A tip of the titfer to me old chinas in London

Confused? Take a crash course in cockney with Keith Austin.

East London is famous for the cockney, a sort of inner-city, working-class larrikin with a particular English accent and turn of phrase, and if you're going to be in town for the Olympics there are some things you need to know.

Of course there are the dropped aitches at the start of words (as in 'eaven for heaven) and the glottal stop that consigns the final "t" in most words to a sort of swallowed grunt that turns "that" into "tha". Put these together and it's almost impossible to write the word "hat", which ends up as "a". This is probably why there aren't too many books written entirely in the cockney dialect.

In most cases, hopefully, the context will make the cockney's meaning clear. Of course, he or she might resort to calling it a "titfer", which is easier to write but which might very well confuse things even more. We shall return to this la'er.

There is also an insistence on the egregious misuse of "th", something called Th Fronting. At the start of a word - let's take "thatch", for instance - they often join forces to become an "f". (What do you fink about that then, Mrs Fatcher?)

Then again, in the middle of some words, they become even more bothersome and are pronounced as a "v". Which is a bovver, I'm sure you would agree. Move them on again slightly, towards the end of most words, and they become an "f" again. So that "maths" changes to "maffs" and "bath" - which, given the London propensity for the long "a", somehow gains an "r" in the telling - "barff".

Which brings us to what is known - sinisterly - as the Vocalisation of the Dark L. Frankly, it's all a bit confusing but it basically means the letter "L" takes an awful lot of abuse. A carton of milk, for example, is pronounced "miwk".

Millwall, which is both an area and a bloody awful soccer team, is pronounced "Miw-wall" or, "Pull your finger out, you bunch of losers!" if you're watching them play.

And this brings us finally to the vexed issue of rhyming slang, that historic construction, which, according to Wikipedia, "involves replacing a common word with a rhyming phrase of two or three words and then, in almost all cases, omitting the secondary rhyming word, a process called hemiteleia, making the origin and meaning of the phrase elusive to listeners not in the know".

The best and best-known example, of course, is "apples and pears" for "stairs". Thus the phrase, "I'm going up the apples" means, "I'm going up the stairs". Or not, because nobody uses it any more.

Other so-called examples include: "dog and bone" for telephone; "trouble and strife" for wife; "mince pies" for eyes; "syrup of figs" for wig; and "plates of meat" for feet. Thus, says Wikipedia, "a construction of the following type could conceivably arise: 'It nearly knocked me off me plates - he was wearing a syrup! So I got straight on the dog to me trouble and said I couldn't believe me minces.' "

As someone who was born in east London and grew up there, I can say that if anyone used that last phrase, we would have had them locked up. And the dropping of the actual rhyming word isn't always correct either (see brown and bread, below).

The origins of rhyming slang are about as slippery as its users. One of the most popular explanations is that it was used by working-class stallholders to talk among themselves without their customers knowing what they were saying. Others reckon it was used by criminals to confuse the police.

Today, the cockney accent and its dialect are dying out, as its practitioners shuffle off and other accents take over. Certainly, many of the old examples of rhyming slang are brown bread (dead).

Here, then, is some rhyming slang you may well 'ear in the East End.

Saucepans The rhyme for this is "saucepan lids" and refers to kids or children. As in: " 'E's got six saucepans and 'is trouble and strife is expecting anuvver one, poor geezer."

Brown bread and trouble and strife These are two good examples of rhyming slang that are still in fairly regular use but only if the second word is kept. Nobody would ever just say "brown" for dead or "trouble" for wife.

China plate for mate But really only used in the phrase: "Hello, me old china."

Titfer As in "tit for tat" - means hat

Whistle Means a suit, from "whistle and flute".

While on the subject, it's worth pointing out that you will often also hear expressions stolen from the Yiddish used among older denizens of the area who grew up during the period in which Brick Lane was a Jewish area. These would include schmutter (cloth, clothing), as when admiring someone's new whistle: "It's a nice bit of schmutter, too." Others include stumm, meaning quiet and, from the Romany, wonga (meaning money).

Use these freely and with abandon and you will avoid the situation I had when I introduced an Australian friend to one of my old mates from the East End and, after a long conversation, she turned to me and said: "What did he say?"