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.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Before I was “settled,” I lived all over the place in London, including once, briefly, in Stamford Hill, then and now a prosperous suburb with a large Jewish population that at some point had included Marc Bolan, (originally Feld).

I didn’t know that at the time, and only discovered it when avant-garde composer John Zorn released a sort of tribute album Great Jewish Music: Marc Bolan as part of his Radical Jewish Culture series.  I’m not sure that Bolan's Jewishness plays much of a part in songs such as “Get it on” much less (pedestrian allusion coming up) “Beltane Walk:”

Walking down by the westwind

I met a boy he was my friend

I said boy we could sing it too

And we do

Give us love

Give us little love

Give us little love from your hearts
And then we'll walk.

The place I lived in Stamford Hill was not conspicuously prosperous, nor conspicuously Jewish.  I had a nasty room in a nasty shared flat, one of three in a nasty house, with just one nasty bathroom for all of us.  Knowing that Marc Bolan had lived nearby wouldn’t have made me very much happier.

One of the supposed advantages of Stamford Hill was that it was on the Tube, and most of the accommodation I could afford was not.  But whenever I managed to find a place in a neighbourhood served by the Tube there was always at least a mile-long walk to the station, and that was the case here, plus my flat was at the top of the Stamford Hill, while the Stamford Hill station was at the bottom.

These days I tend to think that a mile-long walk at the beginning and end of each day is a very good thing, but back then I was filled with resentment.  A mile-long slog up a hill, after work, to get to a nasty room in a nasty flat didn’t make my heart sing.  I moved on as soon as I could, though not in fact to anywhere much better.

And now, even as I suspect there may be more to the story than has been reported, I’m cautiously prepared to join in the general and predictable “outrage” that posters have appeared on the streets of Stamford Hill saying, "Women should please walk along this side of the road only," while presumably, though perhaps not necessarily, saying the same thing in Hebrew.

According to the Independent newspaper these posters were put up by “an orthodox Jewish group” in preparation for a Torah Procession. One Chaim Hochhauser, from the Stamford Hill Shomrim Group, (shomrim being a kind of heavy-duty and apparently very successful neighborhood watch group), said it had contacted the organizers to inform them that the posters "lacked explanation in the English text, and therefore could have offended people who don’t understand the Hebrew wording and the logo.”

The implication here of course is that if people did understand the Hebrew wording then they wouldn’t be offended; a proposition that I doubt.  And is this really a question of offence and understanding?  Isn’t the issue that a religion which dictates where and when women can walk, even in a procession, is, you know, questionable.  I mean, why weren’t there signs that said, "Men should please walk along the other side of this road," though I admit that would only have been very slightly better.  The local council, in its wisdom, had the posters swiftly removed.

Above, for comparison, is a picture of a Torah Procession from Ahavat Olam in Miami, Florida.  It doesn’t seem as though G-d has much problem with men and women walking on the same side, or apparently right in the middle, of the road, although I would be the first to admit that Stamford Hill is not Florida.

And for those of you who missed the allusion in the title of this post, it's Reeves and Dave and Gary, "The King of Stamford Hill" - it's a bit potty-mouthed I'm afraid, but it's good.

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