My friend Bruno from Experian, the database-crunching Leviathan in Nottingham, got in touch. He'd been churning his databanks on MT's behalf and was aching to share the results with me. Experian is a British-made information company - a subsidiary of Great Universal Stores - that turns over pounds 1 billion and has fingers in all sorts of pie-charts, from credit-card checking and fraud prevention to marketing lists and business information.
Bruno has the alpha and omega of the way we live now at his fingertips, from the size of our houses right down to the colour of our socks. Working on omniscient and penetrating databases, he can click from micro-studies of garden-gnome collections in Wilmslow to broad socio-economic sweeps of the queendom.
Keeping shy of the Data Protection Act, he can mine and sift teeming rosters of consumer research, picking out dozens of pre-delineated social types, 'clever capitalists', 'chattering classes', 'stylish singles' and so on. He can merge and re-stack the information, blast randomly accessed data at it, watch the whole lot explode into smithereens, then pluck from the rubble the statistical gem he's seeking. Who needs this information?
'Lots of people,' he smiles. 'Never underestimate the power of ordinary people, especially in large groups. We help businesses make decisions.'
What, like put Pret a Manger into service stations in north Wales? 'We'll find out if it stacks up.' Roll out Yo! Sushi west of Plymouth? 'We'll run the numbers.' Mailshot Surbiton with the latest stunning pet-food discount? 'Ha! Pet foods are my bread and butter.' Cars too. 'I've been comparing ownership of red-coloured automobiles radiating outwards in concentric circles from Old Trafford. Fascinating. I can name the Trabant capital of Britain.'
Property transactions are a big line. He can correlate house prices to school exam results, to the likelihood of flooding, the tides of local employment and crime. He can spot the densest concentrations of millionaires in postal sectors with electoral rolls greater than 1,500: Loudwater in Watford comes top with 454 in a population of 2,871 (15.8%); Effingham in Kingston-upon-Thames second with 387 out of 3,348 (11.5%), then Radlett in Hertfordshire (11.3%) and so on. Bruno can pinpoint the hot spots of the past 12 months: North Stifford in Essex, where one in four households changed hands. And cold spots with zero sales: parts of inner-city Leicester, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool.
Ever since 1998, he told me, company directors have been stampeding out of Muswell Hill, Hornsey, Kensington and Richmond and heading for 'up-and-coming' areas like Brixton, followed by Peckham, East Ham, Fazakerley, Bangor, Tottenham, Selby and Llansamlet. 'Take Brixton,' he says. 'It's pupating from crack-dealer hell to yuppie central. Company directors as a percentage of the electorate have soared by 35%. In Muswell Hill, directors have slumped from 9.6% of the electorate down to 8.4%, a decline of 11.9%.' The other place attracting directors is the Orkneys. Bruno is unsure why. Maybe one went on holiday there.
'This shows two things,' says Bruno. 'Directors are going rural. The Orkneys are the extreme, but Scotland and Shropshire are showing large influxes. That may indicate directors working from home or setting up companies in rural areas, taking advantage of technology and communications.' Or it could mean they know something we don't, I surmise, mindful of terrorist threats.
'Not really, because the second point is that directors are also moving into areas of social deprivation, like Wythenshawe in Manchester, former crime black spots. In London, the criss-crossing herds of directors may indicate new areas being opened up. Who knows? Respectability could beckon for the Peckhams and New Crosses of this world. Extrapolate these trends and Gordon Brown's strategy of urban regeneration may look like bearing fruit.'
So is Peckham set to be the new Chelsea? 'Must dash,' says Bruno. 'I'm working on an important new database on cats. I'm trying to locate Britain's fattest.'