Fiction Funny Inspirational

“Me slabs are killin’ me, me minces are sore from the chimney backin’ up, and I’ve been on the dog and bone all mornin’ sittin’ at the bottom of the apples, offering bangers and mash to anyone that could come on short notice to clean the chimney - but I don’t have a Danny-La-Rue when that will be. Me ol’ china’s a sweep but the trouble and strife don’t care for him, so to avoid a barney, I won’t ask him over.”

Lord Peabody stood with mouth agape at the apparent foreign language one of London’s most colourful dialects had just thrust upon his person - like an assault of cryptic gibberish crying out for MI5 deciphering. The honourable member of the British Parliament’s upper house had innocently enquired on the blanket of grey fog lingering in the sitting room of one of the East End of London’s, run-down terraced houses. Trying to explain that his chimney was clogged, and that he was looking for someone to come and clear it, the chesty-cough resident had attempted to describe his woes and frustrations of not finding someone available for cash to help him out. Expanding his tale of woe, he described that his best mate was a chimney sweep, but because his wife didn’t get along with him, the smog-immersed man of the house couldn’t ask for his help. His compromised calamity - summarised in his local fluent use of Cockney Rhyme and Slang - left Peabody in a state of misinterpretation.

“Yes, well… thank you for that, my good man. I’m at a loss as to what China has to do with all of this; however, I must be off now. I promised your neighbour a look-in before Noon.”

“So,” the working-class gentlemen enquired. “I’m on me Jack Jones, then, am I?”

A befuddled look of hesitation enveloped Peabody’s face, stifling a speechless response.

“He says, are you leaving him on his own, Guv,” came the explanation from a tidily dressed young man familiar with the local vernacular.

“Oh… No… On the contrary, Mr…?”

“Winkle, sir.”

“Mr. Winkle, you may rest assured that I will do my utmost to bring yours and your neighbourhood’s appalling living conditions to the attention of the minister for housing, and if I have to, I will personally deliver the findings of my mission in a speech to the house of commons.”

Seemingly placated, Mr. George Winkle vigorously nodded his head in appreciation, then flashed a bright smile through his sooted facial features. Pulling his dirt-stained flat cap from his head, he rested it against his chest in a gesture of respect.

“When you’re on the floor in this life,” Mr. Winkle continued in a sullen tone. “…Things don’t half pen and ink. You - me lord - are like a bunch of Aprils clearing the stench.”

“Yes, quite… We all must do what we all should…”

Turning to the young assistant, Lord Peabody motioned for him to follow his exit from the building, and as soon as they were out into the open air, he requested clarification.

“Would you be so kind to tell me what that pungent protractor of tongue twisters said before I left?”

Beaming with the pride of someone who had just won an audience with the Pope, John E. Watkins – apprentice civil servant and everyday translator - willingly interpreted.

“Yes, sir… Mr. Winkle of number eight, imbued upon you the greatest of compliments.”

“Indeed,” Peabody replied - with an air of scepticism.

“He said that when a bloke is poor, life… well, life stinks. But you, Lord Peabody, has brought a scent of fresh flowers to his otherwise smoke-filled nostrils, giving him hope of better living conditions.”

“He said all that…? This idiom of the English language… Is it a common dialect here in the slums?”

“It is um…” Watkins searched his mind for the most precise summarisation… “…Unique to the area.”

“Well, it’s certainly not a language of the classics.”

“No, my lord. I don’t imagine they teach Cockney Rhyme and Slang at Cambridge…”

In 1960s Britain, unemployment was high, and the baby boom generation was on the cusp of exploding into life. Realising this, the government created a task force to gather information and solicit clear advice as to how to ease the overcrowding and help relieve the impoverished Londoners of their down-and-out existences. Lord Jeremy Peabody, a Doctor of Sociology, was appointed czar of housing and he was determined to find a solution to the growing problem of slum dwelling; however, unknown to those that appointed him, his solution bordered more on draconian methods of change, rather than social assistance and benefits.

“…What is your name?”

“John E. Watkins, my lord… I was assigned to you by the minister of housing, in case you needed assistance.”

“You have a remarkable grasp of the local phonology.”

“I grew up here, sir. Worked my way up out of the squalor and into a respectable job. Managed to further my education by moonlighting for a professor of linguistics. It was him that recommended me for a job in the civil service.”

“Well, Johnny Watkins, you certainly have impressed me with your translational skills - I’ll give you that… However, to clearly explain to some of the staid members of the upper house, my report must be clear and concise, and not in the interpreted jargon of – shall we say - a certain, um… societal class.”

“Ah,” said the educated Cockney. “…I catch your drift, sir.”

“Splendid… I actually understood that word… It may still be Winter but there is change afoot in this English Spring. The East End of London is a constant reminder of the horrors this country went through not that long ago, and this area has been neglected far too long. It is of my opinion and the opinion of those of similar standing like myself, that these overcrowded remnants of the German Blitz, harbour nothing but misery, sickness, and early death for those trapped within its confines… I aim to change that.”

“That’s very noble of you, sir. Providing new homes will certainly regenerate the area.”

“This isn’t about rehoming, Watkins,” Peabody abruptly corrected – his tone of voice sounding like a Grammar school headmaster.

“This is about clearing the land, evicting the riffraff, then building high-rise living accommodation for the soon-to-be workforce this country needs to grow… It may have escaped your working-class attention, but Britain wallows as a third-world country high on socialist ideology and low on sustainable economics. It desperately needs a restoration to its former glory. For too long, the working class has shunned the educational system, so I intend to build a new middle class, who will take pride in their appearance, schooling, and living situations. A class of people that will be the backbone of future Britain, feeding the economy rather than taking from it…”

Watkins listened intently to Lord Peabody’s plans, realising that should Peabody be successful in his attempt to eradicate the colourful characters of London’s East End, an important element in the makeup of British society would cease to exist. At this enlightened moment, John E. Watkins hatched a counter plan to combat the obvious genocidal strategy of a hereditary peer so detached from the realities of life, that he couldn’t see his proposed design resembled a previous, failed Final Solution strategy from a not-too-distant past.

“…What is that contraption you are carrying, Watkins?”

“It’s a Super 8-millimetre film camera with sound capture abilities. The ministry thought it might help with your presentation. It’s brand-new technology, they said.”

“How does it work?”

“Well, I took a quick gander at the instructions last night…”

“…A quick gander?” Peabody scoldingly interrupted. “What manner of the queen’s English is gander?”

Watkins’ silence outlasted Peabody’s patience.

“You will be wise to eliminate any colloquial interpretations of our language. A language that existed long before our colonial cousins invaded the Americas, bastardised the language, then sent hundreds of thousands of men crashing to our shore, corrupting our women with illiterate proposals of taking them to a promised land after the war.”

Peabody’s obvious open sore was mentally noted by Watkins. Perhaps, it’s the dialect and not the people he detests, he thought to himself.

“…A gander,” Peabody continued. “…Is a male goose. Are you telling me that you took a quick male goose at the instructions…?”

Without missing a beat, Watkins ignored the dressing down, then continued unabashed.

 “…The instructions said to just point, shoot, and be creative,” he cheekily smiled.

“Good heavens! It sounds like a weapon.”

“I saw a magazine advertisement of it being offered with a projector. The whole shootin’ match, it promised. Made it sound like a John Wayne Western.”

“Are you obsessed with the land of cowboys…?” A disapproving Peabody berated. “…You would be wise to focus on your own country’s plight before fantasising about someone else’s.”

“What shall I do with the camera, then?” Watkins impudently asked as Peabody studied the house numbers.

“I believe number fourteen is a Mr. Norman… Whitehouse. If you’re done gandering, then I would appreciate you capturing the ensuing conversation on film… Camera, lights, action, Johnny. Snap to it!”

Assuming the role of movie director, Peabody knocked on number fourteen’s front door. Fiddling with the cine camera’s eyepiece, Watkins quietly mumbled under his breath,

“It’s John E… you twit…”

“Good morning, sir,” Peabody greeted the elderly woman that answered the knock on her door. “I am Lord Peabody and would like to ask you a few questions regarding your neighbourhood.”

The frail-looking woman studied the towering Peabody from head to foot, smiled cordially, then addressed the top-hatted stranger.


Slamming the door in Peabody’s face, the rush of displaced air tipped his hat ever-so-slightly to one side, giving him a momentary dishevelled look. Turning to Watkins – who was still filming, the disdainful look on his face was intensely reflected by the left side of his mouth curling upwards.

“Riffraff, Johnny. Rabble of the most undesirable sort… This strengthens my resolve to rid this place of rude and uneducated creatures that roam these streets.”

“Perhaps,” Watkins offered a suggestion. “…You need to see them in a lighter setting, as a group, relaxed and in a more forthright mood.”

“You mean call a meeting at the local town hall?”

“I mean,” Watkins explained with eyebrows enthusiastically raised. “The local Rub-a-Dub…”

“…A massage parlour?” The shocked Lord protested.

“Nah, Rub-a-dub… Pub!”

“…A public house… I see… more of that gibberish rhyme and slang, I suppose… Well, lead on Macduff…”

“…It’s Watkins…”

“It’s Shakespeare,” Peabody condescendingly pointed out.

“Then, it’s misquoted. The line should read, Lay on Macduff…”

Handing the cine camera to Peabody, Watkins motioned for him to record the next few moments, posturing to resemble an actor preparing for performance.

“…Before my body, I throw my warlike shield,

Lay on, Macduff,

And damn’d be him that first cries,

Hold enough!”

The combination of a dumbfounded look combined with an expression of admiration, spread rapidly across Peabody’s face. The unexpected literacy of a native raised in what he regarded as the depths of impoverished ignorance, had just recited a passage from Macbeth with such convincing eloquence, he couldn’t help but raise a smile and a nodding approval…

“…You surprise me, Johnny,” Peabody complimented Watkins - as they sat in a corner of The Carlton public house later in the day. “You speak with the cadence of the underclass, yet you recite Shakespeare as if it came directly from his own mouth.”

With a reminiscent reflective tone in his voice, Watkins explained.

“Growin’ up, we only had two books in the house. One was the bible and the other was the complete works of Shakespeare - that me dad swore; fell off the back of a ship where he worked at the docks… I must have read that book and every play in it at least ten times. When the BBC would broadcast a Shakespeare play over the radio, I would read along and recite the entire thing word for word. That’s how I learned to speak as a Shakespearian.”

“But you sound like you understand what you are saying. That’s a remarkable achievement from someone so…”

“…Lacking in education?”


“I pity you, Lord Peabody.”

Watkins’ sudden slighted words caught Peabody off-guard.

“What…!? I say, steady on…”

“Are you aware that Shakespeare is wildly popular in Germany…? Do you know why?”

Peabody pondered the questions, before the realisation hit him harder than a frosty morning in bare feet.


“…And because Hamlet feels imprisoned in Elsinore Castle and dreams of returning to his mates in Germany, that’s their connection. The Danes love it too because it’s set in Denmark. Do you also know that there are over four hundred words in the English dictionary invented by Shakespeare? You know what my favourite word is…?”

Peabody shook his head.


Embarrassingly educated by the astute Cockney, Peabody frustratingly asked,

“What is your point, Watkins?”

“Simply this, by immersing yourself in the culture, you gain many friends; however, you also gain insight to their mannerisms, their desires, their struggles, and most importantly, their language. You become absorbed into their everyday lives, eventually assimilating into their very being.”

Taking a sip from his glass of gin, Peabody’s rationale battled against the young man’s wise words.

“If I am to correctly understand you, Johnny. You’re asking me to become one of these uneducated and inebriated layabouts, surrounding us, in here.”

“No, sir. I’m asking you to become all of them. Only then, will you understand them.”

“But how do I do that?”

“By being my translator.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Allow me to recite some Shakespeare in Cockney, then you repeat it as written. He’s famous for the lower-class characters in his plays to speak in prose, while reserving verse for his upper-class characters. You can translate its meaning in his real words. I guarantee, you will learn something here. Shall we do Hamlet?”

The two men were on their third round of drinks, lowering Peabody’s inhibitions to the point of false bravado.

“…Very well,” Peabody agreed.

Watkins smiled, then standing on his chair, he begged the attention of the noisy drinkers.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he began. “I would like to introduce you to Lord Jeremy Peabody… Please stand… Jeremy…”

A few sarcastic cheers rang through the pub as Peabody tipped his top hat to the crowd.

“…Our way of life and living standards are to be a study of Parliamentary proportions, where they will gauge whether we have the right to remain in our own homes…”

Several boos replaced the earlier cheers.

“So, before I recite to you some Shakespeare… here’s a song for you, Jeremy… Rosey…! My old man, chorus.”

Before he could protest, Peabody was drowned out by the sound of a slightly off-tune piano prepping the chorus of a song. Then, as if every mind in the whole place was synchronised, they all burst into song…

“…My old man said follow the van

And don’t dilly-dally on the way

Off went the cart with the home packed in it

I walked behind with me old cock linnet

But I dillied and I dallied

And I dallied and I dillied

Lost the van and don’t know where to roam

I stopped on the way to have the old half quartern

And I can’t find my way home….”


After repeating the chorus, a self-congratulatory outpour of cheers and energetic applause followed.

“Right, you lot,” shouted Watkins. “My revered friend here has kindly volunteered to translate Cockney Shakespeare into proper Shakespeare, so please shut your cakeholes and ‘ave a listen to a bit of Hamlet.”

Posturing for action, Watkins launched into a Cockney rendition of Hamlet…


     “To live or die, is the question,

      Is it posher to suffer through all the terrible things,

      Life throws at you, or have a barney wif ‘em and clear the air?

      To kick the bucket, to Bo Peep,

      Coz there’s not much difference when you’re kipping. Nothin’ bovvers you

      When you’re spark out or brown bread.

      To die, to kip. To kip, and hopefully dream… yep…

      nice one…”


Through his passage of interpreted Shakespeare, a few hoots, laughs, and whistles encouraged Watkins to continue. When he reached a stopping point, he motioned for Peabody to interpret the actual verse.

Downing the remaining contents of his glass, Peabody recited the most eloquent and captivating rendition of Hamlet anyone in the room had ever heard.


     “To be, or not to be? That is the question,

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep,

No more, and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished! To die, to sleep.

To sleep, perchance to dream,

…ay, there’s the rub…”


A loud hush permeated the pub. The congregation of working-class minds absorbing the beauty of the spoken word, remained quiet, like they were waiting for the hand of God to touch them.

“See?” Watkins pointed out. “You hear them now, don’t you…”

One week later, a letter accompanied by a processed 8mm film and projector arrived at the House of Lords. Brief and to the point, it simply read,


“To my esteemed colleagues,

After considerable thought, I feel it my duty to further involve myself in the culture of Cockney, so have made what I deem to be the correct decision to live amongst them. Only by doing so, can anyone understand their past, embrace their present, and protect their future.

I implore those in the upper house that wish to do so, to follow my lead and join me in saving a vital and important aspect of our English culture.

Please drop in anytime for a cuppa’ at No. 14, Trinity Street.


Your ‘ol china,

Jeremy Peabody, Esq

The Cockney Lord…”



December 20, 2022 08:30

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Karin Cavanagh
07:04 Dec 27, 2022

How clever! The Cockney accent and language is fun to play with, but can be difficult to fully portray it in all its glory. You've done such a fantastic job, I would swear you've lived there yourself. If only some of our politicians would live as we do, scraping for that next dollar, paying exorbitant rates just to use electricity or gas and keep ourselves warm. One I'd heard, who has 2 jets, 42 cars and various homes, had the gall to tell us we need to tighten our belts and live more conservatively! I wish he would do as your Lord Jeremy P...


Chris Campbell
07:19 Dec 27, 2022

Karin, Thanks for your great comments. I live in Oz, spent two decades in California, but grew up in London, so my upbringing there helped a bit with the rhyme and slang. I agree with your politician's comment. They may start off for the people, but power and money can corrupt even the purest of intentions. Long live the Peabodys of this world that see the error of their ways...


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21:00 Dec 24, 2022

What a yummy read! I live for dialogue, truly. Stories with a lot of it are so easy for me to dive headfirst into, and this was no different. Furthermore, while Peabody does make a pretty quick change, this does feel authentic. Sometimes, things just click. It has happened to me, and it has happened, thank God, to him. Great story and full of spirit.


Chris Campbell
01:55 Dec 25, 2022

Sasha, Thank you so much for your great comments. To understand people, you sometimes have to walk in their shoes... and do it under 3,000 words! 😂


02:08 Dec 25, 2022

So true ha ha!


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Delbert Griffith
18:43 Dec 21, 2022

First off, the Cockney rhyme and slang was amazing. You have such a good grasp of this unique and misunderstood dialect (which is practically a foreign language) that I would swear you invented it. I love the story of a toffee-nosed lord going native, so to speak. Watkins translating Shakespeare was superb; this alone should get the tale shortlisted. Your love of British history and all that it entails is commendable, but to use it to create an entertaining story with memorable characters is masterful. Again, you have produced a wonderful ...


Chris Campbell
22:05 Dec 21, 2022

Delbert, Many thanks for your wonderful comments. Growing up in London, as kids, we used to play around with the rhyme & slang, but never really strung full sentences together with it. However, the basics stayed with me over the years and with so many references on the Internet, it was easy to look up certain expressions. I just had to string them together. It does make me laugh, though, when the character Mick (played by Danny dyer) in the Eastenders TV series interjects Cockney Rhyme & Slang into his dialogue. It seems a bit over the top...


Delbert Griffith
00:01 Dec 22, 2022

Ah, Chris, your stories always work for me.


Chris Campbell
00:16 Dec 22, 2022

Thank you.


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Susan Williams
12:58 Dec 21, 2022

Lovely! I enjoyed it start to finish.


Chris Campbell
14:21 Dec 21, 2022

Thank you, Susan.


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Katy B
05:30 Dec 21, 2022

This is really excellent. Thank you for sharing!


Chris Campbell
07:02 Dec 21, 2022

Thank you, Katy. Much appreciated.


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Wendy Kaminski
04:37 Dec 21, 2022

Loved this, Chris! Extremely entertaining, and hey: bastardizing the language was simply the first in a long line of such acts (bastardizing real sugar, etc.). ;)


Chris Campbell
04:58 Dec 21, 2022

Thanks Wendy, I think Lord Peabody must have lost a love interest to an American soldier and still feels bitter about it. Immersing himself into the Cockney culture helps him heal... maybe.


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Mary Lehnert
02:48 Dec 21, 2022

Absolutely bang on, Chris. Loved it. Hope you don’t catch it for the Americas that bastardised the language.


Chris Campbell
03:48 Dec 21, 2022

Thanks Mary. I lived in the USA for 20 years and constantly had to defend being called a "Limey" and taunts of "We kicked your guys' butts in 1776." If British children were taught about that time in history, I'm sure it would have been an insult; however, it went clear over my head. I'm hoping my bastardised comment will have the same effect on them. 😉


Mary Lehnert
03:57 Dec 21, 2022

It’s the same wherever you live, Chris. If you had lived in Australia you would have been called a “Pommie”. I will admit, we gave them our language but the Americas improved the spelling.


Chris Campbell
04:21 Dec 21, 2022

Haha, I do live in Oz! Not been called a Pom since becoming a citizen, and even before that, I can't recall being labelled one. In fact, I call other ex-pats here, Poms. Especially the ones that don't want to take up citizenship. So, my 20 years in the USA of not being a citizen, deserved the label of "Limey." As for the spelling, boy! I constantly have to keep my spelling in British rather than use the dreaded "Z." 🤣


Mary Lehnert
04:31 Dec 21, 2022

Even funnier, Chris you mentioned previously you lived in OZ. I honestly thought you meant California - you know Land of Oz They are a bit la-la. Knew from your sense of humor you were connected to the Irish. Same here by way of Scotland at time of the potato famine. Thanks so much. Oh BTW good catch on the time frame of Elton and Ralph


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Stephen Rowland
17:59 Jan 16, 2023

I’m literally brand new to writing I started because I was depressed through covid and stuff anyway long story short Iv started my first story which I want to include accents most notably the cockney accent I’m from Durham myself and accents have always fascinated me anyway I found this site from this story alone as I searched for short cockney stories for inspiration iv got to say I was blown away by how well you wrote the both accents and before I go back and finish it I just had to say how impressed I was I hope you don’t mind if I shoot ...


Chris Campbell
07:25 Jan 17, 2023

Stephen, Thank you so much for your kind comments. Now in Oz, I grew up in London, so that helped a little with the Cockney dialogue. The educated one is just something I’ve picked up watching a lot of period piece shows. Welcome to Reedsy.


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Susan Catucci
19:38 Dec 28, 2022

I can't say this happens to me often, Chris, but I hung on every word of this. I didn't want to miss any of it because it was so solidly written and so important in its message. It was playful in tone but also poignant, charming and disarming. I am a lover of language, all language, and your gift of interplay, to my ear, is everything. In short, I absolutely loved this and will return to it until I understand every word on the first reading - because I know I'll enjoy it every time I do.


Chris Campbell
02:53 Dec 29, 2022

Susan, Thank you for your kind and great feedback. I really enjoyed writing this piece, and I hope to write more East End characters in future stories. However, I have decided that my first novel will be set there during the WW2 Blitz - and be a comedy. 🤣


Susan Catucci
13:11 Dec 29, 2022

With a word like "Blitz" to work with, you can't miss! To my mind, it's already a must read.


Chris Campbell
13:57 Dec 29, 2022

Thank you.


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Rebecca Miles
06:49 Dec 28, 2022

Now they are unlikely bedfellows: Hamlet and cockney rhyming slang but they lie quite at peace with each other. Could a Tory lord today do a Peabody and take more than a gander at the lives of England's working class? When I visited London last summer, I took a river trip west, a direction I normally don't go. All along the Thames, however many miles out you wish to go, there's only luxury apartments going up. As nurses, paramedics and key workers strike, your fun story still had a resonant deeper message: a tale of two cities; a life of two...


Chris Campbell
07:55 Dec 28, 2022

Rebecca, What great feedback! Very perceptive of you taking in the changing skyline of London from the river's perspective. Indeed, it is a tale of two cities, mirrored by all cities nationwide. The class structure in the UK disappeared some time ago, only to be replaced by an America wealth-like class structure. Yes, you still have the educated toffs, but there are a lot of rich Cockneys these days. I would love to hear Hamlet performed in complete Cockney Rhyme & Slang. What a piece that would be. Thank you so much for your great comments.


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Raey Kubiak
18:01 Dec 27, 2022

Well done! Brilliant story!


Chris Campbell
00:31 Dec 28, 2022

Thank you, Raey.


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Mike Panasitti
02:47 Dec 21, 2022

Chris, outstanding story. I studied anthropology and this tale reminded me of the unprofessional, yet also fascinating, situation of the anthropologist who "goes native." I believe the doctor of sociology Lord Peabody underwent a similar conversion as a result of his contact with good man Watkins. Very nuanced yarn spinning here, and excellent take on the prompt.


Chris Campbell
03:55 Dec 21, 2022

Thanks Mike. It's all about assimilation. Once one submits oneself to a culture, cause, social circle, etc., perspectives change. 🧐


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