Book Review: Londoners by Craig Taylor

Londoners by Craig TaylorThis is not so much a review as it is an affirmation or encouragement!  I have been reading this book on and off for over a year dipping into it now and again.  Its exactly the sort of book that suits this kind of reading.

‘Londoners’ is  is a collection of voices. Voices from all walks of London life that speak loudly and clearly about the London they know and inhabit.  The author Craig Taylor is a Canadian who came to London in 2000 with an old A-Z in hand knowing no one.  For anyone who came to London before the age of smart phones and google maps, the A-Z was necessary for survival.  How else would you find your way around this confusing metropolis?  I have lived here 20 years, yet I will still turn to my A-Z when venturing out to an unfamiliar part of the city.

Taylor explored London on foot, ruck sack on back and A-Z clasped in his hands.  He walked his way through the pages.

“I lurched around, graceless, with a rucksack on my back.  I looked at people’s faces on escalators for a second too long.  I hadn’t yet become an urban otter – one of those sleek Londoners who moves through the city with ease”

The book features 80 interviews Taylor conducted with Londoners from all walks of life.  The detail and stories that Taylor manages to elicit from his subjects make for fascinating reading.  Each person interviewed has a tale to tell.  The woman who is the voice of the London underground,  announcing approaching stations and reminding us to mind the gap tells of when she heard she had got the job.

“It’s funny, because when I got the call from London Underground I was at the restaurant with a guy I was seeing at the time and he said ‘…I’ll hear you everywhere’ He wasn’t saying it happily.  We split up after that.  He has since told me he is haunted.  It is scary; you’re having a bad day and you get on the Tube and theres the voice.  Poor guy.”

Taylor tells of arriving at Transport For London’s lost property office between 8-9am to conduct an interview.

“…all the lost mobile phones, programmed by absent owners and sealed in their individual brown envelopes begin to charm and ring and speak in novelty voices and vibrate and arpeggio on the racks where they are shelved, each with its own designated number.  The chorus gets louder every quarter of an hour until a last burst of sound at nine o’ clock, and then most alarms go quiet for the rest of the day”

If you had lost your faith in  human honesty read this interview.  The sheer volume of lost property handed in on a daily basis is phenomenal.  Every single item is logged onto a computer aptly called ‘Sherlock’ in an attempt to reunite it with its owner.   The lost property office is a social study in itself.  Apparently lost property follows trends.

“you learn about trends working here… see whats in fashion with women in the summer because there’ll be tons of berets coming in, or whats popular reading like the Dan Brown books when there was that big craze with him, or the latest Harry Potter…..If we have an influx of the same book on the same day you realise it just came free with the Standard”

This is certainly not a book just for those who live in London, although as someone who does I found it fascinating.  It’s a book for anyone who has any interest in London and how the city hangs together.  It captures the sights, the sounds the smells and the diversity of this sprawling city and brings it to life. It reveals a city that ticks and functions through the vast body of people that choose to live, work,  love and even hate there.

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