Drifting and striding 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, September 15, 2019

"HAS ABSENCE EVER SOUNDED SO ELOQUENT, SO SAD?" Beats me.

There are all kinds of good reasons to go walking in Sudbury, in Suffolk.  The water meadows: 


The wildlife:


The achingly quaint archtecture, including silk weavers’ houses.



There are pill boxes – and I’m not sure if that mushroom-shped thing is a warning against nuclear attack, or an indication that some shrooming has been going in:


There are many passion fruits:



and VW campers, at least one of them for sale (18 grand seems to be about the going rate)


It may all seem a little bucolic, a little green and pleasant, but there's something that might make the journey to Sudbury a different proposition, if you’re a fan of Guy Debord’s psychogeography, 


or of Scott Wallker’s later work,


is this house sign:



You couldn’t make it up.  You don’t have to.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

FREUD FEVER


The first volume of William Feaver’s The Lives of Lucian Freud has just been published.  That's Lucian below, walking:


A very minor part of Feaver's book describes, in 1948, Freud being invited to Cecil Beaton’s home at Reddish House in Wiltshire.  When he gets there he’s delighted to find that Greta Garbo is a fellow guest.  
          Now, the ‘affair’ or whatever it was, between Beaton and Garbo has always been a matter for speculation and mystery, and Freud’s account doesn’t clarify matters much.

Feaver writes:
I thought she was wonderful he (Freud) recalled. “She said, ‘Comm and sit ‘ere,’ and it was a chair for one, not two and I squeezed in.  She looked marvelous.  She drove Cecil mad and he’d become gruff and manly and say, ‘We must go for a walk,’ and she’d say, ‘I’ve left my shoes in New York.’

Now, I can totally believe this would the kind of thing Garbo would say and do, but it’s quite a stretch to imagine Beaton being ‘gruff and manly.’


Still, here are Cecil and Greta walking together on some occasion when she’d remembered her shoes.


And here she is walking alone.  Boy, I love that battered car behind her:


Sunday, September 1, 2019

WALKING IN BUNKERS

Of course I don’t actually walk IN bunkers.  I walk to and from bunkers, or past bunkers, and occasionally I go into one one, but many of them are too small to stand up in, let alone walk in.  And I admit that I'm using the term loosely, some of the things I call bunkers are no doubt actually pillboxes and observation posts, along other things, but then, I’m a layman.

This one, which is I think the most extraordinary bunker I’ve ever seen, was somewhere near San Diego on the Pacific Coast, though nobody was allowed in.


There is no shortage of bunkers and such along that coastline.  This is part of a series just north of San Francisco, and you could poke around there to your heart’s content: 


There’s a great pleasure in going for a walk and suddenly coming across a bunker when you least expect it, like this one by a recreation ground in Saxmundham.


This one is near Walton-on-the-Naze:


This one I did go inside this one – as had others before me – hence the phallic graffiti.


And here’s one that’s local to me, by the river Stour, in Essex, well dug into the earth, located between Manningtree and Cattawade.  


The council just sent somebody just cut all the tall weeds around it so you can walk down and peer in through the gun holes, or embrasures, though I couldn’t see much of anything in there. And you could go inside if you really wanted to, but you’d have to crawl through broken glass and who knows what else:


And last weekend in Hackney Wick, which is generally ‘street art central’ there was this rather well decorated one.  


And I did wonder for a moment whether decoration this was in some way ‘a bad thing’ but actually it reinforced the idea of how surprisingly (not completely) untouched so many of the similar structures are.  Why is that? Respect for wartime ‘monuments’? Maybe, though it seems unlikely.

But if you really want to bunker down, you could do worse that head for Harwich, in general.  


And specifically for the Beacon Hill Fort with shelters, gun emplacements, underground magazines, petrol and oil stores, and some things called spigot mortars.  Paul Virilio would have had a field day, as did I.


And if you just wanted to walk, there’s always the Squirrel Trail.


Our hero amid the bunker ruins:



Sunday, August 25, 2019

THE PERMISSIVE PATH NOT TAKEN

Two roads (actually paths) diverged on a flat bit of grassy land near Flatford, in Constable Country, in Essex.  One of them had a sign saying Public Footpath, the other said Permissive Path, which (I now know) is just a way or saying, ‘Ok you can walk along here for now but don’t get any fancy ideas about it becoming a public right of way.’


            I’m telling this with a sigh, obviously, but not ages and ages hence: I took the public footpath which was in fact ‘the one less traveled by,’ since the other one was the tourist route to Flatford Mill and then Dedham, where apparently lots of people want to go. 



And it did make a bit of a difference, because the public footpath less traveled by was heading to Manningtree where I wanted to go, as opposed to the permissive path which led back to Flatford where I’d already been.


I am of course pastiching Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Less Travelled,’ possibly the second most misunderstood poem in the English language.  I’d say Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ is themost misunderstood.  (I know you’ll scarcely  believe this, but some people apparently think it’s about daffodils).  What is it about walking and poetry and incomprehension?

But thinking again about the Robert Frost poem, paths being as they are, it’s perfectly possible to take one path one day and then go back another day and take the other one. Which in fact is what I did with the public footpath and the permissive path between Flatford and Manningtree. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

On the other hand, should you find yourself in Hackney Wick, you might come to the conclusion that all roads are equal.






Thursday, August 15, 2019

WIDE OPEN FOR BUSINESS

Of course I enjoy walking in the wide open spaces.  What kind of fool doesn’t?

And yet I realize, all else being equal (and I also realize that in this context all else is never equal), that given the choice between walking in open spaces or taking a turn down some potentially claustrophobic, potentially threatening alleyway, most of the time I’d take the latter.  






I also realize that in the greater scheme of things we may all have bigger, more pressing, choices that need to be made.


Even so, finding myself in London, more or less in the City, t’other week I started walking down and photographing a few narrow constricted alleyways, as seen above. 

Did I think of Tony Christie singing ‘Avenues and Alleyways?’  Yes, I’m afraid I did.


And what is it about constricted spaces? Does it have something to do with the birth canal, or does it have something to do with pretending to be the kInd of guy who can comfortably walk down mean streets, and damn the risk of being mugged or blackjacked? A little of both, I'm guessing.


Above is the (or at least a) bridge in Silverlake, in LA. which I used to think was sung about by Red Hot Chilli Peppers in ‘Under the Bridge’ but various sources place that bridge in many different locations all over LA.

This is (or at anyway was) in Chelmsford, but I understand there have been some 'improvements' around the station.


This is definitely in Berkeley:


And this I'm reasonably sure is Tinderbox Alley in Mortlake  (I had to walk down it because of the name), and here it’s made somewhat more constricted by somebody parking a car in it.


And back home in Manningtree, I found this amazingly constricted space between two garden fences.  



Again I felt I had to walk down it, and at the end there was an undergrowth or perhaps overgrowth of nettles – and I broke on through to the other side and found I was on a dangerous stretch of road with no pavement or grass verge, where any passing car might run me down.
Friends, it made me feel ALIVE.