Craig Taylor is a Canadian journalist and writer who has been living in London for at least a decade. He claims to love London (he has chosen to live here above Canada, after all) but I wouldn’t have guessed that he did from this book.
The book was Radio 4′s Book Of The Week last year, and has received much critical acclaim. I decided to give it a go as an audiobook – especially as I have been doing a lot of walking recently, and obviously that is almost always on the streets of London.
Around 80 people were interviewed for the book, and this is more an exercise in editing on the author’s behalf.
I was looking forward to hearing from people that keep London ticking, the unseen perhaps – the ones who see a different London to the one that I do. I felt that they would be the stories to really make the book ‘pop’. The ones where readers are forced to see the city in a different way.
The book was divided into sections (eg arriving, living, working, departing, dying etc) although these seemed a bit of a flimsy way to bunch the stories, as invariably people’s experiences tended to go beyond the boundaries of that particular aspect.
Now, as you may realise, I LOVE this ever-changing city that I live in. I defintiely choose to be here, and although I sometimes entertain the thought of leaving and moving somewhere more rural (as I did growing up), when I give it a little more thought, I realise that I am in no way ready for that. I would miss SO much about London. To be entirely honest, I don’t think I’m old enough to leave yet. There is still so much to experience!
Although I have a deep-set love for London, I am also aware of its faults. I can’t have lived here most of my life without acknowledging them, after all. I’m not blind to them, but I am accepting of them as there are so many positives.
With that in mind, I have to say I wanted to love this book so much, and I ended up hating it.
It felt so biased. There seemed to be a huge bias towards people complaining bitterly about London – in some ways that I agreed with, but often in ways that I didn’t. The times that the peopel were upbeat and positive, they were mainly just talking about their very interesting jobs (eg bus control room operators, Spitalfields market trader, stock-broker turned cabbie, funeral director, the actress who is the voice of London Underground), and they didn’t tend to offer an opinion on London itself – so the only opinions seemed to be extremely negative.
I don’t think that it helped that not very far into the book at all, a South African that lived here for a while describes London as “…a city full of Asperger’s people…” How rude! It’s funny how London is possibly one of the most multiculturally diverse places in the world, and yet people always refer to ‘Londoners’ as being a certain way.
The only people that seemed to be very positive and confess their love for London were people that lived in the East End or Essex borders. The stockbroker turned cabbie, the market trader, and the old lady whose daughter keeps wanting to get her a nice flat in Broxbourne, but who says “London gets to you. I can’t leave it. There’s too much quiet in the countryside.”
There seemed to be so much missed out from what makes London great, and different to other place in Britain. However, this in itself cemented my love for London, and made me see it through different eyes yet again. I feel that there was so much unexplored – but so much that I haven’t explored myself.
And I have to say, the disappointment in this book has inspired me, and given me an idea to do something myself. Watch this space (but don’t hold your breath!)
As I rose from my seat on the Victoria Line this morning at Highbury & Islington, I closed the cover of my Kindle, and a scratchcard that I had shoved into my bag for safe-keeping fell from the cover where it had become jammed.
I stooped to pick it up, when glancing down, my commute neighbour kissed her teeth and quite audibly announced “SINNER!!”.
I assumed that she was referring to my obviously disgusting gambling ‘habit’, so I looked her straight in the eye, gave her a massive grin and said “Oh hunny, believe me, I sin a HELL of a lot more than THIS!!”
As I moved towards the door with my fellow alighters, i couldn’t quite work out whether the comical expression on her face was horror, disgust or shock that I had challnged her ideals
Whichever it was, it was well worth it!
It had been a while since reading Rivers of London, and The Man had been banging on that he wanted to read the next one, so I decided to squeeze it in too!
We are again following DC Peter Grant, the apprentice wizard copper who has recently found himself submerged into the murky depths of London’s paranormal underworld, and he is as witty and cutting as ever.
After being called in to investigate the suspicious death of a jazz musician, Grant soon realises that this is no normal murder – it definitely falls under his other-worldly jurisdiction…and it doesn’t appear to be the first of its type.
However, things start to get really odd when the trail leads to revered old-time jazz trumpeter Richard ‘Lord’ Grant – none other than Peter’s dad.
I love Aaronovitch’s writing style. It’s light and easy to read, and the pace just speeds you along with the action. There’s no superfluous words, nothing flowery about it. It’s an honest story about gritty goings-on in the seedier parts of London. This book is definitely far darker than Rivers of London, and I am also not sure that you could read it without reading that first.
It’s funny and clever, and you almost forget that it couldn’t possibly be real. The characters are well written and believable with clever humour despite some of the grimness.
“For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.“
Aaronovitch certainly knows his London too, in an off-hand unflashy way. For a Londoner, these books are a joy as he speeds from one location to another, and you often get a quick history lesson thrown in too, which I love! I work in Camden, and there was a short paragraph about the history of ‘a pub at the crossroads’ that was once called the Mother Redcap…and sure enough, a couple of days later I happened to spy the words ‘Mother Redcap’ in smaller writing on the side fascia of the World’s End pub that I had never noticed before! I have walked past it twice a day for the last 5 years – let alone all the times I had been there before I was working in the area.
So thank you Ben Aaronovitch, thank you for writing books that make me notice the London around me, and wonder whether there could possibly be jazz vampires lurking amongst the clubs of Soho.
It has amused me that the past couple of days, people have apparently landed on this blog after Googling ‘”murder alley walthamstow’.
I have no idea how they ended up here, but it is fact the right place to be as the name was coined by me and my mate.
Many years ago, we gave this affectionate name to the little alley between Aubrey Road and Howard Road – purely because after drunken revelry, my mate used to have to walk through this to get home. she used to say that she’d get raped or murdered or both stumbling home one night, and so I used to tell her to text/call me to let me know she had been OK going through murder alley.
I am assuming that people searching why it was called that have seen it since I added it on Foursquare one day – although I am not sure who has classified it as a hot spring
As far as I know, noone has ever been murdered there – it’s not even dark – it is very well-lit. However, I can imagine it becoming a bit of a zombie bottleneck during the eventual zombie apocolypse, purely down to them not being able to work out the railings.
Just wanted to make sure people weren’t getting the wrong idea You can see Murder Alley for yourself here.
UPDATE!!!: Apparently, the reason that so many people have been searching it today is because it wasmentioned on BBC Radio London. i have no idea why, or how it came to their attention, but I love the fact that a joke between my and @goodwin71 has now become a radio topic
I have no idea how I clicked on this picture yesterday which shows a load of London place names in picture form. Because I don’t know where it came from, I have no idea how many there are supposed to be!
But I know that there are quite a few that we can’t work out. At the time of poating, we have 50 but think there are about 25 more!
Click on it for the full-size picture!
What we don’t have:
- Windmill (UPDATE: Mill Hill East)
- Crown on tree (UPDATE: Royal Oak)
- Fire in the hole (UPDATE: Holborn)
- Bloke watering tree (UPDATE: Bayswater)
- Flag on the house (UPDATE: Cyprus)
- Can on the corner (UPDATE: Canon Street)
- Red fish (we THINK it’s a red herring, but still…)
- Well (UPDATE: Stockwell)
- Mouse with cheese (UPDATE: Leicester Square)
- Footballer (UPDATE: Upney)
- Hay bale (UPDATE: Hainault)
- Girl with big hair (UPDATE: High Barnet)
- Glue on the road (UPDATE: Bond Street)
- Dog with green ears (UPDATE: Not altogether certain, but I finally think I have it as Parson’s Green)
- Bloke carrying something (UPDATE: Bounds Green)
- Chef doing something (UPDATE: Baker Street)
- Austrian girl with beer (UPDATE: Maida Vale)
- Green thing in the sky (UPDATE: Wood Green)
- Ton of something in the sky (UPDATE: Brixton)
- Four nuns (UPDATE: We THINK it might be Covent Garden)
- Witch and elves (?!) (UPDATE: Turnham Green)
- Fountain (UPDATE: Waterloo)
- Bent Cross (UPDATE: Brent Cross)
- Cross with top hat (UPDATE: Hatton Cross)
- White cross (UPDATE: New Cross)
- Tower (UPDATE: Tower Hill)
What we have (highlight to see our answers — I don’t want to spoil it for you):
- West Ham
- East Ham
- Seven Sisters
- Elephant & Castle
- Kings Cross
- Green Park
- Swiss Cottage
- Lancaster Gate
- Kew Gardens
- Chalk Farm
- Marble Arch
- Preston Road
- Burnt Oak
- Shepherd’s Bush
- Canada Water
- Mile End
- White City
- Blackhorse Road
If you spot any more, let me know
This was a recommendation made to me by Amazon, and it certainly caught my interest straight away from the blurb!
This is the first in the ‘Peter Grant’ series of books (I think there are just two at the moment, this and Moon Over Soho). Grant is a newly qualified PC with the Met Police, concerned that he’s been initially placed in a boring, admin heavy unit.
However, after being called to the case of a man whose head has literally been knocked from his body with a baseball bat, and interviewing possibly the only witness who claims to have been dead for a good few decades, Grant’s work (AND social) life seems to become somewhat more interesting.
He is placed under Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England and becomes his apprentice. He then discovers more about the underworld of London, the city he thought he knew so well. He meets the warring God & Goddess of the Thames, encounters vampires in Purley and has to get to the bottom of a malicious spirit that seems to be possessing Londoners and leaving them with their faces falling off!
This is the kind of fantasy book I love – one where it has its base in reality and then has an underlying fantastical world that we are unaware of. I guess this could be sold as “Harry Potter for grown ups”, but I don’t like Harry Potter, and I loved this.
Peter Grant is a believable character, shoved into an unbelievable world. Admittedly he seems to take a lot of it far more in his stride than I think *I* would be if I was suddenly told that magic exists and I will be able to do it, but his actions feel well explained at every twist and turn of the story.
There is a lightness of touch about the writing, and there is a lot of humour throughout. One particularly memorable line came after an explosion in a house when : “…the neighbours came rushing out to see what had happened to their property values.”
I am not sure how exciting and relevant someone not familiar with London would find the book, as Aaronovitch obviously knows his stuff about both the history and geography of our fabulous city. I could always picture exactly where the action had moved too – and during scenes where Grant is running down back streets etc, I felt as if I was following him, but picturing exactly where I was. Very well written!
I’m looking forward to reading the next one!
As is often the case (and that I have blogged about before), on Friday there were a LOT of chuggers on the streets of Camden. This time they were from British Red Cross.
I had managed to avoid them at lunchtime, but when it came to home time, they seemed to have bred, and there was NO avoiding them!
I walked past one, and less than 20ft later, there was another one – she was determined to grab me, so I just said “NO THANKS” as always, and walked that little bit faster.
Another 20ft behind her was yet ANOTHER one, which just pissed me off! I took a deep breath and tried to make a dash for it when he looked at me and said “Ooooo, angry bird!”
“How bloody rude!”, I thought. i was quite happy when I left work, not 5 minutes ago – the only thing that’s making me angry is all these bloody chuggers who are likely to make me miss my train! And as for calling me a ‘bird’. Yes, I call women/girls ‘birds’ all the time, but generally not to their faces, and not if I want something out of them – that’s just impolite and bad business practice!
I was just about to give him a piece of my mind when I suddenly remembered my handbag…
There is so much I could say about my thoughts on the London Riots (probably starting with the fact that I don’t believe they are ‘riots’, they are the reuslt of sick opportunistic thieving hooligans) but it’s too ‘now’ – too raw. My beautiful city is being ripped apart at the seams, and it’s just way too sad…
We are lucky that we have appeared to have missed the worst of it (so far) in Walthamstow and the rest of Waltham Forest, but lying under my duvet the past couple of nights (as you know from all horror films, duvets are the ultimate protect-all), and hearing the sirens going along Hoe Street, my heart has skipped many beats, worrying that we could be next.
Beautiful old buildings and people’s businesses, homes, vehicles and livelihoods have gone up in flames or been totally ransacked, for no discernable reason. This is nothing to do with Mark Duggan whose family must be going through hell at the moment – this is just people seeing the police stretched to their limit and thinking they could get some good gear out of it!
Out of all of it, this photo seems exceptionally poignant.
And yet this photo gave me a little faith in humanity.
And this woman should be given a knighthood – or made an MP!
So, I was just coming home on the Victoria line, and first of all, there was one of those people who REALLY gets on my wick.
A woman IN RUSH HOUR with four kids of about 6 – 13 on a crowded tube, and she had let them all have seats when there were paying adults standing!!!
That REALLY pisses me off. I mean, really. Whenever I used to go on public transport, I ALWAYS had to give my seat up if there was a grown-up standing. And it’s exactly the same with the girl. I have never allowed her to take a seat if there is anyone else standing.
But then, to add insult to injury, this heavily pregnant woman got on at King’s Cross, so I said to her:
Me: Would you mind giving up one of your seats for this lady
Bitch Mother: Why?
Me (shocked): Erm, isn’t it obvious?
Me: she’s pregnant!
BM: So – that’s not MY problem
At this point, the pregnant woman says thanks to me but not to worry, and then thankfully a young guy gave her his seat.
BM: See – all sorted
Me: I can’t believe you need to be such a bitch
BM: Oh *I* am the bitch, am I?
Anyway, although I was seething, I couldn’t think of anything else really to say that hadn’t already been said and the Bitch Mother KNEW it, and so she put her bag down on the floor, got her book out, looked at me all smug like, and started reading.
And I grabbed my only opportunity to get any form of revenge on her at all – middle-class and crap as it may be.
She was reading One Day byDavid Nicholls, so I said “Great book, by the way…” and told her the ending. (I wont say exactly what I said as there may be people reading who haven’t read it yet.
Her face was like thunder, but she didn’t say anything. I felt SO much better