Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Meanwhile, down on Hollywood Boulevard, some folks still seem more woke than others.

Monday, February 19, 2018


Photo by Carline Gannon


I was in Bristol, in England, and I walked from the station to a place called the Paintworks – a new “creative quarter” if the website is to be believed. 

Not much of a walk, scarcely more than a mile, though it was cold and damp, and I did walk the same route back again, but long enough to get shouted at by a bicyclist – true I was walking in a cycle lane -  and to see some ruin in the distance:

And some more ruin close up – I do have a bit of a thing for obelisks, ruined or otherwise:

And especially there was time to see a couple of quirky depictions of walkers painted on the ground – the saintly fellow at the top of this post and this one carrying a ladder:

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make you think you’ve had a decent walk.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


I was in London for one reason or another.  There had been a plan to go for a walk with Iain Sinclair but that fell through because, as he put it, “I did some damage a while back, jumping out of the way of a sudden-turning taxi. All was well. But after coming back from the Hebrides, some of the calf problems returned on London pavements. I need to take a break - and, if possible, see a wonder worker.”  No arguing with that.

And of course I walked anyway, sometimes on my own, sometimes with one or two others, and I looked around, took pictures, and at times observed my fellow pedestrians, most of them just walking as part of their everyday lives and business, others perhaps on some kind of drift or specialized walking project – you can’t always tell with these things, although I did see one or two groups of tourists who were being herded around on organized walking tours – they tended to look simply bemused.

I had the sense in central London of walking around a giant building site, that will become a post-Brexit, giant architectural theme park.  There are cranes and scaffolding everywhere.  And this is in one sense exciting – new forms and new possibilities are coming into being.  There’s an optimism, a confidence, a belief that the city does have some kind of future, even if an uncertain and contested one.

On the other hand, most of us will only ever walk past these glossy new architectural constructions.  They really don’t involve or embrace the “average” Londoner, whatever that is.  We are certainly never likely to live in any of the new super luxury flats.  And I suppose you could argue that this has always been the way of things , as true of Centre Point as of Buckingham Palace: you walk past, you see the exterior, you know in broad terms what you’re looking at, but you don’t get invited inside.  Nobody’s building any people’s palaces.

     Where there’s change there’s also decay.  There was a short period of my life when I worked as a gallery attendant at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank, and every day I’d walk out of Waterloo station and go into a kind of pedestrian tunnel/bridge that ran through the Shell Centre.  

The building is still there, and a little research reveals that it’s still owned by Shell, though I couldn’t see any external sign to that effect.  

But whereas it once looked like a smart, if slightly old-fashioned, 1950s office block, it now looks in significant decline.  Of course some of us enjoy a good bit of significant decline.

And I suppose street art flourishes in these times of transition.  When buildings are being built or demolished, when there are hoardings around them, people don’t get too upset about works of art painted on boards or abandoned walls, although presumably once the sparkling new architectural masterpieces are finished the artists are going to be way less welcome. 

And it may just be me, but I got the feeling there was something a bit last millennium about London’s street art.  I mean Banksy is obviously a good guy, but does his art really need to be protected by large sheets of Perspex?  Isn’t street art meant to be transient and at the mercy of the elements, human and otherwise?  And do I really need to be able to buy a Banksy in an art gallery in the spruced up Shipping Container House?  Well no, I do not and I wouldn’t be able to afford one even if I did.

         On the other hand, it’s hard to walk down Goodge Street and not be somehow moved and uplifted by this depiction of Theresa May, not by Banksy as far as I know, and not under Perspex either.

Thursday, January 25, 2018


As you see, from the above communication, I have been rejected by Nike.  I applied to be a shoe tester.  I filled in a form.  I answered the questions.  I told the truth where I thought that would be an advantage, and told lies when I thought that would.  But it has come to nothing. I have been weighed and found wanting. I shall have to continue to pay for my own shoes.

Why did I apply to become a shoe tester?  Because I just finished reading a novel by Wilhlem Genazino titled The Shoe Tester of Frankfurt.  It’s a good book in which our hero wanders the city having deep thoughts, many of them about women, and all the time wearing shoes that he’s testing for a company.  Eventually he gets screwed over by the company: they offer less money and worse terms, and he’s reduced to selling the shoes he’s tested at a street market.  In fact the lads currently in charge at Nike didn’t offer any payment whatsoever, and if I’d been accepted I’d have had to return the shoes once I’d tested them, at my own expense, so it wasn’t the very best deal in the world. I just wanted to be part of a literary tradition. 

As you see above, the jacket design for The Shoe Tester of Frankfurt, incorporates images by Eadweard Muybridge, this one titled “Plate 49 – Clothed Male Walking, Turning Around Rapidly, Satchel in One Hand, Cane in Other.” 

You might think that’s a rather unnecessarily full description and you might wonder why anybody would bother to specify that he was clothed.  Well, the fact is Muybridge made a total of 781 plates – quite a few of animals of course including horses, and five just of  hands – but most of them show people in motion, a few of them walking.  This is  plate one:

Now Muybridge obviously knew his market. However scientific and artistic his photographs, he realized that the human body is a lot more compelling when it’s naked than when it’s clothed.  Out of that total of 781, 133 are of nude men, 62 of women “in transparent drapery and semi-nude,” 180 of women completely nude and, it being a different era, 15 plates of nude children.  And the appeal of nudity certainly applies when it comes to descending a staircase.

It’s hard to imagine that Duchamp would have been quite as inspired by this image:

as he obviously was by this one:

In any case, a Muybridge image is a very fine thing to have on the jacket of your novel about walking.

      Incidentally, Wilhlem Genazino is also the author of a novel titled Die Obdachlosigkeit der Fische, which (I believe) translates as The Homelessness of Fish,  although as far as I can see there’s no edition in English.  I can’t absolutely swear what it’s about, and Wikipedia with Microsoft translator is only a partial help: “The Osprey, the stability through phone book and the sheep are described in sometimes unexpected twists - of the sheep in the field of view are for example ‘appalling taste kotete buttocks.’”

Yes, that is Bettie Page on the front cover, and as discussed elsewhere in this blog Bettie was a woman who knew how to walk, especially in high heels.  What she has to do with the homelessness of fish I don’t know.   In any case, a Bettie Page image is a very fine thing to have on the jacket of your novel, although it might raise expectations the author couldn’t possibly fulfill.