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.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


 Sometimes a man sits at stool in his house in Hollywood, and reaches out for a book, more or less at random, which he hopes will deliver some walking inspiration.  And so I reached out and picked up my copy of Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge (To be honest I’m not absolutely sure where one ends and the other begins) and opened it, more or less at random.

My eyes fell immediately on this paragraph:

“One of my proposed companions for the night walk did not escape the word of the pyramid either; was opened to receive the appropriate message.  He got a varicose vein on the male member.”

Leon Kossof
Hard to beat a passage like that.  I closed the book and finished my paperwork.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


I went out and about t’other day.  I didn’t exactly, or solely, “go for a walk” - I essentially went out for lunch – but some walking was involved, and it was a very familiar kind of urban walk, though one with a specific Los Angeles flavor, which is not without its absurdities. 

The process was this: Get in the car, drive down the hill, park, walk three quarters of a mile to the subway station, take the subway six miles downtown, emerge from the station, walk a mile from station to lunch venue which included a stroll through Grand Park, which is nice enough not really all that grand.

So I had lunch, then afterwards I went to the Japanese American National Museum to walk around the fourth Giant Robot Biennale, an art exhibition arranged by the good folks at Giant Robot, that being and I’m quoting here obviously, “a staple of Asian American alternative pop culture .., at various times a magazine, a store, a restaurant.”  Now mostly just a store.   Then afterwards I went back the way I came and did it in reverse: walk, subway, walk, car.

I understand, of course, that no serious walker would consider this a serious walk, and I didn’t.  Maybe a psychogeographer would have considered it a psychogeographic drift, but you know, what isn’t? My mother would probably have said I was just mooching about.  But isn’t this what a lot of walking is like?

And what (you may ask) did you see, my blue eyed son?  Oh what did you see, my darling young one.

Well, first thing, you know, I get it that walkers are supposed to really hate cars but the fact is, I don’t, not really. There are times when I enjoy driving (though admittedly these times get rarer and rarer).  But there are still many occasions when I enjoy seeing old cars, appreciating them as a kind of kinetic sculpture.  Of course it helps a lot if they’re parked and not likely to run you down.  On the way to the station I saw this local beauty – I think it’s those crude nostrils in the hood that really make it for me.

Then, still on the way to the station I saw this.  I’d noticed it before without thinking about it too much – the natural world poking up through the urban surface and then being attacked by a different bit of the natural world: 

I’ve made a half-hearted attempt to identify the fungus on the tree, and I think it could be Smoky Bracket (Bjerkandera adusta) and if it is, then that’s very bad news for the tree.  The website I found suggests that when this stuff appears it’s time to cut down the tree, though in fact the website belonged to a company that specializes in cutting down trees so maybe they have a vested interest.  Further research suggests it could possibly be Artists Fungus (Ganoderma applanatum) but that’s no better for the tree either.  Once a tree sprouts fungus, it’s in big trouble, as I understand it.

And then on the station platform, and this was something I hadn’t noticed before, though obviously it’s not new – you can walk right up to the end of the platform and stare into the tunnel mouth and you can see there’s kind of a catwalk that you could easily stroll along if they’d let you. 

Of course there’s a gate and a stern sign telling you not to, but obviously some urban explorer has been in there and done a bit of scratchy graffiti, though frankly it didn’t look like their heart was in it.

And then out of the subway and walking through downtown there was this amazing and fairly alarming statue of a cyclist right in the middle of Grand Park   – part of temporary monument to “fallen cyclists.”

I know we’re coming up to Halloween, and there is a Day of the Dead feel to the monument but I don’t know whether this is an entirely respectful representation of a dead cyclist.  It seems both too spooky and too playful, though I noted that he is wearing a safety helmet.

Then lunch, which is a whole other story, and then the Giant Robot Biennale – which was very cool and full of good stuff – not a vast exhibition but pretty much the right size, I thought.  I especially liked the work of Yoskay Yamamoto – I’m a sucker for art that includes model houses - who had an installation that looked like this:

And I loved the work of Luke Chueh who does paintings like this one, titled Headphones.

To be absolutely honest I can’t quite remember if that picture’s in the exhibition or not, but I include it here because I found it in a website, alongside an interview with Cheuh in which he says this is a kind of self-portrait – he reckons that’s the way he looks as he’s walking around his neighborhood, though without the ears, I suppose.

 Outside the museum there’s a piece of sculpture by Nicole Maloney that looks like a big, mirrored Rubik’s cube, and loads of people photograph it, which usually involves inadvertently or not, taking their own self-portrait.  Being a man who still needs a viewfinder on his camera, and also man who doesn’t really understand the current urge for the selfie – I feel pretty well disguised in this picture.

The other person you can see in there is my pal Lynell George – my lunch companion – and she’s working on a book about serendipity – so of course we were concerned with all things random and accidental – but even so it wasn’t till I looked at the picture afterwards when I got home that I saw that pair of detached legs walking in the reflection.  Serendipitous?  For sure.  Spooky?  Kind of.  Comical?  Definitely.

Saturday, October 17, 2015


John Aubrey (1626 – 1697), he of Brief Lives fame, is in the news, if you can call it news.  There’s a new scholarly edition of his great work, the first since 1898, according to the publisher.  The full title is John Aubrey: Brief Lives with An Apparatus for the Lives of our English Mathematical Writers. It’s edited by Kate Bennett, runs to just under 2000 pages, and costs $400 or so – well, Christmas is coming.
Adam Smyth in a review in the London Review of Books writes, “Like all antiquaries Aubrey is fascinated with the loss his endeavours would seem to oppose” – which I think is one of the great sentences.

Naturally I went scurrying to my own, $4 paperback copy of Brief Lives, and opening it more or less at random found Aubrey writing about John Milton:

His exercise was chiefly walking.
“He was an early riser (4 am); yea, after he lost his sight. He had a man read to him. The first thing he read was the Hebrew Bible, and that was at 4.30. Then he contemplated.
“After dinner he used to walk 3 or four hours at a time (he always had a garden where he lived); went to bed about 9.”

I had never imagined Milton to be much of a walker, what with the blindness and all, though walking certainly features in his work: Adam and Eve walking out of the Garden Eden in Paradise Lost for instance:

He also wrote, in Book 4:
Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth
Unseen, both when we wake, and when we sleep.”

Which is bruited about on various websites as some kind of inspirational and consoling message, though I must say it has rather the opposite effect on me.

Aubrey himself was surely quite a walker. His four volume Monumenta Britannica must have involved plenty of legwork.  It recorded 30 years of visiting ancient sites around Britain, and gives him a claim to be the father of archeology.  We certainly know that he walked at Avebury and at Stonehenge, where he went with Charles II who suggested that Aubrey start digging in the earth in the hopes of finding a few human remains.  Aubrey declined.  

At Stonehenge there are a series of what are now known as Aubrey Holes.  They’re the white dots on this plan:

I wonder what it would be like to have holes named after you.