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 Walking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Walking. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


I am, or at least used to be, a bit of a scavenger when I walk.  I’m well aware of the eco tourist mantra “Leave only footprints, take only photographs” which the interwebs attribute to Chief Seattle of the Suquamish tribe.  However, since his dates are 1786 – 1866 it seems unlikely he’d have given all that much thought to photography.  There is one, and only one, known photograph of him, from 1865.

I have no argument with the chief, or anyone else about this.  Obviously I’m not in favor of driving a truck into the Mojave desert and loading it up with native flora and fauna, but if you’re walking in some scrubby bit of territory, outside any kind of designated park or preserve, and you find a horse bone or a bit of inscrutable machinery lying in your path, well I don’t think it’s the crime of the century to pick it up and put in your backpack and take it home with you.

And when you’re walking in the city I think it’s perfectly ok to pick up just about any old thing that’s lying in the street – books, toys, a loud speaker.  You could claim you were picking up litter, beautifying the environment.

But then the question arises of what you actually do with all this disjecta when you get it home.  For years I’ve been accumulating stuff and putting it on shelves in a little room off the garage.

And I suppose there was always some idea in the back of my mind that I might become a junk sculptor like Noah Purifoy, or one of those curator-artists like Mark Dion, both of whom I admire greatly.

But the years go by and the sculpture doesn’t get made, and yes I suppose any accumulation involves a kind of curating but I don’t see the good folks from the Pitt Rivers museum knocking at my door, asking me to install a display of the Nicholson collection, and so recently I’ve been thinning the archive, perhaps better described as throwing away junk, which is, in general, a remarkably pleasurable experience. 

At the same time (and I’m not sure if this is part of the same impulse or its opposite) I’ve been photographing the stuff before I throw it away.   As you see.

But then just a few days back I was out walking and I saw a machete on the ground at the side of the street.  Obviously it had been left there by a worker who’d forgotten it when he was packing up, and yes it’s obviously wrong to steal a man’s tools, but equally the man couldn’t have valued the machete all much or he wouldn’t have left it behind.  And so despite my resolution not to pick up more stuff I really did want that machete.  And the only reason I didn’t take it was because I’d have had to walk down the street with it in my hand, and I thought that by the time I got home somebody would have seen me and called the cops to report a dangerous armed lunatic in the neighbourhood.  So I left it where it was and I had to make do with a photograph. 

But I kept thinking about it and the next day I went for a walk down the same street and the machete had gone.  I hope it went to somebody who needed it more than I did, not hard since I didn’t really need it at all.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


I know that a lot of walkers think it’s their duty to hate automobiles, but I’m not one of them.  I like looking at cars when I'm walking.  Ten years or so ago when I first started living and walking in Los Angeles it seemed there was an amazing classic car, or piece of wonderful automotive junk, on every block, and I found them incredibly cheering.  I took a few photographs at the time, but now I wish I’d taken more.

The situation’s changed a lot while I’ve been here. Cool cars are much rarer.  I assume many of them have been scrapped because they’re just not up to the rigors of  L.A. driving anymore.  A few endure but they’re part of a dying breed, although all the more attractive for that reason.

I’ve always been skeptical about this whole “the car you drive expresses your personality” thing, but in the end, one way or another, I guess it does, whether you want it to or not.  And of course one way you can further express your personality, if you have one, is to put a sticker on the bumper or the back window of your car.  Religion, sports teams, political affiliations, are the obvious things to announce to the world, but some are more enigmatic than that.

This one’s suitably literary:

This shows a love for country, though not America:

This one shows a possibly, though not necessarily, ironic love for both Benjamin Franklin and Kiss.

And I think this one is great, though I could be wrong:

Thursday, August 31, 2017


I walk around and I look at stuff, mostly in what we might as well call the urban environment.  One of the things that my kind of walking does is make me see things I hadn’t seen before, to note various repetitions and common features I might previously have taken for granted.  I like to note similarities and differences.  It's not record science, or in fact any kind of science.  And so we come to the dumpster.

Sometimes they’re come singly:

Often in pairs:

Sometimes in groups:

I can’t speak for the whole of the Anglophone world but I think dumpster is an all-American word.  The British don’t have dumpsters.  They have skips and wheelie bins, and I believe the Australians use the British terminology.

The dumpster was introduced in 1936, part of a mechanical trash-collection system devised by one George Dempster of Knoxville, Tennessee, and for a while it was know as the Dempster Dumpster.

I see a lot of the modern versions when I’m walking around and I don't think most of them find their way onto the back of trucks.  This one, in Santa Monica, is the most pristine I’ve ever seen but then Santa Monica does strive to be pristine.

The ones for hire tend to be fairly neat and clean too – nobody wants to rent a dumpster that’s some scarred, graffiti-spattered thing.  But in the day-to-day world dumpsters hang out at the back of buildings and in alleys, and so they become targets for tagging and other forms of self-expression.  I guess people worry less about graffiti when they’re on a dumpster as opposed to on walls and fences. 

But sometimes people build a little house for their dumpster which presumably keeps it safer from roaming street artists.

Fact is, they're everywhere.  This one was spotted in LA’s Arts District:

This one in the heart of Hollywood.

This one in Little Tokyo:

And as. matter of fact, dumpsters are not only found in the urban environment - they’re sometimes found in the wide open spaces too:

And sometimes when they’re in the wide open spaces they may get used for shooting practice, though it seems you don’t need to be much of a sharp shooter to hit a dumpster, but then perhaps it was to practice grouping

In conclusion: I enjoy looking at dumpsters.  It’s not about looking for ugliness, and I don’t think it’s even about finding beauty in ugliness, and I certainly hope it’s not some wanky art project.  I hope it’s just about walking and looking and, of course, recording.

Sunday, August 6, 2017


"And having heard, or more probably read somewhere, in the days when I thought I would be well advised to educate myself, or amuse myself, or stupefy myself, or kill time, that when a man in a forest thinks he is going forward in a straight line, in reality he is going in a circle, I did my best to go in a circle, hoping in this way to go in a straight line. For I stopped being half-witted and became sly, whenever I took the trouble. And my head was a storehouse of useful knowledge. And if I did not go in a rigorously straight line, with my system of going in a circle, at least I did not go in a circle, and that was something. And by going on doing this, day after day, and night after night, I looked forward to getting out of the forest, some day."
                                                                                                           Molloy, Samuel Beckett

Thursday, June 22, 2017


My friend Tammy sent me an article from the BBC titled “What you can learn from Einstein’s quirky habits,” subtitled “More than 10 hours of sleep and no socks – could this be the secret to thinking like a genius?”  - To which Betteridge’s law of headlines (and I suppose subtitles) surely applies: Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.  It was one of those “geniuses do the darnedest things” type of article, but it was sent to me because of old man Einstein’s walking habits.  This is him in Princeton:

The article ran, “Einstein’s daily walk was sacred to him. While he was working at Princeton University, New Jersey, he’d walk the mile and a half journey there and back. He followed in the footsteps of other diligent walkers, including Darwin who went for three 45 minute walks every day.”

I must say I first read that as Darwin doing forty-five walks of 3 minutes each which would have been really off the wall, but he wasn’t quite that eccentric.  In fact three walks a day doesn’t strike me as eccentric at all, though it may suggest he had a lot of time on his hands.

Darwin’s son Francis drew up a timetable describing his father’s typical day in middle age and later.  One walk before breakfast, one before lunch “starting with visit to greenhouse, then round the sandwalk, the number of times depending on his health, usually alone or with a dog,” then another at 4 pm  “usually round sandwalk, sometimes farther afield and sometimes in company.”  There was also a fair amount of work, rest, and having his wife Emma read to him.

So yes 3 walks of 45 minutes, more or less, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer.  The “sandwalk” also referred to as Darwin's “think path” was, and I believe still is, a gravel track around Sandwalk Wood a piece of land Darwin rented then owned, adjacent to his house. Darwin walked circuits on the path. Today it looks like this:

The sandwalk is only a quarter of a mile round trip, so you could get around it quite a few times in 45 minutes, and apparently Darwin set up a pile of stones at a certain point on the circuit so that he could kick away one of them each time he passed.  That way he wouldn’t have to interrupt his thinking by counting the number of circuits he’d done, although you might also ask why he needed to count circuits at all. 

I’d have thought somebody would have taken a photograph of Darwin walking but if they did I can’t find one, though there is this fine one of him on a horse:

As for Einstein, the BBC article continues, “No list of Einstein’s eccentricities would be complete without a mention of his passionate aversion to socks. ‘When I was young,’ he wrote in a letter to his cousin – and later, wife – Elsa, ‘I found out that the big toe always ends up making a hole in a sock. So I stopped wearing socks.’”

Now you and I may have thought that shoes without socks was just an annoying hipster affectation, and definitely no good for walking, but wait, there’s more in the article,  “Later in life, when he couldn’t find his sandals he’d wear Elsa’s sling backs instead.” Now this is way more than eccentric, if you ask me.

As you see in the picture above he is indeed wearing what appear to be women’s shoes, although not sling backs, and whether they’re his wife’s or his own or somebody else’s I can’t say.  And at other times …