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, December 31, 2015


One of the things about walking in my neighbourhood immediately after Christmas is that you see more walkers than usual.  I suspect part of it may be that people have relatives staying with them and don’t know what else to do with them.  Some no doubt think it’s a good for the soul to take a walk at least once a year.  Maybe the odd one has got a new puppy for Christmas and is swiftly realizing what a terrible responsibility that is.

However, my unscientific observation is that this year there were far fewer walkers than usual.  And a man who had acquired a new camera lens for Christmas pretty much had the streets to himself, which was fine but just a little surprising.

Of course Christmas decorations persist for a while after Christmas  – not sure if that Santa is breaking into that upstairs window or breaking out:

And just because a Santa is small that doesn’t mean he isn’t security conscious:

 This presiding demon stays in place whatever the season:

But the spirit of good cheer is not universal.  This sign appears on the door of the last house before you get to one of the entrances to Griffith Park, and you can understand the guy’s sentiments whatever the time of year:

And you can never quite escape the John Cage influence, nor would I want to.  Whereas he had mycological expeditions that involved walking deep into the woods, I found these beauties by the side of the road, just a few hundred yards from my own front door. 

I took a couple home, tried to identify them, couldn’t altogether, though I suspected they might be the evocatively named Funeral Bells, and even if they weren’t, and even though I’m generally all in favor of Cagean chance operations, I really didn’t want to take a chance on these.  I left them where they were.  Next day walking the same route I saw they were half eaten, though not sure by what – possibly one of the new, though unseen, puppies.

But I think the best thing seen while walking over the holidays was this electronic keyboard left out for the garbage men.  And I wonder what the story was there.  Had Santa brought a brand new one, or had the owner made a resolution, 2016 will be a year without electronic keyboards?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


And speaking of John Cage – do you want to see a piece about walking written by John Cage?  Well of course you do.  It’s from Indeterminacy (and it’s sometimes given more orthodox layout):

And do you want to to see a picture of the great man walking?  Well, why wouldn’t you?  This is a still from the 2012 documentary Journeys in Sound.

There's a trailer for it here:

I also found an extraordinary, and not entirely easy to watch, documentary titled Sound?? From 1966 or 67 (scholars seem to differ).  It’s about Cage and Roland Kirk.  There’s a lot of free-blowing from Kirk at Ronnie Scott’s club, and there’s some 
electronic noise from Cage – and the two do kind of come together. 


And we do see them both walking, apparently in London.  Kirk walks along causing some (unnecessary) consternation to the passersby.  

And we see Cage walking in a children’s playground, somewhere near Spitalfields I think, and finally in an anechoic chamber.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


I suppose that if you leave your art out in the street, you can’t be too surprised if it fails to stay pristine.  Even so, the last time I walked along Hollywood Boulevard I was surprised, and maybe shocked and offended, and certainly dismayed, to find that the above mural of Dolores Del Rio had been, so to speak, subverted some rather inelegant tagging.   It now looks like this:

Well, who could say they were completely surprised?  You might think the solution would be to put the art under transparent plastic, but that seems to be only a partial solution.  When I was in London earlier this year, wandering around Fitzrovia, I came upon a Banksy; genuine as far as I could tell.  It had started out looking like this:

But when I saw it, it looked like this:

It seems that a certain number of people want to “express themselves” in conjunction with or in opposition to Banksy.  In many cases this doesn’t look much different from being jealous and resentful.  Arguably the original remains intact but the effect is spoiled, or maybe it isn’t.  Banksy is obviously sussed out enough not to be surprised by this kind of thing.  Whether that’s the same as welcoming it, I’m not sure.

Want to see an amazingly unconvincing faux Banksy.  Then check out this one that was on the front of the Liberal Club in Woking a few years back:

 Although of course it does occur to me that it looks so faux that maybe Banksy (subversive that he is) actually did it just to confuse the art lovers and the art haters of Woking.

But sometimes you don’t need human intervention to create change and decay in a mural.  Nobody has tagged or vandalized Terry Schoonhoven Isle of California mural in the Sawtelle district of LA , but it’s now the best part of 45 years old.  It was created in 1970-2, when it looked like this:

And now it looks like this:

The California sun has been the main agent of destruction here, which again comes as no surprise.  But also the wall has been reinforced, which is obviously a good thing – nobody wants the wall to fall down-  but the anchors (I think that’s the right term) are evidently made from some kind of ferrous metal, and so each of them has rusted and bled.

As a man who enjoys a little ruin and entropy, as well as art, I find it hard to get too upset about it.  I also love walls, whatever state they’re in.  Here’s a picture of one I saw earlier, in New York – no sign of rust, but no sign of art either.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Sticking with the concept of “where the streets have a name, and a pretty good one at that,” I found myself last Friday in downtown Los Angeles walking the really very short distance between Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Street to Traction Avenue.  Unlike some fancily named streets there’s plenty of interest in both these places.

Ellison S. Onizuka was an American astronaut of Japanese descent, who was one of the crew of seven who died aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.  That’s him above, standing beside a model of the shuttle.  And here in Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Street there’s a very much bigger model:

It looks good, even reflected in a puddle in the rain.  Yep, it rained in L.A. last Friday:

Traction Avenue is in the Arts District, a terrible name for a district if you ask me – as though art needs to be corralled into some ghetto.  In any case we’re given to understand that artists can’t afford to live there anymore.
Of course the whole area has art coming out its wazoo – graffiti, street art, decorated dumpsters (I intend to publish a short monograph – or at least a blog post - on “the decorated dumpster”) and murals of course.  There’s this one of Ai Weiwei:

And I thought this was very fine, and a new one on me, a kind of totem pole made using rubber tires:

This part of the perambulation was something of a delaying tactic. I was in downtown to take a look at the Triforium, a piece of “polyphonoptic” sculpture, built in 1975, with 1,494 multicolored glass cubes designed to glow in synch with music from a 79-note glass bell carillon.  It’s located well outside the Arts District.

It’s the work of Joseph Young, and it’s located in the unexotically named Fletcher-Bowron Square, and actually sits on top of the incredibly bleak Los Angeles Mall.  The mall’s architect Robert Stockwell was responsible for commissioning Young.  These days the whole place looks like the mall that time forgot.

I admit that until recently I’d never really been aware of the Triforium, and the Angelinos I’ve talked to, the ones who have any opinion about it at all, seem to regard it as a likeable, though unserious, 1970s folly, and I’ve yet to meet anybody who actually saw it in full functioning son et lumiere mode.  It’s certainly been neglected, and by some accounts it never worked properly even from the beginning.  It was, arguably, ahead of its time and required some serious computer technology that it didn’t have.

On the other hand, the basic structure seems to be in pretty good shape and if you stand in the right place as the sun is going down you can see those glass cubes glow (kind of), although last Friday the sun was long gone before I got there.

This was a special day for the Triforium, a 40 year anniversary, and there was to be a “launch party” for its restoration.   Festivities started at 4 pm, and when I arrived, at 4.30 or so, a dj was laying down some cosmic space rock but the Triforium itself was unlit.  I assumed they were keeping it this way so that at some point it could be turned on, lit up and the music would be pumped through it.  Was this terribly na├»ve of me?  Perhaps, but I wasn’t alone in my foolish hopes.

Some official-looking young uns were sitting at a table in the square, and from time to time people would come up to them and say, “So when do you fire it up?” And the reply was that they weren’t going to fire it up.  The Triforium doesn’t work, not the sound, not the lights, nuthin.  Which was why they were having a fundraiser.  Oh.  I was not alone in my disappointment.

But at least I did get to step into the Triforium control room.  It all looked very Cold War.  The guy there said they’d had in various electricians and computer guys and none of them could make the thing work, and as far as I could tell they didn't know how it had ever worked. But as one of my fellow visitors pointed out, the system must be in some sense “on,” since there are glowing lights, so obviously there’s power getting in there, and somebody must be paying the electricity bills.  How does that work?  I have no idea.

Among the crowd was top LA photographer and visual chronicler Gary Leonard, a pleasantly chatty man, and he said he’d been there in 1978 for John Cage’s 75th birthday party.   Did Cage perform or conduct or use the Triforium in some way, I asked.  Maybe 4'33'?  No, said Gary, but there was cake:

As I slipped away the Triforium looked like this:

The Triforium Project website is here: