Friday, June 9, 2023


 And speaking of walking in gardens (as we almost were), there’s a 1927 love letter from Virginia Woolf to Vita Sackville-West, that some sources will tell you is one of the great love letters of our time. 

    In that letter Woolf writes,Look here Vita — throw over your man, and we’ll go to Hampton Court and dine on the river together and walk in the garden in the moonlight and come home late and have a bottle of wine and get tipsy, and I’ll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads — They won’t stir by day, only by dark on the river. Think of that. Throw over your man, I say, and come.’


         I’ve always had found this a bit confusing. When she says ‘dine on the river,’ does she mean that they should actually eat in Hampton Court Palace and then walk in the garden? And does that mean Hampton Court was open at night for dining and walking? It currently closes at 5.30, with last admission at 4.30 but no doubt it was different in those days.  Or maybe the whole thing was a literary conceit.


We all know that Virginia was something of a walker, Vita perhaps less so, though there’s a radio talk she gave in 1950 titled ‘Walking Through Leaves.’  She explained that the title referred to ‘the small but intense pleasure of walking through dry leaves and kicking them up as you go, they rustle, they brustle, they crackle – and if you crunch beech nuts underfoot at the same time then so much the better”.  

         Ah, the nuts …


        Of course we know that Vita did not throw over her man – Harold Nicolson, and he was not easily thrown.  She did briefly leave him for Violet Trefusis but he was having none of that: he pursued her and brought her back home.


That was in 1920, six years before she met Virginia.  In 1930 Vita and Harold moved into Sissinghurst where Vita became famous for her gardening, if rather less so for her novels and poetry. Interestingly (perhaps) there is a series of ‘walks’ within the garden: the Lime Walk, the Moat Walk and especially the Nut Walk. 


In April 1930, Harold wrote in his diary about the moment he and Vita made up their minds about Sissinghurst: 'We came suddenly upon the nutwalk and that settled it.' 

This is Harold’s Nut Walk at Sissinghurst.

Monday, June 5, 2023


 We’ve discussed previously whether or not Ai Weiwei is much of a walker.  The jury is still out, although hard core ‘walking art’ is one of the few conceptual practices he hasn’t embraced (as far as I know – I stand to be corrected). In any case here he is at least strolling in Portugal where he now lives.

However if you go to London’s Design Museum to see the Ai Weiwei: Making Sense exhibition, you do have to do a certain amount of walking as you explore the huge space where the works are displayed and laid out.


There are video screens showing 20 hour video pieces, his photographs of liminal spaces in Peking, other photographs of the Birds Nest National Stadium on which he worked as an ‘artistic consultant’ before deciding he didn’t want to be a ‘tool of government propaganda’ – I’m quoting from the catalogue there.


And there are 5 large pieces laid out on the floor, which the Design Museum describes as ‘fields,’ rectangular expanses filled with broken teapot spouts, chunks of porcelain from Weiwei’s sculptures that were destroyed when his studio was demolished by the Chinese authorities in 2018.  There are also Lego bricks, porcelain cannon balls, and my favourite by miles, rows and rows of what the museum says are Stone Age tools, some 1,600 of them.

This work is titled Still Life and I believe it was shown in a different form at the Royal Academy a few years back, and that consisted of 3,600 Stone Age items rather than 1,600.


This does, as they say, raise some interesting questions.  We’ve often discussed the joy of picking up rocks, stones and detritus while walking and I would definitely pick up a Stone Age tool if I came across one on my travels. But so far I haven’t had that pleasure.


Some sources describe these items as ‘found objects’ but where exactly do you find 3,600 Stone Age tools?  Where do you find even one?  The Design Museum says they were bought at flea markets, and I know that Chinese culture is inscrutable, but a flea market where you can pick up a few Stone Age tools, well that's obviously a flea market unlike any most of us have ever seen.

Which reminds me somewhat of Jim Ede, the man behind, and sometimes in front of, Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge – there’s a new biography by Laura Freeman, titled Ways of Life.  Ede was a collector, curator, patron of the arts, and it’s a long time since I visited Kettle’s Yards but I do clearly remember the displays of carefully arranged stones and pebbles, seen on the book cover and in the house/gallery itself.


And the result of all this was that I found myself in my shed rearranging a few of the rocks I’ve collected while walking.    I’m no Ai Weiwei, but I think we already knew that.

Photo, and artistic consultancy by Caroline Gannon

Friday, June 2, 2023


 I read online that yesterday was young Iain Sinclair's birthday.  80 years and still counting.  So I wrote this post.

    Then, incredibly, I found that not all information on the Internet is 100% correct, and his birthday is in fact on the 11th.  Ah well, it's the thought that counts.

And today the postman brings me a copy of Sinclair's Agents of Oblivion, published by The Swan River Press. I don't know much more than what it says on the front flap.  Four  stories (not necessarily fictions), 'starting everywhere and finishing in madness' inspired by Ballard, Lovecraft, Machen and Blackwood.  What more could you want? Expect a more nuanced response in due course.

And another reason I know it's gonna be good is that it comes with a bookmark and a free badge!

Tuesday, May 23, 2023


 Will Pavia interviewed the now late Martin Amis in 2018, 

when Amis was in his late 60s, not so very long before 

his death as it turns out.

Amis said, ‘I’m more and more averse to any kind of exertion.’  And then discussing the walk to his local grocery store he said, ‘When I come around the corner and look up the street (I think) that’s a long way.’ 

I wonder if it had something to do with the cigarettes.


From the Smithsonian magazine

You know, sometimes I look out of my window and see old people struggling with walking sticks and Zimmer frames and occasionally Nordic poles, and I admire them enormously because they’re still out there, determined to carry on walking.  But at the same time I think, if I had that much difficulty walking, if I needed a stick or a Zimmer frame or Nordic poles I don’t think I’d ever leave the house.  No doubt time will tell.


Monday, May 22, 2023



Because I’m such a cool and well-connected guy, people sometimes send me things, books mostly, and last week my own publisher sent me this, Calligraphies of the Desert by Hassan Massoudy.


Massoudy has a reputation as one of the world’s great calligraphers, this is him:

and although this isn’t my area of expertise, I can see it’s a terrific publication, works of calligraphy inspired by thoughts and quotations about the desert.


And because of the nature of the subject, one or two of the quotations also relate to walking. There is, for example, a Bantu proverb, ‘It’s not the rest that reduces the distance, it’s the walking,’ which seems unarguable.  And the Bantus knew of what they spoke.  

This is just one more area in which I lack expertise but I’m aware of the Bantu Migration.  By some accounts (meaning that it’s a contested anthropological hypothesis),  4,000 to 5,000 years ago (estimates differ), about 300 million members of the Bantu-speaking population roamed many, many thousands of miles, most by walking I assume, from the Niger Delta all across southern Africa eventually to what is now Angola and Zambia, looking for new places to settle.  


Elsewhere in Massoudy’s book there’s a quotation from St Augustine ‘Go forth on your path, as it only exists through your walking.’  I like that, although I assume there most be some paths that exist because of other people’s walking.


      The quotation comes from St Augustine of Hippo, not to be confused with St Augustine of Canterbury who landed in Kent baptised King Ethelbert in 597, and in due course set England on the course of conversion to Christianity.  

In his memory there is now a walking trail, the Augustine Camino from Rochester Cathedral to the Shrine of St Augustine in Ramsgate: 

To be fair, Saint Augustine of Hippo’s walks look a bit more lively.