Bert Cornell, a stallholder at Bethnal Green market, has been condemned by critics for his innovative decision to move away from the traditional roots of cockney rhyming slang and introduce new terms for everyday items that reflect modern tastes in non-rhyming poetry.
‘I’ve bleedin’ ‘ad enough of “me old china” this, and “Adam and Eve” that,’ claimed Cornell. ‘When was the last time you saw anyone rhyming on telly since they retired that Pam Ayres bint? So instead of “apples and pears” for stairs, I like to say I’m just heading up; “The childhood hill of dreams, To the eiderdown oasis of peace, Far from the rumblings of discontent in the valleys of past generations, Still audible in the twilight of the landing”. Or “rumblings” for short.’
Despite the outrage among urban historians, linguists and anthropologists, other stall holders have been supportive of Cornell, who comes from a famous family of unconventional cockneys; his parents were the only minimalist pearly king and queen in London, and were often seen dressed head to toe in black, with just one pearl button sewn into the lining of their jackets.
‘They’re a funny lot the Cornells, but you’ve gotta live and let live, aintcha?” said Stu Belton, a greengrocer, ‘He’s got us all at it ‘ere, mainly ‘cos it confuses the ponces what come down with their Cockney-English dictionaries looking for an authentic East End experience. We give ‘em a bit of the old Hackney Haiku, with a sprinkling of Aldgate assonance and Petrachan pentameter,’ he said selling a pound of apples, or as he called them in the new experimental poetic slang; “Apples of the earth? A strange fruit of tragedy, For Erin”.
Asked to comment on the growing controversy, Poet Laureate Andrew Motion said that the new slang offered evocative imagery, and a style redolent of the free verse of Auden, though he did add that he thought the market stallholders ‘sound like a right bunch of Merchant Bankers.’