Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruinswithcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
The Guardian on Saturday had a piece headlined “Iain Sinclair’s
Farewell to London,” an extract from his book The
Last London. I assume Sinclair had no input on that headline and it
doesn’t really fit the article below it.A sub headline reads “after 50 years Iain Sinclair has lost his
compulsion to write about the city.”But
of course, even saying that you no longer feel compiled to write about a place
may be a form of writing about a city, and this is pretty much what he does.
Sinclair has always been a world-class complainer and that
certainly hasn’t stopped.Here he
describes the anti-attractions of London: “Metropolitan hustlers, the monad of
scurrying, dawn athletes coming out of their pristine, new-build, railside
apartments, hitting the street like a treadmill, do not see the benched
Buddhas. They are inoculated against empathy. Outpourings of public emotion are
reserved for horrible media catastrophes: outrages on London bridges,
underfunded and irresponsibly provided tower blocks that become crematorium
chimneys, stealing the lives of the unregistered who live alongside stuccoed
ghost terraces occupied by rumours of remote speculators.”
Seems to me like he’s writing about London, whether he’s “compelled
to” or not.
Those who are interested in these things have known for a
long time that he has a place in Hastings, and in the piece he describes an encounter he has
there with a homeless man who mistakes Sinclair for one of his own tribe:“I was on the street. Was it the clothes, the
tilt in my walk? Another grizzled prospector for small brown coins gummed to
tarmac. Did he sense that I had lost my project? That I was rambling without
purpose, burdened with too many convenience-store bags?”No point asking I suppose.
Sinclair quotes a very
nice line from William Burroughs, “A long time ago but not too far to walk.”This sent me digging around in Last Words, The Final Journals of William S
Burroughs in which this appears, along with one or two other mentions of
walking:“I carry a .38 snubbie on my
premises, at my belt at all times.I
leave the door open.Someone walks in
with something in mind, he won’t walk away.”
The stuff of good noir fiction, right?And how very different Bill’s life had been
if he’d kept his taste for gunplay inside the covers of a book.
And I did I find the above photograph of Burroughs walking with Kurt Cobain -
I bet there was some sparkling conversation that day – perhaps some talk of
guns.For what it’s worth, I think
the Burroughs/Cobain collaboration The “Priest”
They Called Him - Burroughs reads, Cobain makes glorious guitar noise - is
about as good as “spoken word with music” ever gets.
Returning to Sinclair’s piece there’s another very fine phrase that I
know is going to stick with me, he talks of “professional entropy tourists.”I suspect we’re all entropy tourists these
days, though some of us are more amateur than others.
In order to avoid quoting wikipedia I’m going to quote yourdictionary.com
– they say that a desire line is “A path
that pedestrians take informally rather
than taking a sidewalk or set route; e.g. a well-worn ribbon of dirt that one
sees cutting across a patch of grass, or paths in the snow.”
A perfectly good definition I’d say, and above is
a very nice one in Vienna; and yes, if you look really closely you can see Harry Lime’s
Ferris wheel in the middle distance. I do wonder
if there was always a gap in that hedge or whether pedestrian desire created
And above is another nice one seen on my travels, not as well-worn as many – it’s outside the library in Ely, Nevada, birthplace of Patricia Nixon (Ely –
not the library).
The one above is clearly a walking path, actually
part of the Essex Way, an 82 mile walking route from Epping to Harwich. Obviously there’s
no sidewalk (pavement) and other routes across that patch of land would be possible
but none so direct, and if you're walking 82 miles you don't want to do too much meandering. You might think a desire
line is the shortest route, and perhaps also the path of least resistance, though in this case that applies to the walking path.
So imagine how intrigued I was by the path above, seen just outside
the boundary of Griffith Park. It was leading
off from a street I know pretty well but I’d never noticed it before. I thought
it might be some indirect way into the park and it seemed pretty inviting so I
started walking on it.
It was, you’d have to say, a disappointment. It runs for maybe 30 feet then takes a sharp left
and then you see a gate:
It’s the entrance to somebody’s back yard, and the owner understandably wants to keep out wandering riff raff. If the path had been perfectly straight and I’d
been able to see the gate from the street I wouldn’t have even set foot on the
path. I wouldn’t have had any desire.
From Carry On Cabbie, 1963, written
by Talbot Rothwell. Pintpot, played by Charles Hawtrey is applying for a job as a Taxi
driver with Speedee Cabs. The boss of the firm, Hawkins (played by Sid
James) has been telling him and a group of would-be drivers what hard work it is, with very long hours.
PINTPOT: We will get one night off a week
HAWKINS: Course.Are you married?
PINTPOT: Oh no, only I belong to this
rambling club you see, and so does a very nice girl too
and, well, once a week we do like to go as far as we can.
Hawtrey was one of
those actors whose performances were so gay you could almost believe he was
straight, but he wasn’t, as many a sailor could testify.He came to a nasty, if ultimately very dignified, end. Told by doctors that his legs would have to be amputated he
refused the operation, saying he preferred to die with his boots on.