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.

Monday, November 12, 2018


“Presently, with an excuse, he left me, asking me to put all my papers together. He was some little time away, and I began to look at some of the books around me. One was an atlas, which I found opened naturally at England, as if that map had been much used. On looking at it I found in certain places little rings marked, and on examining these I noticed that one was near London on the east side, manifestly where his new estate was situated.”

The “he” in that passage – you probably guessed - is Count Dracula, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been on my mind because I was walking again with Foster Spragge, a woman who draws rings on maps. Although perhaps to be more precise she probably uses the rings to create maps of a unique kind, but either way you understand the connection.

Dracula, like many a well-heeled immigrant before and since, moves to England and starts buying up property – a house in Piccadilly and another in Purfleet – that’s the place that’s “near London on the east side,” and that’s where Foster and a group of us walked – from Rainham to Purfleet, both in Essex – a mere five miles, but a vital and final part of Spragge’s 150 mile walk - Drawing Dialogue London Loop.

It was a terrific section of the walk to be on – starting early afternoon and ending at dusk, by which time the light was extraordinary and I was thinking of the opening of Heart of Darkness:

"The day was ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance. The water shone pacifically; the sky, without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained light; the very mist on the Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more somber every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun."

Along the way there were giant sheds and giant hogweed: 

Cats (more than just this one):

Outsider art: 

Concrete barges:

And much more besides.

Better scholars than I have asserted that there isn’t and has never been a house in Purfleet that fits the description of Dracula’s property there, named Carfax.  However I did see this place which with some modifications might be turned into a very cool, quasi-industrial home, though I suppose you'd have to work pretty hard to give it the Gothic qualities Dracula was looking for.

In Chelsea the next day I took a walk past Bram Stoker’s former digs at 188 St Leonard’s Terrace.  That didn’t look very Gothic either.  

Zoopla estimates its current price as £9,183,000 which is strangely precise for an estimate, and seems a bit steep even for Chelsea, but what do I know?  

These are the kind of things you think about while walking in Chelsea, actually while walking pretty much anywhere, these days.  Of course that doesn’t necessarily stop you thinking about the Undead.  

This is Dracula walking in the streets of London in the 1931 movie:

Thursday, November 8, 2018


Lawrence Weschler would probably call this a convergence.  I’m not sure what it is, but it doesn’t seem entirely a coincidence.

As we mark the 100 year anniversary of end of the First World War (“So then we all lived in peace, did we dad?”), I saw this painting by John Singer Sargent titled “Gassed,” painted in 1919. 

It’s owned by the London Imperial War Museum, which describes it thus:  

“A side on view of a line of soldiers being led along a duckboard by a medical orderly. Their eyes are bandaged as a result of exposure to gas and each man holds on to the shoulder of the man in front. One of the line has his leg raised in an exaggerated posture as though walking up a step, and another veers out of the line with his back to the viewer. There is another line of temporarily blinded soldiers in the background, one soldier leaning over vomiting onto the ground. More gas-affected men lie in the foreground, one of them drinking from a water-bottle. The crowd of wounded soldiers continues on the far side of the duckboard, and the tent ropes of a dressing station are visible in the right of the composition. A football match is being played in the background, lit by the evening sun.”

I kept looking and looking at this image, and admittedly I was only looking at a jpg – the painting is mighty big – 

but it took me a very, very long time to see that football match.  It’s there but the resolution is low enough that anyone might be forgiven for not spotting it:

The painting apparently, and clearly, references “The Parable of the Blind” by Breughel the Elder, 1568, which I absolutely believes shows no football match.

I was then reminded of “Blind Field Shuttle” a performance work by the artist Carmen Papalia, who is blind, and who leads people on walks as they follow behind him, hands on the shoulder of the walker in front, their eyes held shut. I’d have thought blindfolds would have make the work better, but probably there are health and safety  issues. The event, which obviously changes all the time, sometimes looks like this: 

And  then, out of nowhere, (and of course I realize that with the Internet, there’s no such place as nowhere, and perhaps there’s no such thing as a convergence, and certainly no coincidence, and no doubt it’s all algorithms) this image appeared on my Facebook, plugging Google. 

There’s no blindness, no hands on shoulders, and of course no gassing, and yet there does seem to be some resemblance or echo or something.  I’m still not sure if I ought to be outraged by this.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


An apparently simple question: when Elvis Costello sings “I don't want to go to Chelsea” - to which Chelsea is he referring?  The one in London SW3, surely.  The appearance of a character called Elsie rather confirms the point.  But I suppose he was smart enough to know there was also a Chelsea in Manhattan, and he may have used that to give the song wider, if more oblique, appeal.

And when he sings, “Oh no it does not move me/Even though I've seen the movie” to which movie is he referring?  You might well think Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, though that doesn’t fit at all with the rest of the lyrics.

Of course all manner of movies had used Chelsea as a location, long before Costello wrote his song; swinging sixties movies, and even A Clockwork Orange  -  the record store scene was shot in the Chelsea Drugstore, a place I’m old enough to have been in. It’s now a McDonald’s, natch.

I’m also old enough to remember walking up and down the King’s Road (the apostrophe comes and goes) looking at the punks.  We were (pace Simon Reynolds) definitely in the post-punk era but a lot of people hadn’t got the memo. The pic below is dated 1980.

I was too late for Westwood and McLaren’s Sex but I was there for World’s End.  We used to go in and laugh at the clothes, and then laugh even harder at the prices.  It’s still there, kind of.

But there were plenty of other reasons to go to Chelsea: the Royal Court Theater, the Chelsea Physic Garden, the Chelsea Potter (a pub), and for Pete’s sake I got married there at Chelsea Town Hall.  And it’s a pretty decent area to walk, mostly flat, and mostly interesting once you get in the side streets.

So this whole “I don’t want to go to Chelsea” thing doesn’t really apply to me, even though I feel like an imposter as I walk around.  Not a real Chelsea guy.  But now I find myself, for the next 6 months or so, residing in Chelsea, subletting a flat that I can’t really afford – as is the way with flats in London.

But at least the universe is sending me messages to make me feel at home here.  Right across the street is a place called Footopia!  

And around the corner there’s a VW Bus with a customized front end.  I assume it moves from time to time, but it hasn’t so far.

And today I was walking to the Waitrose mini-supermarket and I saw a tall, rangy black man coming from the opposite direction, walking with some difficulty, using a stick, and I looked at him sympathetically, and he looked and me and said, “All right, captain?” Nobody has ever called me captain before.

NB - I know there are some who make great claims for Costello's lyrics - worth pointing out that the rhyme Elsie/Chelsea first appeared in Cabaret.  Maybe it was an homage.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


Last Sunday I walked from Uxbridge to Moor Park, Tube station to Tube station, most of it along the London Loop, much of it along the Grand Union Canal.  That’s not my usual kind of walking territory, which was an attraction in itself, and another attraction was that I was walking with Foster Spragge who is sometimes described as a walking artist, and at the very least is an artist who sometimes uses walking as part of her “practice.”  This is her:

The overall title of the project is "Drawing Dialogues on the London Loop," and it’s connected with an organization named tickbirdandrhino, the brainchild of Mat Clum, who was also on the walk.  It says on the website that Foster’s “current work involves a series of drawings created whilst investigating, walking and/or swimming in real time through specific environments - making marks that resonate within her sense of self and place.”  Sounds about right.

We met at Uxbridge station, which is quite a destination in itself.  Is it the only London tube station that has stained glass?  Surely somebody will tell me.

I was on Walk 9.  There are 15 walks most of them in 2 parts of about 5 miles each, though the last walk is 3 parts.  I’ll be there for at least some of that.

The project is partly about mapping.  We were following maps created by Transport for London and as we walked, Foster held a clipboard which made her look like a council official doing a survey rather than an artist, which in some way seemed a good thing.  It certainly stopped people asking questions.
On the board was a sheet of paper, marked up with a line of marks or holes.  Every 7 minutes as we walked she used a compass embedded in a clear plastic ruler with 2 circular holes in it (of nautical origin I imagine), and centered it on the spot marked by a hole, drew a line marking the east/west axis, and a couple of circles.  This created gorgeously inscrutable images that will, I believe, ultimately be used to inspire a different work of art.

We agreed that it would be possible to use this as a map to, as it were, reverse engineer the route, but why would anybody do that?

And so we walked – just 4 of us as it turned out – and we looked around and observed, and took some photographs. Much of the walk was quite watery;

There was some wild(ish) life – a fake crocodile (alligator?) and a real cat

And suddenly, as we got near to Moor Park, the path took us right into the middle of a very fancy bit of suburbia.  There were security cameras trained on us, so obviously we waved to them.  This part was wildly out of keeping with the rest of the walk and although I’m well aware of the contested evils of suburbia, I am fascinated by that kind neatness, by which I mean other people’s, since I’m quite incapable of living like that.  I am also a sucker for topiary: 

We covered about ten miles.  I could have walked further if I’d had to, but I was glad I didn’t have to.

This is Forster Spragge’s website:

This is tickbirdandrhino