So I comes down the apples and pears with me Rosie Lee this morning and stone the crows, I find aht I’m a bleeding’ cockney, don’t I? An’ I think they’re having a giraffe and I’m feeling a right Jeremy (upgraded from James, apparently – you work it out).
*changes to RP*
Actually I have been known to use a little of the cockney argot once frequently heard among Covent Garden porters and now primarily used by Shoreditch hipsters, like ‘whistle’, ‘titfer’, ‘Ruby Murray’, ‘Pete Tong’ ‘Harry Ramp’, ‘J Arthur’ and so on, but as I come from Greenwich, South London, a mix of posh and rough, the edges were rubbed off at rather an early age. (If you want the most up-to-date changes on rhyming slang, go here).
You see, in Matt Brown’s book ‘Everything You Know About London Is Wrong’, there’s mention that someone called Samuel Rowland first connected Bow bells with cockneys in 1611; I scorne (that any younster of the Towne) To let the Bow-bell cockney put mee downe.
Of course there are two Bow churches (as in everything else truly London, there are at least two of everything, solely designed to confuse you) but he was referring to St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside. There’s no explanation of why true cockneys needed to be born within the sound of the bells, or what it really means, but we know that the distance over which the sound of the bells carried at the time was roughly 9.6 km. Even allowing for the increase in motorised traffic by my time of birth, it would seem that I was born very comfortably within the range of Bow’s Sunday peals, thanks to the location of the maternity hospital, which makes me a true London cockney. In theory, at least.
One further calculation was required. The flat in which I live now (King’s Cross) is roughly the same distance from Big Ben as St Mary-le-Bow to the hospital, and on a Sunday morning I can often hear Big Ben’s chimes (the streets being quiet and most real Londoners too hungover to get in a car and drive anywhere, besides which there is nothing open), ergo I am in the club.
This peculiarity of birth is an increasing rarity, but it might explain why I’ve been drawn even further into the city over the years, so that I now live within plain sight of St Paul’s Cathedral (I’m looking at its rain-soaked dome as I type this). I have only two other mates who are cockneys, neither of whom have managed to escape the city’s clutches, or want to.
Being a Londoner is, however, not reliant on being a cockney. Rather it is a state of mind that infects you over a period of about two years, and you can start calling yourself one as soon as you say ‘Sorry’ to someone else for stepping on your foot, ‘Alright mate?’ to a stranger at a bar whom you need to move in order to release space, or ‘Are they having a laugh?’ when confronted with a face-slappingly high bill at just about anywhere. Gor’ bless you guv’nor, you’ve got a lucky face.