What recession?

January 28, 2011

In the last recession I worked out three measures to determine the state of the country’s economy, and how I could tell things were picking up.

The first was the number of people on public transport during the rush hour. My logic is that no-one in their right mind would travel into London during the rush hour unless they had to. And the primary reason they have to is because they have a job. The number of empty seats, or conversely the number of people standing, on the train in the morning is a good proxy for the number of people employed and therefore the state of the economy.

The second was the ease with which you could hail a taxi in London. When the economy isn’t doing so well people, both personally and professionally, economise – so fewer people use taxis and it’s easier to get one.

And the third was how far in advance you have to book a restaurant table. Obvious really.

No seats on the train

As you may have worked out from this blog, I commute into work by bike, putting my bike on the train to get into London and then cycling to my office. I have caught the 07:01 from Beaconsfield most days for over a year. 12 months ago there were two or three of us waiting to get on the train at the rear door. It was so consistent that we all actually started chatting to one another – almost unheard of for commuters in Britain. This year there are 15-20 people waiting to get on the same train.

And the train is so crowded that, although I’m not required to by the regulations, I’m considering actually folding my bike to make more room for the standing passengers – something that didn’t cross my mind a year ago.

Can you get a taxi? I can’t.

Well my test was last night. My bike broke during my ride home and it wasn’t repairable by the roadside. My consolation with a folding bike has been “well, if all else fails I can fold it and get a taxi”. Like hell I can. There were very very few empty taxis anyway. If I spotted one in the distance it got hailed before it got to me. Admittedly two just sailed past me – I guess the fluorescent jacket puts off taxi drivers from accepting me as a fare – because normally cyclists and taxi drivers are in competition for road space. But by my measure of how easy it is to get a cab, it’s hard. I ended up walking the 1.5 miles to Marylebone.

“I’m sorry Sir, did you have a reservation?”

I haven’t done any impromptu dining in London recently, other than in pubs where you don’t have to book anyway, but we do eat out from time to time – often at our local Pizza Express or the Royal Saracen’s Head. 18 months ago you had to book on Friday or Saturday, but you could walk in any other night of the week. Then Wednesdays started to require booking, and now if we don’t book in advance then there’s a good chance we’ll be turned away any night of the week.

Are these people who would previously have eaten at Danesfield House, The Hand and Flowers or the Fat Duck trading down to a cheaper local restaurant? I don’t think so. I think it’s more people just going out for a pizza (for £20 a head by the time you’ve had a drink and a starter) rather than cooking at home.

What recession?

So whatever the recently published statistics suggesting the economy may be stalling suggest – it’s certainly not stalling in London or Buckinghamshire as far as I can see.

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