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 4, 2016


So enough about staring at the ground while walking; maybe it’s time to look at the sky.  I’ve always liked skies.  I remember being at college and a group of us had been to a lecture on landscape poetry and at least two of us said, “Nah, I don’t really get landscape, but I get clouds.”  And I’ve always taken a picture or two of interesting clouds while I’m out walking – I suppose many people do.  Like this one:

And so I’ve been reading The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, begetter of The Cloud Appreciation Society.

It’s one of those books that’s such a brilliant idea you wonder why somebody else (as in me) didn’t think of it before.  I’m thinking I’ll write about it at greater length at some point, but for now suffice to say that if nothing else it makes you look at the sky in a new way.

Now, I have been known to complain about the skies of Los Angeles, that they’re too tame and featureless and samey.  Although of course the more you look the more you see, and lately it seems to me that they’ve been a lot less samey, which of course says more about me than it does about them.

So I was out walking in the Nicholson acres a few days ago and I saw a strange circle in the sky.  I knew it wasn’t a cloud, but I didn’t know what it was: a chem trail, an alien signal?

Well no, I soon realized it was a vapor trail.  And the plane filled in the circle so that it what looked like a smiley face, or at least an O with eyes and a mouth, though of course it was upside down from where I was standing.

But the plane hadn’t finished. Next came a letter B, which I thought might be some reference some reference to President Obama.

But then a D appeared.  OBD – there aren’t many words start that way.   Obdurate was the only one that sprang to mind, though that seemed an odd thing to write in the sky.

Anywa,y to cut a long story short, after that there was an A, and then a Y.  But it still took a moment or two to realize what OBDAY meant.  But I eventually worked out that yes, the O was indeed a smiley face, or more precisely a happy face, and B was for birth. So it was saying Happy Birthday.  I suppose you’d have to be impressed if somebody employed a skywriter to celebrate your birthday, but OBDAY still seems a slightly banal thing to write in the sky, or anywhere else.

So I started thinking, what would be a less banal?  Well you see I think words are not the way to go.  One word or even two or three are never going to be very profound.  Love, Peace, Walk Tall, Kilroy was here – it’s just not quite good enough.  So I think I’d go for a symbol, an actual glyph, maybe something from the alchemy – perhaps this symbol for Transformation.

That’d be a nice challenge for a sky writer, and would certainly be an amazing thing to see in the sky while you were out walking.

And as a coda, there was quite a bit of wind high up in the sky on the day the pilot wrote OBDAY.  The letters started to drift and smudge as soon as they’d been done, and after the message was written, and after the wind had done it’s work you were left with a configuration that I think would have perplexed even the keenest cloudspotter.


  1. We have that clouds book but I haven't got round to it yet. In Dublin recently I did pick up a signed Derek Mahon pamphlet - barely long enough to call an essay - about clouds. 15 minute read. I would recommend a look, were it not prohibitively expensive: http://bit.ly/29n7N5Y I had some Euros to use up, so treated myself.

    1. Yes Cloudspotter's Guide is one of those books that I pick up and read a bit and put down, then forget about for a while - but that's just another way of reading, I suppose.