It might not be the Olympic culture Lord Coe and his mates want the 2012 Games to portray, but Cockney rhyming slang – the traditional language or patois of London’s East End – is determined not to be sunk under all that new Olympic infrastructure. This year’s largest sporting endeavour is taking place in East London, the traditional stomping grounds of London’s Cockneys, those born within the sound of the pealing of the Bow (church) bells.
The Cockneys might feel justified in thinking that they have been overlooked in all the often over-hyped marketing of this huge sporting expo. Most talk has been of the 'legacy' of the games and how the Olympics will transform this area, one of the most traditionally impoverished districts of the city (in terms of money, certainly not in community spirit, as the locals will tell you instantly). Less talk has been of the culture of East London, although having lived in the United States for 19 years I can tell you how obsessed Americans are with Cockney rhyming slang.
So, not wishing to be left out, the Salts of the Earth who call that part of London home (and who are as hospitable as the best of them) have decided to give their own unique cultural greeting to the world’s visiting media, who have started to assemble in Stratford this week.
Tomorrow, 19 July, the Carpenter’s Arms, the local ‘bath’ (as in tub, meaning pub) in Stepney, E1, will host lessons on the finer points of speaking Cockney rhyming slang, with Professor Sue Fox of London University explaining its history, while Pearly Kings and Queens will demonstrate the language is alive and well.
So, donning their ‘whistles’ the organisers of this ‘cucumber and cress’ conference will come down the ‘apples’ from their ‘drums’ to have a good ol’ ‘butchers’ at the gathering ‘spires’ - which translated means they will attend the press (‘cucumber and cress’) conference by coming down the stairs (‘apples and pears’) from their places (‘drum and basses’), to have a good old look (‘butcher’s hook’) at the people (‘spire and steeple’). I might have made up one or two of these phrases, but it is a living language, so I can feel justified in doing so (even though I was born south of the river (in our slang, ‘Sarf’ London), which to a true East Londoner might be considered a foreign land.
But I am a West Ham United Football Club fan, always have been, and that is the East London, thus Cockney, team. It’s a wonderful world but one in which pie and mash with liquor, jellied eels (although less so) and whelks are still eaten at places such as Nathan’s in Barking Road, an institution that has been in operation since the 1930s (way before West Ham even won the World Cup in 1966). Perhaps the athletes will go there after they win their gold medals? (Probably not before their events, I would hazard.)
This event will be great way for international media to get a real flavour of the locale of the Games and I hope attendees will come up with new, brand spanking fresh Cockney rhymes especially for the Olympics.
I have not heard of any as yet, so to make up for this and in honour of this endeavour, I’ll make up some solely for the meetings and events industry. Here you go:
* “Going to the pictures” – “Going to the Olympics,” as in “picture frames” (games)
* “The Judy starts at 1” – “Lunch begins at 1,” as in Punch (lunch) and Judy
* “How large is the main McCartney?” – “How large is the main exhibition hall?” as in Paul (hall) McCartney
* “Does your event follow the chameleon code?” – “Does your event follow the Pharma code?” as in Karma (Pharma) Chameleon stipulations (for those old enough to remember Culture Club’s massive No. 1 song)
Yes, pathetic, I know. I am sure you can do far better. Suggestions please…