Express & Star

Toby Neal: Finding a use for London buses and other useless stats

Every newsroom worth its salt used to have a virtual fleet of London buses, along with a full-sized replica of Nelson's Column, together with a football pitch of FA-approved dimensions.

A man with a shovel cleans the Strand of slush in London following a fierce blizzard, which has swept snow across the country..

They were tools to help journalists get over to readers just how big, tall, wide, or whatever, something was.

So a new ship might be the length of so-and-so London buses, a skyscraper might be the height of 20 Nelson's Columns, and a solar "farm" would be described as being the same size as, say, 50 football pitches.

Times change, and the London buses now seem to be rusting away quietly and Nelson's Column lies increasingly unused and soiled by the predations of the virtual pigeons, although the football pitches have not yet reached obsolescence and do get trotted out from time to time.

Nevertheless a window of opportunity has arisen to find new imagery to help readers grasp the scale of the information being laid before them.

Let's start with the national debt. If Doctor Who was to jump in the Tardis, and travel back in time one year for every pound of the UK national debt, what era would our favourite Time Lord find himself (or herself, depending on his/her incarnation at the relevant time) journeying back to?

He, or she, would whizz past the age of the dinosaurs, hurtle beyond the beginning of life on Earth, and to the time of the Big Bang – and still the journey would be nowhere, nowhere, near complete.

That's because the national debt is £2,500 billion. The Big Bang was a mere 13.8 billion years ago.