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, July 29, 2012


It was late Saturday afternoon, and I was sitting on a bench in the cactus garden, outside our house on the lower slopes of the Hollywood Hills, and my wife was inside and the radio was tuned to National Public Radio and suddenly she stuck her head out the door and said “You’d better get in here, there’s going to be an English psychogeographer talking on the radio.”  I can’t swear how many other Hollywood homes that happened in, but I’ll bet not so very many.

Now, my wife is not easily impressed, and I long ago gave up trying to impress her, but when I replied, “Who? Iain Sinclair?” I did earn myself a gold star in her eyes, for intuition if nothing else.  Sinclair was talking about his book Ghost Milk, which has just been published in the United States, and in his beautifully soft, well-modulated voice he was spewing forth elegant bile about the evils of the London Olympic games.

Now interestingly, I see that the English edition of Ghost Milk was subtitled “Calling Time on the Grand Project,” but the US edition is subtitled “Recent Adventures Among the Future Ruins of London on the Eve of the Olympic games,” a problematic subtitle I’d say, given that we’re already well past the eve, but I'm no publisher.

Anyway he duly talked about the Olympic site as a “future ruin,” and I was reminded of something I’d read just a few days earlier in a piece on Brian Dillon’s website. The site is named Ruins of the Twentieth Century and the particular post I was thinking of was “Adventures in Architectural Hell” a review of two books A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys Through Urban Britain By Owen Hatherley, and A Guidebook for the Urban Age By PD Smith.

In his review Dillon writes about getting off the train at Stratford station in the middle of the Olympic park.  He says, “It feels as if you’ve detrained into a high-tech, functional ruin, a genuinely thrilling (though likely inadvertent) hint at the classically inspired sporting rigours ahead.”

Future ruin, functional ruin these are wonderfully evocative terms, and ones I intend to use.  Of course neither Sinclair nor Dillon, is entirely averse to a good bit of ruin.  Nor am I.

It seems to me there are certain problems with the idea of a future ruin, since ultimately surely all buildings, all cities, all landscapes are destined to be ruins one way or another, and some of us will take great pleasure in walking through them.  Anish Kapoor’s magnificent giant sculpture at the Olympic park looks like a ruin already.  The idea of a functional ruining is much more paradoxical and intriguing.

I remember when I first walked the streets of Manhattan in the 1970s; the place did indeed seem ruined, and large swathes of it undoubtedly were, and since the city was more or less bankrupt you could certainly argue that it wasn’t truly functional.  On the other hand, when I started going there regularly, and eventually living there in the late 1990s the place was less conspicuously ruined, and was certainly functional, and yet a walk through the Port Authority bus station or around the piers or parts of the east village, showed that plenty of ruin remained.  And of course many New Yorkers much preferred it that way: they didn’t want to live Disneyland.  They didn’t even want to live in a clean, safe, well-ordered American city.

Incidentally, Brian Dillon is one of the authors of a book titled Walking in My Mind,  that accompanied an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery.  Of course, the mind is a place where some of us do a lot of our walking anyway, and at least most of us who live, think, converse, get around, have minds that are more or less functional.  But most of us have no doubt that that one day in the future our minds will be absolute ruins, places we can do no walking whatsoever.


  1. what do you think of the last walking (france/Spain) of walter benjamin ?

  2. Am moving a bit slowly blog-wise right now, but will do my best to put some thoughts together re Mr B.