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, June 27, 2016


You know, I’ve never really got on with Henry David Thoreau’s writing.  I mean he’s a walker and I’m a walker, but as anybody can tell you there are as many different kinds of walker as there are walkers.  And really he’s always been the kind of walker who gets on my wick, with this kind of thing:
“To come down to my own experience, my companion and I, for I sometimes have a companion, take pleasure in fancying ourselves knights of a new, or rather an old, order—not Equestrians or Chevaliers, not Ritters or Riders, but Walkers, a still more ancient and honorable class, I trust. The Chivalric and heroic spirit which once belonged to the Rider seems now to reside in, or perchance to have subsided into, the Walker—not the Knight, but Walker, Errant.”  Couldn’t you just tone it down a bit Henry?

On the other hand Thoreau did have a fair bit to say about cats, including, “The most domestic cat, which has lain on a rug all her days, appears quite at home in the woods, and, by her sly and stealthy behavior, proves herself more native there than the regular inhabitants.”  Is this actually true, cat lovers?  It doesn’t sound true.

And of course most famously he also said. “It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar.”  Which is obviously a metaphor, I suppose, that heaven is on your own doorstep, kind of thing.  I gather there really are really a lot of cats in Zanzibar and I suppose Thoreau knew that, and although personally I wouldn’t go to Zanzibar to count them,  I’d be happy enough to go and look at them and have a walk around them.  They look like this apparently:

But in fact the whole of that Thoreau quotation runs as follows: “It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar. Yet do this even till you can do better, and you may perhaps find some ‘Symmes' Hole’ by which to get at the inside at last. England and France, Spain and Portugal, Gold Coast and Slave Coast, all front on this private sea; but no bark from them has ventured out of sight of land, though it is without doubt the direct way to India.”

The Symmes here is John Cleves Symmes, who believed the earth was hollow and that there were various, undiscovered entrances – i.e. Symmes Holes, which a person could walk through and be in the hollow, brightly lit interior of the earth.

I’ve been thinking a lot about holes lately.  The other day I found a man spraying what you might call terraglyphs, or in any case strange symbols, on the road surface outside the front gate, tracking the route of the gas lines, he explained.  The symbols looked like this:

Yes, they’re about to start digging up the street and replacing the ancient, endlessly cracking water and sewer pipes.  This is obviously a good thing in the long run, but in the short run it’s going to make walking in the neighborhood a lot harder.  After the gasman had done his work, another guy arrived and he painted some parallel white lines along the length of the street, and it looked as though he was marking out a path or walking route.  Although of course that wasn’t the purpose:

Next day some different guys arrived and they had a big machine, kind of like a massive vacuum cleaner, the kind of thing that might appear in robot wars, and it had blades, which they used to cut along the white lines, and there was some kind of slush or I suppose coolant, or perhaps lubricant, that got sprayed across the street as it went, with an end result that looked like this:

The next step I guess is for a different crew to come and start digging up the whole street.   In fact they’ve done some of this piecemeal over the years, and they go pretty deep – at least a man’s height – the earth may not be hollow but there are obviously some little-explored cavities down there.

 Anyway, since walking in the neighbourhood has become a bit tricky with all these holes and trucks and machines, I went for a walk in downtown.

It was by no means hole-free, they’re digging things up all over the place there too and it wasn’t absolutely cat-free either.  I found this piece of terra-art – Felix painted, or I suppose stenciled, on the ground.  It was the only cat I found.  The only one I needed to count.


  1. My domestic/indoor cat, Terence Stamp, is afraid of the outdoors and won't go anywhere near it.

    1. I suspect there are many like him.

    2. Just as well. You wouldn't want to stand on your doorstep calling for 'Terence Stamp' to come in for the night.