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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

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In Londoners, acclaimed journalist Craig Taylor paints readers an epic portrait of today’s London that is as rich and lively as the city itself. In the style of Studs Terkel (Working, Hard Times, The Good War) and Dave Isay (Listening Is an Act of Love), Londoners offers up  the stories, the gripes, the memories, and the dreams of those in the great and vibrant British metropolis who “love it, hate it, live it, left it, and long for it,” from a West End rickshaw driver to a Soldier of the Guard at Buckingham Palace to a recovering heroin addict seeing Big Ben for the very first time. Published just in time for the 2012 London Olympic Games, Londoners is a glorious literary celebration of one of the world’s truly great cities.

448 pages, Hardcover

First published November 15, 2011

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Craig Taylor

62 books44 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 537 reviews
Profile Image for Darren.
159 reviews8 followers
February 10, 2013
I was discussing with a friend recently what qualified as a Londoner.

We both grew up in Zone 6 within the M25, and although he's lived since in Zone 2 and currently Zone 3, I've stayed in the same outer London borough (although I've upgraded to Zone 5). We both feel like Londoners. He felt more 'part' of London when he lived in Holland Park, compared to Greenwich. I feel more 'part' of London now that I live right next to the Central line, with access to the centre of town within half an hour.

The main reason I consider myself a Londoner, I suppose, is that I love London (although living in one of London's 32 boroughs also helps).

This book takes the form of interviews with people associated with the great city. Some love it, some loathe it. The variety of the interviewees reflects the city itself. The voices are distinctive and alive. They are hilarious; heartbreaking; irritating.

I have very little sympathy for the woman who lives in Norwich and commutes - she complains about having to share the train with other people and seems quite the misanthropist. I was curiously fond of the young judges talking about buying and keeping their wigs, and was fond of the Polish woman who came to earn money for her daughter by working in a pub serving the London Irish.

I live in the borough that was recently named as the most linguistically diverse area in the country, and am tremendously proud of this - I know others would see that a bad sign. This book gives voice to people like me, and people like them, and I love it all the more for that.

Profile Image for Carrie.
231 reviews7 followers
June 25, 2012
Of course I loved it. Instead of telling you why, here are things I liked in it:

"There's only one London. That's it. We are what we are."

"I mean, if you're always striving for success, you end up with something like America, and nobody wants to be like America, really."

"I left a slice of gateau on the Tube today, I was wondering what are the chances of it coming in?"

"She thought it was part of driving in London, someone comes out and, no big deal, threatens to kill you."

"Maybe we need to design a city around making sure that stopping is part of it."

"The only thing that is truly Londonish abut London is that it's all bits and pieces of everybody else."

"Places make the best lovers. You can trust a place more than you can trust a person as a lover. A place is more dependable and it has so much depth and stimulation and provides you with the opportunity to realize yourself...There are not many people who can give you that much stimulation. Having that friend, London, as a companion throughout gives you a wonderful extra dimension to anything you do. I think of London as a partner. I'm in love with London and always have been."

"It'll become whatever Berlin is in the same way that London won't become New York."

"I've always enjoyed riding over Waterloo Bridge, especially at night, because looking out across the Thames from Waterloo Bridge is like looking at a gemstone that's been sawn in half and displayed. All the light's sparkle. It's like seeing London cut open and exhibiting its gems, riding across the bridge. You feel exhausted, but satisfied."

"When we arrive at the Camden Town Tube station there are already a few black youths in the station with their arms spread wide in front of the officers. 'Put your hands down,' one officer says. 'This isn't America.'"

"When are you actually happy and satisfied with what you've got? I guess you're not and maybe London just likes to rub it in...When do you stop desiring? You don't, and I think I'm too stuck in the system to stop wanting."

"It's London. Someone else has got to land."
132 reviews1 follower
May 17, 2012
I am about half way through this book. I admit to hearing it first on Radoi 4 where it was 'Book of the week'. I enjoyed listening to it before dropping off to sleep. Now that I am reading it I am less interested. It started off well. I enjoyed the short clips and the variety it offered, but as I progress through it, the style is unvaried in how each story is presented. It becomes a bit stale and the tales tend to merge and lack any real bite. I will of course persevere, but although it's an easy read, each story being so short, so you can pick it up and put it down at will, it is a little disappointing.
Profile Image for Matt.
103 reviews
January 4, 2013
At 500 pages, this tome is too long by half. I found myself running out of steam fairly quickly and had to work rather hard to finish. As somewhat of an Anglophile, that wasn't as difficult as it might have been, but I found that I wanted to like this book a lot better than I actually did. There were some fascinating portrayals of the city as well as some rather mundane ones. I suppose that not everybody is going to have an eminently readable perspective, but I wonder, then, what the point of including them in a book would be. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but I just wish it had been more satisfying.
Profile Image for John Stiles.
Author 5 books13 followers
July 24, 2016
When I first heard about this book I was wondering how this would work. As a fellow Canadian living in London and having spent the bulk of my formative years in Canada, I pondered what more could a guy from the suburbs of Western Canada possibly have to say about the people that live and work in this ancient city? After all hasn't London already been covered by storied writers as varied as Pepys, Dafoe, Blake, Shakespeare, Dickens, AA Gill, John Lanchester, to name but a few? What could a Canadian writer add to literary treasures already penned by many more, British born? Well... Using a method of curating the book rather than writing it the book is a success in the same way that Paul Auster's True Tales of American Life – which asks everyday Americans to submit anecdotes and stories about their personal lives – is a memorable and compelling read; Taylor asks Londoners to pen thoughts and submit to interviews about daily rituals such as taking the tube to work. One of the most interesting stories is the tale of the northern girl who became the voice of the London Underground. I found this book very British and astute, as perhaps, the fellow Londoners whom Craig Taylor interviewed opened up to their Canadian cousin, in perhaps the same way a couple on holiday will be more candid than a couple you meet down the pub.
If so, in his role as producer/curator, the author has a kind of silent hand in guiding the myriad London voices with many surprises along the way.
Profile Image for Harry Rutherford.
376 reviews75 followers
January 8, 2012
This makes a good pair with Daily Life in Victorian London. It's a compilation of interviews with Londoners of all sorts. Some of them are the obvious London clichés — black cab driver, yeoman warder, hedge fund manager , refugee — and some are more exotic: beekeeper, dominatrix, Wiccan priestess. And most are are just, well, ordinary: teacher, street cleaner, personal trainer, estate agent, student.

But of course the key to books like this is that 'ordinary' people often turn to be unexpectedly interesting when you scratch the surface. Either because they have led unexpectedly interesting lives, or because they are charming or funny or insightful in telling their own stories. And those who don't have great back-stories and who aren't great storytellers: even they are always good for a couple of paragraphs to help build up the mosaic.

There's obviously no shortage of material in a place the size of London, so a book like this is entirely dependent on the skill of the person who conducts the interviews and then edits and curates them. Craig Taylor has done a cracking job and it's well worth reading.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,200 reviews
December 22, 2016
Oh, I absolutely loved it! It's got stories about every single corner and people in London, and it truly gives you a wonderful insight into the city. And not only about the good things, but also about the bad ones. And for me, after spending a year of my life living in London, I can relate to many stories, and I just kept nodding every time. This was so close to my heart. I need more books like it.
Profile Image for Amy.
841 reviews20 followers
July 24, 2012
I'm a huge fan of books about cities--what makes each city unique, what makes each city a character. And I love books that undermine stereotypes about cities (Paris is not all macarons, L.A. is not all noir and drive-thru restaurants, London has changed since Dickens was around). But it's hard to find a fresh approach.

This book is a collection of interviews with a range of ordinary, not famous people. It isn't the kind of book you get to plan a trip or to study the history of a city. This is the kind of book you read when you miss a city, when you crave being there, and you want to read anything that reminds you of what it feels like to be on the ground there.

I like the book's approach and wish someone would do the same for other cities (Paris, Rome). I especially like that it includes people's criticisms, even bitterness, about London. A nice counterweight to all the gushy travel memoirs out these days. I love those too, but something about London seems to require a more grounded approach, nostalgia even for the annoying things. All those books about Paris (I moved to Paris, and met the Right One, and lost 30 pounds while eating sweets all day, and now I have perfectly behaved French babies, etc.) just would look silly in London.

The fragments in Londoners were a bit short, even for the extremely short attention span I've had these days, so I set it aside for now.

Profile Image for Carys.
60 reviews3 followers
March 12, 2021
I wasn’t sure about this at first - it read like an optimistic Canadian coming to London with great expectations from what he’s seen in movies. Then, he described a scenario where he went to use a telephone box in Brixton, opened the door to find someone doing crack and they both apologised (‘Sorry!’ ‘Sorry!’ ‘Sorry!’).

Overall, this was really really great. I love the variety of stories and the contrast too (eg. the anti-immigrant comments next to people that work with migrants to house them in the UK). With the exception of the 2/3 digs at Milton Keynes (real original(!)) and some tough stories towards the end, this was really fab.

Ps. Big bonus of the audiobook was the story from the woman that does the voice overs on the tube. She transported me.
Profile Image for Olivia Law.
348 reviews13 followers
September 6, 2022
Loved this book!

There were some super interesting perspectives from such a diverse group of londoners.

The New York version felt a lot more polished - but does that represent the cities themselves as well? Maybe.
Profile Image for Book Addict Shaun.
937 reviews279 followers
January 2, 2013
I loved the idea of this book and after reading a few reviews I started it looking forward to a fantastic read. The introduction was great, the first few bits of the book were great but I became bored just under halfway through. When you strip it down it is basically just a collection of stories by random people off the street. I know the author put so much time and research into the book, it clearly shows, and some of the stories and interviews aren't just with 'random' people but that's essentially what it is.

I love London. I go about three or four times a year and it is always enjoyable for me. I love the Tube, I love seeing the sights and I always feel more at home stepping out at Euston than I do in my own city. It's always a shame when I leave there. So when I read about people in this book who hate London I was like 'What?! How can you hate London?!' but then when I thought about it I suppose if I lived down in London and had to travel on the Tube I loved every single day and put up with the crappy parts London has to offer then I would hate it too. After all I am there for a few days, I have no cares in the world and money to spend. If I lived and worked there I'm sure it would be another story.

Slightly off topic I have been to London countless times and apart from the one time there was a tube strike a few years ago I have never waited more than two minutes for a tube train, that's a fact. And considering I am quite a tube nerd I spend a LOT of time Underground when I'm in London.

So despite there being some fantastic stories here, the book was a bit of a letdown for me but I would still recommend it to people who like London, want to learn more about it, people who live in London or those that had enough and moved away. 5 stars for the work this author put into the book but only 3 stars for the finished product unfortunately. Reminded me of a TV show last year which followed your everyday people around London, much like the people in this book, when stripped down that was pretty rubbish but it was more enjoyable in a televisual format rather than in book format.
Profile Image for Nancy Kennedy.
Author 12 books54 followers
September 4, 2012
Craig Taylor's book is a collection of oral histories from about eighty people, both those living in London and those who have lived there at one time. The interviews are grouped loosely by topic -- Getting Around, Seeing the Sights, Earning One's Keep, etc. -- and vary in length. Some segments are brief, while others are quite lengthy. Some interviewees appear a few times -- for instance, an airline pilot flying into and out of the city and a street-wise character called Smartie.

The range of people Mr. Taylor talked with is mind-boggling: a clerk for the transport system's lost property division, a beekeeper hard by Royal Festival Hall, a fisherman who plies the city's waterways, a paramedic, a crematorium technician, a squatter. You go "underground" in the city in a way you never could on your own, certainly not as a tourist. Next time I visit, I'll be looking at the city in an entirely new way!
Profile Image for Jola (czytanienaplatanie).
594 reviews12 followers
May 25, 2023
Odwiedziłam Londyn kilka razy jednak czytając reportaż Craiga Taylora „Londyńczycy. Miasto i ludzie” zdałam sobie sprawę, że zupełnie go nie znam, że zaledwie musnęłam powierzchnię tego różnorodnego kolosa.

Autor w szalenie ciekawym wstępie opisuje własne trudne pierwsze kroki w Londynie i wyłuszcza przyczyny, dla których poświęcił tyle czasu na rozmowy z ludźmi, „którzy śnili o Londynie, zmagali się z Londynem, zostali przez niego nagrodzeni albo skrzywdzeni." Tymi, którzy związali się z nim na zawsze i tymi, którzy opuścili go z ulgą.

Tworzy "kolaż głosów, które razem tworzą obraz miasta". Swoisty przewodnik napisany emocjami i historiami ludzi różniących się narodowością, kolorem skóry, pozycją społeczną, zawodem, orientacją seksualną, ale też oczekiwaniami. Dzieląc ich opowieści na grupy tematyczne kreśli subiektywną i „ulotną fotografię przedstawiającą Londyn tu i teraz”. Prowadzi nas do miejsc nieznanych, zaułków, do których nigdy nie chcielibyśmy trafić, wiecznie pędzącego City, nocnych klubów. Ukazuje sukces i biedę, zwykłe ludzkie życie od narodzin po śmierć i odnalezioną miłość.

Poznamy hydrauliczkę, która uwielbia to co robi i bankiera, który swojej pracy nienawidzi czując się też znienawidzonym. Narkomana, który dopiero po odwyku dostrzega piękno Big Bena i kobietę, której głos towarzyszy codziennie podróżnym w metrze. Pilota zachwycającego się każdorazowo widokiem miasta z góry i gwardzisty królowej oglądającego Londyn z końskiego siodła. Dowiemy się jak to jest być taksówkarzem, a jak gejem w Londynie, co przyciągnęło ich do Londynu i w jaki sposób tu dotarli.

To historie wypełnione wspomnieniami, pełne spełnionych marzeń i zawiedzionych oczekiwań. Niektóre budzą uśmiech, inne wzruszają, każda z nich jest fragmentem ludzkiego życia składającym się na kosmopolityczny patchwork, jakim bez wątpienia jest Londyn. Wynikająca z tego reportażu refleksja jest niezwykle ważna – aby poznać istotę tego miejsca, nie wystarczy zwiedzić jego atrakcji turystycznych. Musimy zwrócić uwagę na ludzi, którzy je zamieszkują, ich historie, marzenia i codzienne zmagania. To właśnie one tworzą niepowtarzalny duch i charakter miasta.

Po lekturze „Londyńczyków” przy kolejnej wizycie mój odbiór tego miasta będzie zupełnie inny. To reportaż, który absolutnie warto przeczytać nie tylko planując podróż do Londynu.
Profile Image for Matty.
80 reviews
May 20, 2020
I enjoyed a lot of the book... it’s full of different stories written/told by the person (not the author) and while some stories are really interesting to read & well told, others that are much less so & it’s frustrating. It’s probably best for people who are happy to skip through, with is what I might do again down the track. The author himself is a great writer & I thought it might have been better had he written the book in a narrative style, adding bits of speech from the people he interviewed throughout, rather than just their full excerpts... a nice bit of nostalgia for someone who used to live in London & misses it!
Profile Image for Suvi.
848 reviews136 followers
February 1, 2014
"To become a yeoman warder, you must have served twenty-two years in the armed forces, have reached the rank of staff sergeant or above, and have been given an exemplary recommendation. I am at the Tower of London to entertain and inform; and, when my day is over, I don’t have to go far to see my wife: we live in the Tower. We’ve got a village green, a doctor living beside us, and plenty of neighbors. But no one believes we actually live there. 'What’s it like?' 'Have you got electricity?' We hear all of that. And try ordering a pizza. We share the staircase to our flat with the public, but it’s very private up here. Our grandchildren think we live in a castle. In some ways we do." - Philip Wilson

City lights seen from the window of a plane make my heart jump every single time. The tiny yellow dots are glimmering and beating energy, and somewhere down below under the pitch black banket there are millions of people wandering around. Who are they, where are they working, how do they experience the big city? Taylor's book answers all these questions and more by giving this crowd a voice, in this case the Londoners. Out of over 200 interviews there are about 90 people representing different fields and life situations.

"Most of us will die from something not terror related. You could be hit by a bus, you know, you could be in an accident. You could fall down the escalators at the Tube and crack your head open. All sorts of horrible things can happen to you in London, so do you stay at home and wrap yourself up in cotton wool?" - Paulo Pimentel, grief counselor

There are people, who have spent many years looking down on the pavement, and when they sort out their addiction they see the city with new eyes, when they happen to look up and see the Big Ben. People, who were born and raised on the desert, and love the crispness and freshness of London rain. People, who live on the outskirts of the society and have experienced some tough things. People, who have sucked the energy in parties and at different turning points of the society.

"London is big enough so that you can keep a bit of anonymity but it’s small enough that you can go to a club and see people you know. In London, I can go to the Oxo Tower in rubber for lunch, as I did on my thirtieth birthday—a rubber pencil skirt, a rubber blouse, a rubber corset, and high boots. You can go and do that and some people might bat a bit of an eyelid. Being a Londoner, nothing is going to faze you. There’s a complete mix of people here so if you see something weird and outrageous, well . . . it’s just London." - Mistress Absolute, dominatrix

Reading this purely because of entertainment would be a gross misjudgement, and would probably leave you disappointed. Life isn't just unicorns and rainbows, so why would a book that's supposed to represent the whole spectrum of a certain city be examined through a gentle pink lens? Come on, the title already suggests that London isn't just about the glittering West End! Do not read this, if you're in need of affirmation of your love towards London, for example if you're going there for a holiday. The people in here tell about their everyday lives, which can be rewarding, exciting, sad, annoying, or hellish, but it's still real. Most of all, this is a cross-section of the modern London and what's it like right now.

"I’ve never been able to understand race or prejudice really. I find it very difficult. It’s like going to a library and saying to the librarian, I’m sorry, I only read books with red covers." - Robert Guerini, property owner

Some get lost in telling too much about their job, which can be a problem if you're not into electronics, finance, or angling. Some didn't even have much anything interesting to tell, but it would have been unfair to make this a book of exciting people, because not all are like that. The interviewees range from a teacher, a police officer, and a social worker to a dominatrix, a beekeeper, and a squatter. According to Taylor's foreword, he wanted to avoid the official voices of London, and focus on the ordinary citizens. Refugees and the homeless luckily get their share as well, and in a lot of the interviews the countless of generations of immigrants were touched in some way, because they are a big part of current London.

"Oh, London. You never know if you’re going to be ill or fall. I did fall years ago and I crawled to the door and I opened the door and I called help. Two Asian boys that live upstairs, they come and they got me help. They phoned the ambulance, got my son for me, helped me right to the last, right until I got into the ambulance. You wouldn’t think that, but they did. They stayed with me until the ambulance come and my son come. They held my hand." - Ethel Hardy, old-age pensioner

Which one was the most superficial story then? The interview of two American tourists. Perhaps not that surprising.

"'The only thing I know'—and this I was told in a very loud pub in Cricklewood—'is that a real Londoner, a real one would never, ever, ever eat at one of those bloody Angus bloody Steak Houses in the West End. That’s how you tell,' the man said, wavering, steadying himself with a hand on the bar. 'That’s how you tell.'"
Profile Image for Stacey (prettybooks).
515 reviews1,548 followers
August 10, 2016
I knew I'd love Londoners as soon as I read the introduction, written by the author - a Canadian who moved to London - telling the reader about his first time in London and what he experienced. And then the prologue, 'Former Londoner', written by someone who has nothing but negative, bitter things to say about the city. I thought it was hilarious ('There's too many people fighting for space on the Tube, everyone's in a rush, everyone's in a bad mood'). Londoners like to complain about London, and I couldn't wait to see whose story I was going to read next.

The subtitle of the book, The Days and Nights of London Now, As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It and Long for It, suggests that we'll read colourful stories from a variety of Londoners - and that's exactly what we get. The book is divided into sections (e.g. Arriving, Seeing the Sights, Making a Life, Keeping the Peace, etc) so that we hear stories from people from all sections of society - different ethnicities, sexualities, ages, religions, and classes, from the street cleaner to those in the top positions of the financial industry. Craig Taylor thought of everyone. Each story is fascinating and there's a fantastic mix of sadness, joviality, and hilarity; political statements to honest confessions, but they're all extremely enjoyable.

It is likely that I enjoyed the book especially as I am a Londoner myself; I recognised many of the places that were mentioned, and I giggled to myself at the type of comments you'd see on a Facebook group called 'You know you're a Londoner when...'. You get the sort of quotes about London than you wouldn't find anywhere else. It's definitely one of my favourite non-fiction titles. I shared specific interviews with my family when I thought they'd find them funny or interesting, and I'll be buying a few copies as gifts.

If you have even the slightest interest in London, in finding out what's beyond Big Ben or Buckingham Palace, Londoners a wonderful book both to dip in to now and again, or sit read for hours on end, immersed in each person's experience. It's an intimate, revealing, honest, and witty book that you'll be desperate to share with others.

I also reviewed this book over on Pretty Books.
Profile Image for Bailey Dutton.
1 review1 follower
November 4, 2013
This coming form someone who has lived in the London area myself, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved reading stories from people all different types of people who have so many differing opinions about the admittedly odd and formidable, yet wonderful city that they all have some connection to. Every story brought an entirely new perspective about London to light, be it negative or positive. It made me see every aspect of London, and the points of different views of the people who do, in fact, "Love it, Hate it, Left it, and Long for it." That experience was immensly enlightening to say the least, but the book also showed me that no matter who you are, people can be connected in some way. Seeing how all these completely differing people were connected by nothing more than a point on a map was amazing. After I had finished the book I realized that very person that Mr. Taylor interviewed had all lived in the same city, and although they all had their own experiences with it, they all labeled themselves at one point or another "Londoners." I suppose you could say this book can get repetitive at times if you look at it a certain way, but personally I don't see that at all. A New York Times review wrote that the book was “A rich and exuberant kaleidoscopic portrait of a great, messy, noisy, daunting, inspiring, maddening, enthralling, constantly shifting Rorschach test of a place. . . . Delightful. . . . In Taylor’s patient and sympathetic hands, regular people become poets, philosophers, orators.” Which I agree whole-heatidly with. The only complaint that I have about the book is that I wish it could've been longer. If you like people and their stories, you'll love this book, It's almost like reading an large mash up of diaries of different people.
Profile Image for Daniel Villines.
382 reviews52 followers
September 6, 2015
At its core, Londoners is a study in the human condition as it exists in any overwhelming city anywhere in the world. The book provides accounts of people struggling to find their individuality in the midst of countless others who are struggling in the same way. Sometimes luck crosses their paths, but often times they achieve small successes through the diminishing of others.

Trying to discern particular characteristics of Londoners that are different or unique, however, is problematic. The effort requires a comparison of Londoners with my own subjective perceptions of only my own surroundings. How can a clear picture be gained while looking through a clouded window? Nonetheless, there is this: Londoners know tolerance.

Londoners have been the center of a multi-cultural empire for so long that they have grown accustomed to living alongside other races and cultures. And while all of these different people all have their prejudices of one another, the one thing that prolonged exposure and tolerance seems to have engrained in them is the understanding that those of different cultures are humans first.

The result of this human-first distinction allows for human dignity to color thoughts and deeds before the objectification of others takes place. While prejudices still exist, the associated acts or thoughts resulting from those prejudices are tempered by the realization that those being affected are human. And while this may seem like a small difference, it is a rather large difference when compared to the thoughts and deeds resulting from the prejudices that surround me in my part of the world, which is far removed from London.
Profile Image for Always Pink.
151 reviews16 followers
November 7, 2019
I came across a stack of this book at Foyles in London, in a special shelf labelled "staff recommendations". (Thank you for this!) I have learned to blindly trust these little stacks of books, cover fronts presented: The booksellers at Foyles still know a good book when they read one.
Trying to find the essence of London, to describe what makes it the splendid place it is, that's an onerous task indeed. Craig Taylor took it on head on, and spoke with countless Londoners and asked what the city was for them. His protocols of their answers present the reader with the voices of these Londoners, their idiolects, unbowdlerized, which gives the book its special charm. You can "hear" London in its pages. And you can see it, feel it and even smell it as well: The vivid descriptions of their daily lives by paramedics, teachers, city planners, taxi drivers, rappers, artists, gallerists, schoolkids, driving instructors and police officers allow a peek behind London's facade(s). Some are being quite philosophical about London and their love-hate relationship with the town. All agree that the most important thing probably is to know your tube map well - sound advice. I liked especially that Craig interviewed a lot of people from East London, a vibrant part of London I find very interesting and intriguing. Peter Rees, a renowned city planner, puts my opinion in a nutshell: "I think of London as a partner. I'm in love with London and always have been."
Profile Image for cindy.
388 reviews119 followers
November 3, 2019
One of my favorite things to do is hear people’s stories; I quite enjoyed this collection and the sliver of London it contains.
Profile Image for R.J. Askew.
Author 2 books60 followers
April 6, 2012
I loved this book. I heard about it on the radio and instantly knew that I had to read it. In fact, it was my most welcomed Xmaz pressy.

I was also familiar with the original AKENFIELD, which I read some years ago, and so was fascinated to see how the author got from RETURN TO AKENFIELD to LONDONERS. AKENFIELD was an slightly maudlin insight into how we were. I recall feeling exceptionally sad at the passing of the Englishness in AKENFIELD. But being maudlin butters no turnips. It is clear that LONDONERS is much stronger proposition than RETURN TO AKENFIELD. I sense that AKENFIELD and RETURN TO AKENFIELD set the scene for LONDONERS, that RTA was a practice run. I also think that in some the shift from the rural life in AKENFIELD to the urban life in LONDONERS is fascinating as it captures how we were and how we now are. Clearly not all of us lived in AKENFIELD in 1950, but more of us did then than now, or were closer to it in some way. Cities like London are beasts, but they are vigorous beasts. They eat lives but they also nourish lives.

Yes, a book like LONDONERS cld be written about any city. But... London is London, mate, innit. And I consider myself a Londoner, thought I am from Lancashire and actually live in St.Albans.

But I love London, which is as much a state of mind and a spectrum of attitues as a place. I alwo write about it.

I cld end the review now as what more is there to be said than that I loved the book?

Why, mayte, why ditchya love it?

OK I loved it for two reasons. 1) the overall organisation of the project and the selection and arrangement of the interviews, which brought an oursider's objectivity and common sense intelligence to the whole; 2) the dibs and dabs that came straight from the lips of eighty-odd Londoners.

Most of us pass to and fro in London without knowing a thing about those around us. LONDONERS connects us to them. This is vital if we are to be happy in London, for we can't ignore those around us. We have to get on with them for all manner of reasons. LONDONERS shows us that they are humans just as we are, different, yes, but essentially we can relate to them by knowing a little about them. LONDONERS can't tell us about every Londoner, but the insights it does give equip us to be curious and sensitive to the other eight million, methinks.

Among my favourite dabs are these:

-- Places make the best lovers.
-- One tree we plant a lot of are Chanticleer pears...people chain their pushbikes to the trees and the pedals and chains do sometimes cause abraision to the actual trunks. But they tolerate that too. (Much as native Londoners tolerate much perhaps.)
-- The London plane is a hybrid fo the American plane and the European plane. (The London plane thus perfectly encapsulates something about the essential nature of London and Britain as a whole. I will now always look at those majestic trees as being far, far, far more than trees. There is much in that comment from Paul Akers.)
-- He was really upset...whacking his leg and being really arsey about it. (Get away!)
-- NUTTERBUT. (I think the interview with Peter Thomas is the soul of the book. I love everything in that interview. The language, the experience, the insights. It is cracking from start to finish. It is 'a lovely eating read, nourishing'.) Nutterbut, mayte!
-- engage with the ladder. (The estate agent and the hedge fund manager were both clearly well into their engagements. This is what London has always been about. Making it, engaging with the ladder. Shakespeare did exactly that with the language ladder.)
-- squatting opened up a lot of doors (I can't help wondering if Nick Stephens realised the arch wit of his comment!)
-- In the summertime it's beautiful. You see the sunrise over Soho (that cld be the title of a poem by the rickshaw guy)as the filth is swept off the streets.
-- I love that. You know, that's Farringdon. (Yep, Farringdon is quite the place. Think of the jousts, the executions. Bartholomew's Fair.)
-- There's something about that hour when you don't encounter a single lucid sane person. (Brilliant observation.)
-- Englishland (Just love the word.)
-- It's not a club, miss. (Too right)
-- They're basically made of cheese.
-- You can't cut the defiance out of London. (Long me this be so.)
-- And this from the author: ... the Gherkin seems to rest like a charm on his shoulder. (Kudos!)
-- You haven't a hope of getting it out. (That is the ink I want to use and that is how I want the things I write to be, fast forever in the minds that read them.)
-- A serene and dignified venue. (Lovely wording, spot on.)
-- Again from the author: He stretches the hoover and sucks up the clovers and hearts.
-- It's the Saturday night before Christmas and it's London and it's Camden. (All about this interview was intensely moving. I felt for Alex Blake.)
-- The veneer of calm worked again. (How do I get one of those?!)
-- It's like a branch of Iceland out there ... I didn't have a Scooby ... We are T.Cribb & Sons. (This was hilariously macabre, a mix of Del Boy and The League of Gentlemen.)
-- I hate that London never satisfies me.
-- I hate living here. London is like any other kind of addiction. All evil originates here. (Clearly he never engaged with the ladder. But not all can.) I got to get out of this fucking city. (I often think that when Thameslink fails.)
-- The waiting for the Guinness. (Hmmm, but this wld still be true on Mars. But I still like it.)
-- A Lambourne departure. (Again this cld be a poem title.) You get this awsome view of the whole of London. You're leaving the energy behind. (The pilot's eye view was a fitting and brilliant dismount to a wonderful read. I was sad when I finished the book that it was over. In fact I read the last quarter of the book slowly, hoarding the pages to prolong the pleasure I found therein. All the best, Ron Askew)

p.s. anyone visiting London for the Olympics should read this book to get a true picture of who and how we are now

Profile Image for Emelie Talledo.
222 reviews8 followers
December 21, 2022
I adored “New Yorkers” by the same author & while the structure is similar and one I appreciate. It’s very well-written.

I just don’t see a soul the way I did in the New Yorkers book but that might be my skepticism to all things British 🇮🇪
Profile Image for Frank Jacobs.
194 reviews3 followers
April 12, 2021
To be honest, I bought this book second-hand simply because I liked the cover, in the colours of the Tube lines. It’s an oral history of London, a literary method I had little experience with and even less expectation of. Fortunately, the author proved me wrong.

In dozens of interviews with a broad sample of Londoners, a picture emerges of a city that attracts and repulses, fascinates and frustrates like few others in the world.

The period described overlaps with my own time in the city, and I wonder how much of it remains, now locked away in the pre-pandemic, pre-Brexit part of this century. It’s like seeing the colours on a photograph fade and a moment turn into history.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
293 reviews
February 2, 2013
I'm genuinely having a hard time writing a review for this book. If I could go by the introduction alone it would get an A++. It is nostalgic, personal, descriptive, gives a beautiful homage to the A to Zed (the 1998 copy of which I still have--although if you look at it pages just fall out because I used it so much) and it opens with one of my favorite quotes of all time ("When a man is tired of London he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford" ~Samuel Johnson). It's too bad that Londoners, well, at least the majority of the 80+ interviews that make it into the book seem to have forgotten all about Johnson.

OK, so reading most of these interviews made me depressed and yearn for a London I guess doesn't really exist if you live there. While reading I was reminded of an interview Stephen Fry conducted with a former Essex guy who now lives in California. Fry asked the guy why he, one of the two most famous modern British guys, chose to live in America and the guy replied, "I think there's just a conspicuous lack of cynicism and skepticism...". After reading this book I'm only beginning to see what he's talking about.

I love that this book is set up pretty much like Stud Terkel's Working, in the sense that there are tiny little stories categorized by a common theme, but the stories don't have to be read in order to get a sense of the place and time in which they were written. I get, from the few stories that I connected with, that London is as vastly different as any city, and, that it is a city's history that differentiates it from any other. I guess the sense that, whether it is realized or not, one falls in love with a city based on its history.

Stories of note:

*the black dancer who became a plumber, yes, plumber...
*the woman who is from the Middle East who still hasn't told her parents that she's modern and living with her boyfriend
*the manicurist who can tell more about the collective economy than most economists merely by looking at the people who get their nails done and for what reasons
*the guy who's spent his time in London revitalizing Canary Wharf
*the story of the rickshaw driver and his passenger's fetish for feet and socks
*the teacher who, across The Pond, has the same struggles with students and parents and motivation and admistration and frustration that I have as a teacher in little 'ole Missouri
*the dominatrix, the beekeeper, the Wiccan priestess
*the funeral director who targets immigrant families because, well, funerals are a business that last generations
*the city planner who understands that greatness cannot be planned...this man loves himself some London
*Adam Byatt and his flavor for all things traditional, yet modern...I would like to try some John Dory

Oh, and I'm totally curious about the 100+ interviews that didn't make the cut...I wonder if I'll ever be able to read those? I'm also curious if this same feeling of weariness is so prevalent in other cities should you interview 'the man on the street' in say Paris or New York or Los Angeles. I wonder what Taylor thinks of London.

Thank goodness there's that delicious intro talking about rain and umbrellas and, London as 'propulsion, [that] rewards those people who push forward'. There's loads of great stuff in this book, I learned so much (see my list below), however, if I went by these stories alone I'd never take public transportation anywhere, I'd not yearn for London, a city I definitely yearn for, and, *whimper* I'd be tired of life, I'd be tired of London.

What I learned:

*'Places make the best lovers...'
*'People's worst qualities come out at night...'
*Cornershop's Handcream for a Generation
*7/7 Terrorist Attacks
*Stephen Lawrence, a racially motivated attack improperly handled, for years, by the police
*I am part of the easyJet culture
*"Dog Man Star" by Suede
*The Jam
*The Long Good Friday
*John Dory...it's a fish, by the way
*words: vertiginous, cenotaph, Canberra, biro, plinth, Geordie, alluvium, cormorants, courgette, grotty, paracetamol, pissoir, peripatetic

All right, all right! I may love this book, just not the people in it!

And, here the covers I wish I had instead:

Profile Image for Jenny.
101 reviews12 followers
October 11, 2012

Londoners is an oral history of a city I’ve never been to but it has fascinated me ever since I picked up my first Charles Dickens novel at the age of 11. Since then, Anglophile that I am, I’ve read loads of books set in London but have never set foot in London so I decided to pick up this book and add to my knowledge of this city beyond Dickensian street urchins and Alan Hollinghurstian gay cruising.

First of all, don’t skip the introduction. Craig Taylor completely sucks you in. The intimate details, emotional observations, the excitement of seeing London through a newcomer’s eyes, and his love of the city is so artfully expressed that I couldn’t wait to dive into the book. Taylor interviews a variety of people and includes their stories verbatim (with editing of course) and organizes them under sections like “Arriving,” “Earning One’s Keep,” “Feeding the City,” “Getting Along,” “Living and Dying,” etc. While some of his interviewees are natural storytellers and some are not, what I liked about the book was the equal space given to every kind of voice. They were snarky, sweet, very amusing, really bitter, and nostalgic. I was fascinated by stories from a female plumber, a hedge fund manager, a fisherman, the woman who voices the subway announcements, the singer from Stereolab—people I would never encounter on my own if I were to go to London—and all of these divergent voices come together to create the white noise of the city. An impersonal metropolis also gets a shot of humanization from stories from The Lost Property Office where people turn in items found on the subway or bus. In a city of 8 million people imagine leaving your groceries on the bus and having it turn up at The Lost Property Office.

I learned this from The City Planning Officer of London Peter Rees: “London’s greatest attribute is it has the best free sex in the world.” City officials are allowed to say that in public?
Profile Image for Elsa Gavriil.
2 reviews32 followers
April 11, 2013
When people ask me what is it that I like so much in London, I usually tell them about the art, the museums, the numerous events. And then I stumbled across this phrase in Craig Taylor's book "Londoners": "London is propulsion (...) In London, even on the days when my knees hurt,my hip hurt and my Achilles tend hurt, I could keep going. I could push on". I kow exactly the feeling, and it is for this reason that I keep coming.
Craig Taylor is not a Londoner (at least not according to those claiming that true Londoners are born "within earshot of Bow Bells"), and apart from the introduction and a few comments, he lets the people he interviewed to tell us their stories. And there are more than 80 stories in the book -from the woman whose voice announces the stations on the London underground to the street cleaner, the taxi driver and the teacher.
What is remarkable about this book (and makes it such an interesting reading) is the distinctive style of each person. In most cases Craig Taylor doesn't even have to comment or set the scenery -we can almost hear the voices of the interviewees. And each one of them has a different take on London.
The book is not an ode to London. There are people who hate it, who dream about leaving, those who have already left because they could not stand it anymore, and there is the commuter who on Friday nights needs to cleanse everything of London in order to feel that the weekend begins.
And although it is not an ode, it is a product of love. The writer's love for this captivating city.

P.S. Alex Blake's story is haunting.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
107 reviews
April 27, 2012
This book was a HUGE disappointment for me. I was so looking forward to it, but the stories were just not at all entertaining - at least I felt like that for the majority of them. I am not quiet able to put my finger on it, but it must have been something with the reading, some of the stories just kept on and on - almost like a stream of conscience - making no sense what so ever! Whilst others were short and sweet or even some of the lengthy ones had purpose and flowed beautifully e.g. the grief counsellor. I think this book is better suited for your coffee table and should be read in brief chunks versus a proper read.

N.B. I live on the outskirts of London, but am a commuter and work in London. I thought this book would make me fall in love with Londontown all over again, but it didn't. I still love London, but it is my London. I could relate to many of the immigrants in the book and learned about places I have been but didn't know some of the detail e.g. block of flats behind Baker Street Station has train bits on it (i pass there everyday and NEVER noticed!) - but I could see how the depressing and ongoing narrative of some stories would turn people off of visiting London.
Profile Image for Nicole.
506 reviews38 followers
September 27, 2014
Rating: 3.5

The book tries its best to answer the following question: What defines a Londoner? Is a Londoner someone who was born in London? Is it someone who moved there 20 years ago? 10 years ago? 5 years ago? Or is a Londoner someone who knows how the city works, how it breathes. Someone that can navigate the tube and not get run over while crossing the street.

Composed by 85 (give or take) stories about Londoners, it was just what I needed after finding myself afflicted with London sickness. That feeling you get when you miss London with every fiber of your being and you wish Floo Powder existed just so you run to the nearest chimney and get going. London is highly diverse city so it makes sense that all these stories carry that very same diversity. Not one of these voices is the same. Mr. Taylor did an amazing job gathering all these tales from people from all walks of life.

I agree with other reviewers that the middle did tend to drag a bit. When I reached that particular story about the artist that collected hair from the tube floor... man, that was disgusting. I needed a little break. But beyond that, it's a wonderful window to understand the dichotomy that rules the lives of those that live in London.
Profile Image for Laura.
6,869 reviews556 followers
October 30, 2016
From BBC radio 4 - Book of the Week:
By Craig Taylor. Abridged by Pete Nichols.

Craig Taylor's book has given new voice to Londoners; the rich and the poor, the native and the immigrant; men and women. It continues an oral tradition that goes back to Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, published in the mid-nineteenth century.

Taylor gives us the squatter and the teacher; the bicycle mechanic and the registrar; the plumber and the rickshaw rider; the lost property clerk and the Wiccan priestess, who casts the remnants of her spells into the Thames.

These remarkable snapshots of the city dwellers are moving, funny and informative.

"What makes Londoners as valuable as any sociological treatise is Taylor's appreciation of the ways in which his subjects are themselves surveying, analysing and theorising the turbulent city in which they live.... At more than 400 pages, the book could easily have been twice as long... But this remains a remarkable volume, from the heaving, contradictory energy of its countless funny, terrifying, epic stories" Sukhdev Sandhu in The Guardian.

The Teacher ..... Emerald O'Hanrahan

Producer: Karen Rose
A Sweet Talk Production for BBC Radio 4.

Profile Image for Erynn.
127 reviews7 followers
October 6, 2011
A collection of stories from Londoners: why they hate it, why they love it, and everything in between. Here are a few of my favorite lines.

"London is propulsion, it rewards those people who push forward. I loved that about it and remembered the disappointment of walking in New York and reaching the end, the water, the point of turning around. In London, even on the days when my knees hurt, my hip hurt, and my Achilles tendon hurt, I loved that sense of constant propulsion."

"Living history is thrilling, especially in an eloquent city, in a talkative town, in a place where people fought to get here, fought to stay here, fought to get out."

"There’s this thing you’re supposed to be part of in London. But what is it? That’s the million dollar question. Everyone’s there because they’re searching, aspiring. A very small percentage is actually living the dream. Ill, tired, unhappy, the rent is f*cking loads, what is it you’re getting? The idea of it, or something."

"London is like any other kind of addiction, really. You get five per cent entertainment out of it, and that makes you suffer through the other 95 per cent of it."

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