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, June 21, 2020


On the wall, across the room from where I’m writing, there’s a poster like this: Attack of the 50ft Pinup – Yvette Vickers.

You could just about say that the woman in the image is doing a highly specialized kind of walking, the kind that crushes cars and freeways.

The poster is designed by George Chastain and mine is signed by Yvette Vickers, and I used to think it was advertising her autobiography, but I don’t know that there was ever such a book.  I think it was just a poster she used to sign and sell at collector and memorabilia fairs, which I guess is where mine came from – it was a present.

The poster, of course, is an homage to the 1958 movie Attack of the 50ft Woman and Yvette Vickers was one of the stars, though she wasn’t the one who grew to 50 feet – that’s Alison Hayes – Yvette played the floozy.

Vickers died rather horribly in 2010 or 2011. The treason for the doubt: she’d become a recluse, and her dead body was found in her home in one of the canyons above Beverly Hills - expert opinion thought she might have been dead for as long as a year.  Yep, people in the LA canyons keep themselves to themselves.

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman was remade in 2020 with Darryl Hannah. You can sort of understand why they thought it was suitable for a remake it, advances in special effects technology, CGI and all that, but I don’t think the movie was very popular.

The idea of some giant, sexy woman walking through the landscape obviously has its appeal and for some men it’s a major fetish – macrophilia - but of course when it comes to movies we know it’s not the woman who’s fifty feet tall, it’s the buildings that are just a couple of feet tall, and the cars are toys.

But personally I think that’s OK. I really like model villages.  You walk around and you feel like a giant or maybe Godzilla or one of those other Japanese monsters, as though you could just stomp the world into submission, but you don’t because it’s not the real world, and because they’d call the cops.

And it appears that out own dear queen was also something of a fan, or at least had to do a walkabout around Bekonscot when on a royal engagement – she actually looks pretty miserable 

And here’s a picture I took earlier, at the model village in Great Yarmouth.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


It's interesting, isn’t it, how many ‘walkers’ have been created by the lockdown. Once people were told they could walk for an hour a day, people started walking for an hour a day, as though they couldn't possibly have done it unless the government told them to.  Jeez.
          In last Saturday’s Times Magazine there was Caitlin Moran, who can be very funny, writing a rather serious piece under the headline ‘Escape from Suburbia – in 41,000 steps: I walked from home into the city – and a London I no longer knew.’ That headline is so thorough that you don’t altogether need to read the article itself but I did.  Her home is in ‘the north London suburbs’ which seems gloriously unspecific, and she goes into central London, evidently with somebody unnamed (though maybe Pete Paphides) and concludes, ‘Now that it’s empty, you can admire the sets.  God, this place is beautiful.  The people who made this town are geniuses … You can fall in love with humanity all over again – even though there’s no one here – just by looking at the things it’s done.’

Couldn't find a pic of Caitlin Moran walking exactly, but this isn't too far off the mark.

         Of course it’s much easier to fall in love with humanity when it’s not there, a view that I think Jeremy Clarkson would share.  There was in the Sunday Times with a piece headlined, ‘Oh dear, I’ve realised I’m a ramblin’ man.’ Actually it sounds like was always something of a walker but having become a farmer he’s walking a bit differently these days. He writes, ‘I’ve been told many times by fellow farmers that it’s important once in a while to do a “perimeter walk”. And obviously I’ve nodded enthusiastically and left the conversation thinking, “Well, that’s not going to happen.”
          I can walk for miles in a town, but I’ve never really seen the appeal in the countryside. What’s the point of going for a walk when you just end up back where you started? You go past a tree and then, shortly, you go past another exactly the same. And then you get hay fever.
Probably there’d be no point telling him that no two trees are exactly that same, or that you get can get hay fever in the middle of the city. Still, he does manage to find some humanity on his walk – ‘a fat youth in an anorak, walking straight through my barley,A heated argument ensues, and Clarkson says, ‘I’ve never had an argument ’with another pedestrian in London,’ though personally I’ve had several. Then he meets a woman whose dog is off its lead who told him he couldn’t throw his weight about just because he was on television.  See: humanity is nothing but trouble.

Of course one of the things about walking in a crowded city even when there are lots of people there you don’t actually have to engage with them, in fact you spend most of time trying to keep out of their way. They may be within 6 feet of you, but as you walk you try to avoid having them impinge on your consciousness.

Then as fate would have it my Facebook feed led me to an interview on Urbanautica with the walker and photographer Paul Walsh, who again was clearly a walker long before the lockdown.  ‘Walking taught me to be at ease in my own company, to understand myself, to conquer the fear of the unknown and gave me self confidence. The combination of walking and photographing taught me to analyse my surroundings and to try and understand my place in the world.’
All of which sounds right to me, though he often walks with other people I am currently working in Finland with The MAP6 Collective, where we are exploring themes surrounding the world happiness report. I am walking with people who live locally, but I am allowing them to guide me through a walk of their choice, whilst I record our conversations and document the walk photographically.’
Well I guess that’s all right.  This is one of Walsh’s photographs of a fellow walker:

And here’s a photograph of his I like better, from a project titled Insomniataken on a night walk. You know there are people up there in the block of flats, you just don’t have to see them.

This is the Urbanautica interview:  

This is Paul Walsh’s website: 

Thursday, May 28, 2020


Much like old Bill Shakespeare, I have ‘small Latin and less Greek’ which may be why I only just learned a new word for walking.  It’s solivagant, as noun meaning somebody who wanders wandering alone, or as an adjective describe the act of wandering alone, as in ‘I say, that solivigant over there is obviously on a solivigant journey.’It comes from the Latin solivagus, and I suppose I have might have teased out the meaning if given enough time but it was still a new one on me.

Evidently quite a lot of people know the world perfectly well. It’s the name of a band, a website, various bloggers, a teen novel, the title in one form or another of at least two movies, and no doubt much more besides.

Titles, I know, are hard, but it seems to me that titling anything with a word that a lot of people have never heard, may be a problem.

But the French like to have problems. The Commission for the Enrichment of the French Language  (La Commission d'enrichissement de la langue française), is an institutions that tries to keep the French language pure and unsullied by non-French words, at least so far as official written and spoken communications are concerned.  Borrowed English words trouble them especially.

As far back as 2006 they eschewed the word Walkman, and suggesting baladeur, which in fact became a general term for a portable music device, baladeur being a French word up there with flâneur and promenadeur, meaning a walker. See, the English language sometimes embraces foreign words.  Of course Walkman was a trademark of Sony, which may have complicated matters.

But CELF is now fretting about the word podcast. This was already outlawed and changed to diffusion pour baladeur(broadcast for the walker) it has now become audio a la demande (audio on demand) which is OK but not very adventurous.  I’d have liked audio pour la solivigant but I always want too much.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020


Yeah right! And you know, I'm not sure that people answer 100% honestly when they answer a survey.

Monday, May 18, 2020


I’ve said it before so it must be true – one of the best thing about walking is the way it sharpens up your perceptions – the more you walk the more you look the more you see.  Just basic rocket science.

And I suppose there’s an argument that if you go away from home you may in fact observe with less acuity, because you’re seeing things for the first time, and so you only notice what’s new and obvious.  Whereas if you stay in you own neighbourhood and walk variations of the same old route time after time, day after day, you end up looking at the same things with the different eyes.

And so the lockdown might be construed as some grand experiment in the nature of perception.

This being so, I’ve been walking while paying attention to three minor Nicholson obsessions: benches, arrows, and cars in gardens.  I’ve always looked at these things in various locations, and sometimes I’ve taken photographs of them, but right now I’m only looking at the ones within walking distance of home, although admittedly I’m also thinking about more distant examples I saw in the past.

This for example is a bench at a gibbon sanctuary somewhere up the Interstate 5 in California – pretty fancy:

but now I find myself looking at this one in the neighbourhood:

This is an arrow in the zoo in Tokyo:

and this is an arrow which has suddenly appeared on the road surface very close to where I live:

This is a car in a garden in Los Angeles:

and this is a car up the road by the (now open) garden centre:

And of course there is death with variations everywhere you go. These critters were shot dead in the desert somewhere near Yucca Valley:

and this is a swan on the shore of the River Stour.  I don’t know how it died, but it makes me realize that I never saw a dead swan before.