Thursday 18 September 2008


I recently acquired, at a knockdown price (thanks, AbeBooks), a copy of Londoners, written by Maurice Gorham (author of the equally desirable The Local and Back to the Local) and illustrated by the great Edward Ardizzone. The illustrations - which are wonderful - are at least half the point of the book, but the text offers fascinating glimpses of London life in the 1950s and before (it was published in 1951). In his introduction, Gorham looks back over how the ways of Londoners changed between the wars and after the second spot of bother, observing, for example, that in the Thirties, 'even in the City you could see tweed' (if only that were still true), and, startlingly, noting a widespread abandonment of hats by both men and women before 1939. This is odd, as in my recollections of a Fifties childhood, men were invariably wearing hats or caps and the bareheaded look seemed slightly louche.
Now, with the brand spanking new model London taxis spontaneously combusting all around us, I'm put in mind of a Gorham anecdote from wartime, when you never knew where the next bomb was going to land. After his cab was rocked by an explosion too close for comfort, a London cabbie remarked: ''E'll do that once too often one of these days.' That's the spirit.

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