Saturday, August 6, 2022


 Back in quasi-rural Essex, we also have ground though it’s not like London ground. A walk 

around Dedham (Constable country) revealed plenty of fields.


But after a few arty days in the metropolis a field can look a lot like some minimalist piece of land art:


And the things to be found on the ground here are local too. Such as potatoes that had been rejected by the mechanical potato harvesters: 


And in fact some of these spuds (not the ones above) looked perfectly edible so I picked up a couple to take home.  I keep wondering if this was foraging or scavenging.

Also on the ground was a warning sign that had fallen off an electric fence:


The best thing about that notice is that each of those names sounds like a band or musical act, plenty of electronica of course, but with regional variations from country to country – and frankly I’d be prepared to give any of them a listen but I’d have highest hopes for Schrikdraad.


‘When you want to get down, down on the ground, Shrikdraad.’

And then in the Dedham Arts and Craft Centre I bought the selected works of Lenin for 3 quid.  Want to see a picture of Lenin walking? Well, why not:

Want to see a picture of the book and two potatoes I 'foraged'?  Both book and potatoes are bigger than they appear.


Thursday, August 4, 2022



OK well, I’m still banging on about ‘Nicholson’s Guide to the Ground’ – a project of 

potentially infinite scope and duration.


I was in London for a few days last week; and you know, the stuff you find on the ground in London does seem more interesting and curious than the stuff you find on the ground elsewhere.


Some of the stuff is not necessarily surprising - it may just be litter – but most litter isn’t quite as eye-catching as this package of ‘Sliming’ Herbs, found on the pavement in Leytonstone. (That's one for the archive).


But other things are more mysterious.  Yes, I can imagine circumstances in which I might abandon my socks while out for a walk but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t just leave them lying on the pavement, like these near Leicester Square:

And what exactly is the story behind this mysterious pair of crutches left in Oxford Street.  To be fair they’d been left next to a waste bin which could be construed as an attempt to be tidy.


But it so happened that immediately after I’d taken that picture above, the man who empties the bins came along and asked me suspiciously, ‘Are these yours?’


I thought of one or two smart replies involving miracle cures but thought it best to play it straight, and said no they weren’t mine and I think he believed me.  And we both said they looked brand new.  Who throws a way a brand new pair of crutches, we asked each other?  We didn’t have an answer.


But I was reminded of a book I used to look at in my catholic grandma’s house when I was a kid.  The book was about Lourdes the scene of any number of miracle cures, and a place where a great many crutches were abandoned, like this:

And on the ground in Walthamstow – a pro-bee graffito (I think that’s the word even though it’s on the ground). 


Monday, July 25, 2022


 This is Burton Holmes (1870-1958):


He’s posing ‘As a gentleman of Japan dressed for rainy day promenade.’  It looks to me like he’s wearing wearing two kimonos, neither of which appears all that rain-proof.


And this is me posing on Hollywood Boulevard with various walkers behind me.  The dinosaur you can see behind them is atop the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum.

There’s a little more connection between these two images than you might immediately think, chiefly that Burton Holmes has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which at this time of writing I do not, but there’s more to it than that.

Burton Holmes, who some people know, and many more don’t, was a great traveller in the days when being a great traveller was a ‘thing.’


I know him best as a photographer but he was considerably more than that.  He delivered hugely successful public lectures about his travels, illustrated first with hand coloured slides and eventually with film that he’d shot. This put him way ahead of the game, before the slide show and the home movie became domesticated and ruined many a family evening. It’s also said, and I have no reason to doubt it, that Burton Holmes invented the term ‘travelogue.’


I’m not sure how much walking Holmes did.  It was possibly limited by how much photographic gear he was carrying, 


but certainly plenty of his photographs show people walking:


And this is me, posing not ‘as a gentleman of Japan’ but as an Englishman in a kimono, and not ‘dressed for rainy day promenade’ but for mooching about in a hotel room.

And here’s where it all comes together.  Holmes owned, among other properties, a duplex apartment in New York which he named "Nirvana," an understated little bolthole as you can see:

He eventually sold the apartment to Robert Ripley (1890-1949) – he of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not cartoon strip and eventually a series of museums, which I understand are franchised, including the one on Hollywood Boulevard: see above.  This is Ripley with the whole world in his hands:

And here he is posing, and very possibly walking, walking in China:


Much more about Burton Holmes here:




Tuesday, July 19, 2022



We went for a walk in the Cambridge Botanic Garden.  The day was too hot to do much 

serious or strenuous or fancy walking but it’s a very good garden.






And if you like maps, quite a few maps, including this one:



The glasshouses are especially fine.


I was slightly familiar with those glasshouses because, more than half a lifetime ago, I worked as a dogsbody in this garden.  It seemed like a good idea at the time but I didn’t get on very well.  I was willing enough but at that point in history I could scarcely tell one plant from another and I didn’t last long.


I would be out there doing something menial like edging a mile and a half of lawn and some serious Cambridge matron visiting the garden would collar me and say, 'Can you give me some advice on my crocosmia?’  And to my shame, I could not.


On the occasional Saturday morning my job, under supervision, was to water the plants in the glass houses.  I quite liked that.  I’d walk around indoors, hose in hand, trying neither to under or over water, though I may not always have got that right either.


    Anyway, they’ve erected a kind of memorial, which some sources describe as a quernstone, in the garden.  


The caption reads ‘In acknowlegement & appreciation of the skill and dedication of the Garden Staff & Student Gardeners both past and present.’  That surely includes me, even if the skill and dedication were a bit lacking. Here I am looking and feeling honoured:

Photo by Caroline Gannon




Wednesday, July 13, 2022


 I admit that I’d never heard the term ‘edgeland’ until I read Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts’ book Edgelands, published in 2011, and subtitled ‘Journeys into England’s true wilderness.’

A look at the contents page tells you what kind of journeys to expect: Wasteland, Landfill, Sewage, Pallets, Ranges, Dens and 20 or so others.  As man who has a taste for ruins and deserts I’ve found myself walking in quite a few of these places.  And even if I didn’t know the word edgeland, I was certainly was familiar with the concept.

Farley and Roberts are poets, which gives rise to passages like this, ‘On a summer evening, stepping through a gap in the rusty corrugated iron and entering a well-established wasteland is to enter and arbour of scents.’  Or this: ‘Why is there always an abandoned TV in the rubble?  They are so ubiquitous in life that their bodies in death litter our wastelands.  And why does a dead TV’s blank face resonate  so much with us?  Is this our image of oblivion?’  I’d say not, but I understand how a man can get philosophical while walking in the wasteland.

Now, if I’d been paying more attention to trends in urban planning, I’d have known that the word edgelands was used, and possibly devised by Marion Shoard in 2000 or so, in an essay titled ‘Edgelands of Promise’ and revised before its appearance a couple of years later in the collection Remaking the Landscape simply as ‘Edgelands’.  This is Marion Shoard.

The essay is long and at first Shoard seems a bit sniffy about edgelands, which she also refers as ‘interfaces’ or ‘interfacial landscapes.   She writes, ‘The interface remains a dumping ground for activities considered unprepossessing and a frontier land in which private sector development rages unchecked by noticeable standards of design.'


Then she asks, ‘Should we have public parks in the interface?  Should we have cycleways and routes for pedestrians or continue to give these areas over to car use?  Should we encourage the development of cinemas, nightclubs and restaurants in the edgelands?’  To which the obvious answer is, I suppose ‘we’ could but then they’d no longer be edgelands.


She also reckons, ‘Guidebooks and guided walks should open up this new world.’  Look, some of my best friends are walking guides but the idea of them guiding me, or anyone, around abandoned factories and scrapyards (for instance) seems rather to miss the point. 


Finally Shoard concludes, ‘It is time for the edgelands to get the recognition that Emily Bronte and William Wordsworth brought to the moors and mountains and John Betjeman to the suburbs.  They too have their story.  It is the more cogent and urgent for being the story of our age.’  Sounds good to me.


Shoard also directs us to the work of Alice Coleman ‘who was taking part in a land utilization survey, (and) uncovered the existence of a large amount of frine land that did not fall neatly into the land-use pattern of either farmscape or townscape.  She called this land-type “the rurban fringe.” It’s a name that might have gained more currency if it had been more pronounceable.  This is Alice Coleman:


And now I discover (thanks to fellow edgelander Anthony Miller) that my finger is even further off the pulse than I thought it was.  I discover the existence of the term ‘terrain vague’ generally credited to Ignasi Sola de Morales, an architect and critic, and certainly he’s the author an essay titled ‘Terrain Vague’ published in 1995. The French term seems appropriate - both words having overtones that would be absent in a direct English translation.  This is Ignasi Sola de Morales:


The essay is good stuff.  ‘The relationship between the absence of use, of activity, and the sense of freedom, of expectancy, is fundamental to understanding the evocative potential of the city’s terrains vagues.  Void, absence, yet also promise, the space of the possible of expectation.’

And I was especially taken by the line, ‘The main characteristic of the contemporary individual is anxiety regarding all that protects him from anxiety.’  I’m not sure that wandering around edgelands is an absolute cure for anxiety but I think it does no harm.


         In all this I was reminded of the opening of Reyner Banham’s Scenes in America Deserta.   He’s asked by someone from the Bureau of Land Management who’s studying desert utilization, ‘What is it you actually do in the desert?’

         Banham replies, ‘Oh! Well, I ... er… stop the car and have a look at the scenery!”

The BLM person replies, ‘Hm?  I don’t think we have a category for that.’


Nobody has ever stopped me while I was walking in the edgelands and asked me what I was doing, but it they did I’d say I was wandering about  and taking a few photographs.  I imagine they probably do have a category for that these days.  Actually it looks as though Reyner Banham did some walking and taking photographs too.