When Madonna appeared on Jonathan Ross1 in one of the best interviews I’ve seen him do, she was trying to prove her credentials as a born again Brit by claming that she liked nothing more than to while away a few pleasant hours in a lovely old English pub2. Thinking he was calling her bluff. He asked her what her favourite bitter3 was. “I’m quite partial to a pint of Timothy Taylor” came the reply. Wossy4 thought she had just made something up to save face, but the next day a newspaper found out that Timothy Taylor did indeed exist and was made by a small brewery in West Yorkshire. Subsequently a few pubs here in the South East have started to stock it and I’ve found that I have something in common with Mrs Richie, I like the stuff too.
This evening Ray and I must have been having some kind of argument (we can’t remember, the Timmy Taylor has kicked in in between) because she ran off round to the North Pole, one of our locals. The argument (and remember we’re not really sure if there was one) can’t have been that serious because she called 5 minutes later to tell me that the North Pole now sells TT.
Ray is gregarious almost to a fault. When I arrived at the pub she was already entertaining one of the locals, Dave, who in turn was entertaining her with a virtuosic display of cockney rhyming slang5. Now strictly speaking, because I was born within the sound of the Bow Bells, I’m a cockney, but my parents hammered out any trace of a local dialect when I was young by sending me to elocution lessons. That’s right, I’m a Londoner born and bred, but I cannot do a London accent! Nonetheless I managed to teach him “It’s all gone Pete Tong”6.
Dave, it turns out, is a builder/decorator who works with other builders/decorators on rather high end projects some as the National Galery and Very Rich People’s Homes. He explained to us (in ever shortening loops, the more he had to drink) that he’s “not cheap, but we’ll give you the date that we’ll turn up and we’ll be there on that day. We’ll give you a schedule and we’ll stick to it and we’ll give you a quote and that’s the price you’ll pay”. For some reason we believe him, so we explain what it is that we’re trying to do and arrange to have him round to take a look. He did, after all, paint a large mural at the end of a cul-de-sac just near the North Pole.
Notes for non UK readers
1 Jonathon Ross is a popular TV presenter with his own chat show, known for being hilarious and making his interviewees look good at the same time.
2 I can confirm that this is (sort of) true. When she and Guy were living in Holland Park, she apparently used to frequent a pub called the Windsor Castle, notable for two VERY low doorways (one is about 4 feet high). A friend of mine was in there once and noticed her in the corner. When she got up to leave about half the pub got up with her, because they were all her security guards.
3 Bitter is what the rest of the world thinks of as “warm, flat beer”. An acquired taste usually guaranteed to turn the stomachs of non Brits, along with Marmite. Strangely Ray has acquired it since she’s been here.
4 Mr Ross makes a feature of the fact that he can’t pronounce his “R”s. A musician friend of mine is terrified of being interviewed by him because he goes out under the name “Ranking Roger”.
5 Cockney slang involves finding a (usually 2 or 3 word) phrase whose last word rhymes with the word you actually want to say, then sometimes only saying the first word of the phrase. So “look” becomes “butcher’s hook”, which is usually reduced to “butcher’s”, as in “Let’s ‘ave a butcher’s”.
6 Pete Tong is a DJ specialising in dance music and his name, when used in the phrase “It’s all gone Pete Tong”, means “wrong”. It’s very modern slang, probably only about 10 years old, so it might not count.
7 (Yes I know there isn’t really a 7, this is completely gratuitous). Isn’t it amazing how quickly the singer James Blunt’s name became rhyming slang?