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 11, 2017


I was walking in LA, by the Beverly Center, which has been refurbished at a cost of $500 million and does look very slightly better than it did before, and I looked in the window of Macy’s and took a picture, arguably a selfie. (The “foregrounding” of the gut is caused by the nature of spherical reflections, honest.):

And then I started thinking of a picture I took when I was walking in Greece near the (unrefurbished) Acropolis some forty years ago.   See how my aesthetic focus has remained stable (i.e. undeveloped) over the years.  And yes, I know there was never any excuse for the tie-dye and those shorts.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


You can walk a long way before you see this kind of thing. I’d walked as far as Dayton Way, which is in Beverly Hills.  Posh area, right.

And I saw these two things at the side of the road, one black and one silver, and there was absolutely nobody around and I thought they’d been dumped there, and it's possible that they had, but they’d evidently been in use till very, very recently, and in fact it seemed they still contained coffee (at least it definitely looked like coffee) which was even now pouring out into the gutter. 

I’m sure there was a story here, an explanation, but I reckon it was probably far less intriguing than the sight of them just sitting there, dispensing coffee into oblivion.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


I was walking past a used car lot on Hollywood Boulevard, and being the language obsessive that I am, my eye was drawn to the words displayed on the windshields of the cars; shout lines, I suppose, or possibly selling lines.  All of them were hand painted in good old fashioned signwriters’ script, the kind of thing you used to see on the windows of butchers and fruit shops.  You, or I, might have thought it was a dead art, but evidently not.

This was cheering in some small way but then I started wondering, did the person who did the painting have to come up with the words?  If not, who did?  Some hotshot salesman who thinks he knows what sells? 

And of course I also wondered whether the company had a stock of generic phrases that they used over and over again, or whether they were constantly trying to come up with new words, new combinations, new poetry.  I shall be keeping an eye on things as I walk past there in the future.

Then, at the weekend, I went to the annual LA Auto Show. I hadn’t been for years, and I can’t say I’d missed it much, but this seemed a reasonable moment in history to go and see what, if anything, had changed.

It was an interesting walking experience.  You walk slowly for miles, not quite lost but not quite knowing how to get where you want to be, surrounded by other slow moving, equally not-quite-lost walkers.  Much of the time you’re walking on some very fancy, and I suppose industrial grade, carpet.  Probably this makes the walking a bit easier. 

And of course there are the poor spokesmodels who have to stand by the cars hour after hour, and they probably don’t walk very far, but given those heels, their feet must be in tatters at the end of the day. In fact there were considerably fewer of these poor women than there used to be; progress, right?

There wasn’t a whole lot of language on display at the show, though such as there was had its raw appeal:

And you could also pick up some very expensively printed car brochures which were full of auto verbiage.  I learn for example that the GMC Terrain Denali “is the SUV reimagined with you in mind.”  Me?  You’d think they’d have told me sooner, wouldn’t you?  Anyway, none of this auto language was nearly as zesty or as much fun as that painted on the windshields of the cars on Hollywood Boulevard.  A lesson there for somebody.

Saturday, November 25, 2017


Life being the way it is, I went up to Glendale Community College to talk to Claire Phillips’s class about writing in general and my novel The Miranda in particular.  This is Claire Philips.

     As you might expect, my novel contains a significant amount of walking, and also of keeping track of the numbers – miles per day, numbers of circuits completed, that kind of thing.  You'll just have to read it.
     But here’s the curious part – in the Q and A Claire said she saw some parallels between my writing and that of Graham Greene, which, leaving aside the flattery, surprised the heck out of me. 

I’ve read plenty of Graham Greene in my life – it was what English people of my generation did - and although I liked his books well enough, I was never the greatest fan, and I definitely would never thought I was influenced by him.

      I think the jury’s probably still out on that, however as a result, I decided to read Our Man In Havana – one of those books I’d never read but knew a certain amount about – whisky miniatures and vacuum cleaners, a central character named Wormold.  Anyway, I’ve read it now (isn’t the daughter just appalling?).  But perhaps the most surprising thing of all comes on the very first page, in the second paragraph:

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


I wasn’t planning to go to Trona at the weekend, but there I was in Ridgecrest, and Trona is just 24 miles down the road, and I couldn’t resist. 

It’s hard to say exactly what Trona is.   Officially it’s designated as an “unincorporated community” but that doesn’t tell you much.  It’s not a desert ghost town (though it kind of looks like one) because it has a thriving industry – mineral processing – which has been there in some form, booming and busting, since the late 19th century. Today Searles Valley Minerals run the show, extracting soda ash, sodium sulfate, and various kinds of borax and salt from the not quite dry lakebed.

Not a lot of people live there.  Most of the workers at the processing plant commute from Ridgecrest, but there is a small resident population; maybe a couple of thousand.  There’s something oddly suburban about the layout of Trona, a grid of neat streets, individual houses on small plots of land.  Some of the houses are abandoned, some are broken down, a few surprisingly intact. The one below is for sale - priced to move.  

I wouldn’t say that people were necessary proud of their gardens but a certain amount of ingenuity goes into some of them. Like this rock garden:

On a Saturday afternoon in November there were one or two people going in and out of the pizza joint, but otherwise the streets were pretty much deserted: a couple of kids playing football in the middle of the road, and one man walking along unsteadily in the direction of the general store.
      Some citizens had definitely embraced that whole “desert weirdness” thing, sometimes with their hood ornament:

And sometimes with their yard decorations; skeletons still in place even though Halloween was some way behind us:

As you walk around the empty streets you hear dogs barking at you, lots of them.  Sometimes they’re behind wooden fences so you can’t see them, though others are behind chain link and you definitely can.  Sometimes they’re small and yappy, sometimes they're large, angry and drooling.  In some cases their bark may be worse than their bite but I wouldn’t want to put it to the test.

And finally there were cats. I saw a couple of strays walking the streets, timid but free in a way that those dogs weren’t, and as long as the cats stayed out of the canine-infested yards they had the run of the place.  And you remember that thing in Spalding Grey’s Swimming To Cambodia where he can’t bring himself to leave Thailand until he’s had his perfect, transcendent moment? 

Well, in general I’m pretty skeptical about the need to expect, much less force, an epiphany, but I had just such a moment in Trona. 

          I saw just one cat at first, sitting on top of an air conditioner, and then one peering round the side, and then I finally spotted the third, looking out from inside the house, finally the whole trio looking out at me, looking in at them. About as good as it gets.