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, April 26, 2016


Some inhabitants of Los Angeles (I’m one of them) regularly complain about the lack of public space.  Oh sure there’s are biggish parks – Griffith Park is over 4000 acres – but going there can be a major expedition, especially when all you want is somewhere to sit for twenty minutes and eat a sandwich.  You need a little area – doesn’t have to be fancy - with a bit of grass and a bench, the kind of thing you find all over London and other cities.  This kind of thing:

For a long time there used to be a bench in my neighborhood.  It wasn’t strictly public, I think, because it was on a long thin strip of land that actually belonged to somebody’s house.  Clearly it was unusable as part of a garden, and there was no point fencing it off because that made it even less usable.  And so the land was left open, and a bench placed there for the public weal.

In ten years of walking around the local streets I believe I saw the bench being used exactly twice.  I sat on it a couple of times myself because I felt it should be embraced, but nobody could pretend it was a great local resource.  And in any case, it’s now gone.

--> Of course I noticed this a while ago on one of my daily walk, but I’d never got around to photographing the bench’s absence (for obvious reasons).  Even as a bit of negative space I realize it’s not much of a picture, but here’s the beauty part.  Until I tried to photograph the absence of the bench I hadn’t noticed the presence of that shiny new, white, replacement wooden fence behind it. 

Walking: I do believe it sharpens up the powers of observation.  But sometimes you need a nudge.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016


 So Doris Roberts has died, the “mother in law in Everybody Loves Raymond,” as she was generally known.  She was aged 90 so it was hardly premature but I’m still very sorry to see her go.

The great and improbable thing about her performance in “Raymond” was that if anybody had behaved in real life the way she behaved in the show you would have truly despised and wanted to kill her, but within the show, even as the behavior still seemed both completely believable and despicable, you came away with a great fondness for her.

I didn’t know much about Doris Roberts except for that show, but I gather she’s been in a great many TV shows and movies including Remington Steele, and The Honeymoon Killers.  In the latter she played Bunny.

Since I didn’t know much about her, I obviously didn’t know that she was a walker but it seems she was.  The LA Times obituary has this quotation from a 2000 interview with her:
“Sometimes what I do for fun with friends is go on a ramble … My life is always planned.  When you ramble you choose north, south, east or west and you just go.  And when you see something you like, you stop.  It could be anything – a flea market, a restaurant.  And if you don’t like it you can just leave.”

Not just a rambler, but a psychogeographer!

Thursday, April 14, 2016


I’ve been reading Susie Harries’ book Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life – it’s dead good.  Of course, the books in Pevsner’s Buildings of England contain “perambulations,” self-guided routes that enable you to walk round a place and look at the architecture Pevsner found worthy of attention.  So it’s no surprise to anybody that he was a great walker.

Even so I was quite tickled by the above photograph in the book, which is captioned,  “The Professor in Mufti: Pevsner with Lola and two of their grandchildren on holiday in the Tyrol, 1961.  In Who’s Who he listed his recreation as ‘twelve-mile walks’.”

When Pevsner first wrote about the buildings of London he divided the place into two volumes, one for Westminster and the City, and one for the rest.  This caused some amusing consternation among the staff at Penguin.  Editor Alan Glover (who according to Harries and other sources had once worked as a tattooed man in a circus) wrote, “I can only say that if I were walking from Charing Cross to the Bank making a rapid study of architecture I should be a bit disturbed at having to carry one fat volume in my right-hand trousers pocket and another fat volume in my left, and as you may have observed I am not over-particular about the set of my trousers.”

Monday, April 11, 2016


So I went to the Los Angeles Times Book Fair at the weekend.  It takes place these days on the University of Southern California campus – a big old spread – 226 acres, so it turns into a walking experience whether you want it to or not.

You see crowds of people wandering aimlessly, some cheerfully, some less so, and some of them may actually be heading for lecture halls and panel discussions - the line for the Henry Winkler signing was quite long, though not nearly as long as the line for the stand where they were giving away free frozen yoghurt - but the sense I get yesterday was that there were a lot of lost souls, walking, ambling, looking for something, though they didn’t know what. 

And that’s just fine by me – and with psychogeographers too -  a chance to drift without knowing what you’re going to find.  I also suspect that what a lot of people were doing was just walking around looking at all the other people walking around.  I’m not sure this really constitutes a bookish experience, unless of course you write a book about it.

Pico Iyer was there, as he usually is – on the Travel Stage - and I stopped to listen for a bit, but all the seats were taken and I always think that standing still for an hour is much, much harder than walking for a hour, so I didn’t stay till the end, but I did remember a quotation of Iyer’s, “Not having a car gives me volumes not to think or worry about, and makes walks around the neighborhood a daily adventure.”  I have had long periods of owning cars, interspersed with periods of not owning a car – and you know, I somehow always managed to find plenty of things to worry about.

Friday, April 8, 2016


"Hell's Pedestrians" - why didn't I think of that?  Sounds like the kind of thing I might have 
thought of.