So here’s me, making a pledge to compose poetry as my penance for Lent. Holding my head in despair, bouncing it off the laptop, trying to achieve some poetic coherence……..and suddenly I thought…………you were born to write poetry, you’re a cockney. I was raised on cockney rhyming slang it should be part of my DNA.
I’m not telling porkies either. That’s cockney rhyming slang ‘ pork pies’ for ‘eyes’.
When I have my morning ‘dig in the grave’ I look fondly on my Schick razor, appreciating its lubricating feature and its five blades. I then head into the kitchen for my morning pot of ‘rosy lea’.
I then venture up the ‘apples and pears’ to my library where the laptop awaits and sign on to my favourite ‘wind and kite’. After spending three hours reviewing WordPress I find that my ‘mince pies’ are declining with age. I rub my ‘boat race’ vigorously trying to dispel the tiredness. I need a short break.
I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that I’m from Irish descent born in East London. But I have just found out that there was such a race as Irish cockneys. They were immigrants from Ireland that first came to London in the 1850’s. Some say that the cockney rhyming slang was first used by the Irish cockneys to disguise their conversation from other Londoners. There were in fact a number of Irish cockneys who took part in the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin. One of which was Johnny O’Connor, known as ‘Blimey” for his thick cockney accent.
So here’s a little poem for you straight from my cockney genes:
The Oldest Profession
I'm a hooker dearie. Wait till I get my hooks into you. Though I get a little weary, I can still turn a trick or two
I'm here to make a living By any means I can So you do the giving And be my generous man.
Forget the weary painted face Just close your eyes and dream Of a lady with frills and lace And keep your self esteem
I’ve been reading ‘London’s Characters and Crooks’ compiled from books written by Henry Mayhew in the 1850’s. It describes costermongers, flower girls, cheap-Johns, rag and bottle buyers, dustmen, dolly mops and bawdy houses, tramps and lucifer droppers. Just to name a few. Here’s an extract from a chapter entitled Soldiers’ Women.
Soldiers are notorious for hunting up women, especially nurse maids and those that in the execution of their duty walk in the parks, when they may be easily accosted. Nurse maids feel flattered by the attention that is lavished upon them and are always ready to succumb to the ‘ scarlet fever ‘. A red coat is all powerful with this class, who prefer a soldier to a servant. This answers the soldiers purpose equally well, only earning a shilling a day, he cannot afford to employ professional women to gratify his passions.
Remember not to judge the 19th century with 21st century sensibilities.
Lakshmi sat beside the social worker in the central court’s waiting room, while the gods of Canada’s justice system divined her fate. The social worker tapping away on her iPhone paid little attention to her eight year old charge. Lakshmi sat there, disconsolate, drowning in waves of sadness, her mother’s screams continuing to echo through her head. She wondered how it was possible, that her mother had died in the car crash while she had not received even a single scratch. Lakshmi’s future was now up in the air, under negotiation with the judge, a choice of foster care or auntie.
The social worker pocketed her iPhone as auntie accompanied by a lawyer entered the waiting room. Auntie embraced Lakshmi with a glowing smile, ” You will live with me now my little dove, we will be so happy together “. They exited the courtroom and auntie hailed a taxi.
The taxi dropped them off in front of a run down apartment and they negotiated the elevator to the fifth floor. Upon entering the apartment auntie poured herself a generous portion of gin, lit a cigarette, settled herself on the couch with a weary sigh and pronounced, ” We will be good company for each other, you will see. Sit child, sit”. Lakshmi cleared the remaining chair of its papers, plastic bottles and slightly used paper plates, sitting tentatively on the edge of her seat. Auntie, stared vacantly into space, sipped her gin, puffed on her cigarette and Lakshmi, apprehensive, weeping silently, drifted off to sleep. Auntie occupied the apartments one bedroom and Lakshmi made her bed on the couch.
The next morning auntie accompanied Lakshmi on the ten minute walk to her new school. Lakshmi was introduced to the Principal and shown her classroom. She was asked if she wanted to share anything with the classroom, but shyly declined. When the final school bell rang, Lakshmi waited outside the school for auntie, but auntie never showed. Eventually Lakshmi made her own way to the apartment building. The elevator was out of order so she ascended the stairs to the 5th floor. The stairs were filthy, strewn with garbage, interspersed with empty beer and wine bottles. On the third floor she tentatively squeezed by a decrepit man, hunched over on the steps, eyes closed, clutching a bottle. She ran the rest of the way to the fifth floor. She knocked on the door of auntie’s apartment and entered.
The smell of incense was strong within the apartment, overriding the stench of cigarettes and alcohol. Auntie was fast asleep on the couch. Lakshmi sat in her chair and stared at auntie, she missed her mother. After a while auntie awoke and stared uncomprehendingly at Lakshmi. As recognition dawned she gave a smile, offering to make Lakshmi supper. She reached in the cupboard for a can of baked beans, heating it on the stove. She then acquired two paper plates and divided the can between Lakshmi and herself, topping it off with two slices of bread. Having finished supper auntie retreated to her bottle of gin, leaving Lakshmi to dream of her mother.
Three months later Lakshmi asked auntie for permission to go to her classroom friend’s birthday party. “Do you think I am made of money. Does money grow on trees”, intoned auntie. ” I cannot afford to buy birthday presents. You are costing me too much money for food and clothes as it is.” Lakshmi devastated, retreated to her chair crying, hating auntie with every fibre of her being.
Six months later auntie and Lakshmi were sitting at the tiny kitchen table eating supper when Lakshmi, reaching across for the salt, knocked aunties glass of gin, spilling its contents over the table. Auntie immediately reacted with a vicious smack across Lakshmi’s face sending her tumbling off the seat. ” You stupid girl. What a waste. You are so clumsy” auntie raged as she reached for the bottle to refill her glass. Lakshmi buried her face in the armchair, crying uncontrollably, her hate for auntie increasing with every sob. And so life went on for the next two years.
Lakshmi’s tenth birthday came and went without acknowledgment by auntie. As Lakshmi became older and more independent life had settled down to a listless routine of cleaning the house and trying to avoid aunties bad moods. Auntie was becoming increasingly irrational, mostly scolding Lakshmi for some perceived slight. Other times she would enfold Lakshmi in a vice like embrace, intoning prayers to Vishnu for a better life.
One night Lakshmi was awakened with auntie’s screams from the bedroom, she tumbled off the couch, stumbling in a daze towards auntie’s bed. Auntie clutched Lakshmi pulling her onto the bed, her fingernails digging deep. Auntie wouldn’t let go and kept screaming, ” Vishnu, save me. Save me from my nightmares, my terrors.” Lakshmi was suffocating under aunties embrace, but auntie clung to her, her grip becoming tighter and tighter. Lakshmi screamed out in pain, desperately trying to escape. ” Auntie, auntie let me light some incense to honour Vishnu. It will lesson your dreams “. These repeated words finally made their way into aunties befuddled brain and she gradually released her grip on Lakshmi.
Lakshmi returned to auntie with a glass of gin and five incense tapers. She placed the tapers in a jar and lit them. Auntie reached for her cigarettes, sipping her gin, beginning to quieten down, the nightmares receding. Lakshmi stood in the corner of the room, watching auntie. Watching as auntie drifted off to sleep. She waited five minutes to ensure that auntie was truly asleep and then she reached for the incense tapers. She placed two of the lighted tapers on the pillow, either side of aunties head and two at her feet. The fifth she placed over her heart. She then retreated to her couch to sleep.
Lakshmi awoke to the frenzied ringing of the fire alarm. Seeing smoke coming from auntie’s bedroom she walked over and opened the door. Lakshmi watched in fascination as the flames engulfed the bed. Watched the vivid colours with its hues of yellow, orange and red. Watched the flames spitting at her, like aunties wrath, forcing her back from the room. She witnessed aunties funeral pyre grow ever more colourful, hypnotized, in awe of its majesty. She consigned all her hate, anguish, grief and fears into that brightly coloured fire and the flames obligingly consumed them. Releasing her. Lakshmi was born anew.
The Drabble web site publishes poems/stories of less than 100 words so I thought I would give it a go and submit the words below. Thanks Violet. (VioletLenz) for bringing this site to my attention.
A mousy reporter Searching for cheese. Sniffs the air. Scurries forward. Tastes the pungent aroma Of acid and vinegar. Salivates over its sharp bite. Returns to his hole Replete. Another politician's Year book Revealed.
The day after St. Patrick’s and my head is feeling a little woozy. I spent yesterday evening, with alcohol, watching the original 1985 performance in Dublin of River Dance with Michael Flatley and Jean Butler. Followed by the Irish Rovers etc. So today as punishment for my sins I attempted some poetry. Don’t cry, promise me.
Its St. Patrick’s Day and I’m listening to the refrains of “The Field of Athenry” sung by Frank Patterson. I always spare time for quiet celebration, on this the holiest of drinking days, listening to Frank Patterson, Josef Locke, James Galway or John McCormack; the great Irish artists. Taking another sip of Smithwicks I fondly remember my mother’s and great aunt’s Irish influence on my life.
Survival against the odds, the courage to follow your own path, the determination to never give up, the ability to find solutions where others only see problems and a sense of what’s important in life – these are the characteristics that for over 300 years have made Smithwick’s Ireland’s favourite brewer of ales.
My mother was born 1926 in Waterford, situated in the south east and the oldest city in the Republic of Ireland. Her father had relocated because of employment opportunities in the fisheries. She was christened Catherine O’Dwyer but was known as Kit. At the age of nine, together with her brother John aged five, she journeyed ten kilometres to Moolum,Kilkenny to live with her Aunt Kate. My mother was always vague on the reasons for transferring households, but there were probably two reasons for this. Her mother’s sister Kate was childless and it helped my mother’s family financially. She later told me that her childhood in Moolum was the happiest time in her life.
At the age of fourteen she was reunited with her parents and moved to Stepney, London, England. Her father had found employment as a brick layer in London. It was there she met my father, they married when she was eighteen and raised six children. I was the second eldest.
I grew up under the influence of my mother as she was always around to guide and to scold as the occasion warranted. I attended St. Joseph’s convent school run by the Sisters of Mercy, a religious order founded in Dublin in 1831 by Catherine McAuley (1778-1841). Not to be confused with the ‘Sisters of Mercy’ song written by Leonard Cohen. The nun’s celebrated their Irish heritage. The St. Patrick’s day concert performed by the school was the high light of the year. I would stand in line behind other optimistic children to audition for the role of choir conductor. I almost made it one year, except I forgot some of the lines to McNamara’s Band and so failed the audition. Much like forgetting my rap lines in my granddaughter’s rap video.https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/lensdiary.blog/48
Every year when school was out my mother would take the six children to Ireland to visit Aunt Kate. Taking the train from London to Fishguard in Wales, the ferry to Rosslare and then a further train to Waterford. Aunt Kate would be waiting for us at Waterford with her ‘assen cart’, a cart pulled by two donkeys, blackman and greyman. Her house in Moolum was small, though the living quarters had been enlarged by converting the forge. My great uncle had been a blacksmith. There was no electricity, no running water and no toilet. The fire was lit early in the morning and kept going all day, there was no cooking stove. I loved to work the bellows to spark the fire into life.
Every morning we would walk the half mile to the pump, carrying our buckets, to hold the water. There would be blackberries to pick on the bushes by the road and we would return home with purple fingers and lips. The farmer up on Moolum rock would stop by every morning in his horse and cart to offer me a lift to the creamery in Kilmacow. On the return journey I would be allowed to ride the horse bareback in the field . When darkness fell an oil lamp and candles were lit. If we needed to do a No.1 we would go to the field, if a No.2 we would retire to the donkey’s shed ensuring that we picked the biggest leaves beforehand, for hygiene’s sake.
I would accompany Aunt Kate on her bread rounds twice a week. Aunt Kate was known as the ‘Bread Woman’, or ‘Egg Woman’ to neighbours who primarily bought eggs from her or sold them to her. She received her bread supplies from Harney’s bakery in the village of Kilmacow and would take the assen cart to deliver these supplies to her customers the same day each week no matter the weather. Before my time the Moolum house was a ‘safe house’ for IRA members. Though as Aunt Kate often related, she never held with violence, but she would not turn away anyone in trouble. In 2006, on the 90th anniversary of the Easter Uprising, there was a reunion in Kilmacow of past Republicans and my mother was asked to lay an official wreath on Aunt Kate’s grave. I had never realized that Aunt Kate had been so famous an activist for the Cause.
My mother moved back to that house in Moolum in 1991 when she was 65 and I visited her every year, only occasionally going back to visit England. I went to Ireland in March of 2016 for my mother’s 90th birthday and we celebrated her life in traditional Irish fashion and had a great time. Two months later I went back to Ireland for my mother’s funeral and we celebrated her life in traditional Irish fashion and had a great time. My heart has always been divided between Ireland and England despite my cockney accent. A mother’s influence is a powerful thing.
Song For Ireland
Walking all the day, near tall towers Where falcons build their nests Silver winged they fly They know the call of freedom in their breasts Saw Black Head against the sky Where twisted rocks they run down to the sea Living on your western shore Saw summer sunsets, asked for more I stood by your Atlantic sea And sang a song for Ireland Drinking all the day in old pubs Where fiddlers love to play Someone touched the bow He played a reel It seemed so fine and gay Stood on Dingle beach And cast in wild foam we found Atlantic bass Living on your western shore Saw summer sunsets asked for more I stood by your Atlantic sea And sang a song for Ireland Talking all the day with true friends Who try to make you stay Telling jokes and news Singing songs to pass the night away Watched the Galway salmon run Like silver dancing darting in the sun Living on your western shore Saw summer sunsets, asked for more I stood by your Atlantic sea And sang a song for Ireland Dreaming in the night I saw a land Where no man had to fight Waking in your dawn I saw you crying in the morning light Lying where the falcons fly They twist and turn all in you’er blue sky Living on your western shore, Saw summer sunsets asked for more I stood by your Atlantic sea And sang a song for Ireland
“That proves you are unusual,” returned the Scarecrow; “and I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.” ― L. Frank Baum, The Land of Oz
She gave a final push and was rewarded as the baby flew from her womb. His tiny hands and arms, flapping like a young bird in flight, nestled in the doctors hands. She looked at his body, red from exertion, and named him Robin.
Robin was constantly trailing his mother. She was a keen gardener, tending her flowers with care, allowing Robin to assist with the ritual. His little shovel digging the earth, planting the seeds and shoveling the earth back , protecting them from the birds.
Robin also helped his mother with the bird feeders. She kept a careful eye on him as he spooned the seed from its container to the bird feeder, his little hands disposing half the contents on the grass. They would watch as the birds crowded the feeders flicking the seed in all directions. Robin would invariably clap his hands, squealing with delight, at the birds antics and squabbles.
Robins first day at school was cause for apprehension. The boys reacted to his name with cries of Batmannn, Batmannn. Robin wondered why they sang this refrain and was quickly introduced to the concept of super heroes and side kicks. He good naturedly accepted the boys attempt at humour, never telling them he had his own heroes.
Robins heroes were Christopher Robin with his side kicks, Winnie-The-Poo, Eeyore, Rabbit, Piglet and Owl, all living happily together in the Hundred Acre Wood. He had been raised on these stories, his mother snuggling beside him on the bed, book in hand, her eloquent voice breathing life into the characters.
Puberty arrived with a massive hormonal explosion, disintegrating Robin’s childhood. He started reading the legends of Robin Hood, recognizing the inequities in society, the injustices, the divide between rich and poor. He became angrier by the day. Recognizing it’s futility he tried to ground himself with thoughts of the Hundred Acre Wood. Letting the trees act as a buffer to his confused and turbulent mind.
His last year at high school. The guidance counsellor asked the class to complete an assignment on where they saw themselves ten years from now. This assignment was important to Robin and he spent time rationalizing his views on life and plans for the future.
He ruled out scaling Ivory Towers or worshipping the Golden Calf. His short time on social media had taught him the illusory nature of fame and followers. Surprisingly he thought of Lady Gaga and her outrageous costumes. She had such a beautiful voice, yet the voice alone was not enough to be recognized. He would not sell his soul or lose his identity to the mob. He would be one of the billions of everyday common folk who got on with life, helping family, friends and neighbours. The thoughts flew around in his head, finally resting on a branch of knowledge that appealed to him. He had made his decision. He would study sustainable agriculture in university and help develop the food supply of the earth’s ever increasing population.
Lookatthebirdsoftheair; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.