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.
Showing posts with label Iain Sinclair. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Iain Sinclair. Show all posts

Monday, September 18, 2017


The Guardian on Saturday had a piece headlined “Iain Sinclair’s Farewell to London,” an extract from his book The Last London.  I assume Sinclair had no input on that headline and it doesn’t really fit the article below it.  A sub headline reads “after 50 years Iain Sinclair has lost his compulsion to write about the city.”  But of course, even saying that you no longer feel compiled to write about a place may be a form of writing about a city, and this is pretty much what he does.

Sinclair has always been a world-class complainer and that certainly hasn’t stopped.  Here he describes the anti-attractions of London: “Metropolitan hustlers, the monad of scurrying, dawn athletes coming out of their pristine, new-build, railside apartments, hitting the street like a treadmill, do not see the benched Buddhas. They are inoculated against empathy. Outpourings of public emotion are reserved for horrible media catastrophes: outrages on London bridges, underfunded and irresponsibly provided tower blocks that become crematorium chimneys, stealing the lives of the unregistered who live alongside stuccoed ghost terraces occupied by rumours of remote speculators.”
        Seems to me like he’s writing about London, whether he’s “compelled to” or not.

Those who are interested in these things have known for a long time that he has a place in Hastings, and in the piece he describes an encounter he has there with a homeless man who mistakes Sinclair for one of his own tribe:  “I was on the street. Was it the clothes, the tilt in my walk? Another grizzled prospector for small brown coins gummed to tarmac. Did he sense that I had lost my project? That I was rambling without purpose, burdened with too many convenience-store bags?”  No point asking I suppose.

         Sinclair quotes a very nice line from William Burroughs, “A long time ago but not too far to walk.”  This sent me digging around in Last Words, The Final Journals of William S Burroughs in which this appears, along with one or two other mentions of walking: “I carry a .38 snubbie on my premises, at my belt at all times.  I leave the door open.  Someone walks in with something in mind, he won’t walk away.”
The stuff of good noir fiction, right?  And how very different Bill’s life had been if he’d kept his taste for gunplay inside the covers of a book.

And I did I find the above photograph of Burroughs walking with Kurt Cobain - I bet there was some sparkling conversation that day – perhaps some talk of guns.  For what it’s worth, I think the Burroughs/Cobain collaboration The “Priest” They Called Him - Burroughs reads, Cobain makes glorious guitar noise - is about as good as “spoken word with music” ever gets.

Returning to Sinclair’s piece there’s another very fine phrase that I know is going to stick with me, he talks of “professional entropy tourists.”  I suspect we’re all entropy tourists these days, though some of us are more amateur than others.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


The issue before last of the London Review of Books contained a piece by Iain Sinclair, titled “The Last London.”

Iain isn’t happy about the current state of London, which comes as no great surprise: is anybody?  However, even walking alongs the canals of East London can be a source of distress.  He writes,  
        “Between Victoria Park, the first of the parks opened for the people, and Broadway Market, worlds collide. Two young mothers were texting and being yapped at by older kids, while the youngest child circled on her scooter. There’s a gentle slope down to the canal and the scooter picked up momentum, until the child disappeared over the edge, between two narrowboats, straight into the water. Fortunately, a morning cyclist was stepping ashore. He grabbed the child by the hair. All was well. A little further down the canal, where the path goes under a railway bridge, the mad pumping rush of the peloton swooped through – and a guy on one of those very thin-wheeled bikes was nudged into the soup. Right under, gasping and choking, still in the saddle. I helped to pull him out.”

This did sound a bit action-packed for a Sinclair drift, but I didn’t hold Sinclair personally responsible.   However, at least one reader sort of did.  A letter duly appeared in the subsequent issue of the LRB, from Giacinto Palmieri, London E2, who writes:
“Like Iain Sinclair, I too walk on the canal path between Victoria Park and Broadway Market, but in many years of doing so I’ve never seen anybody fall into the canal. Sinclair, on the other hand, reports witnessing two such episodes, apparently within a short interval of time. Correlation doesn’t entail causation, but I can’t help asking whether these incidents might be correlated with the presence of a psychogeographer wandering dreamily in search of evocative connections in the middle of the path.”
Psychogeography, it's always trouble.

      It’s hard to think of canals and east London without also thinking about Lee Rourke’s novel The Canal.  Walking seems to be start of all the troubles in that book. 
I simply awoke one morning and decided, rather than walk to work as normal I’d walk to the canal instead.”
The hero sees and experiences all sorts or horrible things canalside, although admittedly the worst of them happen when he stops walking and sits on a bench where he’s menaced by The Pack Crew, a very bad lot.  They throw somebody’s motor scooter into the water, assault his girlfriend, and also try to kill swans with a bow and arrow.  Yep, canals can be mythical places.

Here in Los Angeles I’m not sure we even have "real" canals.  They exist in Venice, but Venice isn’t really Los Angeles, and the canals aren't really canals.  Here’s something – definitely not a canal, could be an aqueduct, could be a concrete creek – in Culver City, which I thought was worth a picture:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


 Sometimes a man sits at stool in his house in Hollywood, and reaches out for a book, more or less at random, which he hopes will deliver some walking inspiration.  And so I reached out and picked up my copy of Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge (To be honest I’m not absolutely sure where one ends and the other begins) and opened it, more or less at random.

My eyes fell immediately on this paragraph:

“One of my proposed companions for the night walk did not escape the word of the pyramid either; was opened to receive the appropriate message.  He got a varicose vein on the male member.”

Leon Kossof
Hard to beat a passage like that.  I closed the book and finished my paperwork.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


I’ve been reading an advance copy of Iain Sinclair’s London Overground, an account of a one-day, fourteen hour walk around what’s now widely referred to as the Ginger Like – a circular (or at least more or less joined up) rail network around the middle distance suburbs of Greater  London, places like Rotherhithe, Peckham Rye, West Brompton; all places I’ve been to, but seldom more than once.

Sinclair walks with the engagingly eccentric film maker Andrew Kötting– a man who sounds more fun to read about (or write about) than actually to walking with, but a great character to have in your book.  They enter a “fancy junk shop” in Lavender Hill where Kötting describes Sinclair for the benefit of the shop owner:
“This man’s sources are innumerable.  His erudition is profound.  And truth to tell, a mite tedious.”
Of course it’s Sinclair reporting these words and possibly putting them in Kötting’s mouth; pretty funny either way.

Kötting buys a copy of Bruce Chatwin’s What Am I Doing Here?.  (Sinclair puts in a question mark, the book itself doesn't). Sinclair flips through and finds the quotation “Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road and how life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.” Sinclair says, “I thought the capitalization or ‘Road’ was a little pretentious.”

I’d say my objection was to “life itself is a journey.”   I’d have thought Bruce could have done better than that.