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.

Friday, December 28, 2012


... if proof were needed, that Dwight Garner "a book critic" (his employer's nomenclature) for the New York Times, leads a charmed life.

I suspect that for readers of this blog, the connections between walking, writing and reading don't need much explication, and here is Dwight, earlier this year, writing in the Times, and making a persuasive case for audio books.

He writes, “Keep an audio book or two on your iPhone. Periodically I take the largest of my family’s dogs on long walks, and I stick my iPhone in my shirt pocket, its tiny speaker facing up. I’ve listened to Saul Bellow’s “Herzog” this way. The shirt pocket method is better than using ear buds, which block out the natural world. My wife tucks her phone into her bra, on long walks, and listens to Dickens novels. I find this unbearably sexy.”

Above is a picture of the wife in question, Cree LeFavour.  No sign of audiobook, nor bra for that matter. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012


When I was writing The Lost Art of Walking, my fellow psychogeographer (or whatever the hell we are) Iain Sinclair offered the opinion that people hadn’t lost the art, rather that we’ve lost the environment in which people can do any walking.  A nice distinction, though of course once the environment’s gone, people lose the art pretty shortly thereafter.

This issue of the walking environment is discussed in a new book titled Walkable City by Jeff Speck, a “a city planner who advocates for smart growth and sustainable design.” Funny, isn’t it, how you never come across a city planner who advocates stupid growth and unsustainability?  Maybe they don’t write books.  Or maybe they just lie in their author bios.

I’ve only just started reading the book, but I immediately see it contains a “General Theory of Walkability.”  Yes yes, a THEORY of walking, just what the world needs. “To be favored” Speck writes, “a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting,” which strikes me as simultaneously feeble and condescending.  Of course I’m not going to argue that a walk should be dangerous and dull, and yet “useless” walking with a certain degree of “discomfort” is pretty much what I live for.

I’m also, in general, fairly happy making my own definition of “interesting,” but in case you’re one of the poor souls who doesn’t feel the same way, here’s Mr. Speck to help you.  “Interesting means that sidewalks are lined by unique buildings with friendly faces and that signs of humanity abound.” Kind of makes you want to get in your Hummer and do burnouts, doesn’t it?  Only theoretically, of course.

"Buildings with friendly faces" - oh spare me.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


We know that Oliver Sacks is not a man who does things by half.  Some people might trip and fall while out walking, and end up with a twisted ankle. When Dr. Sacks falls, the results are dramatically catastrophic.  In his book A Leg to Stand On he meets a bull while walking on a mountain path in Norway.  He turns and runs, falls down the mountain, tears off his quadriceps, crawls for an hour or three, is found by reindeer hunters, stretchered to safety, goes back to England, has a big operation, and tumbles into an existential tail spin.  This of course is good for the writing even as it may be bad for the body and mind.

And things haven’t got any better with age for Sacks.  In his new book Hallucinations he’s walking across his office, trips over a box of books, falls headlong and breaks his hip.  Thus: “I thought I have plenty of time to put out my hand to break the fall, but then – suddenly, I was on the floor, and as I hit, I felt the crunch in my hip.  With near-hallucinatory vividness in the next few weeks, I reexperienced my fall; it replayed itself in my mind and body.” Well, of course it did, Dr. Sacks.

 I’ve also been reading Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace, which is sometimes kind of annoying but sometimes very readable and once in a while very moving.  And walking is occasionally involved.  Neil’s father, who was a journalist and a pretty good dad by all accounts, eventually suffered from Alzheimer’s, becoming in Young’s words “there and not there” and after a while he was “just gone.”
Young writes, “Last time we were at the farm we went for one of our many walks.  We always took long walks in the forest together when I visited him, at the farm or anywhere … On that day when we were back on the farm walking, Daddy got lost.  That really was the last walk we went on together.”

I haven't been able to find an image of Oliver Sacks walking, but above is one of him at least standing up. It seems, incidentally, that Oliver Sacks gets lost all the time.  In an interview with the New York Times he said, “A friend gave me a hat with a built-in compass, since I have no sense of direction. It beeps when you face north and the intensity of the beeps shows how close you are. I like to think it’s improving my awareness but truthfully, I don’t think I’m getting any better. And I get a little embarrassed wearing a hat that beeps.”

It was actually easier than I thought to find an image of Neil Young walking.  Here he is by the Berlin wall in the early 80s.  BUt perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.  After all, Neil Young did write a song titled Walk On.  The chorus runs as follows:
     Walk on, walk on,
     Walk on, walk on.

Monday, December 10, 2012


No, no, the title isn’t a reference either to Guy Debord or Scott Walker, though I suppose by saying that, I’ve sort of turned it into one.  Rather it’s a reference to David Goodis.  That’s him above.

This being the season of good will and good cheer, any man with blood in his veins is likely need a bit of hairy-chested, noir fiction, to remind himself of other possibilities.  And so, over the weekend, I read Goodis’s “Black Pudding” in Manhunt magazine, December 1953.  That’s it below.

The magazine describes it as a “novelette” though I think most of us would say it was a short story of fairly average length.  The metaphor lodged in that title is slightly lost on me: one of the characters says, “It’s a choice you have to make.  Either you’ll drink bitter poison or you’ll taste that sweet black pudding.”  That would be the sweet black pudding of revenge, but you know, still ....  Apparently there’s a TV adaptation starring Kelly Lynch as Hilda.

Goodis was a massively prolific writer which no doubt explains why his output is so mixed, but I think there’s a pretty top notch noir paragraph right before the climax of “Black Pudding.” The hero, Kenneth Rockland, watches his ex-wife, Hilda, from outside the house she’s holed up in.

“She moved with a slow weaving of her shoulders and a flow of her hips that was more drifting than walking.  He thought.  She still has it, that certain way of moving around, using her body like a long-stemmed lily in a quiet breeze.  That’s what got you the first time you laid eyes on her.  The way she moves.  And one time you said to her, ‘To set me on fire, all you have to do is walk across a room.’”

OK, I could probably do without the long-stemmed lily, but otherwise, I like that.  I like that a lot.  There is actually a far more overwrought reference to walking in Goodis’s The Burglar.  In which the hero and his woman are strolling on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, watching the other strollers.  He says, "Look at them walking. When they take a walk, they take a walk, and that's all. But you and I, when we take a walk it's like crawling through a pitch black tunnel."