My grandmother was a Cockney. Yep, a full blown, registered, born-within-bow-bells, rhyming slang saying Cockney through and through. She died some 35 years ago now, but I still remember her clearly.
She was never anything but old to me, even when she must have only been in her early 60’s (it is a truth that 60 is now so much younger than it used to be – thank goodness!). I remember her ‘perming’ her own hair into tight little grey curls using thin plastic rollers lined with cigarette papers (no I don’t know either) and foul smelling home perms. I remember her and my mum making jellies for my birthday teas, every year, even though to this day I loathe jelly in any shape or form, and floury Sausage rolling at Christmas. I feel like I remember all her mannerisms, and sometimes see them manifest in either myself or my sister.
Most of all, I remember her sayings. It seemed she had a saying for every occasion. We had a ‘lick and a promise’ instead of a wash. Things were always in a ‘muddy puddle’ (about as near to bad language as I ever heard from her). I often came home from school looking like ‘the black ‘ole of Calcutta’ or the ‘wreck of the ‘esperus’. Things went ‘up ‘n down like a fiddlers elbow’ and if I had a stain on my clothes ‘a blind man would be glad to see it’! Not very pc these days I suspect.
However, my favourite saying, and even now I use it more frequently than you might imagine, is
‘It stuck out like a tanner in a sweeps ear’ole’.
Of course, whenever I use that one, I have to explain it. No one these days remembers that a tanner was a shiny silver sixpence, which would have twinkled amongst the soot in a chimney sweeps ear. And why exactly would he have had a tanner in his ear in the first place? Who knows? Who cares? It’s silly, but you have to admit, very descriptive!
These sayings have now become part of my family’s lore, something that the children laugh at, but keep in their hearts as part of their history. It’s a way of them knowing their great-grandmother even though she is long-gone. I wonder how their grandchildren will remember me?
Well, I do make up my own expletives I suppose, ‘Cripes-a-lawky’ being a favourite. I don’t know anyone else that says that, though perhaps, dear blog reader, you might pick it up and bring it to its rightful place in the national consciousness. Or how about ‘pigs-and-fishes’ in place of your favourite swearword, as I do, or if it’s really annoying just ‘pigs!’ I’m sure my husband and daughters could fill you in on others, but the thing is, I don’t even know I’m saying them these days. They are just verbal tics that are part of who I am.
We may share the same language, but each and everyone of us uses it in unique ways,everyday. We should all do our best to use it wisely and memorably!