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.

Monday, December 2, 2013


Well here’s a sort of interesting thing.  I opened George Orwell’s 1984, more or less at random and found this curious reference to walking.  Winston Smith “had walked several kilometres over pavements, and his varicose ulcer was throbbing. This was the second time in three weeks that he had missed an evening at the Community Centre: a rash act, since you could be certain that the number of your attendances at the Centre was carefully checked. In principle a Party member had no spare time, and was never alone except in bed. It was assumed that when he was not working, eating, or sleeping he would be taking part in some kind of communal recreation: to do anything that suggested a taste for solitude, even to go for a walk by yourself, was always slightly dangerous.”

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised that this reads like a direct inspiration for Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Pedestrian,” written just a few years after Orwell’s novel, but I’d never been so consciously aware of it till now.  Perhaps everybody else already was.

Orwell continues, “On impulse he had turned away from the bus-stop and wandered off into the labyrinth of London, first south, then east, then north again, losing himself among unknown streets and hardly bothering in which direction he was going.”  

Bradbury’s pedestrian is often assumed to be walking in Los Angeles, though the text doesn't actually specify.  "Sometimes he would walk for hours and miles and return only at midnight to his house. And on his way he would see the cottages and homes with their dark windows, and it was not unequal to walking through a graveyard where only the faintest glimmers of firefly light appeared in flickers behind the windows."

I haven't been able to find a photograph of Orwell walking, though I imagine he was part of the generation of Englishmen who did a lot of walking.  I once met a very, very old man in Suffolk who had gone beagling with Orwell, a rather specialized form of walking, admittedly. 

But Orwell did write this, in The Observer in April 1945: “To walk through the ruined cities of Germany is to feel an actual doubt about the continuity of civilisation. For one has to remember that it is not only Germany that has been blitzed. The same desolation extends, at any rate in considerable patches, all the way from Brussels to Stalingrad.”

I haven't been able to find a photograph of Ray Bradbury walking either, and I know he did use a wheelchair toward the end of his life, but walkers in LA can visit both Ray Bradbury Square in downtown, and see his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  To experience Orwell's vision you only need walk down any street with a security camera.

Saturday, November 30, 2013


Want to see some pictures of women walking with animals?  Well it could do no harm, could it?  This first one is of Kelly Madison and I’m pretty sure they’re her own dogs.

I once sat next to her and her husband at a dinner.  It turns out they live in Corona, California, where parts of the 1954 version of The War of the Worlds was shot.  Good walking territory apparently.

And OK, I’m a bit late for Thanksgiving but here’s a turkey being taken for a walk (or at least for a photo op) by Lucy Marlow, who appeared most famously in the 1954 version of A Star is Born.  I’m guessing she wasn’t the owner of the turkey.

And here’s Lana Wood, born Svetlana Nikolaevna Zakharenko, and perhaps best known as the sister of Natalie, but also known in some quarters for her role as Plenty O’Toole in the 1971 Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever.  The picture is from Italian Playboy, and as with Lucy Marlow, I'm guessing there isn't a deep and lasting relationship between model and beast. That smile does look a little nervous, but why wouldn’t it be?

The story goes that when Natalie Wood was trying to get parts as a child actress her mother told her how important it was to be able to cry on cue.  She told Natalie to think of the time her dog had been hit by a truck while out walking.  It worked very well apparently.  Here she is in happier days:

Monday, November 25, 2013


I just dug out an old copy of The Paris Review (Winter 1984, issue 94 to be precise) featuring an interview with JG Ballard. The interviewer, Thomas Frick, asks Ballard if he has any advice for young writers.  Ballard replies, “A lifetime’s experience urges me to utter a warning cry: do anything else, take someone’s golden retriever for a walk …”

I don’t know how much of a walker Ballard was.  His house in Shepperton was within easy walking distance of a park (below), two pubs and the railway station, so I imagine he at least walked to these places.  I bang on about this quite a bit in the UK edition of my book The Lost Art of Walking.

Now I discover, that earlier this year Time Out Shanghai organized a couple of Ballard walking tours.  The first one (and I’m quoting here) “traversed the leafy pavements of Panyu and Xinhua Lus to discover Ballard’s former residence and more genteel early years.”  The second took place in “the Longhua area south of Xujiahui where Ballard and his family were interned during the Japanese occupation and which today features swathes of dusty construction.”

I’m a sucker for these kind of literary excursions, though somehow walking doesn’t seem absolutely the right mode of transport for a Ballard expedition.  A Lincoln convertible with suicide doors might be more appropriate.

Ballard has influenced all manner of artists, painters, musicians, including Jake and Dinos Chapman.  Here’s a quotation from one or other of them (unless they’re speaking as one these days) from a conversation with Charlotte Cripps of the Independent.  They’re discussing their work The tragiK Konsequences of driving KareleSSly (2000).  “With its spectre of contorted steel and female genitalia, Ballard’s Crash was my primary motive for taking up driving lessons as an adolescent. I subsequently failed the practical test on three separate occasions, but I did manage to contort an aluminium rear bumper. Female genitalia came much later on in life.”  Really? By the time most of us are old enough to drive I'd have thought female genitalia were much on the minds of many of us, still ...

I love the Chapman brothers work, its weird compulsive obsessiveness, and of course I know they’re not writers, but I can’t help thinking how very different their work might be if the simply taken someone’s golden retriever for a walk.  They did however have a 2006 exhibition at Tate Britain titled When Humans Walked the Earth.  The Tate website says, the work “contests the distinctions we make between man and machine and assumptions about historical progress. Cast in the traditional medium of bronze, these objects evoke the heroic tradition of monumental sculpture. However their scatological imagery, subversive intent and complex associations suggest a sense of impending collapse.”

Yep, it’s not so easy to walk away from the old Ballard influence.