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.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


I don’t suppose many people go to see movies in search of “great walking scenes.”  Even I don’t do that.  But if a movie happens to contain the odd great walking scene, then so much the better.

And so it is with Seven Psychopaths, which I saw at the weekend, a movie that’s so in love with itself it’s actually rather hard to love, but which has its climax in Joshua Tree National Park.  The director has a casual disregard for distances and proximity (it’s that kind of movie, and I have no complaints on that score), but any movie that has both Colin Farrell and Christopher Walken tramping through the desert void is OK by me.

A couple of hours after I’d seen the movie I encountered a hot and bothered young woman walking along the street, flustered, apparently lost, and she asked me urgently which way was Hillhurst Avenue.  I pointed her in the right direction.
“Is it far?” she asked.
“Yes,” said, “it’s a bit of a walk.”
I didn’t specify how far.   It was probably a mile and a half, and she didn’t look like much of a walker but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions.
“Oh my fucking LIFE!” she said, to nobody in particular, certainly not to me, and walked on.  Well, I didn’t expect to be thanked …

Monday, October 22, 2012


We’re inclined to think that walking is a pretty simple and straightforward business, and yet as I wander through the world I find a staggering number of signs telling me how to walk, where to walk, and far more often, where not to walk.

Some of these signs are obviously intended to be useful, and actually are.  Most of us are grateful to know that there may be rattlesnakes in the area or that we’re in danger from other pedestrians and forklift trucks (a double threat if ever I heard of one).

But some seem a little superfluous, such as this one at edge of the Ubehebe
Crater in Death Valley. 

I mean, if you’re too dumb to realize that walking around the edge of a 600 foot deep volcanic crater might be a little risky, you’re probably too dumb to take any notice of the sign.

Some seem more general and philosophical – such as this one:

although if you ask me pedestrianism, and indeed life, is always about crossing the line, one way or another.

Some are more simply inscrutable.  Like this one:

 OK, so climbing on groynes may be forbidden, but the guy on the sign isn’t climbing, he’s just walking.  So does that mean that walking on groynes is OK, but climbing isn’t?  We may never know.

Some seem to contain simple philosophical truths, this one for instance, telling us that a parking lot is not a pedestrian walkway, which I’m happy to accept and agree with, but I think what they’re really saying is “keep out.”

One of my favourite, though ultimately very melancholy, signs comes from the Desert Tortoise Preserve outside of California City, a sign that is genuinely surprising and informative: 

Who knew that desert tortoises urinated if you get too close?  Who knew that urination could lead to death? That’s quite an evolutionary disadvantage I’d think, but I do like the bold use of italics and exclamation mark on DIE!

But now, just last week, I found a new favourite at the Hot Creek geothermal area up by Mammoth Lakes. 

Scalding water, unstable ground: has walking ever seemed more exciting?

Thursday, October 11, 2012


This may surprise you.  It certainly surprised me.  Last night I dreamt that I was walking in a strange city with Mitt Romney.  He was on some kind of political walkabout, meet and greet, but it was just me and him.  We walked together down a long narrow alley, and at the end it opened into a vast cube-shaped courtyard, with four high, windowless walls and one of them had a sign for a “Chapel of Rest.”  There was one old woman sitting on the ground with her back to us.  The walls were made of some kind of curious brickwork, very thin brittle, bricks, in many different shades of red and brown, and Romney talked about this, showing himself to be very knowledgeable about the history of bricks.  And in the dream I thought to myself well you know, a man who explores a strange city like this and knows about the history of bricks can’t be all bad.

In some oblique way I think this was related to the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker (above), in Essex, which I visited when I was England last month.  The whole place is a temple of cold war gloom and obsolete office equipment, and it has a long narrow entrance corridor, which could well have been a precursor of the long narrow alley I walked down in the dream with Mitt.

The late Christopher Hitchens was somewhere in the dream too.  He was alive, but already terminally ill, and I argued with some heckler on Hitchens’ behalf: a thing he would surely never have required in life.  I think he was there in the dream because of the time he was walking down a street in Beirut, strolling “in company … on a sunny Valentine's Day  … in search of a trinket for the beloved and perhaps some stout shoes for myself” and defaced a poster from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party because it bore what he described as a "spinning swastika," and was duly beaten by SSNP heavies.  A bit of political graffiti that actually meant something.

Monday, October 8, 2012


I realize that despite the title of this blog, I’ve not been doing very much walking in Hollywood lately.  The reasons are explicable enough.  I’ve been finishing a novel, I’ve been away, and the weather has been punishingly hot.  On the first day of October the temperature around these parts hit the high nineties.  Come on.  That’s not right.

So it was good to get out last week, walk from the lower slopes of the Hollywood Hills and head down for lunch at a little place on Melrose Boulevard - Melrose being the southern boundary of Hollywood in most people’s estimation – and then I walked back again.  It was about a 3 and a half mile walk in each direction, and it did punch a bit of a hole in the day, but that was the idea. Of course I saw the “typical” Hollywood stuff, which in some ways was a bit predictable: the big cacti, the stylish architecture, the cool old cars, the interesting people.  But a walk in Hollywood is never wholly predictable.

As I walked along Hollywood Boulevard, for instance, there was a parade, or I suppose motorcade, of vintage police cars.  My first thought was OK, well maybe this is just the kind of thing that happens in Hollywood on a weekday afternoon, but I discovered later that it was an event “to increase awareness of public safety officers,” and the cars were driving from the Los Angeles Fire Museum to Broderick Crawford’s Walk of Fame star – not a huge distance.  And it’s true - nothing heightens your awareness of cops like hearing sirens, seeing a bunch them packed into old cars and glaring out the windows at pedestrians.

Broderick Crawford - good looking cop.
Of course there was feral furniture: mattresses, couches, a gigantic mirror  There even seemed to be some feral art – though it could just have been a piece of old board with paint on it, but who am I to judge?

Everyone says that LA is the most suburban major city in the world and that’s probably true – but it did strike me on my walk just how industrial parts of Hollywood are.  The industry in question happens to be the movies, but a warehouse or storage facility for movie equipment or props looks much like a warehouse or storage facility for anything else. 

And then right there on La Brea Avenue there’s the Cemex cement works, churning out lord knows how many tons of ready mix, right across the street from the Target and the Best Buy.  How many major western cities have one of those in the middle of a shopping area?

And of course I saw some fellow walkers – not so very many but enough, a combination of the cool and quirky, those who were working too hard at being cool and quirky, and those who were just downright quirky.

There were graffiti-slash-street art, naturally – some Bansky-esque stenciling – which is getting a bit old, surely, although it hasn’t got to look actually retro just yet.  And I saw this extraordinary graffito on Melrose itself:

When did anyone last feel the need to write Bill Cosby’s name large on the side of anything?  And did it have some connection with the vaguely lewd ad for pants on the bench next to it? Or with the pita store behind it?  I don’t know. Every city has its mysteries, and some just have to remain that way.