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.

Thursday, March 15, 2018


I’ve been seeing articles much like the one below for pretty much all my adult life.  Yes, high heels are sexy, yes most men like to see women in high heels, yes quite a lot of women like wearing high heels, but we know that they’re bad and wrong, unhealthy, symbols of sexual oppression and whatnot.

A stroll along Hollywood Boulevard on a Friday or Saturday evening would suggest that not every woman in town has got the memo, but obviously this isn’t really a walking issue.   Nobody wants women to walk miles in their high heels, it’s enough just to strut across the floor and perch on a bar stool.  It’s enough just to slip on the Jimmy Choos and pose around in the boudoir.  I know that human sexuality is a savage garden but even so I find it hard to believe anybody ever asked a woman to pose around the boudoir wearing sneakers.

And now as fate would have it Gal Gadot has become the new face of Rebok.  According to her Twitter feed she’s "pumped."  Apparently $10 million dollars is changing hands.

On the other hand, when Gal Gadot is at an event celebrating “the power of women,” different imperatives apply.  It's a minefield, isn't it?

Sunday, March 11, 2018


When I first read The Big Sleep back in England, back in the day, I must certainly have read the passage below, but just as certainly I must have skimmed over the term "porte-cochere."  As follows:

     “There was dim light behind narrow leaded panes in the side door of the Sternwood mansion. I stopped the Packard under the porte-cochere and emptied my pockets out on the seat. The girl snored in the corner, her hat tilted rakishly over her nose, her hands hanging limp in the folds of the raincoat. I got out and rang the bell. Steps came slowly, as if from a long dreary distance. The door opened and the straight, silvery butler looked out at me.” 
(“Silvery butler” is just stupendous, isn’t it?)

When I moved to Los Angeles I reread the Chandler novels and I remember it was time to get serious, and so I looked up porte-cochere.    Merriam Webster offers two definitions:
     1: a passageway through a building or screen wall designed to let vehicles pass from the street to an interior courtyard 
    2: a roofed structure extending from the entrance of a building over an adjacent driveway and sheltering those getting in or out of vehicles.

      I guess it's an American thing, and I think the latter is more common - you’ll find version at thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of American motels.  However if, as many people think, the Sternwood Mansion is based on the Greystone Mansion (aka the Doheny estate), then it’s more likely to be the former, though of course the two things aren’t mutually exclusive.  Here’s the porte-cochere at Greystone, through which I have walked:

I’d have thought the term was fairly rare in British architecture although Wikipedia offers this image of the one at Nottingham station - though I'm not at all sure that anybody in England would refer to it by that name:

You know, off hand, I can’t tell you whether a porte-cochere appears in the Bogart movie of The Big Sleep, but anyway, here’s a picture of Martha Vickers – the snoring girl, here fully awake, with the silvery butler in the background.

     So, the reason I mention this now is because the other day I was walking in the edgelands of Beverly Hills where, compared to the rest of LA, there isn’t so very much building and redevelopment going on.  But there was one lot where a house had been demolished and a new one was being built.  And there was this sign on the fence describing the project as a “NEW 2 STORY SFR WITH PORTE COCHERE” (SFR stands for “single family residential” – keeps out the riff-raff).

I knew I was out of my comfort zone, and I'm also pretty sure you'd have to go a very, very long way in England before you saw a sign like that.


I have, by degrees, and by default, become a cat person.  This surprises me a bit.  When I was a kid I desperately wanted a dog but my parents thought I wasn’t ready for the responsibility, and that I’d never walk it.  They were almost certainly right.

These days, however, I sometimes think it would be OK to have a dog because I could combine exercising it with my psychogeographic drifts, although in the end I think I’m still not ready for the responsibility.  And in any case, I have become a cat person.

The cat, not much of a walker.

A cat joined the household, some years ago now, and she has gradually seduced me – (and yes, there was some inappropriate touching along the way, on her part).  And once in a while I think maybe I could combine my own walking with cat walking,  with the feline striding along beside me on a leash, although I’m told this is only possible if you start when the cat is very young indeed. 

And so the other night I watched Harry and Tonto, a pretty good, if very much of its time (1974), movie about an old geezer (Art Carney who is actually playing a character much older than himself) who goes on a road trip with his cat Tonto, who indeed has a collar and a leash.  They end up on Hollywood Boulevard opposite Pickwick Books and yes, that is Larry Hagman:

Pickwick Books used to look like this on the inside:

Why can’t there be a bookshop like this in Hollywood anymore?  Well, we all know exactly why, but still …

Anyway it so happens I’ve had the above picture of Cary Grant sitting on my desktop for quite a while now. I read the street names, and realized that location is just round the corner from where I go to see my doctor.  In fact when I go to see him I always take a stroll around the neighborhood to calm myself before the appointment.  So last week when I went for another check up I decide to drift along to Swall and Charleville and try to find the corner where old Cary and his cat did their walking.  How hard could it be?

Finding the crossroads was no problem, but it was hard even to tell which corner Cary had been on.  There were some obvious changes - the streets signs and their poles had been replaced, and some had apparently gone completely, the mail box had gone, hedges had grown up everywhere, and I could see no sign of the house. 

I thought the chimney  and those arches in the Cary Grant picture would have been the give away, but I couldn’t see them either.  I was starting to think the house must have been demolished and replaced but then something clicked.

A wall had been built in front of the arches, the chimney was still there but it had been modified and was lost in the trees, but that front door, that window with the bars - not identical - but then 60 years have gone by - but I'm prepared to bet that’s the house old Cary and his (or somebody else’s) cat had walked in front of, possibly only for that one photograph. 

I can’t find any hard evidence that he lived there, or even in the neighborhood, so I guess he was probably there just for a photo op.

And then, much belatedly, it occurred to me that maybe the picture is an ironic take on his appearance in Bringing Up Baby,  but I don’t have any hard evidence for that either.

Thursday, March 1, 2018


One of the smaller regrets in my life is that when I was unemployed in Sheffield in the 1980s I turned down the chance to become an apprentice dry stone waller.  How very different life might have been.   Maybe – and I realize this is very, very unlikely – I could have ended up as land artist in the mold of Andy Goldsworthy.

There’s a new documentary about him, titled Leaning Into the Wind, and in the trailer he says, “There are two ways of looking at the world.  You can walk down the path, or you can walk through the hedge.”

Does anybody still use that phrase “dragged through a hedge backwards”?  My mother used to say it about me when I was looking particularly disheveled, but as I used to point out, if you’re pulled through a hedge backwards you’re going to look rather better than if you’re pulled through it forwards.

Andy Goldsworthy has something in common with walking artists like Richard Long and Hamish Fulton, but as far as I can tell he doesn’t really use walking as part of his practice.  However, since he’s usually working outdoors, making site specific sculptures, then I suppose he must do a certain amount of walking to get to and from the sites.  The piece below at Storm King, titled Storm King Wall is a length of dry stone walling that runs to 2,278 feet, so a certain amount of walking is required just to get from one end of it to the other.

Actually it’s not even that simple – the wall disappears, as it were, into water and emerges on the other side, so unless you can walk on water a detour is involved.

I’ve also walked around a Goldsworthy in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, this one, called Hanging Trees:  

I know I also saw his Garden of Stones at The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York but as far as I can remember, at the time I went there you weren’t allowed to walk in it.  

The image below on the museum website suggests you can walk there now, though obviously not very far.

As far as I can see, there's an absence both of paths and hedges.