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.

Friday, December 13, 2013


The other day I happened to find an account of Horace Walpole’s walking style, as described by his friend Laetitia-Matilda Hawkins, “He always entered a room … knees bent, and feet on tiptoe, as if afraid of a wet floor.”  This drawing from 1765 is by one Lord Massereene.

Now it so happens that I was recently discussing the walking style of Captain Barclay, the great early 19th century competitive pedestrian, as described by Walter Thom in the book Pedestrianism.  Barclay, says Thom, had “a sort of lounging gait, without apparently making any extraordinary exertion, scarcely raising his feet more than two or three inches above the ground …  His style of walking is to bend forward the body, and to throw its weight on the knees … Any person who will try this plan will find, that his pace will be quickened, at the same time he will walk with more ease to himself, and be better able to endure the fatigue of a long journey, than by walking in a posture perfectly erect, which throws too much of the weight of the body on the ancle-joints.”  Well if you say so Walter, this is Barclay, though evidently not employing the described walking method:

And naturally that reminded me of Boswell’s description of Dr. Johnson, “His figure was large and well formed, and his countenance of the cast of an ancient statue; yet his appearance was rendered strange and somewhat uncouth, by convulsive cramps … So morbid was his temperament, that he never knew the natural joy of a free and vigorous use of his limbs: when he walked, it was like the struggling gait of one in fetters ..”  And also “When he walked the streets, what with the constant roll of his head, and the concomitant motion of his body, he appeared to make his way by that motion, independent of his feet.”

And somewhere in my head I have a description of somebody who (I thought) Johnson described as being so fat he could walk down both sides of the street at the same time.  I thought it might have been the Earl of Sandwich but a good dig both online and off suggests I was wrong about that. I can’t find any reference whatsoever.

However, such is the nature of internet “research” that I kept coming across a man named Bobby Wingate who was arrested in 2012 and charged with “walking down the wrong side of the road.”  Now this is clearly one of those stories where you feel there’s a lot more going on than you know about, but there seems no doubt that Wingate was walking down the street in Jacksonville, Florida last December when a cop in a patrol car stopped and asked to talk to him.  Was racial profiling involved?  Yeah, I assume so.  But Wingate declined to stop, saying he was in too much of a hurry.  Now I try to keep my dealings with cops to a minimum but I know enough to realize that telling a cop you’re too busy to talk to him is a really bad tactic, whatever race you are. 

Anyway, reports suggest the cop didn’t like that answer, so he got out of the car, punched Wingate, “engaged” his Taser, which I guess means he didn’t use it, then charged Wingate with “resisting arrest without violence and walking down the wrong side of the road.” 

This is Bobby Wingate in that very street.  It looks like the street doesn’t have a sidewalk so there could conceivably have been an issue that you should walk facing the oncoming traffic, but I’m guessing there aren’t very many arrests for that kind of thing, even in Florida.

When the case came to trial the cop said he wasn’t sure what side of the road Wingate was walking on, and the judge threw out the case.  Gawker ran the headline “Florida Man Literally Arrested for Walking While Black.”  News video shows that Bobby Wingate has an easy, fluid walking style.

He has since filed a civil suit against the Jacksonville sheriff’s office – good luck with that one, Bobby.  

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