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.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


One of the first “grown up” books I ever discovered and read for myself was HG Wells’ The Time Machine.  It was in the local library and it had a shiny silver cover, and it was also short.

I like to think I still remember it pretty well from that first reading, though I have reread it over the years and of course I’ve seen the George Pal movie. (I preferred the book).

         You couldn’t call The Time Machine a book about walking, and yet when the Time Traveller (“for so it will be convenient to speak of him”) makes his second appearance, having been away on his adventures in the fourth dimension, he “walked with just such a limp as I have seen in footsore tramps,” so evidently he’d been doing plenty of walking on his travels.

Much of the book is the Time Traveller’s own account of his adventures, and walking is certainly involved, some ruin too;  “As I walked I was watching for every impression that could possibly help to explain the condition of ruinous splendour in which I found the world—for ruinous it was. A little way up the hill, for instance, was a great heap of granite, bound together by masses of aluminium, a vast labyrinth of precipitous walls and crumpled heaps ...”  Are we in JG Ballard territory yet?

         And apparently the people of Wells's future don’t do much walking: “There were no large buildings towards the top of the hill, and as my walking powers were evidently miraculous, I was presently left alone for the first time. With a strange sense of freedom and adventure I pushed on up to the crest.”

The description of the time machine in the book is, I think, deliberately vague, leaving you free to imagine your own apparatus. I always liked this futuristic bicycle version:

And I found it rather more convincing than the fairground ride kind of thing that’s in the movie, and of course also in the Big Bang Theory:

But now that I think about it, I can’t see any reason why a movie remake couldn’t employ a form of walking machine, perhaps “The Time Treadmill,” especially some futuristic one like this:

Gardens do appear here and there in the novel, and at one point the  Time Traveller observes that, “There were no hedges, no signs of proprietary rights, no evidences of agriculture; the whole earth had become a garden.”

         There’s a JG Ballard short titled the “Garden of Time” featuring Count Axel “a tall, imperious figure in a black velvet jacket, a gold tie-pin glinting below his George V beard, cane held stiffly in a white-gloved hand.”  Every evening he and his wife walk in the garden attached to their villa.  He looks to the horizon and across the plain where he sees  “that the advance columns of an enormous army were moving slowly over the horizon … the army was composed of a vast confused throng of people, men and women, interspersed with a few soldiers in ragged uniforms, pressing forward in a disorganised tide.”

Ed Emshwiller’s illustration for The Garden of Time from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Feb 1962

         This rabble is no doubt symbolic, though there are many kinds of symbolism to choose between, but however you slice it, they’re the forces of anarchy and they can only be kept at bay by plucking one of the “time flowers” that grow in the count’s garden.  Pick one of those and the rabble retreats, at least for a day. 
Perhaps they, and the count and his wife, go back in time, but as with most time travel stories, that doesn’t quite work because if time simply reversed then the time flower would still be there unpicked, and the story’s McGuffin is that there are fewer and fewer of the flowers, that chaos and death are coming, at the hands of the riff raff.

This is a picture of JG Ballard doing something (not exactly walking) in his garden.

And here’s a picture of HG Wells in a garden, and again not walking, but playing “Little Wars,” a game he invented.

And then, and this is the beauty part, I was walking in the 'hood the other day, taking my morning constitutional, and there, lurking in a nearby hedge, was the thing in the picture below.  See: time machines come in all shapes and sizes.  

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