Goodness, just typing out the title for this book reminds me of what an exhaustive but thoroughly absorbing read this was for me over the summer. Craig Taylor’s collection of interviews with people from all walks of life is fascinating an intriguing as you are given an insight to London and ‘London folk’ through the perspective of people from all walks of life: a London cabbie who was formerly a City trader and a club promoter, an urban planner, a man newly arrived from Leeds with nowhere to live, a dominatrix, immigrants, tourists, commuters – the list goes on.
What is amazing about this collection is the vast range of people talking about their lives, their occupations and their experiences of London. Taylor offers a window into the lives of people who most of us would never come across in our everyday life much less to find out how they live their life. It gives insight into situations and occupations that ordinarily I would never give thought to such the person who sorts out where trees should be planted on the streets. In my everyday life, I’m not that interested, however reading this guy’s account of his job and what goes into it, I was hooked with wide-eyed curiosity.
Weirdly it is amazing what you learn about a city through another person’s occupation let alone what you learn about the person. Then you have stories of people’s experiences in London and how it has changed their lives one way or another, like the guy who witnessed a woman jumping to her death under a tube train. You find yourself not only immersed in this eyewitness account but also wondering about the secondary story, that of the dead woman.
Although, in the role of interviewer, Taylor presents himself as a modern-day flâneur, observing his subjects, though never himself being observed. He rarely interrupts his interviewees except in places where he describes non-verbal language or explains something pertinent to the interview. Because of this you feel like you are being spoken to directly and as such you effectively have a monologue of life experience which is as compelling as it is exhausting, as there is so much information to process. Some of the stories are so raw, that it is a shock to be confronted with someone’s reality in such a stark, honest way, and I could not help but wonder what it must have been like to recount such experiences knowing that thousands of strangers and then some would now know your story. At the same time, Taylor is giving a voice to some people who ordinarily may not have had the chance to share. On the other hand, some stories are funny or nostalgic. Some are merely factual.
For me the best thing about reading this collection of life stories is that my perspective of London and its population has changed, my understanding of this love it or hate it city has been refined. I’ve learnt and discovered things I never knew before and have rediscovered things about London, that I loved and had forgotten. It’s safe to say, I am a London lover, it’s past and present, it’s secrets and mysteries, languages, culture, the infamous North / South divide. There is much not to like about London, it’s not perfect, but for me it’s a city that continually fascinates for better or for worse.
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