Londoners, by Craig Taylor
As I’ve said before, there’s a wealth of words written about London. There are literally thousands of stories set in London. I’ve been eyeing up a beautiful literary map of London for my new flat – I’ve grown up and identify with so many of those fictions, and I’ve been adding my own chapters in turn (quite literally since I started this blog). But Londoners by Craig Taylor was the first non-fiction book I read which is specifically about London, and I highly recommend it.
It’s full title, Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now – As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It and Long for It, gives you a pretty good idea of what it’s about. The author spent several years speaking to people from all walks of life and all areas of the capital to put together a comprehensive yet compelling narrative which offers so many different points of view.
It’s really rather remarkable that all of these separate and diverse lives have been brought together by one place – and that’s their only common denominator. Some can’t stand London, whilst others can’t imagine a life outside it. My favourite interview is with the voice behind the train and tube announcements (“Mind the gap, please”) – I’d never considered what it must be like to be such a constant defining feature – it comforts me sometimes that her tone is always steady and predictable – and to hear your own voice in that same way every day. In fact, I hadn’t even really thought about the fact that “The next station is…” must have actually been recorded by a real person at some point.
However, my favourite passages comes from another source, which I’d like to quote because it really cuts through to what I think London is all about.
If London were a person it’d be Mr Ben. Do you know Mr Ben? There were only thirteen made when I was a child. Mr Ben would go into a fancy dress shop and the owner would give him an outfit to try on and he would become whatever he put on. He would put on a space outfit and go on a space adventure and give the outfit back at the end. You can reinvent yourself in London. You can be who you want to be, which is why Mr Ben came to mind, because it’s the ability to change. Put on something and it will change you. I’m going to wear this and I’ll become a different person. Each experience, each street has different stories, different chapters.
I know you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but I also really liked the sleeve for the book – it uses the underground line colours, the hues of which are instantly recognisable and yet starkly different when placed so close together in one small space. Next stop, Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography… but that might take me several years…