Drifting and striding 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.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

WALKING AND SUPINITY



 I’ve been reading Jonathan Meades’s Pedro and Ricky Come Again, Selected Writing 1988-

2000. I think it’s great.  


 

Admittedly it’s rather light on references to walking though there is this, ‘Our cities are full of people hurrying, their narrow pavements are not made for promenades at snail's pace; they are for getting from A to B rather than civic recreation. Walking for its own sake may be further discouraged by the climate and, equally, by the work 'ethic'. This week I put in several hours' sterling loitering interspersed with energy-saving bouts of farniente supinity. Observant sloth is its own reward. Just hanging around and seeing what happens …’  Fair enough.

 

And there’s a piece, not in the book, from the Quietus by John Doran, which describes Meades as ‘the slowest strolling human being I've ever met, even manages to be a flâneur at 380 feet above Tottenham Court Road, pointing out buildings and an amazing sunset to me as we head at snail's pace from our table towards the lifts.’  

 

And perhaps I’m getting a little obsessed with the man, because since I was walking across my local supermarket carpark yesterday and there walking alongside me was a guy who looked very much indeed like Jonathan Meades.  He did look a bit whiskery (he wasn't wearing a mask) but it seemed perfectly possible that Meades might let his beard grow between public appearances.

 

This is a picture of the car park (for obvious reasons I didn’t photograph the man):

 


Now, it was obviously surprising that Jonathan Meades would be heading into my local supermarket, since we know he lives in Marseille in Le Corbusier’sCité Radieuse – that’s the picture at the top.  On the other hand he has written and made films about Essex, so his presence wasn’t completely inconceivable, especially in these confused, socially disrupted times. Here’s a still from The Joy of Essex  (yes, you can see the joy in his face):

 


I still couldn’t quite believe it was him but I looked again and the fellow looked SO much like Mr. Meades that I found myself saying, ‘Excuse me, do I know you?  Is your name Jonathan?’

He seemed surprised by this though not offended and he said with a smile, ‘Oh, I’m Robert’s father,’ as though that solved everything, which it did not.

Once we’d made eye contact, he looked considerably less like Mr. Meades, but you will note that he didn’t say his name WASN’T Jonathan.

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

WALKING WITH CARS


 


Motorists versus pedestrians: it’s a false opposition if you ask me.  I enjoy both driving and 

walking.  When I’m walking I try not to hate drivers.  When I’m driving I try not to hate 

walkers.  Sometimes it takes a bit of effort, but on balance I manage to stay tolerant.

 



The fact is I do like cars very much, the stranger and cooler and more patinated, the better.  I’ve lived with one or two ‘interesting’ cars in my life, but I’ve concluded that the more interesting a car is, the more trouble it’s likely to be. I still like cool cars, I just don’t wish to own one.  And when I’m out walking and I see one, then I go across the street and have a look, and in some circumstances take a picture.  As vicarious pleasures go, I think it’s harmless enough.

 



Naturally there was more scope for this when I lived in Southern California. Old cars last longer there because of the lack of rain and snow, and only high in the mountains do roads get gritted and salted. 




And cars there continue to be driven even when they look like absolute wrecks.  These are things magnificent and if I found myself by some chance driving one of them I’d be perfectly happy, but I wouldn’t seek one out, I wouldn’t deliberately buy one.  I just like to look.


Meanwhile here in England ... 

 



.... interesting cars are fewer and further between but they’re not completely absent.  They do a lot to make me happy when I’m walking.  Here’s one I saw earlier (Texas plate, I know, but it was in Mistley, Essex):




 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, April 25, 2021

TALKING ‘BOUT MONROE AND WALKIN’ ON SNOW WHITE

 “When at night I walk barefoot in my sandals across fields of snow at the Austrian border, I shall not flinch, but then, I say to myself, this painful moment must concur with the beauty of my life, I refuse to let this moment and all the others be waste matter; using their suffering, I project myself to the mind’s heaven.’

That’s Jean Genet, in The Thief’s Journals.  Good stuff, I’d say

 


Genet makes an appearance in Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School.

    Of course that isn’t Kathy Acker on the cover – it’s Peggy Moffat, photographed by Bill Claxton. 

I don’t know if Kathy Acker was much of a walker.  There’s some footage of her walking in the lower East Side that appeared in a 1984 South Banks Show, but far more pictures show her in the gym or on a motorcycle.  




Still, walking crops up in more or less interesting ways in the book, when for instance, in Manhattan, Janey the book’s heroine and, I suppose, Acker’s alter ego, ‘walks up and down the same street as the hookers walk only the hookers make some money.’

 

    Then Janey is in Tangier and, lo and behold, she sees Jean Genet walking along the street.  Despite being warned that he has a reputation for being aloof and difficult, she decides she MUST talk to him, which she does and Genet is charmed by her.

She quotes him in her diary ‘Loneliness and poverty made me not walk but fly.’

 

In fact it appears that Acker did meet Genet, introduced by William Burroughs, though that doesn’t have much to do with what happens in the book.

Janey sees Genet again, ‘He walks along the white dust slowly, like he did yesterday.  I lift my hand.  His eyes light up and he smiles.  I stand up.  We shake hands for a long time.’

 

They travel together and after many difficulties and much experimental prose they end up in the desert outside Alexandria. ‘The desert is absolutely brilliant’ says Janey, who’s a sharp observer.

 

Genet tells her to get some sleep. ‘Sleep, she says ‘If I’m walking across rocks … it’s murder to my everlasting sleep 

 

When they get to Luxor, Genet gives her money and goes off to see a production of one if his plays.  Literary result:  ‘She dies.’

 

I don’t know that Genet was much of a pedestrian either, though here he is in the company of some literary flaneurs:



But I do know he was briefly besotted with an 18 yeartightrope walker, Abdallah Bentaga, and eventually wrote a short piece titled The Tightrope Walker (Le Funambule). 



It contains the lines ‘I would not be surprised, when you walk on the earth, if you fall and sprain something.  The wire will carry you better, more surely that a road.’

 

This is irony.  Genet paid for Bentaga to have high wire lessons but Bentaga fell and destroyed his knee, ending his tightrope walking career. Genet then bought him, what’s referred to in sources as a ‘small circus,’ the way you do.  But then Genet started seeing somebody else, so Bentaga killed himself.  How different from the home life of … well, of anybody you care to mention.

 

I did once spend an afternoon in Tangier, Genet having been dead for some years by the time I got there, and I remember almost nothing about it, but I know that I did do some walking and I also bought a postcard.


Friday, April 23, 2021

WALKING WITH JOE


OK, so as I understand it, poor hikers will remain untaxed.




 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

WALKING BOOSTED

 Look, I’m not saying that anyone thinks Metro, the London-centric free newspaper, is an 

unimpeachable source of wisdom about walking, or anything else, but the other day there in 

‘Travel News’ (which is in fact provided by Transport For London) was the sub headline 

TAKE A LOCAL WALK AND GIVE A BOOST TO YOUR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL WELLBEING. 

And this worried me a little.

 


 

Essentially it’s good advice, but I would say that given the amount of walking I’ve done in my life, locally and otherwise, my physical and mental wellbeing should have been boosted right off the charts. But you know as well as I do, that this isn’t the case.  Pedestrians (you may have noticed) do not walk around in a state of fitness and bliss.  The only consolation may be to tell yourself that however bad you feel, you’d be a whole lot worse if you hadn’t done all that walking. 

 


                                                        (Photo by Luna Yearwood-Smith)


Yesterday I got my second Covid shot – and yes indeed, I do now feel smug and immortal.

 

I walked up from the station to the Primary Care Centre – a steepish fifteen minute slog, got my jab in no time, and felt fit enough to go for a stroll in Highwoods Country Park, the entrance to which is right opposite the hospital.

 



The park contains some grand sounding locations: Yovone’s Pond, Old Ley Field, Friars Grove, Squirrels’ Field.  I think we’ve already discussed the joys of walking in places with cool names: Tinderbox Alley (Mortlake), Butt Hole Road (Sheffield), Rest and Aspiration Alley (Ventura, Ca.).

 

In fact I didn’t walk very far in the park because I was slightly anxious that I might find myself in the middle of, say, Farthing Bottom, and suddenly come over all wobbly from the injection, but I was very pleased to be greeted at the entrance by this chap.  

 



Yes, he looks as though somebody’s taken a chain saw to his head but he’s still smiling, albeit in a crooked way.

 

My pal Mathew Licht says he's reminded of the sculpture of Goerg Baselitz, and I think he has a point: