London Walks connecting.
This… is London.
Story time. History time.
And here’s the weather report from London Walks. The big picture weather report. The one you can frame and put up over your umbrella stand in the hallway
The truisms first. Hoary old chestnuts all of them.
They – the English, the people amongst whom I’ve made my life – will tell you, “we don’t get seasons, we get weather.”
Another card they hold in that hand is, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait.”
By that they mean, the weather will change in no time at all. And occasionally you’ll hear a Brit say, quite proudly, “we get four seasons in one day.”
But let’s drill down a little bit. The weather’s on everybody’s mind here. They talk about it all the time. I’ve got a theory about that. The English talking about the weather – especially to a stranger – that’s the British Isles equivalent of dogs sniffing one another. Let me explain that show-stopper of a line. It’s the great unmentionable in this country but the truth of the matter is the place is still bedevilled by that bad old English class system. And the way you speak – your accent – is a pretty good indicator of your social class. Where you fit on that wretched social scale that they all seem to have wired into them. It’s one of the great things about being an American here. They can’t place you socially by your accent. You’re just an American. It’s like being a pet. The attitude to foreigners is like the attitude to dogs: dogs are neither human nor British, but so long as you keep them under control, give them their exercise, feed them, pat them, you will find their wild emotions are amusing, and their characters interesting.
Yeah, so you’re just an American – or an Ozzie or a Mexican or an Italian – your foreign accent – American in my case – does to their class sensors what chaff does to radar, plays havoc with it. Discombobulates it. They can’t pigeonhole you in one of the infinite gradations of that pernicious class system. All they know is you’re incoming and they better brace.
That’s just an aside. The main point here is the natives – the English – talk about the weather because it’s a nice safe subject, a chance to hear each other’s accent and make that all-important reading. Place each other on the great Moloch of the class system.
And then there’s that saying that you hear again and again, “if you let the weather stop you you’d never go outside, never go anywhere.”
That one I find super interesting. It’s an extremely rare example of English overstatement.
Famously, the English understate, Americans overstate. A good example of American overstatement: the World Series. Which of course is going on right now. When the World Series got started well over a century ago, America was pretty much the only place in the world where baseball being played. Never mind, ever prone to overstatement, the Americans dubbed the fall classic “the World Series.”
Different cup of tea over here. The Brits are right out at the other end of the spectrum. Understatement is the British calling card. Those two widely different wavelengths have been known to cause serious problems. In World War II a British unit was being overrun by the enemy. They desperately needed more firepower, needed reinforcements. An American division was parked next door, perfectly placed to come to the rescue. The British commanding officer got on the radio and said, “we’ve got a spot of bother here.” That was a quintessentially British way of saying we’re being overrun. The American officer who heard that radio message of course completely misread it. “A spot of bother” – no big deal, nothing to worry about.
So, understatement – overstatement. Cultural differences. But that frequently heard, ever so English remark, “if you worry about the weather in this country, you’d never go anywhere” – that, ladies and gentlemen, is a rare example of English overstatement.
And that brings us to the main act. The big picture weather report. The one you can frame and hang over your umbrella stand in the hallway.
I don’t beat around the bush. I tell my walkers: it doesn’t rain on my walks. Another way of putting that is, ‘it doesn’t rain on London.’
Yes, frame that and hang that over your umbrella stand. Because that’s the truth of the matter.
It rains a lot in London is an old wives’ tale. It’s a flat-out, preposterous falsehood. A falsehood that’s been repeated so many times – drip, drip, drip, drip drip – that the barrel’s full. But enough is enough. I’m calling time on that whopper. A gentle turn of the tap is all it takes to stop that drip, drip, drip. And then we pull the plug on it.
And what’s that gentle turn of the tap, you ask? Try facts. The facts that a rain gauge provides.
Here you go. Rome gets more average rainfall than London. Gibraltar gets more average annual rainfall than London. Mexico City gets more average rainfall than London. Istanbul gets more average annual rainfall than London. Barcelona gets more average annual rainfall than London. Rhodes gets more average annual rainfall than London. New York City is deep sixing in comparison with London. The Big Apple – the big hamster ball – gets twice the average annual rainfall that London gets. Cannes in the French Riviera gets more average annual rainfall than London. Even Jerusalem – on its plateau in the Judean Mountains, looking down on the Dead Sea and across the Jordan River to the arid mountains of eastern Jordan – even Jerusalem gets more average annual rainfall than London. They’re almost level pegging but Jerusalem makes the running by a few droplets.
Ok, I’m going to throw you a bone. Sevilla in Andalusia in southern Spain gets less average annual rainfall than London. But it’s a close-run thing. Sevilla gets 21.7 inches a year. London gets 23 inches a year. All of 1.3 inches more rain than Sevilla gets. 1.3 inches in a year. Gosh, London’s drowning isn’t it, it’s just deluged.
But you’d do well to take on board – to absorb – what the weatherman says about the rain in Spain. In Sevilla in particular.
The rain in Sevilla, says the weatherman, is “not abundant and it’s concentrated.” Did you get that? “Not abundant. And concentrated.” Now you take London’s average annual rainfall – barely an inch more Sevilla gets – and see if you can fit that same phrase to our situation here. 23 inches as opposed to 21.7 inches. Well, at no little risk of belabouring the obvious, just as rainfall is “not abundant” in Sevilla it’s also “not abundant” in London. But what about the second half the phrase: “and concentrated.” For London, another word is needed, isn’t it, instead of “and concentrated” it’s “and not concentrated.”
And there you’ve got it, that one little three-letter word: “not”. “Not concentrated.”
London rainfall – “not abundant and not concentrated.” Those are the facts of the matter.
And that’s why I tell my walkers, “it doesn’t rain on my walks.”
I’m going to get down and dirty here. I’m going to spell this matter out.
Everybody who goes on one of my walks gets an advancer email from me. It’s a little care package with various tips and recommendations about the neighbourhood we’re going to be exploring. And if it’s my Kensington Walk or my Hampstead Walk or my Old Westminster Walk or the Along the Thames Pub Walk I mention that there’s some added value – that when the walk’s over I’ll be sending them a professionally produced PDF of the chapter in the London Walks book that pertains to that walk. And that, yes, I’m the author. I wrote said chapter and that it’s a very good fit with the walk. And then finally I pass on to them the weather forecast for those two hours. By definition, it’s date-and-time stamped. Specific to that day’s walk. Every year I send out hundreds of those one-and-done weather reports. But here’s the thing – no matter what the forecast is – every single weather report I send out ends the same way.
Here’s the one I sent out for my last walk – my Hampstead Walk on Sunday morning, October 29th. Listen up for how it ends.
“Weather-wise, looks like it’s going to be well-nigh perfect walking weather. Forecast is 13 C (55 F), with maybe a whisper of a mizzle. In short, a classic London autumn day. That said, the forecast, whatever it is, is a why bother consideration because in four decades of guiding I’ve never once taken an umbrella.* It doesn’t rain on my walks.”
I tack an asterisk onto that word umbrella.
And then, down below, the corresponding asterisk – the buoy the footnote – like a lobster trap – is hanging from. The footnote reads: *“Historically, the British public genuinely regarded the idea of not getting soaked when it’s pissing it down as ‘too French’, with accounts saying we called people a ‘mincing Frenchman’ if they were caught using an umbrella.” For better or worse I guess I’m squarely in that tradition.”
Now in the event, we did have a whisper of a mizzle, did have some rain. But it didn’t dampen things in the least. My walkers had umbrellas or Goretex jackets. I had my roof, my fedora. Didn’t faze us in the least.
Resonance, the Canadian consulting firm, produces an annual report that ranks the world’s 100 best cities. The Resonance report is widely regarded as the most credible source of city performance. For nine consecutive years now Resonance has crowned London the best city in the world. It’s the capital of capitals.
And an important factor in that ranking is the climate. London has the best climate in the world. Let’s forget rainfall for a moment. It’s easy to forget it but there’s hardly enough of it to write home about. Let’s talk about temperature. Mild’s the word. It’s a rare thing for it to get below freezing here. Conversely, it doesn’t get hot. It hardly ever happens but if the thermometer inches above 80 Fahrenheit – that’s about 29 degrees Celsius – that’s a London heatwave. And as for snow, I’ve lived in London for over 50 years. I’ve seen snow – if you can call it snow, it’s barely a dusting – I’ve seen snow about three or four times in 50 years.
Very little rain (and when it does come it’s not concentrated), no snow to speak of, no freezing cold temperatures, no heat waves, that’s why, uniquely, London Walks can give walking tours 365 days a year. Seth and his Big Onion guides can’t do tours in New York in the dead of winter because the place is snowed in. Concepcion, who runs the Sevilla equivalent of London Walks, can’t do daytime tours in July and August because the place is hotter than a furnace.
We’re blessed. This is the greatest walking tour city in the world.
Personal memory now. The first two summers of my first two academic years in London I raced back to the United States to work. I had to make several thousand dollars in three and a half months so I could come back over and carry on with my studies. I worked as a brakeman on freight trains.
Mary, my little English rose, my girlfriend, my wife as she’s been since 1975, came over. It was her first time in America. I’d scored a job on the Chicago & Northwestern railway line, operating out of the twin cities, Minneapolis and St Paul. Her second day in America a midwestern thunderstorm brewed up. I like midwestern thunderstorms. I grew up with them. I open the curtains, put Beethoven on, and watch it all happen outside. Love the power and drama of it all.
That wasn’t Mary’s reaction. She was terrified. Started to cry. Wanted the curtains closed. She’d never experienced anything like it. Well, she wouldn’t have done, would she. A London girl – well, originally from a village in Kent just south of London – a London girl doesn’t know what a Midwestern thunderstorm is, doesn’t know what a downpour is.
I’ll repeat those figures. And that phrasing.
23 inches of rainfall in a year. And it’s not concentrated. When London – one of the driest cities on earth – does get some rain it’s a whisper of a mizzle.
Or to put that another way, it’s doesn’t rain on my walks. 43 years I’ve been a London Walks guide and I’ve never once taken an umbrella.
So, bears repeating.
Enough is enough. It’s time somebody called time on that hackneyed old piece of nonsense, that out and out, preposterous falsehood that it rains a lot in London.
You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks podcast. Emanating from www.walks.com –
home of London Walks,
walking tour company.
London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size
walking tour company.
And as long as we’re at it,
London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.
And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative.
That’s the key to everything.
It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.
It’s not rocket science:
you get what you pay for.
And just as surely,
you also get what you don’t pay for.
Back in 1968 when we got started
we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question:
Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world?
You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world
you do whatever you have to do
to attract and keep
the best guides in London –
you want them guiding for you,
not for somebody else.
the way we’re structured –
a guides’ cooperative –
is the key to the whole thing.
It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following,
a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.
It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases
By way of example, Stewart Purvis, the former Editor
(and subsequently CEO) of Independent Television News.
And Lisa Honan, who had a distinguished career as a diplomat (Lisa was the Governor of St Helena, the island where Napoleon breathed his last and, some say, had his penis amputated –
Napoleon didn’t feel a thing – if thing’s the mot juste – he was dead.)
Stewart and Lisa –
both of them CBEs –
are just a couple of our headline acts.
Or take our Ripper Walk. It’s the creation of the world’s leading expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow, the author of the definitive book on the subject. Britain’s most distinguished crime historian, Donald is, in the words of The Jack the Ripper A to Z,“internationally recognised as the leading authority on Jack the Ripper.” Donald’s emeritus now but he’s still the guiding light on our Ripper Walk. He curates the walk. He trains up and mentors our Ripper Walk guides. Fields any and all questions they throw at him.
The London Walks All-Star team of guides includes a former London Mayor. It includes the former Chief Music Critic for the Evening Standard. It includes the Chair of the Association of Professional Tour Guides. And the former chair of the Guild of Guides.
It includes barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians,
criminal defence lawyers,
Royal Shakespeare Company actors,
a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the big one, the Guide of the Year Award)…
well, you get the idea.
As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament,
every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”
And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar
and the familiar new.
And on that agreeable note…
come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks.
And that’s by way of saying, Good walking and Good Londoning
one and all. See ya next time.