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.

Monday, July 13, 2015


I’ve been back in England for a couple of weeks, doing the kind of things I do back in England; not least walking.  The pic below was taken in Saltaire in Yorkshire.

But most of my walking was done in London, an activity made more interesting by a couple of things. 
One:  the day after I arrived was the hottest in 46 years – 95 degrees F, 35.1degrees C.  A few people watching the tennis at Wimbledon collapsed from the heat, and I don’t imagine much recreational walking was done that day, though I did have to do a certain amount of essential pedestrianism in the morning and early afternoon, and somehow I survived.

Two: a week later the London Tube drivers went on strike.  Yes, there were extra buses put on, and there was a certain amount of Dunkirk spirit, though there were also a few scuffles in the insanely long bus queues, and the Transport For London website offered the advice “walk where possible.”

Meanwhile in the Evening Standard, Alastair Humphreys (a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2012 apparently) was serving up some simple-minded, condescending twaddle under the headline “Tube strikes are the ideal excuse to get to know London better.”  He wrote, “I have learned that you don’t need to walk across a desert or a foreign land to have an interesting experience. I once walked a lap of the M25, seeking out beauty, pockets of wilderness and interesting surprises along the fringes of that much-maligned motorway. People I met along the way laughed at my plan, and I too knew that it sounded preposterous. But my 150-mile circumnavigation was a revelation.”

Well yes, a walk around the M25 - what a very original idea – or at least it maye have been when Iain Sinclair did it and wrote about it in his book London Orbital in 2002. 

Mind you, Sinclair appeared (not for the first time) in Private Eye’s Pseud’s Corner while I was in England, for this passage from his latest book, London Overground:
I found myself eavesdropping on the climactic moan of the Overground. If the traffic ditch of Kingsland Road played like a gurgle of peristaltic juices recovering from a monster kebab, the Overground was a 14-hour sigh of mounting, but never-quite-satisfied sexual bliss.”

Ah me.  Safe to say that Alastair Humphreys is not aiming for any such baroque prose style.  His article continues, “So keep calm and walk on. Seek out a new route, down quiet streets you’ve never seen before. Follow your nose and meander a bit: don’t just slavishly follow the map on your phone. You see so much more if you look up and follow your nose. Savour the slowness. Enjoy a coffee from a different cafĂ©, refresh yourself at a new pub.”
Now, I’m not sure what audience Humphreys imagines he’s writing for here, but it seems to me that anybody who needs to be TOLD to walk to a new pub probably shouldn’t even be allowed out of the house without a minder, but maybe it'll be different coming from an adventurer.

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