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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


So you write a book titled Walking in Ruins, it gets published and all, and then you find “To Fortune” (1648) by Robert Herrick.  Thus:

And the only reason I discovered it now is because there’s suddenly a bIg fuss that it contains the first emoticon, and obviously it kind of does.  But you know, only kind of.

It also seems that Herrick may have been the first man in England to have a 1970s perm and mustache:

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.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


I don’t know if you’ve come across Arianna Huffington’s new book Thrive.  It has an initially baffling subtitle “The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder”  Third metric?  Well, apparently it’s a metaphor based on the milking stool – you need that third leg to have a solid foundation.   Although of course when you’re walking you only need two.  But maybe I'm being too literal.

There’s a chapter in the book titled “Walk This Way” (not a reference to Aerosmith and Run DMC as far as I can tell).  Arianna is a great walker apparently.  When she lived in Los Angeles she got many of her best ideas while hiking.  A lot of the planning for the Huffington Post was done on hikes.  When she was pregnant she walked around the grounds of the LA hotel she was staying in.  And no, I don’t know why she was staying in an LA hotel during her pregnancy.  And no, I haven't been able to find a good picture of her walking.

In that walking chapter she quotes Cavafy, Thomas Jefferson, Hemingway, Thoreau and “British author Geoff Nicholson.”  “Words inscribe a text in the same way that a walk inscribes space,” he says.  “Writing is one way of making the world our own, and … walking is another.”

Naturally I’m not going to argue with that, since I wrote it, but I thought it might be instructive to point out that the quotation in full runs, “Modern literary theory sees a similarity between walking and writing that I find persuasive: words inscribe a text in the same way that a walk inscribes space. In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel De Certeau writes, 'The act of walking is a process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian; it is a special acting-out of the place ... and it implies relations among differentiated positions.' I think this is a fancy way of saying that writing is one way of making the world our own, and that walking is another.”  Arianna must have thought that even mentioning De Certeau was too fancy.  That's him below, walking.

Oh, and if you think I’m being a little presumptuous by referring to Ms. Huffington as Arianna – trust me, we’re on first name terms.  She sent me an advanced proof copy of her book, along with this card:

Online evidence suggests it’s her actual signature.  That’s what I call attention to detail.  I also read on her Twitter feed, and elsewhere, that she describes herself as a “flat shoe advocate” – well nobody’s perfect.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


And sometimes you just go for a walk.  I had 45 minutes or so to kill, so I decided to walk along a bit Sunset Boulevard from the Crossroads of the World, where my wife works (nobody seems very sure whether crossroads is one word or two). down as far as the Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse (quite a long way off Broadway, though not very far from the Crossroads of the World) and then walk back again, skirting Hollywood High School and popping into the newish cactus nursery.

The Crossroads of the World, by some accounts, was America’s first shopping mall, built in 1936, a collection of “programmatic” buildings in slightly exotic faux styles; a continental village, a middle eastern building one central structure shaped like a boat.

I understand that in a philosophical and indeed geographic sense, the center of the universe is wherever you happen to be, so every crossroads might be the crossroads at the center of the world, except that these particular Crossroads of the World aren’t at a crossroads at all.  See - at best it’s at a couple of T junctions:

Not far away, a foot clinic, which every walker might need one of these days, this one sheltering in the shadow of a giant ad for American Apparel, the model apparently not much of a walker.

And so along past Hollywood High.  I never know whether it’s supposed to be a good school or a bad school, but it’s a cool building, and obviously they having resources, including a sports field right in the middle of Hollywood, which means some prime real estate. 

It also has some famous alumni: Fay Wray, Lon Chenay Junior, Mickey Rooney, Cher, Terry Richardson.  Not Shakespeare, but that doesn’t stop him getting his name on the building.

And so to the shoe warehouse, which used to have a rather fetishy red high heel on the side of the building but I see that’s gone now.  And yep, I unexpectedly found myself buying a new pair of walking boots.   My old pair have done great service but now the soles are worn smooth and create the occasional probable when struggling up rocky trails.  The new boots are Eddie Bauer, and they claimed to be 60 per cent off, so a triumph all round.  And the real triumph: having bought the boots, this was a walk that would enable me to continue walking, and to walk better.

Oh, and the cactus place is selling this thing below: a faux cactus, a Hollywood cactus.  I’m still not quite sure how I feel about that.