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, May 17, 2016


Just click on the link below for some two-fisted fiction from Geoff Nicholson, at 

hollywooddementia.com, for those who like that kind of thing, and yeah, sure, it's about 

walking (kind of).


Friday, May 13, 2016


Can this be true? We’ve always known that Charles Dickens was a very enthusiastic (probably obsessive) walker, sometimes by day and sometimes all night, since he suffered from insomnia.  Even so I was amazed, belatedly, to read an essay by Peter Ackroyd titled “All the time in the world – writers and the nature of time,” in which he says Dickens “insisted on walking for as much time each day as he wrote.”

Really?  Literally insisted?  Did he actually calculate how long he’d worked each  day and then insist  on walking for exactly the same number of hours?  It does seem strange, but I’m not saying he didn’t.

There is an extant interview with an unnamed somebody who took dictation for Dickens.  It appeared in the Louisville Commercial and then in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, in 1882.  Part of it runs like this:
“‘You were an amanuensis of Charles Dickens, were you not?’
‘Yes, I did shorthand work for Mr. Dickens for eighteen months. I did not take dictation for any of his novels, only his fugitive pieces. He dictated to me most of his articles in All the Year Round. He was a very clever gentleman to those under him. He always treated me very well, indeed. Most people seem to think Dickens was a ready writer. This is by no means the case. He used to come into his office in St. Catherine Street about eight o’clock in the morning and begin dictating. He would walk up and down the floor several times after dictating a sentence or a paragraph and ask me to read it. I would do so, and he would, in nine cases out of ten, order me to strike out certain words and insert others. He was generally tired out by eleven o’clock, and went down to his club on the Strand. “

Well, that would work, wouldn’t it – three hours work, lunch, three hours walking.  But did he then go back and work for a few hours more, which required a few more hours walking?  Maybe.

All those “writing habits of famous authors” websites will tell you that Dickens  walked for three hours a day, but he must surely have walked more hours than that.  You’ll also find sources that say he walked 12 miles a day, some say he often walked twenty.  You do the math.

History.com tells us “He kept to a military-strict schedule, always writing in his study between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. before striking off on three-hour walks.”  Which would presumably leave him two hours short by Ackroyd’s account, unless he made it up later.

Ackroyd is, or at least was, a walker.  Recent interviews have described him as wheezing when he walks, and one describes him as having a torn ligament.  Still 2014 piece in the Financial Times,  he’s quoted as saying, “My hobby was always walking. That’s what I did most of. Experiencing the sensation and the atmosphere of it and getting the pavement underneath your feet is very good therapy.”
    The author of the piece, Hannah Beckerman, wonders were he finds time for such therapy, given that he’s always writing three projects at any one time biography in the morning, history book in the afternoon, fiction in the evening.   His answer: “If you cut up your day well enough, it’s perfectly possible to do anything.”  No doubt.

Ackroyd and I did share an American agent for a while.  She didn’t have many tales of his walking, though there were a few of him falling over drunk and being bundled into taxis.  There was also talk that he’d reformed.

I’m not very good at cutting up my day.  There are some days on which I do very little work at all – because of a combination of sloth and self-doubt - which means there are days when I actually spend more time walking that I spend writing.   But I don’t insist on it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


 It’s a good few decades since I first read the opening lines of the “Proteus” chapter in Ulysses, the chapter in which Stephen Dedalus walks along Sandymount Strand.   I read the words "Ineluctable modality of the visible," reached for the dictionary and looked up the meaning both of ineluctable and modality, and I think I was at least very slightly wiser afterwards.

Now I know, or at least I’m given to understand, that this is a reference to Aristotelian notions of form and substance, that what the eye sees is not inherent in the thing seen.  At one point Stephen closes his eyes and wonders if the world still exists, to which the all too obvious answer is “Duh.”

At the very least I suppose those words mean that we can’t escape the visual, though I’m not sure why we’d want to. 

And of course there’s a double bluff going on here, in that Joyce’s novel is transforming a visual experience (though obviously not only a visual experience) into a verbal one, into a text.  And I often think, as I walk in the world, that the separation between the verbal and the visual is largely a false one.

I’m a writer and I love words, but a lot of the time I write about what I see. And occasionally I take a photograph to capture details that I might otherwise forget, even as I accept that taking the photograph changes the nature of forgetting and remembering.

  But the fact is, the world I see when I’m walking is full of language, visible language, words in a landscape. Cities seem to be full of fragmented poetry and prose, right there on the wall or the floor, and very occasionally up in the sky.    

This isn’t why I walk, but it definitely makes the experience of walking all the more worthwhile.  Sometimes I wonder if language is ineluctable.

Monday, May 9, 2016


“Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth.”  - Gravity's Rainbow.

Or possibly the beach.

Story of all our lives, right?

Monday, May 2, 2016


Maybe everybody in Los Angeles knows this already …

Getting on the subway at Pershing Square station yesterday afternoon, the board told me I had 14 minutes to wait till the next train.  Even when I’m not being a walker I’m quite an obsessive pacer so I tramped back and forth, up and down the platform, trying to find things to look at. 

 It’s got some neon sculptures overhead which are kind of OK, but I settled on looking at the fire hoses and fire extinguishers, which are stored behind glass and frankly look as though they’d be quite a bit of trouble to access should you have need of them.  But then, imagine the joy of discovering that the extinguishers are supplied and serviced by a company named Marx Brothers.  

What could go wrong?  It made the wait, and the pacing, totally worthwhile.