“MAKE mine a 99” is an advertising slogan on the tip of everyone’s lips in this sweaty, sweltering heatwave.

But why is a 99 a 99?

Even the Cadbury’s website doesn’t offer a clue, saying that the Flake was introduced in 1920 and that the half-sized version for the ice cream men came went into production in 1930.

But there are theories about the derivation of the 99, many of them probably as substantial as an ice cream in the baking midday sun.

Most of these revolve around the Italian “hokey pokey” men who, as Memories told last weekend, escaped their poverty-stricken homeland before the First World War and made a new life in the UK using their secret ice cream recipes:

N “The boys of 99” were the youngest conscripts into the Italian army during the war. All born in 1899, they marched off to the front with a long dark feather in the side of their tall hats – just like a 99 poking from the side of a mound of Mr Whippy;

N The Italian immigrants struggled with English, and cried out “Icee, icee…” to sell their wares. When they came to write out a price list, someone noticed that in Roman numerals, the first two letters – IC – represented one short of 100, and so the 99 was born;

N In the 1890s, the king of Italy surrounded himself with a bodyguard of his finest soldiers. These were the crackshots, the elite, the special, and there were always 99 of them. Therefore, in Italy, 99 became synonymous with something special or elite, and so when an ice cream man rammed a chocolate finger into a cone and charged a premium for it, it became a 99 – afterall, there is nothing more special or elite than a dribbly ice cream in a soggy cone with a flaky chocolate that never breaks where you expect it to.

You pay your money, choose your flavour and make your choice of theories about the 99.

THIS week, the Daily Mail carried a lengthy – and fair – article on the state of Darlington’s “handsome” town centre. It very kindly borrowed my phrase about the closing of “the bookends of High Row”– Binns being the southern bookend and Marks & Spencer the northern – and the concern that with nothing to hold it together, High Row could fall apart.

The speed of the collapse of high streets everywhere is taking people by surprise. The retail climate has worsened in the last two years, and now people are dashing around trying to prevent Darlington from having two boarded-up bookends which would give the impression that the town centre was closed for business.

It was two years ago that the council took the decision to close the library and make minimal savings by offering a worse service in the Dolphin Centre. There are no plans for what to do with the library building – board it up, buckle it down and see what turns up.

Two years ago, in the depths of austerity, when every penny was sacred, this may have been an understandable decision, but two years on, the council budget is balanced and times have changed. The battle now is to keep the town centre alive so it can develop into its future shape. Boarded-up bookends at either end will make it look dead and unattractive, and having a derelict library in the middle will look like an ugly self-inflicted wound.