|Oct/Nov 2012 Reviews & Interviews|
Granta. 2012. 436 pp.
ISBN 978 1 84708 329 6.
Craig Taylor is Canadian, but after living for several years in London and growing attached to the place, he began to ask "What is a Londoner?" It seems that there are almost as many answers to that question as there are people living in London, but my favorite is that "a real Londoner would never, ever, ever eat at one of those bloody Angus bloody Steak Houses in the West End." I like it, firstly, because I grew up in London before there ever was an Angus Steak House in the West End; and secondly, because I have never, ever, ever eaten in one. However, I am sure there must be some Londoners who have.
In search of an answer, Craig Taylor interviewed some 200 people all over London, and even some who had left London to live elsewhere. He interviewed anyone and everyone, from those in high places (and not just workers in the office towers at Canary Wharf but also high office holders like the Under-Sheriff and Secondary of London), to a street sweeper, a manicurist, and of course, one or two taxi drivers. Tourists, immigrants, those who love London and those who hate it; teacher, squatter, Wiccan priestess, hedge-fund manager, currency trader, a couple who live in the Tower of London (try ordering a take-away Pizza from that address!), people in the arts, market traders, nurses, all have a voice in this book. We hear their language, their opinions, their likes and dislikes.
Even as a Londoner, I learned things I didn't know before and had glimpses of life in London that I hardly knew existed. I learned, for example, that around the back of the Planetarium, just off Baker Street, there is a block of flats with a whole set of train parts stuck into the top of the building. And I learned that according to Mistress Absolute, a dominatrix, London is one of the kinkiest cities in the world. I was fascinated by the funeral director's account of the changes in his profession that immigrants to his local area have caused; and by the career change which brought London its only black, dread-locked, female plumber. I was also intrigued to hear from fast-talking, fashion conscious "Smartie," an East-Ender who conned his way onto the bank's market trading floor by making up his c.v., and who reckons that half the traders in the futures market (the best ones, of course) were originally barrow boys who "came from market stalls... were rough and ready... edgy... streetwise, and "who could add up numbers easily."
There is such variety and so much interest in the 80 accounts in this book that it is hard to pick out favorites. It is, in fact, just like London: full of life and spirit, full of the varied people who generate energy and excitement, and full of ordinary people who keep the whole city running. The sub-title of the book says it all: "The Days and Nights of London Now—As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It and Long For It—Londoners."