Cockney

Mick Imlah

How heightened the taste! – of champagne at the piano; of little side-kisses to tickle the fancy
At the party to mark our sarcastic account of the overblown Mass of the Masses by Finzi
(An aristocrat who betrayed what he stood for and set up in Bow with his matchgirl fiancée);

Moreover, the skit I had chosen to grace the occasion (‘My Way – in the Setting for Tuba by Mahler’)
Had even the Previns in generous stitches (it seemed an acceptable social milieu
If only because it was something like six million light years away from the planet of Millwall)

When the buffet arrived; and as we applauded the crudités carved into miniature flats and sharps
There crept into mind for a desperate moment the ghost of me mum shuffling back from the shops
With a Saturday treat – ‘Look! We got sausages, beans, an’ chips!’

So I mentally told her to stuff it, and turned, with a shivering reflex of anger
To harangue a superior brace of brunettes for their preference of Verdi to Wagner;
But again she appeared at the door, with the salt and the sacred vinegar

And I was reclaimed. ‘You!’ she demanded, ‘You who last month in the Seychelles
Took drinks with a Marquis, and studded the spine of Lucinda with seashells –
You are the same little boy that I sent out in winter with Cockney inscribed on your satchel!’

And as she dispersed, one or two of my neighbours were squinting at me as you do a bad odour,
And even my friendly advances were met by a flurry of coughs and a mutter of Oh, dear
For try as I might I just couldn’t assemble the sounds that came out in a delicate order:

ALL ROYT MOY SAHN! HA’S YOR FARVAH?
LEN YOU TEN NOWTS? – CALL IT A FOIVAH!
TRAVELLED IN TEE-ASCANY? – DO ME A FIVAH!

And worse was to follow. For over this bleak ostinato of base-born vowels
I detected the faraway strains of a disco remix of The Dance of the Seven Veils
And felt the lads egging me on to enact what a tug at the Seventh reveals –

Yes, down came the pants of old Rotherhithe’s rugged Salomé,
And pointing it straight at the toff who was leading the charge to assail me
Out of my shirtfront I prodded two-thirds of a purple salami ...

*

Sometimes, there’s a song in my head as I sit down to tea, and I know what the tune is,
But can’t catch the words. And when I get tired of the humming, it’s off down to Terry’s, or Tony’s,
A couple of pints, then across to the club till it closes, for snooker with Pakistanis.