"A call to London Walks soon finds its owner, David. Inevitably, he is American. (He didn't start the company, however. That was done nearly 50 years ago by someone called Keith. He wasn't American. He was Australian.) I explain that I'm writing a book about trivia, at which word David lights up, and soon we're swapping London facts like kids with cigarette cards. David has most of the cards already, of course, but he's happy to swap anyway. The only 'fact' he can't help with is one I've heard somewhere - somewhere - but can't verify: when added together the Square Mile's streets and alleys (no roads, remember) total 48 miles in length.
"David's happy for me to join a guide on one of the walks, and suggests Tom, a 'recovering barrister'. The walk in question covers the City itself, from St. Paul's to the Tower of London. On the appointed afternoon I make my way to the pavement outside the Tube station that shares the great cathedral's name and find two dozen people milling around, waiting to be called to order by a middle-aged man who clearly can't be Tom. Medium height, wearing a baseball cap over a bald head and sporting a pink T-shirt, black leather jacket, black jeans and trainers, there's no way this character could ever have practised at the Bar.
"'Tom?' I ask, to elicit an explanation of why Tom couldn't make it.
"'Mark? Pleased to meet you.'"
"Tom, his tones fruity and full, even a little camp from time to time, takes some latecomers' money, then marshals the group around him. He asks where people are from. There are Americans - 'Welcome home' - some Germans - 'Thank you for the Royal Family' - as well as French, Polish, Russian and a smattering of natives. He gets the housekeeping out of the way, including a reminder about looking the correct way when crossing the road. It's not only Australia, New Zealand and South Africa who drive on the left, reveals Tom: 68 countries share our preference, over half the world by land mass.
"Then we're off. First stop is St. Paul's itself, where Tom points out the gilt copper pineapple atop the west entrance. New and exotic in Christopher Wren's day, the fruit was a sy mbol of hospitality. Thousands of times I've been past here, and not once have I noticed it. We view Cheapside, and learn that its first syllable is an old word for 'market', hence the adjoining Bread Street, Milk Street, Honey Lane..."
from The Importance of Being Trivial
by Mark Mason