by Robin Holmes
1997 was almost a cold year. All but the very young had known colder, and at times the sun shone brightly. Weather was still honest - in the years to come the dictates of rolling news would demand meteorological exaggeration, and inclement weather would be a panacea for the idle.
|Pearl Necklace - Pleasant Dinners' first single - flopped after being banned by the BBC. A string of radio friendly numbers including "When the Cat's Away", and "Chimney Lizard" followed.|
In stark contrast, innocent hyperbole had made way for more odious extravagances of word. The Spice Girls were manipulated into manipulating little girls, and they, like much of Cool Britannia, had succumbed to the manipulations of an autocrat better suited to popular performance than the performance of public service.
Unsurprisingly, this was the decade that laid claim to the 'ball of the century', bowled by a man who would soon be commonly regarded as the 'greatest' leg break bowler of all, and an integral part of the statistically most successful Test Team ever. Some years later he would shine in defeat during the 'greatest' ever Ashes contest.
Contemporary deeds exceeded those of old - or so we were told. Expansionism, commercialism, and technological advancements flattered performance, and in time, would sustain a nouveau rich playing elite.
There had been better decades it is true, but this was a time of relative prosperity, and as is always the case in times of plenty: the disingenuous thrived. Style mattered more than substance, accuracy was discretionary, and a growing sense of disproportion persisted in that almost cold winter of 1997.
It was on an evening such as this that Dodo a Gogo was discharged from hospital. Post-hysterectomy euphoria, and an eagerness to see her three small children, had left her feeling happy and content. Her mood was further buoyed when luck and the stillness of the Paddington night delivered a noise that was part musical, part cacophony of female excitement.
She had no idea what it was - for it was barely audible and unlike any sound she had ever heard. Nonetheless, she was overcome with an acute and inexplicable awareness that something far better than reproductive capability had filled the void once occupied by her womb.
|Chinese gangmaster Mr. Wong spent his cockle-picking profits on restoring the Fortune Corner Music Hall to its former splendour.|
The desire to follow the sound was strong, but her maternal resolve was greater: I'll buy some chips, limp home, give them to the kids, put them to bed, and be back within the hour, she dutifully thought.
But even the best laid plans go awry: "Will I get a discount for all three of them?" Dodo a Gogo asked the undertaker. She was comforted by his willingness to negotiate, and the visit ended on a happy note.
Feeling somewhat relieved, she wondered what went wrong. Can't be helped, she thought, must have been pestilence, starvation or foul play! She considered a number of other causes but soon tired of the discomfit - in testing times, common sense and the primacy of self preservation invariably prevail: just as well I forgot to buy the chips she thought as she unpacked her hospital bag and cleaned her teeth.
Alone and virtually 'benefit-less', she was worried and bored. Still, it was barely early evening, and as inconceivable as it might have seemed at that very moment, this would be the best day of her life.
For soon she would remember the music; indeed, to this very day she swears she could hear it as she danced inappropriately to console herself. With a renewed sense of purpose she said her goodbyes and followed the sound.
In its heyday, the Fortune Corner Music Hall was the venue of choice for sexually functioning post-menopausal women, pensioners, Chinese gangsters, idiots, and invalids.
|"For one last time, try our Fish on Friday". The double A-side finale also contained a farewell ode to the fans: "We'll be Peking Through Your Windows Forever".|
It had long been renowned for selling the best watered down beer in London, and in 1997 it further enhanced its reputation by providing a musical residence for the hottest new toy-boy band in England: The Pleasant Dinners.
The group were eager to hone their act, and Fortune Corner owner Mr Wong, was equally keen to exploit ambition. Having been tricked into signing a contract whilst drunk, The Dinners were obligated to perform eight shows daily, cook, wash dishes, call bingo, top up the kegs, and sell drugs. Still, there is no substitute for practice, particularly when you are contractually obliged to sell 'whack' cut with Chinese five spice powder to streetwise prostitutes.
The stage show had also improved and the band now attracted a following of working class middle-aged women from an interesting and varied range of occupational backgrounds including dinner ladies, secretaries, 'clippies', and fortune tellers.
Approachability was a key factor in the band's success and Dodo a Gogo wasted little time in making herself known. These days she gleefully describes how upon learning of her recent misfortune "... they grabbed a guitar and disappeared into Mr Wong's cellar; ten minutes later they were back on stage dedicating their new song, Empty Nest, to me".
She had achieved more than she had ever thought possible. A hysterectomy craze swept across Britain and Dodo a Gogo was the pin-up girl. She was adored by anti-abortionists, the envy of the morning-after pill brigade, and school girls dreamt of emulating her.
Oh how she wished her children were alive so she could show off to them. But she was no fool and well aware of the fragility of success; that disappointment all too often looms near: and so it was.
Pleasant Dinners disbanded in 1999 when their head chef and lead guitarist developed an allergic reaction to Chinese people.
Weary of the rock and roll treadmill, the band chose to play on but this time they would concentrate their energies on establishing The Pleasant Dinners Cricket Club - a Club for anyone who would prefer to assert that Shane Warne was often very good and possibly the best leg spin bowler of his generation, considers Australian dominance in the context of declining world standards, and suspects that the 'greatest ever' label attached to the 2005 Ashes series, had more to do with England beating an ageing Australian team in decline, than the standard of cricket, which, whilst highly entertaining, was at times of distinctly poor quality - think Jason Gillespie, Ashley Giles, Geraint Jones, and reckless batting.