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, August 31, 2017


I walk around and I look at stuff, mostly in what we might as well call the urban environment.  One of the things that my kind of walking does is make me see things I hadn’t seen before, to note various repetitions and common features I might previously have taken for granted.  I like to note similarities and differences.  It's not record science, or in fact any kind of science.  And so we come to the dumpster.

Sometimes they’re come singly:

Often in pairs:

Sometimes in groups:

I can’t speak for the whole of the Anglophone world but I think dumpster is an all-American word.  The British don’t have dumpsters.  They have skips and wheelie bins, and I believe the Australians use the British terminology.

The dumpster was introduced in 1936, part of a mechanical trash-collection system devised by one George Dempster of Knoxville, Tennessee, and for a while it was know as the Dempster Dumpster.

I see a lot of the modern versions when I’m walking around and I don't think most of them find their way onto the back of trucks.  This one, in Santa Monica, is the most pristine I’ve ever seen but then Santa Monica does strive to be pristine.

The ones for hire tend to be fairly neat and clean too – nobody wants to rent a dumpster that’s some scarred, graffiti-spattered thing.  But in the day-to-day world dumpsters hang out at the back of buildings and in alleys, and so they become targets for tagging and other forms of self-expression.  I guess people worry less about graffiti when they’re on a dumpster as opposed to on walls and fences. 

But sometimes people build a little house for their dumpster which presumably keeps it safer from roaming street artists.

Fact is, they're everywhere.  This one was spotted in LA’s Arts District:

This one in the heart of Hollywood.

This one in Little Tokyo:

And as. matter of fact, dumpsters are not only found in the urban environment - they’re sometimes found in the wide open spaces too:

And sometimes when they’re in the wide open spaces they may get used for shooting practice, though it seems you don’t need to be much of a sharp shooter to hit a dumpster, but then perhaps it was to practice grouping

In conclusion: I enjoy looking at dumpsters.  It’s not about looking for ugliness, and I don’t think it’s even about finding beauty in ugliness, and I certainly hope it’s not some wanky art project.  I hope it’s just about walking and looking and, of course, recording.

Friday, August 25, 2017


Here is probably the best thing I’ve seen while walking in Hollywood in recent times:

It’s an outline of California, right?  On Selma Avenue.  And I can’t decide whether it’s deliberate, whether some waggish road crew deliberately put it there while filling in a hole of a completely different shape, or whether my pareidolia is just getting out of control. 

Of course it could be both


Sunday, August 20, 2017


“He that endeavors to enter into the Philosopher’s Garden without a key, is like him who would walk without feet.”

The above quotation and image are from a 1617 alchemical “emblem book” by Michael Maier (aka Michael Majerus) titled “Atalanta Fugiens, The Flying Atalanta or Philosophical Emblems of the Secrets of Nature.
          It consists of 50 emblems (what we might call epigrams) ­each with an illustration (by Matthäus Merian) along with a discussion or discourse about the emblem, and then a related piece of music in the form of a fugue. 

Alchemy isn’t exactly an open book to me, but that emblem above - “Emblema XXVII” - sounds fair enough.  You need a key to alchemy, you need feet for walking.  However a couple of observations emerge from looking at that image. 
First, the fellow there doesn’t seem to be much hindered by the lack of feet.  He’s standing up well enough and could presumably put one stump in front of the other.  It probably wouldn’t be the easiest locomotion, and I imagine he couldn’t get very far very fast, but since he can stand he would, in some way or other, be able to walk. 
Second, although the scale in the image seems a bit wayward, it looks as though anybody, preferably (though not necessarily) somebody with feet, could get over that wall without too much trouble.

Mind you, I expect most alchemists are not great climbers; or walkers.

Friday, August 18, 2017


Well you know, some pedestrians do, some pedestrians don't.

Sunday, August 6, 2017


"And having heard, or more probably read somewhere, in the days when I thought I would be well advised to educate myself, or amuse myself, or stupefy myself, or kill time, that when a man in a forest thinks he is going forward in a straight line, in reality he is going in a circle, I did my best to go in a circle, hoping in this way to go in a straight line. For I stopped being half-witted and became sly, whenever I took the trouble. And my head was a storehouse of useful knowledge. And if I did not go in a rigorously straight line, with my system of going in a circle, at least I did not go in a circle, and that was something. And by going on doing this, day after day, and night after night, I looked forward to getting out of the forest, some day."
                                                                                                           Molloy, Samuel Beckett

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


The days have been hot – pushing 90 degrees – and it’s been humid (that’s known as “monsoonal moisture” in these parts), but I’ve been walking because it’s what I do.  And of course I’ve been doing it early-ish or late-ish in the day to avoid the worst of the heat, and I’ve been walking more or less in the neighborhood, although trying to head for those streets that, for one reason or another, I never usually walk down. 

It must be a few years since I walked past the garden below, with its blue glass decorations.  It’s right alongside the street, and most of those bottles and vases are just a stone’s throw away, and yet they remain intact. This seems a reason to be cheerful.

They’ve been trimming – pollarding, I suppose is the word - the trees in parts of the neighborhood – a huge operation, big trucks, a big crew, a big mess, especially when it comes to the ficus trees – a job that needs doing, and it doesn’t do the trees any harm, they'll be back just as big next year, but of course it does mean there are certain sidewalks where you can’t walk at all.  And it must be said that the guys on the crew, while by no means hostile, didn’t look very cheerful:  maybe it’s the heat, and maybe the one below just doesn’t like being photographed.

Now, I don’t know much about the school system in Los Angeles.  Some people say it’s a disaster, some people send their kids to public schools (which means exactly the opposite in the States than it does in Britain) and they say they’re fine.  Even so, this sign warning drivers that there’s a school nearby, may be a symbol that not everything is absolutely as it should be.

Of course you can’t (and shouldn’t) walk in LA without being aware of the traffic.  Mostly it’s about avoidance, and yet my inner motorhead never quite gives up, and when I see a truck like this one, my heart does leap just a little.

And you know, I’m always fascinated by the wrapped cars of Los Angeles that I see when I’m walking.  I know there are wrapped cars in plenty of other places but I’ve never seen so many as here, and I’m never sure whether it’s for protection from the sun or to dissuade low-lifes from running a screwdriver along your paintwork, not that one precludes the other. Sometimes it’s a full cover:

Sometimes just half:

But how about this one, gift-wrapped, padded, in disguise:

As you can probably work out, this is some some kind of forthcoming model from one of the big manufacturers, being secretly road-tested.  Of course, a cynic might think that under the disguise there’s going to be some big, ugly, penis-substitute of a pickup truck, essentially no different from any of the other monsters on the roads.  My inner motorhead can be pretty cynical.

And of course, the Los Angeles housing crisis rumbles on, and here’s one feller who’s found a temporary solution:

It looks like one of those “forts” that kids build in their grandparents’ back yards, although since the guy was passed out and there was “drug paraphernalia” visible on the mattress, the phrase “not in my back yard” sprang rather readily to mind.