The numbers tell the tale

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


Good morning, London. It’s Saturday, June 1st, 2024. Today’s pin. Well, the clue is the day of the week. It’s Saturday morning. I’ll be doing my Kensington Walk at 2 pm this afternoon. So the first thing I do is look at the ‘demonstration forecast.’ That’s the demonstration forecast NOT the weather forecast. The weather’s never a problem in London. I’m going to touch on that later on in this podcast but you want it in simplified form: it doesn’t rain on my walks.

But the parade sometimes rains on the parade. By that I mean I sometimes have to take evasive action because of this or that demonstration. So the first thing I do – always – is look at the demonstration report for any given day, but especially Saturdays.

My demonstration forecaster is a good one but it’s not omniscient. It always leads its forecast with the following heads-up: Planned demonstrations include, but are not limited to:

Anyway, what’s included on today’s menu is an anti-immigration march. And, point-counterpoint, an anti-racism march. Yes, the anti-racism march is being staged to counter the anti-immigration march.  Neither of them will be out Kensington way, so we’re good to go.

But it’s London isn’t it. There’s always not just something going on but a million things going on. Living here, it’s like being a cross-eyed boy at a three-ring circus. The city itself is an extravaganza.

And so we come to today’s Random. A word origin – always right up my street – and a tidbit of useful information.

The word ‘alcohol’ is derived from the Arabic al kohl, meaning ‘the essence.’ And to get the measure of the essence – determine the percentage of alcohol in a bottle of liquor – divide the proof by two.

Moving on, today’s Ongoing.

Some London Walks news, first of all. The London Walks June newsletter went out a couple of days ago. It’s now got 15,000 subscribers. We are, frankly, a little bit in awe of that figure. We are, after all, just a little walking tour company. A little walking tour company that’s got a loyal following. A good few thousand people who like what we’re doing and want to keep abreast of what’s new at London Walks.

And quite a bit is new, as it happens. It’s a potent combination. The greatest city on earth and the creme de la creme of London guides, all of them switched on, accomplished professionals. Some of them distinguished figures in their fields.

Which brings us to Nick Day, one of the leading actors of his generation. We’ve talked Nick into doing a Nick Day’s Theatreland Walk for us. It takes place on June 9th and naturally was a main story for us in this latest newsletter.

Sharing the spotlight with it was gardener extraordinaire Sue’s annual Springtime in Kew Gardens Tour. Yes, it’s a rarity. Only takes place once a year. And that once a year this year is this weekend, Sunday, June 2nd. And we also featured my favourite niche London Walk – Ann’s Cat Tails Walk. Subtitled A Feline Take on London History. It’s purring into view – runs on June 5th. And since “I love walking in London. Really, it’s better than walking in the country” is a sentiment I share with the woman – the fictional woman – who said that, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway – and since Mrs Dalloway went for her walk on a Wednesday morning in mid-June in 1923, well, naturally, we’re doing an anniversary Mrs Dalloway’s London Walk at the exact same time in mid-June 2024. We’re going to hear Big Ben strike – hear those leaden circles dissolve in the air at the very moment Mrs Dalloway heard them, 101 years ago. Ergo the early-ish start time for the walk. Anyway, yes, that’s the other walk we featured in the newsletter.

But stay tuned, the mini newsletter – the mid-month one – will be coming out in about ten days and sure enough it’ll feature an exciting new walk created and curated – as we say – by a former Time Out Editor. Yes, a Time Out Editor. A Time Out Editor who’s diamond-sharp. Fun. And vivacious. London pedigrees don’t come any better than that.

And one more bit of London Walks news – didn’t make the newsletter because it’s only just been announced. Richard P., one of our two Beatles London superstar guides, has just been asked to be Ringo’s ‘Peace and Love’ Ambassador for London on his birthday. That event will happen outside 3 Savile Row – an address of Beatles fame – on July 7th. Ringo’s birthday wish is a wave of Peace and Love all over the planet. And it’s a perfect fit because Richard will be doing his Beatles Walk that day and he and his walkers will get that worldwide wave of Peace and Love underway. In the words of Mrs Dalloway, “What a lark. What a plunge.”

Ok, that’s the news. And it’s just an aperitif. Here’s today’s main course. We’re going to run some numbers.

For the last year I’ve done battle with the widespread misconception that it always rains in London. Allow me to hit that ball out of the park once more. I’ve made the point over and over that Rome gets more average annual rainfall than London. And so does Jerusalem. London’s average annual rainfall is 23 inches. Half that of New York City. The definition of a desert is 10 inches or less average annual rainfall. So chew on this, London’s just a little over one inch a month of rainfall from being a Sahara.

I think that – and then I think how green this city – I think of that Eden Kew Garden (which Sue’s going to be exploring this Sunday) – and, well, you’ll get my drift. All of that in a place that’s not seriously far from being a Sahara. This town, it’s a kind of miracle.

Ok, that’s one set of figures. Here’s another. Six years ago a couple of ace London Walks guides created a walk to mark the centenary of the end of World War I. And when it came out in the wash so to speak, there was something that really threw the two of them, baffled them. There were no Americans on that walk. World War I – the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – the two minutes of silence – it’s such a big deal in this country. Where were the Americans.

I wondered as well. Until now. It turns out the numbers tell the story. We don’t know exactly how many British soldiers lost their lives in The Great War. Best guess is about 880,000. As of two days ago I now know how American soldiers lost their lives in the Great War. Like a shell, the figure exploded in my face. 53,000. Out of a population of just over a hundred million. The 880,000 dead British soldiers and officers was out of a population of 39 million. Let me run the figures for you. For every dead American soldier there were 45 dead British soldiers. There are 40  to 50 musicians in a chamber orchestra. Those figures, those young British men having their lives snuffed out at the Somme and Paschendale and Arras, well, imagine an entire orchestra being wiped out. As opposed to just one musician in the orchestra, the third violinist, say.

Or, another way of putting that, Donald Trump was sometimes referred to as 45. Because he was the 45th American president. Imagine all 45 of them lined up and mowed down. As opposed to just one of them.

The numbers tell the tale don’t they. There you have – in those two sets of numbers – 880,000 out of 39 million as opposed to 53,000 out of 100 million – that 45 to one ratio – there’s your reason, Kim and Rex, that’s why there were a lot of Brits but no Americans on your Great War Centenary walk. The numbers are the runes. And they’re easy to read.


You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks podcast. Emanating from –

home of London Walks,

London’s signature

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.

Bears repeating:

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

distinguished professionals:

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 Aristocracy of Talent – its 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, a former Museum of London archaeologist, historians,

university professors (one of them a distinguished Cambridge University paleontologist); it includes

criminal defence lawyers,

Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre 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.

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