Copyright Allan McKay

Graeme Wheatley is a songwriter and bass player with band Color Colour and he’s made a few contributions to High Fives in previous years. I think we’ll just leave Graeme to set the scene for this one (by the way there is a bit of creative swearing):

Sitting in the New Cross House the other night with Allan McKay talking about the year in review, cos we are eminent Victorian scholars, I was again struck by how many gigs he’d been to, how many new artists he’d seen and would recommend and his undiminished enthusiasm for all things music and in particular live music. Pretty much the opposite of me! Once again, due to a bundle of things, I’ve not really had my gig going head hands and feet on and so I have to once again cast around for other things to yabber on about in my High 5 blog. But what? Last year it was 5 best music related Christmas presents, previous years include 5 best cover versions and 5 fav lyrics as we stumbled through the covid years. Now, I’m lost for words.

So that’s it then, words. 5 words wot i like.

A couple of these have only appeared to me this year, so I guess it’s got half a valid reason for being here. And we can’t ask for more than that…

1. The Laughing Cavalier.

Now, these words are all known to me. As is the painting, the artist and the location of the painting.  You can go see the chap yourself, he’s upstairs in The Wallace Collection, Manchester Square, just off Oxford Street. However, I didn’t know the history of how he got here and how he got his name. Sir Richard Wallace bought the painting in or around 1870 when he was in Paris during the siege of Paris. Dunno if he was a communard but he did fund the installation of drinking fountains in the city to provide the people with water.

Anyways, he brought Mr Hals painting back to London as part of his gallery he was creating. The gallery was to be bequeathed to the nation and to be free to all. In order to get things sorted, he shipped all the paintings off to Bethnal Green where they were available for viewing in a temporary gallery by the local chirpy chappy cockneys while the gallery was refurbished.

At this time, the painting was known as “Unknown gentleman, aged 26”. But the cockneys are a creative, inventive and clever bunch of wordy wordsmiths and immediately christened the chap The Laughing Cavalier.

Now, my bit. It occurs to me, cockneys are most famous for their rhyming slang and there’s a certain nonchalant smirky twinkle in the chap’s eyes, his ruff is in full plumage and the embroidery on his doublet is of very, very fine detail. I just think the cockneys took one look at him and coined the phrase Laughing Cavalier in much the same way as they use Lillian Gish (fish), Amber Heard (turd), Rees Mogg (utter spunktrumpetting cockwomble). I might be wrong, but I might not care.

2 & 3.  Meccano 

Back in the day, Meccano was the toy of the year. The Buzz Lightyear of that moment. Every kid wanted a box for Christmas. It was imported from the USA and displayed in Hamley’s available in two sizes. The first box was Box Standard. The good citizens of London immediately christened this Bog Standard.  

The second box was Box Deluxe. and again, within seconds, this became Dog’s Bollox.


Mainly, genius cos I have no idea why Dog’s Bollox means something great, but it does. If someone says to you “it’s the dogs” or “it’s the bollox” you know its great. Just the same as you know if someone says “that’s bollox” that it’s rubbish!

4.  Teddington

Not rhyming slang, stop trying to think of something that rhymes with Teddington, it’s not worth the effort.

Back in medieval times and onwards, until probably the 19th century, the life of London was dictated for many by the river. The Thames is tidal. When people worked up and down the city they timed their trips by the tide. When it came in, they went up west. When it went out, they went east. The Thames is a tidal river all the way up to Teddington, or Tiding-Turn. Isn’t that a lovely bit of language?

I’m a big fan of new words coming into existence or being twisted into new use and it’s great to see it happened way back in 13th Century too. Of course, in the current climate, new words have a rather topically down beat tinge – warmbank – library or similar provided by the council to keep people warm during the cost of living crisis and thriftifarians – rich people who pretend to be economising when they don’t need to so as to appear part of the affected as opposed to part of the effecters (ie – tories).

5.  Elephant & Castle

We have been welcoming Spanish people to London for many years, despite what Iago Banet says. But he does have a point when he complains about being called Llargo, Jargo, Frodo, Draco et al. Sometimes we struggle to get our coarse tongues around the llanguage – in his case, despite Shakespeare naming one of his most cruel and cunning villains after Mr Banet. Quite how Will knew Iago was going to be such a villain is a source of amazement – but he had Will Power – he was a clever bastard as Ian Dury might have said. Or Jan Deténgase might have said.

Something similar happened back in the 12th or 13th century – I forget which – it happened so quickly. The King, let’s call him Richard 11 – was contracted to marry a Spanish princess as was the norm in those days, pre tinder. She was shipped over and parked herself just outside of London to get herself cleaned up and all Magaluf-ed (waxed, oiled, full MOT etc). This took some 9 months and in that period a small settlement was founded in the area of locals all employed in the aforementioned buffing.

The locals, much like those of today who struggle with Iago, couldn’t get their tongues around The Infanta of Castile (even if she was in the mood), so they called the area Elephant and Castle.

Don’t tell me it isn’t true. It is in my mind – and that’s good enough!

Next year, I’m going to get out to more gigs, plays, films, events. festivals and raves and I’ll have something to report, including the return of ColorColour. Honest.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah

Sinter Klaas