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.

Monday, August 19, 2013


I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about ruin, war photography and walking, and the way in which the walker so often becomes a compositional element in an image.  Well, it won’t be stopping any time soon. 

Last week, supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi attacked dozens of Christian churches in Egypt, justified on the basis that Christians have in general supported the military takeover.  Last Thursday the Evangelical Church of Mallawi (Mallawi being an Egyptian town, south of Cairo), was ransacked looted and burned.

These pictures by Roger Anis show the ruins and the people walking there, and they strike me as wonderful: informative, moving, infinitely depressing.  But even as we resist the aestheticization of ruin, we also know that if the photographs didn’t contain walkers, they wouldn’t be nearly so effective. 

This brings me, in a bathetic sort of way to the cover of the next Nicholson book, titled, perhaps unsurprisingly, Walking In Ruins.

There’ll be far more plugging nearer the time of publication: October.  I didn’t have a whole lot of input on the cover design but the one thing I was absolutely certain of, I didn’t want the image to show a picture of someone walking in ruins.  I didn’t even discuss it with the designer; he simply got it.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013


One of the movies that stays with me, when other bigger, more lavish and more serious movies have been forgotten, is The Trip starring Steve Coogan (ABOVE) and Rob Bryon.  It was shown as a TV series in England.  It’s as much an “eating movie” as it is a “walking movie” but the two lead characters do a fair amount of hiking as they go on the male-bond excursion.

Coogan, I think we can say, has had an interesting personal life, including an affair with Courtney Love: well you’d have to given the chance, wouldn’t you?

Now, one of the few things I know about Courtney Love is that she used to live in Crosby Street in Lower Manhattan, a street I used to know pretty well.  And if you were to ask me to name my favorite “unknown” New York street where I like to walk then I’d say crosby Crosby.  It used to look like this:

It’s where John Updike’s fictional hero Beck also had a loft.  “He lived on the west side of Crosby Street, that especially grim cobbled canyon of old iron-facaded industrial structures running south from Houston, one block east of lower Broadway.” Sound pretty cool: who wouldn’t want to walk there?  That passage is from Bech at Bay, published in 1998.

Like everywhere else in New York it’s been gentrified, but there’s only so much you can do with a “grim cobbled canyon of old iron-facaded industrial structures.” Alicia Leys and Lenny Kravitz had lofts there too: all in the same building as Courtney Love, I think, at number 30.   I don’t believe any of the celebs stayed there long, but then I suspect celebs don’t stay long anywhere.

Anyway Steve Coogan is now starring in the movie The Look of Love about Paul Raymond the “soft-porn baron” as he seems to be described in the movie’s press releases (and that is probably the nicest way anybody has ever described him).  

Coogan says, “You realize you can see too many naked women.  It is possible.   By the end of shooting I just wanted to go for a hike in the hills, alone.”

Monday, August 5, 2013


Just when you think it’s safe to go walking in Hollywood, I find this wonderful picture (by Bob Grueun) of Johnny Thunders striding down the Walk of Fame, sometime in the late seventies I'm guessing - no easy task in those platform boots.  And of course there were times when Johnny had trouble standing, let alone walking, though at some point it may have become all part of the act.

And I discover, improbable as it seems to someone like me who never really followed the Johnny Thunders career, that he did a version of These Boots are Made for Walkin'.  

Of course Lee Hazelwood, of blessed memory, wrote the song to be sung by a man - himself; which is a lousy idea: walking all over women, especially in boots, is obviously bad and wrong.   Nancy Sinatra (at least after the event) took credit for seeing that it could be a great song of female empowerment, and she swept the world with it.  

Johnny Thunders, not the most politically correct of boyfriends, by all accounts, sings it in his own (not entirely inimitable) way.  Here it is on youtube:

Thursday, August 1, 2013


(The post below was written at a moment when I changed the name of this blog - I changed it back pretty quickly for reasons that now escape me - I still think An Anatomy of Walking is a great title for something.)

Eagle-eyed readers, or in fact anybody who’s paying attention, will see that I’ve tweaked the title of this blog, from The Hollywood Walker to An Anatomy of Walking.  I still live and walk in Hollywood, but I started to think that “Hollywood Walker” sounded a bit too glam, a bit too Hollywood, that people might think it was all about movie starts and red carpets, which (with very few exceptions) it isn’t.

 An Anatomy of Walking suggests a much broader remit, and it’s a title that pays homage to my main man, Robert Burton (1577- 1640), the author of The Anatomy of Melancholy.  As a regular pedestrian and an occasional sufferer from the Black Dog, I’ve always found plenty of overlap between walking and melancholy, not least that the former is a pretty good way of getting rid of the latter.  Not infallible, admittedly.

As times goes by, I find that I admire Burton more and more: his obsessiveness, his crazed but thorough scholarship, his all-embracing inclusiveness.  Got a fact?  Got a quotation?  Then put it in the book.  Here was a man who wrote his great work,  published in 1621 under the pseudonym Democritus Junior, and then he spent the rest of his life rewriting and expanding it.  That’s an admirable policy for a writer, I’d say, and I’m sure he would have been an excellent and madly energetic blogger.

I’ve been reading a part of The Anatomy of Melancholy where Burton considers “Terrestrial devils,” who turn out to be great walkers, especially the kind that “frequent forlorn houses” and are for the “most part innoxious.” He says, “These kind of devils many times appear to men, and affright them out of their wits, sometimes walking at noonday, sometimes at nights, counterfeiting dead men's ghosts, as that of Caligula, which (saith Suetonius) was seen to walk in Lavinia's garden, where his body was buried, spirits haunted, and the house where he died … every night this happened, there was no quietness, till the house was burned.”  This seems to involve a slightly specialized definition of “innoxious,” but let’s not quibble.  It’s hard to find a picture of Caligula walking, but there’s this:

  Burton also discusses “ambulones, that walk about midnight on great heaths and desert places, which (saith Lavater) ‘draw men out of the way, and lead them all night a byway, or quite bar them of their way;’ these have several names in several places; we commonly call them Pucks. In the deserts of Lop, in Asia, such illusions of walking spirits are often perceived, as you may read in M. Paulus the Venetian his travels; if one lose his company by chance, these devils will call him by his name, and counterfeit voices of his companions to seduce him.” No, it’s not easy to get a short, pithy quotation out of Mr. Burton. 

The M. Paulus in question is better known as Marco Polo, and the Desert of Lop (seen above) is in China.  Certain scholars have always doubted whether Marco Polo actually went to China at all.   Still, here’s a picture of the extraordinary Lei Diansheng, following in Marco Polo’s footsteps (or not), walking in the Lop Desert, part of his 10-year, 81,000-kilometer journey around China on foot.  I can’t say whether he was beset by “walking spirits,” but he does look a bit haunted.