Bohemian Rhapsody

Attempting a certain Italiano panache in your pronunciation, repeat after me…‘Vorrei un gelato, por favore…’ Got it? ‘Vorrei un gelato, por favore…’  Not bad. Maybe coming out a little more Frank Skinner than Frank Sinatra, but a decent first stab. Keep giving it a go. ‘Vorrei un gelato, por favore…’ It has to be said, I am a man with a sweet tooth and a love of foreign travel and I learned that useful little sentence while taking a leak at the Frankie & Benny’s in Manchester yesterday on the way home from the airport. For those uninitiated in the Italian lingo, that’s how you’d ask for an ice cream. Try it one more time… with gusto… ‘Vorrei un gelato, por favore…’ Got it? Excellente. Ben fatto. Bravo! Return to the booth, swig down some more coke and we can go back for another wazz in a while and get the phrase for booking a hotel room under our belts. Because F & B’s play Italian language lessons in their toilets. What a cracking service. Don’t you think that it’s great to combine learning a new language with bladder and bowel motions? Should you need a shit and we’ll be flying along. And if my IBS continues I’m confident I’ll have a basic grasp of business level Italian within six months. I think it’s a great idea, combining, as it does, my love of F & B’s Black Pepper Mayo Burger with education. I’ve been going regularly recently and my Italian is coming along in leaps and bounds. These days I get a whiff of lemon sanitary cube and suddenly by the power of association I could be on the banks of Lake Como or touring the Amalfi Coast.


According to the spiel on the menu Frankie & Benny’s menu, ‘rumour has it that Frankie Giuliani was 10 years old when, with his Mamma and Poppa, he left Sicily and landed at Ellis Island, New York in 1924. They moved in with relatives in ‘Little Italy’, a predominantly Italian neighbourhood. Poppa soon found work, but from the home country he’d brought a little money and a lot of ambition. It was no surprise then, when the family opened a restaurant… Each of them had a favourite dish to contribute, but it was Mamma’s home-style cooking that was the base from which the business prospered. Frankie went to the nearby High School and became lifetime friends with Benny, already a third generation American…’ The rest, as they say, is history. Bloody hell, that’s a story of the American Dream, innit? Myself and the Mrs, together with Mr and Mrs Flamingcross felt like we were sat in the actual booth occupied by Lugs Lucchetti and Gay Sammy Scuderia when they were killed in a hail of Tommy Gun fire by Johnny Three Fingers Scaglietti in a fight over the salami concession. Lugs was having some Tiramisu and Gay Sammy was just finishing off a ten inch Californian. Because this place is the real deal. Frankie Giuliani’s dream come true and delivering Italian-American nosh to the world.


Except it’s all bollocks. The whole Frankie and Benny story is a complete fabrication; that entire back-story is a work of cynical marketing fiction. Frankie and Benny never existed. They never baked a pizza for Dean Martin or had to arrange a back street abortion for Frank Sinatra with Momma helping out with the aftercare. They never hosted a party for Rocky Marciano during which pissed up on Nastro Azzurro he punched Mario Lanza’s lights out. They were never here at all. I know, I bet you’re as disillusioned as I was. It’s all, as F & B might say in their marketing shtick, baloney. I know this because I checked Wikipedia – the font of all wisdom – and because last week I ate in the F & B’s next door to Cineworld in Wakefield. It was identical to the one in Manchester. There were the same photographs on the walls, showing, amongst others, Frank Martino and the simply massive Primo Carnera. There were the same menu cards for a little ristorante in Portafino. The same fake busts of the fake Frankie and his fake best pal Benny. Because in a world that is becoming depressingly homogenous reality has become a marketing ploy.


But should we be surprised these days? It happens time and time again. The Marston’s owned/run Swan & Cygnet at Calder Island, Wakefield is an exact, brick for brick, beam for beam, replica of the Bluebell Inn at Manvers in Rotherham, and these are identikits of other spurious coaching houses the company will have knocked up on dual carriageways and roundabouts all over the land; after a few pints of Pedigree best bitter and stuffed on the Dick Turpin meal deal it can be a little bit disorientating. It’s like all the Irish bars the world over; that little family run pub from Ballygally where there’s always a friendly welcome and some good craic, handmade on an industrial estate in Sheffield and shipped to all four corners of the globe. At least Colonel Sanders with his special blend of herbs and spices actually existed. I think. Maybe. They reckon. Possibly.


Frankie and Benny’s typifies a kind of sameness that is being forced on us by a capitalist cartel of multi-nationals in some kind of Bilderberg Group-esque led conspiracy. Individuality is being killed off and our reality re-packaged and re-sold to us. The Matrix has become a business plan, the idea to create a simulated reality where everything is shiny and desirable and exactly fucking alike. Frankie and Benny are part of this tailored, profitable fantasy. The 10% off the easy over all day breakfast and the three courses for a tenner offered by F & B is beguiling us into accepting the cod version of an Italian-American diner as being somehow genuine; this is West World with burgers and deep crust. Learning Italian in the bog is tricking us into thinking that F & B is somehow quirky and unique. Beware. Our reality is slowly being taken away from us. Frankie and Benny are part of a scheme that is out to steal your soul. Though, I have to say, the Black Pepper Mayo burger is a tasty burger.


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