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.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

SAM'S WALKING WISDOM


"And having heard, or more probably read somewhere, in the days when I thought I would be well advised to educate myself, or amuse myself, or stupefy myself, or kill time, that when a man in a forest thinks he is going forward in a straight line, in reality he is going in a circle, I did my best to go in a circle, hoping in this way to go in a straight line. For I stopped being half-witted and became sly, whenever I took the trouble. And my head was a storehouse of useful knowledge. And if I did not go in a rigorously straight line, with my system of going in a circle, at least I did not go in a circle, and that was something. And by going on doing this, day after day, and night after night, I looked forward to getting out of the forest, some day."
                                                                                                           Molloy, Samuel Beckett

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

OF WALKING AND WRAPPING


The days have been hot – pushing 90 degrees – and it’s been humid (that’s known as “monsoonal moisture” in these parts), but I’ve been walking because it’s what I do.  And of course I’ve been doing it early-ish or late-ish in the day to avoid the worst of the heat, and I’ve been walking more or less in the neighborhood, although trying to head for those streets that, for one reason or another, I never usually walk down. 

It must be a few years since I walked past the garden below, with its blue glass decorations.  It’s right alongside the street, and most of those bottles and vases are just a stone’s throw away, and yet they remain intact. This seems a reason to be cheerful.


They’ve been trimming – pollarding, I suppose is the word - the trees in parts of the neighborhood – a huge operation, big trucks, a big crew, a big mess, especially when it comes to the ficus trees – a job that needs doing, and it doesn’t do the trees any harm, they'll be back just as big next year, but of course it does mean there are certain sidewalks where you can’t walk at all.  And it must be said that the guys on the crew, while by no means hostile, didn’t look very cheerful:  maybe it’s the heat, and maybe the one below just doesn’t like being photographed.


Now, I don’t know much about the school system in Los Angeles.  Some people say it’s a disaster, some people send their kids to public schools (which means exactly the opposite in the States than it does in Britain) and they say they’re fine.  Even so, this sign warning drivers that there’s a school nearby, may be a symbol that not everything is absolutely as it should be.


Of course you can’t (and shouldn’t) walk in LA without being aware of the traffic.  Mostly it’s about avoidance, and yet my inner motorhead never quite gives up, and when I see a truck like this one, my heart does leap just a little.


And you know, I’m always fascinated by the wrapped cars of Los Angeles that I see when I’m walking.  I know there are wrapped cars in plenty of other places but I’ve never seen so many as here, and I’m never sure whether it’s for protection from the sun or to dissuade low-lifes from running a screwdriver along your paintwork, not that one precludes the other. Sometimes it’s a full cover:


Sometimes just half:


But how about this one, gift-wrapped, padded, in disguise:


As you can probably work out, this is some some kind of forthcoming model from one of the big manufacturers, being secretly road-tested.  Of course, a cynic might think that under the disguise there’s going to be some big, ugly, penis-substitute of a pickup truck, essentially no different from any of the other monsters on the roads.  My inner motorhead can be pretty cynical.

And of course, the Los Angeles housing crisis rumbles on, and here’s one feller who’s found a temporary solution:


It looks like one of those “forts” that kids build in their grandparents’ back yards, although since the guy was passed out and there was “drug paraphernalia” visible on the mattress, the phrase “not in my back yard” sprang rather readily to mind.



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

HUNKERING HOME

Mention of Hull brings us pretty much inevitably to Phillip Larkin.  There’s the Larkin Trail in Hull these days, in three sections, only two of them easily walkable.  The Website says,  "To follow in Larkin's tracks is to take not only a literary journey, but also journeys through diverse landscapes and rich architecture and, seeing the city through a poet's eyes, to gain a philosophical view of the place where Larkin lived and worked for three decades."


 There’s also the above statue, by Martin Jennings, of Larkin in Hull station.  It’s supposedly inspired by Larkin’s poem “The Whitsun Weddings” so I suppose he’s hurrying to leave Hull, which may or may not be significant.

Walking crops up fairly often in Larkin’s works, but it’s seldom, if ever, a joyous or uncomplicated subject for Larkin, but then what is?  Generally it’s a marker for something much bigger that itself. This line from “New Year Poem” – “From roads where men go home I walk apart” – which somehow reminds of the line Sheldon Cooper says in The Big Bang Theory – “Like the proverbial cheese, I stand alone”

There’s this from “Poetry of Departure”
So to hear it said
He walked out on the whole crowd
Leaves me flushed and stirred,
Like Then she undid her dress
Or Take that you bastard;


And there’s this from “Dockery and Son” which I suppose is, in part, a railway poem:
I fell asleep, waking at the fumes
And furnace-glares of Sheffield, where I changed,
And ate an awful pie, and walked along
The platform to its end
*
And there’s this from a wonderfully gloomy letter from to his lover, Monica Jones, “I seem to walk on a transparent surface and see beneath me all the bones and wrecks and tentacles that will eventually claim me: in other words, old age, incapacity, loneliness, death of others & myself...”

Larkin and Jones

But for many in Hull, and possibly elsewhere as well, Larkin may be most famous for the poem “Toads.”  The toad is initially the poet’s daily work which squats upon him but in the end he decides

… something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,

Now, hunker is an interesting word.  It’s a synonym for the haunch, of course, so to hunker down is to squat on your haunches, which is in keeping with the sense of the poem.  But, if online dictionaries are to be believed, hunkering is also a synonym for walking, as in: “Slang: to lumber along; walk or move slowly or aimlessly.”
Was Larkin aware of this?   Who knows?  Poets are tricky people when it comes to the overtones and undertones of language. 


Nor can we be absolutely sure how Larkin would have felt about the celebration in his nameLarkin with Toads, Hull’s largest ever public art project.”  Originally set up in 2010 it was revived in 2015 and featured 40 extra large “artist-decorated” (how long have you got to pick the bones out of that one?) fiberglass toads positioned in and around the city.  
They formed a “walking trail” of course.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

TOWARDS THE DOOR WE NEVER OPENED


Since I’ve been thinking about walking in gardens, I inevitably thought about walking in parks, which inevitably meant I returned to Travis Elborough’s book A Walk in the Park  – now out in paperback - and I find this passage:
“There are few sights in England that can quite equal the absurd charm of the imitation Khyber Pass in Hull’s East Park. This slice of South Asia in the East Riding sits just a short stroll away from an animal house that is home to alpacas from Peru and a lake where oversized swan pedalo boats bob about. The park was planned and opened to honour Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 and the pass was dreamed up by its supervisor Edward Peak and fashioned in artificial rock and material foraged from the Hull Citadel, an old fort that had once defended the town’s port.”


Now it so happens that I know a couple of people with Hull connections and they were familiar with East Park, and had even been walking there, but perhaps inevitably they’d never heard of this Khyber Pass replica, despite the presence in the park of this informative sign:


I think you’d have to say that as replicas go it’s not the most faithful recreation you’ve ever seen, especially since it involved the copy of an Arab doorway from Zanzibar, which doesn't seem to have a whole lot to do with the Khyber Pass.


The actual Khyber Pass looked like this back then,


And it looks like this now:


And I began to wonder how easy it would be to walk through dislocated or simulated geographical features of the world.  The boundary wall of Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester has been in the news lately - a Brutalist bit of concrete that locals refer to as the Berlin Wall.  It doesn’t look so bad to me but it’s apparently “much hated” by locals, and the news is that there are now plans to demolish it.


There used to be the Garden of Allah here in Los Angeles, though not a garden at all, but a hotel on Sunset Boulevard run by one Alla Nazimova (real name Adelaida Yakovlevna Leventon), and occasional home to the likes of Errol Flynn, Dorothy Parker, Scott Fitzgerald et al.  It was demolished in 1959, but a replica has been being built at Universal Studios, Florida, and is used as a media center.


There is also the Garden of Gethsemane in Tucson, which contains sculptures of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion which (unless my biblical knowledge is even sketchier than I think it is) did not take place in said garden.



The “real” Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem (its original location is disputed, so this may itself be a replica)  looks like this:


There’s also London Bridge in Havasu City, Arizona, which Mr. Elborough has written about at length, but that’s a transplant of the thing itself, not a replica.  The Shoreline walking trail will take you right under it, through Rotary Park.



So I emailed young Elborough and asked him if he thought there was any meaningful distinction to be drawn between what constitutes a park and what constitutes a garden.  He offered this, “I think more generally public gardens tended be bequests of existing private gardens - though not always - and usually smaller and horticultural, lacking sports fields etc. but god knows!”  That’s good enough for me, for now.