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

Friday, January 20, 2017


Here’s some fairly minor walking lore relating to James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (1714-1799), a Scottish judge, linguist, and (I suppose you’d have to say) philosopher, one of the early theorists of evolution. On no obvious scientific basis he posited the notion that men were descended from apes.  He’s even mentioned in Martin Chuzzlewick.

He seems not to have been taken all that seriously by contemporaries.  According to a piece in The Herald and Genealogist, Volume the Third, 1866, “it is said that Lord Kames, to whom he would on one occasion have yielded precedence, declined it, saying. ‘By no means, my Lord, you must walk first, that I may see your tail’.”

That's him below on the far right, Lord Kames on far left, Hugo Arnot in the middle: the etching is by John Kay:

And he's the fellow second from the right in this one:

There’s another walking story about Monboddo that I have yet to fully fathom.  On one occasion he came out of court to find it was raining.  A sedan chair was waiting for him but he declined to use it, calmly placed his wig in the chair, and walked home in the rain.  Some sources say this was because he employed the methods of “the ancients” to keep fit, but that hardly seems a complete explanation.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


I think you probably know that as well as being a fan of walking, I’m also a fan of “street photography” - a term that admittedly seems to be becoming increasingly dodgy. 

Recently I have also become, very belatedly, and in a mild sort of way, rather fond of cats.  And I think my fondness for cats may have something to do with walking – in that you have to “take” a dog for a walk, whereas cats insist on walking by themselves.  My cat may follow me from one room to another, but the idea of “going for a walk” with her seems inconceivable.  This is her:

One of my favorite photographers, Nobuyoshi Araki, is a great deal more than a street photographer, but he certainly takes photographs in the street, and sometimes he takes photographs of the cats he sees while he’s out walking.  He also took an enormous number of photographs of his own cat Chiro.  Like this one:

Araki, I think we can safely say, has published more books that any photographer ever has – certainly 400 plus - and one of them is titled Living Cats In Tokyo (Tokyo Neko Machi).

In some of the pictures the cat is front and center, sometimes the cat is very small and distant and it becomes a matter of “Where’s Felix?”  But they’re all good.

 I can tell you that it’s all too easy to walk around Tokyo with a camera, snapping away, and thinking you’re a bit of an Araki, and certainly the cats in Tokyo present themselves left and right, in endlessly photogenic configurations.

I can’t speak for the whole of the city, but wherever I was, whenever I stopped to look at a cat – I never got as far as petting one - a Japanese passerby would stop alongside me and say “kawaii” (which is one of the ten words of Japanese I know – meaning cute), as did this woman on her bike.

 This Tokyo experience and Araki’s book made me realize that over the years, without thinking about it very much, I’ve taken quite a few photographs of cats while I’ve been out walking.  I make no great claims for these pictures, all I can say is, “Wanna see some pictures of cats?”  I understand that some people like that kind of thing.

Monday, April 11, 2016


So I went to the Los Angeles Times Book Fair at the weekend.  It takes place these days on the University of Southern California campus – a big old spread – 226 acres, so it turns into a walking experience whether you want it to or not.

You see crowds of people wandering aimlessly, some cheerfully, some less so, and some of them may actually be heading for lecture halls and panel discussions - the line for the Henry Winkler signing was quite long, though not nearly as long as the line for the stand where they were giving away free frozen yoghurt - but the sense I get yesterday was that there were a lot of lost souls, walking, ambling, looking for something, though they didn’t know what. 

And that’s just fine by me – and with psychogeographers too -  a chance to drift without knowing what you’re going to find.  I also suspect that what a lot of people were doing was just walking around looking at all the other people walking around.  I’m not sure this really constitutes a bookish experience, unless of course you write a book about it.

Pico Iyer was there, as he usually is – on the Travel Stage - and I stopped to listen for a bit, but all the seats were taken and I always think that standing still for an hour is much, much harder than walking for a hour, so I didn’t stay till the end, but I did remember a quotation of Iyer’s, “Not having a car gives me volumes not to think or worry about, and makes walks around the neighborhood a daily adventure.”  I have had long periods of owning cars, interspersed with periods of not owning a car – and you know, I somehow always managed to find plenty of things to worry about.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


I went out and about t’other day.  I didn’t exactly, or solely, “go for a walk” - I essentially went out for lunch – but some walking was involved, and it was a very familiar kind of urban walk, though one with a specific Los Angeles flavor, which is not without its absurdities. 

The process was this: Get in the car, drive down the hill, park, walk three quarters of a mile to the subway station, take the subway six miles downtown, emerge from the station, walk a mile from station to lunch venue which included a stroll through Grand Park, which is nice enough not really all that grand.

So I had lunch, then afterwards I went to the Japanese American National Museum to walk around the fourth Giant Robot Biennale, an art exhibition arranged by the good folks at Giant Robot, that being and I’m quoting here obviously, “a staple of Asian American alternative pop culture .., at various times a magazine, a store, a restaurant.”  Now mostly just a store.   Then afterwards I went back the way I came and did it in reverse: walk, subway, walk, car.

I understand, of course, that no serious walker would consider this a serious walk, and I didn’t.  Maybe a psychogeographer would have considered it a psychogeographic drift, but you know, what isn’t? My mother would probably have said I was just mooching about.  But isn’t this what a lot of walking is like?

And what (you may ask) did you see, my blue eyed son?  Oh what did you see, my darling young one.

Well, first thing, you know, I get it that walkers are supposed to really hate cars but the fact is, I don’t, not really. There are times when I enjoy driving (though admittedly these times get rarer and rarer).  But there are still many occasions when I enjoy seeing old cars, appreciating them as a kind of kinetic sculpture.  Of course it helps a lot if they’re parked and not likely to run you down.  On the way to the station I saw this local beauty – I think it’s those crude nostrils in the hood that really make it for me.

Then, still on the way to the station I saw this.  I’d noticed it before without thinking about it too much – the natural world poking up through the urban surface and then being attacked by a different bit of the natural world: 

I’ve made a half-hearted attempt to identify the fungus on the tree, and I think it could be Smoky Bracket (Bjerkandera adusta) and if it is, then that’s very bad news for the tree.  The website I found suggests that when this stuff appears it’s time to cut down the tree, though in fact the website belonged to a company that specializes in cutting down trees so maybe they have a vested interest.  Further research suggests it could possibly be Artists Fungus (Ganoderma applanatum) but that’s no better for the tree either.  Once a tree sprouts fungus, it’s in big trouble, as I understand it.

And then on the station platform, and this was something I hadn’t noticed before, though obviously it’s not new – you can walk right up to the end of the platform and stare into the tunnel mouth and you can see there’s kind of a catwalk that you could easily stroll along if they’d let you. 

Of course there’s a gate and a stern sign telling you not to, but obviously some urban explorer has been in there and done a bit of scratchy graffiti, though frankly it didn’t look like their heart was in it.

And then out of the subway and walking through downtown there was this amazing and fairly alarming statue of a cyclist right in the middle of Grand Park   – part of temporary monument to “fallen cyclists.”

I know we’re coming up to Halloween, and there is a Day of the Dead feel to the monument but I don’t know whether this is an entirely respectful representation of a dead cyclist.  It seems both too spooky and too playful, though I noted that he is wearing a safety helmet.

Then lunch, which is a whole other story, and then the Giant Robot Biennale – which was very cool and full of good stuff – not a vast exhibition but pretty much the right size, I thought.  I especially liked the work of Yoskay Yamamoto – I’m a sucker for art that includes model houses - who had an installation that looked like this:

And I loved the work of Luke Chueh who does paintings like this one, titled Headphones.

To be absolutely honest I can’t quite remember if that picture’s in the exhibition or not, but I include it here because I found it in a website, alongside an interview with Cheuh in which he says this is a kind of self-portrait – he reckons that’s the way he looks as he’s walking around his neighborhood, though without the ears, I suppose.

 Outside the museum there’s a piece of sculpture by Nicole Maloney that looks like a big, mirrored Rubik’s cube, and loads of people photograph it, which usually involves inadvertently or not, taking their own self-portrait.  Being a man who still needs a viewfinder on his camera, and also man who doesn’t really understand the current urge for the selfie – I feel pretty well disguised in this picture.

The other person you can see in there is my pal Lynell George – my lunch companion – and she’s working on a book about serendipity – so of course we were concerned with all things random and accidental – but even so it wasn’t till I looked at the picture afterwards when I got home that I saw that pair of detached legs walking in the reflection.  Serendipitous?  For sure.  Spooky?  Kind of.  Comical?  Definitely.