Statistically speaking

In the latest YouGov poll, only 48% of Londoners said that they would choose to remain in London if given the chance to leave.   Oddly though, only 1106 people were asked.  In a city of 7.75million, there is no point asking for a reflection of the population’s thoughts when you are only bothering to ask 0.02% of that population.

However, to interrogate the research further, we discover that of the 52% that would consider leaving, 16% would only move to another part of the south east, which isn’t really going very far at all.   The next biggest percentage is for those seduced by the bucolic beauty of the south west, with 15% of Londoners considering relocating or retiring in Somerset, Devon or Cornwall.  6% of people have no idea where they would move to if they left London.  

Not off put by the fact that 6% of the people asked were so clueless about their intention to leave that they lacked any imagination to pluck a region out of a hat for where they would like to head to, YouGov then asked these 1,107 random people to tick the words most appropriate to London from a list.  Top of the popular list for words was “expensive” (65% of people ticked that) , followed by “dirty” (43% ticked that)  and “varied” (only 20% of people thought that). 13% of 18-24 year olds claim London is “beautiful”, whilst 3% of 40-59 year olds think London is “boring”. 2% of all people think London is both “slow” and “sad”. 1% of people think that London is “narrow-minded” but again, only 1% think that London is in any way “old”.  Even the old people who are old don’t think that London is old.   Now, we all know that London is pricey – and is becoming increasingly so especially in terms of housing stock.  But here is the dilemma : should London become cheaper, cleaner and everything else-er, another 3 million people would immediately want to relocate here.  And that’s what current resources would struggle to cope with, as would, I imagine, any world city.  Prices are unsustainable, but what they do sustain is population.  So, what London doesn’t want to do is drastically improve its cost of living, as that would be disastrous demographically.  Another 750,000 from Redcar & Cleveland?  1,450,000 relocating from Preston to take advantage of the clean air and London’s new cheap as chips property market?  Try getting a seat on the Victoria Line then.

The comments on internet newspaper articles tended to come from the disgruntled, smug ex-Londoner demographic, but they list their reasons for leaving the city as being the same as those who left in 1868 – pollution, lack of civility on public transport and over-crowding.  What they disliked about this city was that it was – plainly – a city, which begs the question : what were they doing here in the first place?  Fools.  Meanwhile, over at The Executive Summary released by the GLA in 2010 refers to native Londoners leaving London and settling elsewhere in the UK as “migrants” which is odd, as they’re only moving in some cases to a county ten miles from where they were born.  But this presents an idea that London is itself its own country, with it’s own laws, practices, rules, bus routes and unique demographic, and to some extent this is correct.    Whilst immigration from outside the UK has been considerable, with 1,380,000 migrants arriving in London from overseas in 2001-09, interestingly enough 1,460,000 migrants arrived in London that were natives from the rest of the UK.  Therefore regional migrancy has overtaken international migrancy during this period, with most regional movers aged between 20 and 29.  How dare they?  Damn immigrants coming here and taking our jobs – from Carlisle! No one who is 4 or 64 moves to London, it seems.  This is a shame, particularly for the oldies.  London is not a great place to work, but it’s a brilliant retirement destination.  The advantages of the over 65s here include free travel anywhere in the city, discounted tickets for almost every cultural event and a continuation in many London salons of the Pension Tuesday perm price, which is a major consideration.  As for the under 4s, the possibilities here are endless for tomfoolery, japes, zoos, jelly, dinosaurs museums and park picnics featuring sandwiches filled with sticky, heavenly jam.

But this report throws up other peculiar statistics as well.  In 2008 there were 790,000 births in the entire country,  which was exactly the same as 1991.  But, to look at London on it’s own, the births in 1991 in the city was 106,000 and in 2008 it was 128,000.  So if London’s producing more children, and yet the birth rate for the UK stayed the same, what on earth are they putting in the water in Lincolnshire / Fife / Cardiff that results in people producing less babies? (note to self: Take investigative tests of Welsh water to verify spermatoza-killing properties)  Do people just get pets instead?  Or, perhaps this is a reflection that more people under the age of 35 live in London anyway, because it’s exciting and dynamic and full of bars and sometimes they go to those bars and then they go home and then wake up pregnant.  London also has a higher level of babies born to non-UK mothers, but again these statistics are designed to perplex us : 55% of babies in London are born to foreign mothers, says the Daily Mail, with great joy in its usual harmonious, generous, sophisticated soul.   This equates to 24% nationally, but I’ve never been convinced that Ireland should count as foreign.  Also the babies don’t know, nor, my dears, would they care why the natives have less children then the incomers.  Have you ever tried to ask a baby a question?  It’s a most unharmonious business generally involving sponge-finger-bribes, a breast pump and whatever you do you just end up with your hands covered in shit.

Of course, having a gridlock of prams in the city is only one side of the problem.  The other side of the problem is that we have population issues because people have started living a really, really long time.  Baby girls born in London in 1999 had a 33% of living to be 100.  100.    Who wants to be 100?   No one on this earth wants to be that old, it isn’t natural.  People used to sort of keel over at 70.  That’s considered unfashionable now.  It’s passe to pass away.  They hang on 92, 93, 94, 95…oh give me strength… and refuse to die when really we should be lining them up opposite a firing squad.   People are more likely to live past 65 in London than anywhere else.   The Over-90s are expected to double their demographic to nearly 100,000 by 2031.   Brilliant.  Probably because – look who’s about to toe the pension line in 15 years – yes, that’s right.  The Baby Boomers.  All those people who got free maintenance grants in the 1980s for University and bought their first flats in Swiss Cottage for £80,000 ten years later, (the bastards) who were conceived to the plaintive, retiring classical tones of Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry.  They’re coming up to retirement age.  And there’s millions of them.

This is what I have learned from the GLA Executive Summary:

1.When people die they tend to be old first, then die.

2. When people are born there is a marked tendency for them to be rather young and on the smallish side.  Anyone who produces an offspring over a foot tall ought to head to the nearest circus and secure form of employ.

3.  When people hit 40 they stop having babies.  Who’d have thunk it?

4.  No one moves to Northern Ireland.  There isn’t much point.

5.  In 2001, most people who moved within the UK only moved within a 10kilometre radius.  That is how adventurous Britons are.

 Yet the most apparent thing about this is that nothing can change London, not people moving in from across the country – or across the countires – that the bleeding, beating heart of what makes this city our city depends on its shifting, pulsing and moving populus grapsing the nettle, taking the dive, breaking into opportunity.  Perhaps this great unintangible is what makes it so hard for people to leave.  How can London be anything solid and still when it insists on flying by so quickly beyond our bus and car windows?  How can a city be summed up by an adjective?  What purpose can it possibly serve to ask Londoners to tick a word on a list to sum up their thoughts and their feelings on an entire metropolitan experience?  We are all happy and all sad, and when, at the end of the day, the Oyster card returns to the creased coat pocket and we shake the tube dust from our hair, which one of feels that London is simultaneously “new” and “old”, “expensive” or “cheap” or “narrow-minded” and yet as wide as the sun?   These thoughts – all thoughts – are here.  We shed people and we grow them, in, out, birth and death.  This is a world city and the world is here, heralding an experience that could never stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being measured by anyone’s poll.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this. This blog is updated every other Thursday, so the next update will be Thursday 14th February.  Thank you

Who’s on my sofa?

London is full of strange coincidences at the moment.  Yesterday I was glared at in Hanover Square by a beanie-hat wearing John Bishop and his new white teeth, and three weeks ago I found myself staring at the actor Jerome Flynne in the 100 Club thinking to myself – “I know you, I know you.  Don’t you work for my accountant?”  It is all unnerving.   I do know him, but of course I don’t know him.  This is a bit like that time I came home from work to find David Baddiel sitting on my sofa with no clue as to why (turned out he was in the area for an event at the bookshop downstairs, although this still doesn’t fully explain what he was doing in my flat sitting on my sofa).    Of course of all of these, going up to Jerome Flynn and accusing him of being an accountant’s assistant would have been the most mortifying, but then again if D. Baddiel had had a nosy rifle through some of my recent delivery from a Watford storage depot directly behind him he would have found VHS copies of Newman & Baddiel live at the Shaftesbury Theatre in about 1978 or thereabouts, which would have been equally as shocking.  When will I understand that seeing people on the television does not mean that I actually know them?  Several years ago I said to the actor Julian Rhind Tutt, “Hello there!  How are you?”  thinking I had met him.  I then realised I didn’t know him at all.  I’d just seen him in Green Wing.  This scene however did not take place in Green Wing.  It took place in the Prince Alfred in Formosa Street, which is an odd pub featuring small, seperated coffin-like areas edged by wooden arches.  People have to duck in and out of them to get to the bar or onto the street.  Julian R-T ducked pretty swiftly, I can tell you.  He gave himself a good ducking.

I once had a friend who conducted an entire ten year relationship with Robert Smith of The Cure in her own head.  She worked out what their children would be called and everything and considered the impact of grandchildren on their pension years.  Quite truly, I think this was the most meaningful romantic enterprise of her adolescent years, most of which were scarred with bodily odour problems and a propensity to halitosis.  At what stage do the things we think are really sort of suddenly compress against that which is absolutely, physically real?  I knew a girl who was so infatuated with Sean Hughes that when she met him instead of having to stop herself from blurting out comments associated with the grubby things she’d done with him in her imagination, she just stood there motionless, speechless and staring at him with her mouth open.  I think it was a bit like that thing in Back to the Future when Doc warns Marty that when two points in the Universe touch, the space time continuum threatens to explode and destroy the universe.  Real Sean Hughes met Fictional Sean Hughes and the girl in question sort of emotionally internally combusted.  The fourth dimension could not accommodate these situations. So astonished was she by the lack of ground-bursting, water-hydrant-exploding chemical attraction between them that she never recovered, and despised him from that moment on.

The same thing happens when I watch Mary Poppins and then actually have to leave the house and go into the West End.  Why aren’t there chimney sweepers who sound like lost Australians high-kicking on the vaulted roofs of Starbucks and pirouetting around the chimney pots with Mairee Parpins?  Which bit of it is reality tacked on to imagination and which is imagination tacked on to a soupcon of realism?  Ever since the Christmas holidays the line between imagination and reality has been closing in, and that must be to do with the vast amount of television films we were forced to watch over the Christmas holidays.  Half way through drafting this blog I had to go to Covent Garden for an appointment.   Walking down Earlham Street I see an actress from The Bill in serious conference with a policeman, so we had an actress who played a copper in need of talking to a copper.  Perhaps she’d had her truncheon stolen or something, but it isn’t like London is helping with this blurring between the real and the imagined worlds.   The surrealism continued.  I went to The Soho Theatre to see the Rubberbandits at 9.30pm and enjoyed an hour of two men from Limerick with plastic Spar bags over their heads singing songs about Danny Dyer and having a horse outside.  After the boisterous singing and swigging from plastic cups full of wine it was off to Bar Italia for the third time that day for two cappucinos at midnight which, some have told me, may in fact have had something to do with me not sleeping a wink last night.   Bar Italia was, as always at 11.30pm on a week night, full of coppers and off duty ambulance workers, but were these coppers the same ones from The Bill?  Or where they passing actors from a local night shoot?  Or, were they actual policemen – which would be slightly bizarre.  Imagine it!   Disorientated and high on caffeine, I sought solace in the apple pie.  Still at least David Baddiel wasn’t sitting at the back of the cafe on a sofa.  That really would have tipped my evening into unadulterated madness.

So, now I have not slept.  The chill in London is dropping, dropping and tomorrow it will be -936, at which point I can only hope that my delusions will be made increasingly manifest by the dastardly weather and I will slip entirely into an imaginative realm where the only real items will be a pair of ear muffs, three hot water bottles and a four pairs of warm socks.  The city is poised this morning.  Poised in blue, sunny skies ready to unleash crappo snow flakes and imprison us in our homes.  No doubt when they send out the gritters they will send out Robson Jerome and June Whitfield to motor through our streets, dropping orange salt through the city streets, whilst Anne Hathaway gets her snow plough out to clear the junction at Turnpike Lane. 

Please do return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  We would, quite simply, love to have you.  This website is updated every other Thursday.  Next update: January 31st.

Happy Birthday to Ya – London Underground turns 150

 Underground 1908
On January 9th 1863 a series of dignitaries, engineers and politicians took a very short journey from Farringdon to Paddington (no buffet car) in the first of the Metropolitan Railway’s underground experience.  Next week Transport for London, who took the helm for controlling our many lined network in 2003, will kick off their celebrations for the 150th birthday of the Tube.   The nature of these range from talks on the history of the tube and heritage steam trains chuckling up and down the much-rarified rural edge of the Chesham branch of the Metropolitan.  The shop at the Transport Museum has gone mental in the mug department.   The University of London is holding a two day conference on the Victorian and Edwardian Underground, with sizeable breaks in between the lectures for tea and lunch (academics are always so very very hungry and must feed their ginormous brains). The evocative poster art of the London Underground will be exhibiting at Covent Garden from February to October this year, and if it’s slowly steaming stacks you’re after, the Museum Depot out at Acton will have a series of Open Days complete with engine displays and London Underground influenced photography, art and design. 
At 150, it makes our system the oldest in the world but – against popular forecasts in the 1970s and 1980s – it is now in the best nick.  Post-war decades of under-funding nearly made the system flatline utterly thirty years ago.  Remember when the Northern Line was called the Misery Line?  Delays were so frequent you allowed time for them.  Trains startlingly would halt in destinations half way along the line.  Those dubious black plastic balls that hung from spiral straps on the conical ceilings of the District Line burnt West London’s hands in the summer.  The tube was a sad sack of maligned, wooden-slatted austerity.  The ancient escalators weren’t replaced until over thirty people died in a fire at Kings Cross in 1987.  Following on from the abolition of the GLC in 1986, an extraordinary act of personal revenge mainly against one Mr K Livingstone of London N.W.2, the network bounced about between Transport ministries, annoying the stretched public sector purses of the early 1990s.  It wasn’t under the Mayorality was established in 2000, and Transport for London not long after, that the Underground, along with all of our city’s transport networks, came under a civic-led London body of its own again.   This brought about major refurbishment works and two enormous government-led cash injections which bring us to the tube today, an astonishingly clean, plastic haven of special seats for the infirm, of super-quick speedways, of trains so sophisticated they’ve started to talk to us to remind us where we are, what lines we can change for at the next station, and whether or not we should alight here for the British Library or Buckingham Palace.  This to us is the most significant and swift mode of transport our city has ever produced,  although it is hardly accurate to call it the London Underground when 55% of it is above ground.
What emerges from the debates surrounding the London Underground is that the tube network operates as a microcosm of the anxieties of the city as a whole : will there be enough room for us all?  Will it operate sufficiently?  Will the system face its economic difficulties with success?  Will we all die in a hole in the ground?  Will someone jump in front of my train today?  What is the actual chance of anyone giving up their seat for anyone?  How close are we to the rats?  When shall we all have our annual moan about the 4% cost increase?   Will I get flashed at?  Again? Since July 2005 of course, our anxieties about the London Underground have been characterized by a darker hue.  However, we are safer than we have ever been and cleaner than we have ever been under the London ground.  Soon you’ll be able to make telephone calls from there.  Soon I’ll be drafting my blog from the depths of the square mile and click “Publish” and voila.  A note from the wi-fi’d underground.  The tunnels will liberate us and underground will be just as accessible as overground.  
The first air conditioned tubes were rolled out in 2010, but unfortunately focused on sections of lines that were above ground anyway – on the Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City Lines.  Solving the problem of creating air cooling on some of the deeper lines of the network, such as the Piccadilly and the Northern, is a longer, more complex project.  Ken Livingstone offered a £100,000 prize to anyone who could produce a successful air-cooling prototype for the deeper tube lines back in 2003, but none of the proposals were workable.  Suggestions have been made for the trains to carry enormous blocks of ice in refrigeration coolers, which is peculiar.   It was also once seriously recommended that bags of frozen peas be attached to tube train roofs.  It took the New York subway 20 years to successfully devise its air conditioning technology, and air cooling is one of the major issues that concern travellers, which is hardly surprising as temperatures on the Northern Line hit 116 degrees in the 2006 heatwave. 
As regular readers will know, I slightly worship the tube.  As a child, and not a city native, the sound and smell of exciting London was always the diesel scented Northern Line platform at Euston.  There was always something wonderful and secretive, and oddly Alice-in-Wonderland, about the trains emerging from the tunnel, as if from space, as if from nowhere.  Tube trains have never stopped looking like animals to me.  The roar of one and the blast of the air in the face never fails to thrill.  I even watch for the small mice that labour up and down the platform at Charing Cross and Leicester Square, looking for remnants from your Chinese takeaways.   But it’s not all electric thrills, you know.   Last year 4,000 people were injured on the tube, including over 50 fractures, 30 cases of dislocated joints, 15 electric shocks and 6 heart attacks.  However, to put this into context, the London Underground has a safety record fifteen times better than the European average and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather keel over with a cardiac arrest at Tottenham Court Road station than some inscrutable, ugly outpost of the Moscow underground train network.   
When it comes to injuries it’s amazing that more people don’t tumble down escalators. When I was a small child I was told my Aunt had fallen down an escalator. She probably just tripped and slipped, but in my imagination I saw a colourful woman with big hair turning cartwheels over and over for about three minutes, down the escalator until she landed in a glamorous pile of high heels and shopping bags at the bottom. However, whilst it takes a huge amount of talent to not fall down the escalators, it takes something of a deeper talent to fall up them.  Here is a lady who wasn’t at all drunk (No) doing just that.   Even eventually getting to the top of the escalator proved something of a Pyrrhic victory, because her shoe was still at the bottom, so she was still defeated.  And, despite being at a station, it wasn’t even a platform shoe. 

The recorded slips, trips and falls at our railway stations from April 2011 to March 2012 from Rail Safety and Standards Board are substantial:

1.   Total: 3,118

2.   On escalators: 512

3.   On stairs: 1,120

4.   On the concourse: 1,488

5.   On a platform: 899

6.   Involved people running: 425

7.   Person intoxicated: 437

8.   Major/Minor: 19 major injuries (only 5 involving intoxication) and 1 fatality (person who fell on an escalator at London Bridge station)

9.   Time: 1,158 incidents were recorded between 5pm and 2.30am (37%)

10.   Day: Incident peak on Fridays: 569 (18%)

11.   Luggage: 614 reported injuries involved luggage. This is up from 362 in 2004/05

Obviously, no surprise regarding the Friday peak.  This is the time of week where the delirium of weekend freedom has kicked in and usually so has those small molecules within beer bottles that so frequently clutter a young estate agent’s brain.  Up, up, up go the little molecules, and down, down, down goes a junior sales negotiator from the Holborn branch.   What is the differentiation above between a platform and a concourse?  And has any distinction been made for the possibilty of one accident that does in fact incorporate 4 of the above?  For example, I am certain that at Warwick Avenue tube I carried out the hatrick of 2, 6 and 7 in one swoop.  And if it happened on a Friday, I could probably shove a 10 in there as well. 
I am truly astonished that when it comes to the British temperament that the number on No 11 exceeds that of No 7.  No mention is made of dogs or cats, unwisely taken on tube journeys on leads, and who inevitably must be carried up and down escalators lest their paws be caught.  They sustain injuries on the tube because so few people are aware that dogs cannot walk on the escalators.  Presumably the statistics above are only for humans.   The result of someone under the influence (no 7), on a Friday (no 10) on an escalator (no 2) who then falls over with a dog in their arms doesn’t bear thinking about. 

There are 270 stations and 402 kilometres that make up the London Underground, so there’s quite a sizeable opportunity for ending up arse over elbow in it. If you are out celebrating London Underground’s 150th birthday, perhaps by wearing an 1860s stovepipe hat or doing a cheery Victorian London dance, do be careful and mind the gap. Many happy returns, London Underground. I might not raise a glass to you, but I will be celebrating by getting stuck at Victoria, stapling frozen peas to my head in an attempt to aircool my flat, sitting on three damp editions of this morning’s Metro and falling over a German Shepherd. Happy Birthday.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this. This blog is updated every other Thursday. Thank you!