Like Studs Terkel and others before him, Craig Taylor has discovered that all people have interesting stories and when you put them together, you can get a wonderful view of a time or place – and the people in it.
In this case it is London. We meet the woman who does the announcements on the subway, a street sweeper, a member of the Queen’s horse guards as well as recent immigrants, a teacher, a taxi driver and a driving instructor, people who love the city, people who hate it.
Taylor, a native of Canada, has lived in London only since 2000, but he’s captured a wonderful look at it. For this book, he spent five years interviewing people and went through 300 batteries for his recorder.
Did you know there was a book called The Knowledge? It is the book of every street in London and taxi drivers take months to work through it and pass tests on it before they can drive.
A fisherman gives a history of the different fish that have lived in the Thames River; a developer talks about the docks; a young mother wants to move away while an old woman refuses to.
I like how an ordinary person just spinning her life’s story can fascinate. Some speak in near poetry – my favorite among them is the airline pilot.
Taylor opens the book with Kevin Pover describing the view of London on different approaches to Heathrow and Gatwick airports, which sets up the reader to discover the city close up.
He closes the book with Pover’s description of leaving the city in rain.
“The climb out of London is tricky, but then you fly through this cloud, which takes almost five seconds to get through, and all of a sudden upstairs is blue skies, brilliant sunshine. You’re still listening to the London frequency but there’s this sunshine. You can see the dots of other airplanes. You do feel as though you’re leaving behind the beehive. You change to another frequency and you know it’s going to get quieter. But then, of course it would. You’re leaving the energy behind.”
If you’ve been to London, this book will bring back memories and teach you a lot you probably didn’t know about this huge and important city. If you’ve never been there, you’ll enjoy it for its look at the range of characters and their stories.