London's rich past provides endless source material for writers to draw on, but this does mean that the story of the city has already been told many times over. In "Londoners", Craig Taylor gives us something that is altogether different; he has created a compendium of personal stories, organised by themes, of the people presently coming to, living in, and leaving the great city.
This time-consuming, man-on-the-ground approach brings London to life for the reader and portrays the strong, powerful energy of the city, a city that is unkempt, organic, unforgiving, promising, and constantly pulsing and moving forwards. The breadth of people interviewed creates a sense of the rich tapestry of lives that make the city what is today.
Some of my favourite interviewees:
- Jane Lanyero - freshly arrives from Uganda and is terrified by the monstrous tube train. She even loses a night of sleep thinking about the journey she will have to make back to Gatwick, for an interview.
- John Harber - US tourist who comes across like an excited kid (in a good way), amazed by the rich history around every corner.
- Emma Clarke - the lady who gave us the voice of the London Underground
- Craig Clark - a TfL lost property clerk. Provides great insights in to the obscure but precious operation that is London Lost Property Office. It turns out the office is a great place to learn about trends, you see the latest bestsellers, hats that are in fashion in the season, etc. And of course, there are all sorts of odd things. They once had a briefcase of £10,000 which belonged to an old man who didn't believe in banks so carried his money around on his person.
- Noel Gaughan - driving instructor and lover of roundabouts, makes interesting observations about how different cultures behave on the road and has some great stories.
- Ruby King - a female plumber (ex theatre dancer), who is passionate about her work.
- Kamran Sheikh - a currency technical analyst who finds his ideal job.
- Nikki, Lindsey and Danielle - students. Their little interview is brilliant, emphasising how London teaches you the importance of being street wise but not needing to be afraid.
- Liston Wingate-Davis - personal trainer, comments on how everything is getting faster and faster, and how people are getting lost in their hype. His gym has a blinds to offer discretion for celebrity's but they never use it and instead prefer to be exposed to the paparazzi.
- Ruth Fordham - manicurist, gives a nice personal, economic history of manicurists in London.
- Peter Rees - an urban planner, applauds London's messy, organic nature and accepts the limitation of the planner, and prefers managing the city and nudging it along where possible, instead of trying to be be a definitive planner. "We can sometimes make mediocrity out of awfulness...". "We are overwhelmed by waves of immigrants...It's the amalgam of those layers of tribes that have come on and claimed citizenship of London that make the city it is. I see it as my role to help that fire to burn brightly..."
- Davy Jones - photographer. By virtue of his job, he stops and pays attention to the little things, the different characters and the changing trends (less children playing in the streets, different levels of individual expression [the wealthier areas such as the North and West are less expressive in their dress, body language, emotion, etc].
- Paul Akbers - aboriculturalist. Explains the role of planned trees in the city. Oxford street is line with Chanticleer Pears (non-fruiting), which tolerate bike chains and natural pests, and lose their leaves very late in the year. There is also the famous London plane, which were planted by the Victorians and have the amazing ability to filter smoky dust particles from London's traffic out to it's bark, which then fall off to the pavement as fresh, new bark develops underneath.
- John Andrews - a passionate angler. Explains how fishing trends have changed through the ages (in the 1800s there were a few hundred tackle shops in the London and the newspaper devoted pages to fishing in the city) and how these days people just want to go for the carp instead of going for a wide range of species. He says these carp fishing used to make up maybe 1-2 per cent of the total but now it is the reverse. He notes how the Thames is open to fisherman going all the way up to Staines, all you need is a rod license.
- Peter Thomas - Spitalfields market trader, a dying a but lively trade were you are right in amongst it bargaining and haggling with people from all over the world. There is a lot of pyschology at play here as well e.g. not giving away that you are short in a particular food.
- Dan Simon - rick-shaw rider. Has some weird customers
- Smartie - A true Londoner who has done it all (futures trader, promoting gigs, cabbie) and has the best stories to tell.
- Paul Jones - home security expert with lots of tips. He talks about how expensive houses these days are often have doors that can be kicked down (hardwood is hard but it splinters readily), and they are often right next door to the dodgy neighbourhoods. Says about 50% of burglaries could be prevented by better doors but people don't want to shell out for high quality doors and insurance companies will only replace on a like for like basis. Recommends good locks.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in big city life and in London in particular.