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 Felix the Cat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Felix the Cat. Show all posts

Friday, February 10, 2017


Possibly you’ve never been to Amboy, in the Mojave desert.  If you’re heading to 29 Palms from Primm or Needles then you’re likely to pass through it.  If not, not.  It’s one of those desert towns in private hands that comes up for sale once in a while.  I’m always tempted.

But even if you haven’t been there there’s a chance you may have seen it in the movies (not least the Rutger Hauer version of The Hitcher) or in photographs, not least this one by William Egglestone. 

It’s the sign for Roy’s Motel and Café that makes you stop, get out of the car and walk around.  I’ve never known the motel to be in business but some of the cabin doors have often been open and this time was a kind of art installation in some of the cabins, going by the name of the Matza Archives:

There’s also a school in Amboy, again long out of business, a kind of garage where I have seen evidence of people working on cars, and there’s a post office, and a public toilet which are thriving.
I can never tell if they’re really selling gas or not in Amboy, but the café/gift shop is reliably open and I always feel obliged to buy something even if it’s only a soda.  This time however I had a treat in store.  This Felix the Cat walking sticker:

The guy behind the counter said they’d been selling them for a while but they’d been slow movers until they’d had the bright idea of printing Amboy California on the bottom.  Works for me either way.

If you’re serious and have 4 hours to spare you can go out of town and clamber up the Amboy Crater, which I have been known to do, and the proof of which is here:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


I like this.  It’s from Sweet William, by Richmal Crompton, who is one of the very few, possibly the only, author I read in my childhood that I can still read today.  It’s from a chapter titled “Pensions for Boys":
     “William walked down the road, whistling his loud untuneful whistle and kicking a suitably-sized stone from side to side.  He wasn’t going anywhere in particular, so it didn’t matter when he got there.  Even if he had been going anywhere in particular it wouldn’t have made any difference.  William considered it waste of time to walk straight along a road.  If there weren’t stones to kick, there were ditches and hedges to investigate, trees to climb …”

It’s the whistling that gets me.  Whistling while walking is supposedly a sign of innocence, but it always comes over as a sign of guilt.  Now I’m not sure if small boys do much whistling anymore, although I know that Bart Simpson does: 

I can’t believe that Matt Groening ever read the Just William books but Bart and William are clearly brothers under the skin.

And they’re both some kin of Felix the Cat, the walking, whistling feline.  I like to think I’m some kin too.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


On Christmas Day afternoon the Loved One and I went for a walk – nothing major – just a couple of miles or so, 45 minutes up and down and around the hills of the neighborhood.  We didn’t encounter a single moving car.  For that matter we didn’t meet many moving, or walking, people, though we did eventually cross separate paths with two couples and one family group complete with oldsters, children and dogs.  Every one was amazingly friendly.

This, I suppose, is the way it goes at Christmas.  Even people who never put one foot in front of the other for the rest of the year decide this is the time when they need to get out, with or without family, and show what they’re made of, in the name of good cheer, or possibly to work up an appetite.

It seems that President Obama feels somewhat the same.  The White House website tells us “In keeping with the President's vision to make the Obama Administration as accessible as possible, the White House is inviting the American People to sit back, relax, and follow along on his 2014 Hawaii Vacation.”  And so (whether we’re American people or not) we can sit back, relax and watch him walk.

Above for instance, “Obama and family go hiking in Hawaiian island of Oahu.” This looks like a very, very extended family.  There seem to be dozens of them (including one or two body guards I assume), and also it seems there were dozens of photographers too.  This is actually a screen cap, and on the video you can hear shutters clicking off screen like a thousand noisy insects.

No doubt there were fewer photographers (possibly just one) and far, far fewer family members, on the President’s first morning in Hawaii, when he was able to pose for this picture “President Obama enjoyed a relaxing sunrise walk on 
Kailua Beach” the White House site tells us.  Is he really going to walk and swim and read?  A busy sunrise, for sure.

I don’t know what Obama got for Christmas, perhaps it tells us somewhere on the website, but I’ll bet he didn’t get one of these, which I did:

It’s an antique plate with an image of Felix the Cat – admittedly it looks like the caption says “Felix the Gat” but I can live with that; a creature who walks alone and doesn't seem all that cheerful about it.

Monday, April 14, 2014


When I first moved to LA I always said I’d go for a walk and look at the famous Felix the Cat sign over Felix Chevrolet, at the corner of South Figueroa St and Jefferson Boulevard.  It would be a 16 mile round trip, which isn’t totally out of the question, but it’s a long walk just look at an advertising sign, and one way or another I never did it until this weekend.  And I still didn’t walk there, at least not from home.  I happened to be at USC, talking about walking, and since Felix Chevrolet is right there by the university it wasn’t much of a stretch from the campus to the dealership.

I have a special affection for Felix the Cat, partly because when I was a kid and I was out with my mother, if I slowed down or got distracted she’d say, “Be like Felix, keep on walking.” I knew what she meant, but only lately much later did I know who Felix was, and only long after that did I actually see a Felix cartoon.

Felix as a character, has been around since 1919 when he appeared (though not under that name) in an animated short titled Feline Follies.  It was produced by Pat Sullivan, directed by Otto Messmer.  The people I know who care about these things, are convinced that Messmer was the true begetter, though Sullivan did claim credit, sometimes saying he was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s short story “The Cat That Walked By Himself.”  I don’t honestly buy this, though this illustration by Kipling himself is pretty wonderful.

My mother, I think, was referring to the song 1923 song "Felix Kept On Walking," music by Hubert W. David and lyric by Ed E. Bryant.  There was a cartoon titled Felix the Cat Kept on Walking which came out in 1925, so the song must in some way have inspired the movie, but perhaps only the title.  In the cartoon he walks to England, where he is chased by immigration officers, then kicked around, and eventually out of the country, by soccer players. 

As the image on the sheet music suggests, Felix wasn’t a very happy cat in this incarnation.  He softened and became more affable (some might say more Mickey Mouse-ish) as the years went by.  He didn’t only appear on screen and in song, but om all kinds of advertising memorabilia including this piece which sold at auction for about 1200 dollars recently.  I've never understood why the feet had to be so square and lump.

He still looks grumpy there, and not at all the way he does on the sign above Felix Chevrolet.  A man with the scarcely improvable name of Winslow Felix, opened Felix Chevrolet in 1921 at (according to some authorities) 12th Street and Grand Avenue in LA (others place it at 11th and Olive, which is certainly close by).  Felix was a friend of cartoonist Pat Sullivan, who in exchange for a car, told him to go ahead and use Felix the Cat in his advertising.

 In 1958 the dealership changed hands, moved to its current location at 3330, S. Figueroa Street, and the sign was installed.  In 2012 the sign was spruced up, and that included restoring the neon which hadn’t been working properly for some time.

Of course Felix is not actually walking on the big sign, he’s just standing there, but at least I was walking when I saw him, even if not very far.

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.