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.
Showing posts with label Enid Blyton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Enid Blyton. Show all posts

Thursday, January 8, 2015


I remember once reading or hearing an interview with somebody, an actor or actress or model or maybe fashion designer, somebody like that, and he or she said that when they were growing up they liked to imagine that as they walked in the world they were constantly filmed by hidden cameras: yeah, yeah, these days we all are, I know, but these were imaginary and benevolent. 

The result was that when they walked down the street they straightened up, put a spring in their step, tried to move elegantly, to look attractive and vivacious.  Alas there’s no way in the world I’ll ever remember this interviewee’s name, but he or she obviously thought this was very quirky and unusual, whereas I’m not so sure.

There’s an article in the most recent London Review of Books by Tom McCarthy (that's him above), titled “Writing Machines” about notions of “the real” in fiction.  He quotes a (to me anyway) very familiar passage from William Burroughs: “Take a walk down a city street … You have seen a person cut in two by a car, bits and pieces of street signs and advertisements, reflections from shop windows – a montage of fragments … Consciousness is a cut-up; life is a cut-up.”

“He’s right as well,” says McCarthy, and I also concur.  It’s a terrific piece and I agree with 90 per cent of it (so it must be good) but I did carp at something McCarthy then says: “We don’t walk down the street saying to ourselves: ‘As I walk down the street, comma, I contemplate the question of faith, or adultery, or x or y or z.’”

But I’m here to tell him that for for a longish period of my early life, say from the ages of 8 to 13, as I walked in the world I often “heard” a third person narrative voice in my head: though it wasn’t an hallucination, I knew I was constructing it, knew that the voice was my own.   It would be “saying” thing such as “The boy walked down the grey, wet northern street.  Nobody knew him, nobody understood him, he felt he didn’t belong here and he had to get out ...”  I fictionalize of course, which is largely McCarthy’s point about realism, and I exaggerate a little, but only a little.

I suspect my “narrator’s” prose style wasn’t the very best, probably Enid Blyton bleeding into Ian Fleming, since they were the two authors I’d read most of at that time.  I can’t swear that Fleming was much of a walker but Blyton certainly was, favoring the “nature walk.”

When I walk these days I don’t hear the third person narrative voice in my head, but I do sometimes rehearse what I’m going to write when I get home, the voice that I eventually use in this blog.

Above, incidentally, is the cover of Five on a Hike Together (which I don’t remember at all, though I thought I’d read all the Famous Five books).  It looks like something went seriously wrong on this particular nature walk.

Friday, November 15, 2013


Some suggestion here that I may have been “born” a writer.  Pretty much from the time I could read, I used to “hear” or perhaps “write” a narrative voice in my head as I went about in the world. “The plucky boy walked down the dangerous, litter strewn street, his eyes scanning the roof tops for ruffians, snipers, death rays,” that kind of thing.   Yeah, I never said it was Proust: more Enid Blyton edging into James Bond.  I was a long way from discovering Raymond Chandler.

In reality I was walking down the only intermittently mean streets of Sheffield, but in my head I was walking down the Champs Elysees, Hollywood Boulevard, Broadway, or whatever.  And I sometimes I walked down cities of my own imagination and construction where the streets had names like Cosmic Boulevard or Death Alley, names that were a little over deterministic no doubt, though Sheffield famously once did have a street named Truelove’s Gutter.

So yesterday I went to a radio station in downtown Los Angeles to record a conversation with a producer, who was in fact in Toronto, and who’s making a program about pedestrianism.  And it just didn’t seem right to drive all the way there, park in the lot, do some spiel about walking, and then drive home again, but walking there and back would have involved a 13 mile round trip and that didn’t seem right either, so I drove most of the way, then parked far enough away that I’d have to do a mile walk in each direction to get to and from the studio.  Not the stuff of the very greatest pedestrianism, I know.

There were a couple of streets I could have taken to walk to the studio.  One was Hope Street and one was Grand Street, and both these names sounded a little too … yes, over deterministic.  Did I want to walk there feeling grand, or did I want to walk there feeling hopeful?  So I walked partly down Hope, and partly down Grand, making the crossing through a park, named The Grand Hope Park.  The entrance looks like this:

Now if I had been in any kind of a fiction, I would surely have been a character who had grand hopes, and for the sake of the plot these the grand hopes would have to be dashed somewhere along the line.  Then, depending on what kind of fiction I was in, these grand hopes would be reborn, or they’d be crushed utterly and forever.

Of course, in real life, I didn’t have any such narrative structure (which is why truth is so much less interesting than fiction). The interview went very well, “grand” would be an exaggeration, but it was at least as good as I’d hoped.  Among other things we discussed Felix the Cat and Buster Keaton, and the similarity (or not) between their walking styles.

And then, walking away from the studio I took a slight different route back to the car, and came to a corner, and there staring down at me was a poster (a slap I believe is the technical term) of Felix the Cat by Shie47 – looking more dangerous than I remember, but hey Felix doesn't only keep on walking, he also moves with the times.