Many people will associate Phileas Fogg with an innovative brand of potato crisps. Others will know that he was the wealthy, eccentric and unflappable forty-year old Englishman who travelled around the world in eighty days. Unperturbed by an array of challenges along the way, he covered the 23,739 miles by steamboat, railroad, elephant and a sail-powered sledge. Of course, Phileas Fogg was only a fictional character in Jules Verne's geographic travel-log novel which had been inspired by the recent completion in 1869-70 of three history-defining infrastructure projects; the trans-continental railroads in both the US and India, and the opening of the Suez Canal. Perhaps the 'powers-that-be' for London's seventy-three mile Crossrail project might note that, despite labour problems and an outbreak of cholera, it took just ten years to construct the 120 mile-long Suez Canal, and just six years to build the circa 1,776 mile railroad that linked the Pacific coast with the established US Eastern rail network. When is Crossrail now scheduled for completion? The Weekly will keep you posted!
With the rate of inflation over the past 146 years averaging 3.3% per annum, Mr Fogg's £20,000 wager with his pals at the Reform Club would now amount to £2.31 million. But what about his residence at 7 Savile Row? Firstly, sixteen years earlier, in 1857, he would have been obliged to have added a 'W' (West) to his London postal address. This appendage was intended to assist the posties who were having to deal with approximately 100 million postal deliveries in London each year. He would then have had to have reached his eighty-fifth birthday (1917) to see the addition of the number 1 and have beaten Jeanne Calment’s verifiable life-span record of 122 years 164 days by five years (1957) to see the full six-digit post code introduced.
Savile Row was built between 1731 and 1735, as part of the Burlington Estate on land that had previously consisted mainly of fruit and other trees. It was a fashionable address favoured by military officers and their wives, as well as politicians. The first tailor arrived in 1803 after which the frontages were opened-up to allow in natural light into their working areas. 7 Savile Row now comprises a mixture of post-war offices and retail with the ground floor leased to the Queen’s dressmaker, Hardy Amies. Phileas would have been very happy indeed with that… if not with the replacement building’s rather bland architecture!
On this exact day (5 May) in 1864, the intrepid Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, better known under her pen name of Nellie Bly, was born. She is best known in 1888-89 for beating the fictional Mr Fogg’s record. Travelling alone at the tender age of twenty-four, she circumnavigated the globe in an awe-inspiring seventy-two days. Seventy-two days? Let's put that into context.
Firstly, seventy-two days ago on 22 February, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, complained that he was suffering from Brexit fatigue. Really? Poor darling!
And, in seventy-two days’ time it will be UN World Population Day when we are asked to focus on the urgency of population issues. Here are a couple of anecdotes just to get you thinking ahead of the big day:
When Nellie Bly circumnavigated the globe in 1888-89, the world’s population was estimated at 1.4 billion. It is currently 7.7 billion and the UN projects it will increase to 9.8 billion by 2050.
In 1888-89, London was the largest city in the world with a population of 5.5 million. It is now 8.7 million and is only the twenty-seventh largest city in the world. Shanghai is the largest city with a population of 24.1 million.
Also, in seventy-two days’ time on 11 July, at the end of the second ICC World Cup semi-final, at Edgbaston, it will be decided which of the other nine teams that have battled it out since 30 May, will meet England in the final at Lord’s on 14 July! Come on! Surely, we are allowed to dream a bit, aren’t we?