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.

Saturday, July 14, 2018


I’m sure I’ve said it before, probably on this blog, that Virginia Woolf, walker though she may well have been, is not an open book to me.  Nevertheless I happened to come across a paperback copy of her A Writer’s Diary, opened it pretty much at random and immediately found this passage:
Monday October 25th, 1920
“Why is life so tragic: so like a little strip of pavement over an abyss.  I look down; I feel giddy; I wonder how I am ever to walk to the end.”

I thought that was a pretty good find. So imagine my angst on discovering that a version of that quotation is all over the interwebs, often superimposed on some cutesy New Agey background.  

Enough to make you want to walk into a river, almost. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018


I was staying in London for three weeks last month, in West Hampstead, an area where I used to live a long time ago. Even back then I considered myself a pretty good urban walker, and I certainly explored the neighborhood, but walking around there last month it seemed a very different place.  Of course, some of it was because the neighborhood has changed, gentrified I suppose you’d say, although it was never exactly the mean streets.  But maybe it’s also because I’ve become a different kind of walker, more thorough, more observant, and maybe just a little more intrepid.

Take Billy Fury Way, for instance.  Back in the day it was a scary, and I think nameless, alley running alongside the railway line from West End Lane to Finchley Road.  It looked like a place you wouldn't walk unless you wanted to take your life in your hands, and there are still reports of dodgy goings on there. In fact, dedicating the alley to Billy Fury was part of the effort to make it less scary. This happened in 2010.

It seems to me that Billy Fury, real name Ronald Wycherley, had a fairly tenuous connection to West Hampstead, even if he recorded at Decca Studios in Broadhurst Gardens. Nevertheless, a year after the name change, a mural of Billy’s face was painted on a wall at the entrance to his "way," in the hopes of encouraging the better sort of street artists to express themselves nearby.  This was a limited success.  Before too long Billy’s face was tagged and desecrated, and the powers that be painted him over, reduced the wall to a black expanse to save further embarrassment.  I’m sure it needs a lot of repainting and touching up, but at least the entrance was looking more or less unsullied when I pitched up at my digs in West Hampstead.

In my wanderings I also came across Black Path, running along the railway lines tracks in the opposite direction from Billy Fury Way.  It lived up to its name in that the walls and fences along it were painted black, and it seemed remarkably free of graffiti, though again there was plenty of evidence of repainting­ and touching up.

I also discovered Wayne Kirkum Way, the entrance to which is more or less caged, and therefore feels intimidating as much as protective.  Of course I had never heard of Wayne Kirkum but a little research revealed that he was a young lad who’d been killed on the nearby railways line.  This was some 30 years ago, and the internet is inevitably thin on detail.  Hold that thought.

After I’d been staying in West Hampstead for a while, some new, strange, and very specific tags started to appear all over the place, including the spot where Billy Fury’s face had been.  It was no longer a black expanse.

Maybe it was naive of me but I didn’t immediately read RIP as Rest In Peace, but that was certainly what it meant. In due course the story came out in the newspapers.  Three taggers – Trip, Lover, and K-Bag - had died, been hit by a train on the railway line close to Brixton station while plying their art. 

I don’t know if there’s any such think as a “typical” tagger, but these guys didn’t seem to fit the stereotype. Their names were Harrison Scott-Hood – he was Lover, Jack Gilbert was K-Bag, Alberto Carrasco was Trip.  The first two were twenty-three years old, and Trip was the son of the London correspondent for El Mundo - it turned out that he'd been at sixth form college with the daughter of a friend of mine; so not exactly the deprived bad lads from the council estate.  

It’s not hard to see the attraction of walking where you shouldn’t, of committing urban trespass, putting your tag in the riskiest, most inaccessible places.  Still, it seems rather a trivial thing to die for, which of course makes the deaths more, not less, tragic.  One can only imagine what the families are going through.

The graffiti community (for want of a better term) expressed its commiserations all over the city. The picture below was taken at 7.15 on the morning of Tuesday, June 26th.  I walked past it again at 11 am, and the graffiti had been painted over, creating another black expanse.

Sunday, June 3, 2018


“London the secular city instructs him: turn any corner and he can find himself inside a parable.”

I’ll be away in London for the next month or so, walking of course.  Don’t worry, I won’t become a stranger.

Friday, June 1, 2018


I was walking, a couple of weeks back, in Whitley Heights, or perhaps more precisely Hollywood Dell.  Whitley Heights was once a very ritzy little enclave in the Hollywood Hills, home to the likes of Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino.  Then they built the Hollywood Freeway and split the area into two - Hollywood Dell is the  name given section east and north of the freeway, though I think it still counts as Whitley Heights. 

It’s still fairly ritzy in places, a bit funky and hippyish in others. No doubt a few Hollywood types still live there but nobody with the star power of Bette Davis, I think.

One of the special “only in Hollywood” places to walk by is the Vedanta temple, tucked up against the freeway wall. Vedanta is a form of Hinduism.  “All fear and all misery arise from our sense of separation from the great cosmic unity, the web of being that enfolds us,” says the website. Aldous Huxley was a fan, and for a while Christopher Isherwood slept in what’s now the bookshop.

It was a good and interesting walk, and of course, if you have enough obsessions, even minor ones, a quite modest walk can feed quite a few of them.  Along the walk I saw a headless Buddha:

Curious flora:

Curious architecture:

An extremely emphatic no parking sign:  

It was also a good walk for spotting Volkswagen Beetles, well only one of them in fact, but it was a beauty, this gorgeously distressed little number:

In fact enjoyed the walk so much that I want back and did a longer version of it, although of course I know that you can't walk on the same water twice.  Nevertheless I saw more flora and architectural curiosities, in fact at the same time:

And more VWs, wrapped and unwrapped:

And when I passed the distressed Beetle, the trunk and hood were open, and then a rangy, very friendly, young black man appeared and looked forlornly at the car’s innards.  I said it was a fine car – and he agreed, and said it usually ran pretty well, but it had rained earlier in the week and he thought water had got into the electrics.  I made sympathetic noises, and I thought about taking the guy’s picture but it didn’t seem the right moment. 

I used to be quite good at dating Volkswagens, but I’ve lost the skill lately.  I knew this one was old but I was still surprised and impressed when he told me it was a 1960.  You have to have some cojones to drive a 58 year old car in Los Angeles.

Thursday, May 31, 2018


A legit auto and a ban on assault weapons – ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be wished, although in the current American climate it seems to be asking rather too much.

A closer inspection of the picture reveals that this photograph was taken (by me) at the corner of Eleanor Avenue (and Gower).  Eleanor Avenue is where Buster Keaton had his movie studio from 1920 and 1928 – not very far from the above spot, at the corner of Eleanor and Lillian.  

The above image is from Silent Echoes by John Bengtson, a work of superhuman scholarship in tracking down Keaton locations.

Now, in 1940 Keaton married his third wife who just happened to be named Eleanor (nee Norris).  She was 23 years his junior and they stayed together until Keaton’s death in 1966. She’s widely credited with saving him from alcoholism and salvaging his career.  This is the two of them walking on their wedding day.

I don’t really imagine that Keaton married her because she shared a name with the street where his studio was once located, although people have married for worse reasons.

Here is a picture of Keaton with a very legit auto.

And here with one somewhat less so.