Sunday 18 February 2024

The Sunday Reflection #5 - London is a City of 9 million people, where are they all?

I was quite shocked to learn that over 9 million people live in London. I did a quick google of the population and this came up

London - Historical Population Data
YearPopulationGrowth Rate

My first thought was I wonder where they all are? According to TFL, there are 4 million tube journeys every day. My guess is that most of these are return journeys, so about 2 million of us get a tube, less than a quarter. About 200,000 of these are tourists. Then there are the buses. There are 5 million journeys a day on these. There are also a around half a million journeys on the London Overground. There are also millions commuting into London on the mainline railways, but most don't live in London. What is less clear is how many of the above journeys include multiple means of transport. If I need to get the tube, I have to take a bus to Burnt Oak. If you watch people leave Mill Hill's Thameslink station, probably half get a bus to complete their journey. Around two and a half thousand people use Mill Hill Broadway Station. According to the last census, 18,000 people live in Mill Hill, so around 12% of the population jump on a train every day. 

The London Cycling Camapign estmates that 155,000 cycle to work every day, which is roughly 2% of Londoners. As for walking, there are around six million journeys a day. Given that every bus, tube and train journey has a walking element, made me think. Does that mean that three and a half million Londoners never go out? What do they do?

Yesterday, I had a wonderfful day. I joined around 200 other revellers on a Ska Cruise on the River Thames. We do this quite regularly, as my company sponsors the London International Ska Festival.  I always find that travelling on the river makes me feel connected with London in a way nothing else quite does. We always spot landmarks and get excited as we pass pubs that we like on the river, such as The Gun at Greenwich and the Prospect of Whitby. We always have the same conversation about how we must do a 'river pub crawl' of them all. I also love seeing the various places I worked at that overlooked the river. I was privileged. I had river facing offices when I worked for BT at Baynard House, at Blackfriars, and also at tother companies, including Trinity Tower at St Katheryns Dock (a spectacular view of Tower Bridge), a wonderful view of St Pauls and The Shard at Red Lion Court on Park St, by London Bridge, and one of London's most famous landmarks at 60 Victoria Embankment, which is one of the building on the old Thames TV opening credits. 

It was the old City of London School. which is the building to the left of Big Ben on the credits. The front of Trinity Tower was used in the opening sequence for the cult comedy "The IT Crowd" and Uma Thurman was also spotted filming in the building next door, which was empty at the time, sadly I can't recall the film. When I worked at Trinity Tower, we'd often go for elevensies at a nice coffee shop in St Kaythryns Dock, and on one occasion we saw an episode of "Life on Mars" being filmed. It was before it came out, so we had no idea who Gene Hunt was. I mention this, because like me, you may be a tad surprised that it was possible to film in such a busy location, in the middle of the day. In truth though, much of London is not as busy as you think. The reason we chose the coffee bar for elevensies was because it was quiet.

Which brings me back to the point of this reflection. Where are all of the people. It appears that three million don't venture out at all. But for even those who do, where do they go and what do they do?

I was reading an old blog about the development of the National Institute for Medical Research Development earlier in the week. When Sadiq Khan passed this, he reduced the number of parking spaces. Given that the 240 bus was already overcrowded and the nearest tube station involves a mile long schlep up/down a massive hill, I wondered whether the new residents would live on Deliveroo deliveries (other delivery services are available) and work from home in a hermit like existence. I am now starting to wonder if 3.5 million Londoners are living such an existence? 

Which made me ask myself. "The reason to live in London is becaise there is so much going on. It is expensive and noisy, why would you live in London if you don't go out?". I walk up and down Mill Hill Broadway every day. I am inquisitive by nature, so I always check out how busy the restaurants are. I also often go to the local pubs. As mentioned above, there are 18,000 people living in Mill Hill, but on any given evening I doubt more than 5% of them are out and about in Mill Hill. I'd guestimate that if you took all the pubs, bars, restaurants in Mill Hill on a Saturday night, there would be less than 1,000 people out and about. Perhaps the busiest and best restaurant in Mill Hill is the Good Earth. It always appears to me that most of it's clientelle are from far and wide. Of course, many people will go out in Town, but even then, the Thameslink ridership figures indicate it is a small percentage of Mill Hill residents. I am using Mill Hill as an example, as I know this area. Is this repeated across the Capital.

Having said all of that, I regularly meet friends in town for drinks and to eat. I've been taken aback by how busy areas of Central London are on a Thursday night. A few weeks ago, I met a mate for abeer and curry in Farringdon and it was rammed. It seems that The Elizabeth Line has made it a go to destination. They all seemed to be in their 20's and 30's and going for it on the 'enjoying themselves' front. There were far fewer people of my sort of age out.  Is this a hangover from the pandemic? Did the 40+ generation get out of the habit of going out and doing things?  I've spoken to a few people who used to be most gregarious, who now say they dislike crowds?

My main love is  live music, it is my passion. My band regularly plays gigs in places like Camden Town. We have a decent following for an unsigned band playing original music. We get ariound 100 or so people who regularly watch us at the Dublin Castle in Camden, where we have a residency. There are perhaps 200(???) grassroots music venues in London currently operating. If we are typical, then there are perhaps 20,000 people on a weekend night watching live grassroots music. In some ways this is great, as audiences are growing, but it is only 0.2 percent of London's population. If you think that when Blur played Wembley, four times that number turned out a night, it does make me wonder. It is quite a shame that the vast numbers that turn out for the mega gigs, don't turn out to support up and coming bands. 

I go to a lot of gigs. On Friday, I went to see the Mel Gaynor band (drummer from Simple Minds) at The Waterrats. He was great. Last night, after the Ska Cruise, we went to St Albans to watch a Rolling Stones tribute band at the Horn, which was packed and tonight, we'll see US rock and roll legend Sonny George at The Arts Club in West Hampstead ( a venue I've not been to before). I simply cannot understand how anyone would not want to go out and see great music. I know that not everyone has the same musical tastes as me, but there are so many options and things to choose from. 

When I started writing this series of blogs, I determined that I'd write long and at times rambling blogs, but ultimately each one would have a theme and hopefully raise a few points of interest. The theme I am most interested in here is whether there is a whole subsection of London society that is 40+ and has simply gone off going out at all? Is this the case? Did the pandemic make a bunch of us so risk averse that we'd rather stay in all the time? Is there another reason, such as 14 years of mismanagement have made us all skint and we can't afford £7 a pint? I don't know, but what I do know is that there is some great things going on. For me, the difficulty is trying to fit them all in.

Anyway, if reading this has inspired you and you fancy a nice night out, why not come and see my band, The False Dots, at The Beehive in Bow on Saturday March 23rd. We really are rather fun - get your ticket by clicking here

We are rather fun, here is an example of our work!

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