particular rugby tour through various media outlets. Given that the series between New Zealand and the aforementioned Lions ended in a draw I think we can all agree that rugby was the real winner, although most Lions fans secretly believe that because New Zealand were clearly the better team, getting a draw was actually more like a victory.
Anyway, for the relevance to ’99’, we have to go back to the 1974 tour of South Africa and the infamous ’99’ call that was instigated by the Lions players. Essentially it meant that whenever a player got into a ‘scuffle’ the players would shout “99!” as a signal to all the other players to get involved, the theory being that if all the players were fighting, no-one individual would get sent off. It seems referees have got wise to that particular ruse, it’s certainly not part of the modern game, but it did rather permeate rugby culture for a while and growing up in rugby-obsessed South Wales, during the eighties and nineties, my school days were fraught with hearing the “99” call as I wandered the corridors, and it usually meant that some poor soul was being pounced on by a lot of much larger boys. I was, myself, the victim of this, on more than one occasion. Happy days.
My personal favourite use of the term ’99’ has little to with misogyny or random violence and much more to do with ice-cream. I suspect this remains a rather British thing, but a ’99’, in ice-cream terms, is an ice-cream served in cone, with a Cadbury’s flake sticking out of the top. The flake is what makes it a ’99’, theoretically the ice-cream can be any kind, and any flavour, but for me, a true ’99’ is purchased from an ice-cream van, and the ice-cream is the cheap ‘Mr Whippy’ soft ice-cream with no discernible flavour at all. As a bonus you can also cover it with some kind of excessively sweet sauce, chocolate or strawberry in name but, again, colour, rather than flavour, is the distinguishing feature of the sauce.
Why this ice-cream is called a ’99’ is anyone’s guess (even Wikipedia can’t answer the question, though it offers some theories). It definitely isn’t because the ice-creams cost 99p. There may have been a happy point in history when the economic conditions were right for 99p to have been the price, but the origins of the ice-cream are so old that if 99p had been the original price it would have been insanely expensive.
I bought one, for the first time in years, the other day, as Mrs Proclaims and I were strolling through a local park. It was a delightful trip down memory lane and the nostalgia was complete when I ended up wearing some of the ice-cream as I would have inevitably ended up doing as a child – they are surprisingly difficult to eat with any kind of dignity.
Anyway, in honour of the great ’99’ in all it’s forms, my contribution to the world of art this week is a picture of a ’99’ ice-cream.
If you walk past an ice-cream van today, treat yourself – you absolutely deserve it!