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  • Charlotte

Maybe it's because he's a Londoner?

Every now and then I come across some dementia communication guidelines that state clearly that when communicating with someone who is living with dementia, all language used needs to be simple, direct and concrete. While I appreciate that complicated, indirect and abstract language could be confusing for anyone, let alone someone living with dementia, I strongly believe that clarity needn’t automatically mean that creativity in language is left behind.

Over the years I have often found people living with dementia to be playful and creative with language. And 94 year old John is no exception…


Last weekend I visited John, a Londoner at heart, although he’s been in Sussex for about 30 years. John regularly sings snatches of “Any old iron” and “Knees Up Mother Brown”, and we’ve had a number of chats about jellied eels and liquor. With this in mind, I wondered what he’d make of a Cockney Rhyming Slang phrase book. 


I wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen when I passed the phrase book to John, and I certainly (and intentionally) didn’t have a specific plan. On a practical note, I had brought two copies with me, so we didn’t have to be sitting right next to each other. Always ready for banter, John reached for his magnifying glass, and proceeded to read every phrase in the book. It’s a short book, more of a booklet really, so it didn’t take long. 


As we read through the phrases, rather than me “testing” John to see which ones he knew, I told John that as he is a Londoner, I was keen to hear from him which phrases he was familiar with. After all, I’m a Brighton girl, so what would I know? When asking about a phrase, rather than saying, “Do you know this one?” or “Do you remember this phrase?” I asked, “I wonder if anyone says this?” which invited John to give an opinion.


Every phrase that took John’s fancy or he flagged up as one that “Everyone knows that one, just ask anyone” I would put a mark by it. By the end, I had marked about thirty phrases, so now I have a record of John’s familiar cockney rhyming slang, which I will be sure to use a few in future conversations.


While the focus was on our in the moment enjoyment of language, with the fun of the rhyme, it turned out that a delight-filled volley of cockney rhyming slang - at near shouting, since John is somewhat Mutt and Jeff (sorry) - brings not only laughter but also memories. Without our time together being directly intended as a reminiscence session, between phrases John happily chatted about his early years in London, the prestige of the Pearly King and Queen, and a Saturday night in the local singing round the pianner. A proper knees up, it was.


(Reflection written November 2017)