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.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


I walked past my favorite Mufflerman down on Santa Monica Boulevard.  He’s been given a make over.  He used to look like this:

Now he looks like this:

I’m not absolutely sure it’s an improvement but no doubt he’ll get made over again before too long.

Incidentally, should you care, Lashes Ska Ruh  (the name on the mufflerman’s body in the second picture) is the name of a street artist.  This is apparently her, on the couch, behind the bandana, keeping it real.

SKA – stands for “still kicking ass,” and “suckers keep asking,” among other things.

Monday, October 23, 2017


One thing that’s confirmed by a walk around the Hollywood Forever cemetery, down on Santa Monica Boulevard: there is no relation between the size of a person’s fame and the size of their memorial.

I mean I can, more or less, understand why there’s a large and very literal statue of Johnny Ramone.  It strikes me as a strange and welcome splash of irony and subversion, though I’m never entirely sure if that’s intentional: irony and subversion are rather difficult to pull off in a graveyard.
          However, elsewhere in the cemetery is this headstone belonging to one Roman Kozlov:

Now, the internet reveals a few Roman Kozlovs, one of them is even a guitarist, but as far as I can tell, it’s not this one.  So we note the man and his headstone, and assume he must have been a guitar aficionado of some kind, and that’s about it.  We’re left remembering the headstone rather than the man.  It piques your curiosity, even as it fails to satisfy it.

The thing that everybody notices at Hollywood Forever is the one in the shape of an Atlas rocket, the memorial for Carl Morgan Bigsby.  It might lead you to think he had something to do with the space program, but apparently not.  The monument says Bigsby was “a recognized leader in many phases of the graphic arts,” a pioneer, just like the Atlas rocket, suggesting that we’re dealing with a metaphor here.  Trying to track him down online reveals that he’s most famous for having this very large memorial.

And what about the above remarkably simple and rather moving cross made out of what appears to be plastic irrigation pipe.  Is this austerity a deliberate rejection of the extravagance all around it?  Was the loved one a gardener, a plumber?  A put the question to my Russian-speaking friends. 

Polyglot pal Kevin Kinsella tells me that  "упок господи" is standard Russian Orthodox tombstone copy. Something like "Welcome, O my God, Nicholas Vitte", in this case. or "God, meet Nicholas."  And “drozdovets” means that he was White as opposed to Red Russian.  “I think it's like a point of honor among the emigre community,” says Kevin

My other pal Anna Paton offers, "Upokoj gospodi" means "Lord give peace" more religious form of R.I.P.

So still no indication of why the cross is made of plastic pipe.

Hollywood Forever is divided into a series of areas, mostly designated as "gardens."  There’s the Garden of Memory, the Garden of Eternal Love, the Chandler Garden (no, not Raymond).

And for headliners, there’s the Garden of Legends, that’s where Johnny Ramone is, and fame being the fleeting thing it is, some of the people buried there are now very obscure, so even having been a legend doesn’t necessarily mean a big memorial.  Here for example is the headstone of Virginia Rappe, complete with tribute footwear:

Poor Virginia really never got a break, a small-time actress and model, chiefly famous for the circumstances in which she died – of a ruptured bladder and peritonitis after attending a Fatty Arbuckle party.  So you can perhaps understand why the grave is modest. 

On first inspection it looks as though Jayne Mansfield’s headstone is equally modest too.  

And I thought there was something appealing about this, that if you’ve led a gaudy life, then it’s only appropriate to have a quiet, dignified headstone.  But I was wrong.  I discover that the stone in Hollywood Forever is just a stone. Jayne Mansfield is actually buried in Pennsylvania in a grave with a huge, heart-shaped headstone.

When I first when to Hollywood Forever, a long time ago now, I was amazed to see peacocks strutting about the place, but the time before last time when I went there I didn’t see any at all.  I feared they might be gone, but no, I did see one this time, and also a peahen.

I also saw, and maybe they were there all along and I never spotted them before, a colony of cats. I saw half a dozen though there could easily be more. They look vaguely feral, although more relaxed and less skittish than most feral cats.  Clearly somebody’s feeding and sheltering them, possibly the same people who feed the peacocks.

To be honest I’m not sure I’ll ever have a grave of my own, and if I do it almost certainly won’t be in Hollywood Forever, but if I did, I think I should be very happy to have it surrounded and walked on by graveyards cats.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


Cat owners walking to, or possibly from, auditions for the Corman/Poe movie Tales of Terror, c. 1962. 

Poe Walking High Bridge,  B. J. Rosenmeyer, c. 1930

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


We’ve talked before about trap streets – fake locations that cartographers put on their maps so that if somebody else reuses the map and claims it as their own, then it’s obvious where it came from. The culprits can then be hounded down and prosecuted for copyright theft. Trap streets have figured in a Dr Who series and a China Mieville novel.

Prosecutions seem to be incredibly rare.  True, in 2001 the British Automobile Association paid £20 million to Ordnance Survey because they’d been misusing O.S. maps, but they weren’t caught by trap streets, rather by cartographic “fingerprints” of distinctive design elements.

A little while back I found, posted by a Facebook Psychogeography group, the above image of what may or may not be a trap, though it’s a place rather than a street.  It’s on an O.S. map and the post said it refers to a field in Suffolk. The only Lover’s Lane in Suffolk that I can find on Google maps is in Leiston, site of the Household Waste Recycling Centre.

Now, life being as it is, I used to live fairly close to Leiston, walked around there from time to time, and I still own a copy of the map O.S. Pathfinder 987 Leiston, and a good look reveals this same Fiscal Policy, right on the fold.  The map is copyright 1983, and there’s no indication that it’s been updated.

       Since it’s not a street, there’s some speculation that it might be an Argleton – the name given to phantom settlements that appear on Google maps.  However, although a look at Google maps and Google satellite images locates Lover’s Lane and the other features, thereby confirming that this is the right place, Google doesn't label any site as  Fiscal Policy.  Go pick the cartographic gristle out of that one. 

Need I say that in the days when I walked in and around Leiston, I never noticed the name Fiscal Policy on the map I often carried.  If I had done, I’d have been off like a shot looking for it. 

In one sense, I suppose I’d never have found it.

Monday, October 16, 2017


Statues are peculiar things aren’t they?  All this perfectly reasonable (though not always strictly rational) debate about Confederate monuments and statues of Christopher Columbus in America has got us all thinking.  At the very least it reinforces the fairly obvious notion that statues are usually erected (and then sometimes demolished) in the name of some ideology or other.  There’s no such thing as a value-free statue.  Anybody who’s praised by one set of people is likely to be condemned by another set. 

One of my favorite and most blameless statues is the fellow above, The Walking Man, by George Fuller, a statue in my home town of Sheffield, England.  It dates from 1957, though I only became aware of it in the 1980s.

I’m not sure which city in the world has the most statues, but I’d think London has a pretty good claim, and the fact is most Londoners walk around without really noticing most of them.   Sure, we know that’s Nelson up on the top of his column and we know that Peter Pan has a statue in Kensington Gardens, and there are various kings and queens are all over the place, but we don’t really pay much attention.

Remarkably few Londoners I’ve talked to were aware of the bust of JFK on Marylebone Road, which was paid for by Sunday Telegraph readers apparently.  It was recenty vandalized, and I wonder what its future is, and equally I don’t know if the vandalism was the result of anti-Americanism or just a night on the piss

There’s a fine statue of Bela Bartok near South Kensington tube.  Bartok lived a blameless life as far as I know, though I suspect not many people wandering the streets of South Ken know his music or would like it much if they did.  
          I found this, from The Observer, May 13th 1923 by Percy A. Scholes, a review of a Bartok concert,  "I suffered more than upon any occasion in my life apart from an incident or two connected with 'painless dentistry.' To begin with, there was Mr. Bartok's piano touch. But 'touch,' with its implication of light-fingered ease, is a misnomer, unless it be qualified in some such way as that of Ethel Smyth in discussing her dear old teacher Herzogenberg - 'He had a touch like a paving-stone.' I do not believe Mr. Bartok would resent this simile...”  You really think that?
       Bartok first stayed in the area in 1882: the statue was originally erected in a different location in 2004, some 60 years after Bartok’s death.
So yes, by definition statues tend to be backward looking and conservative with a small c.  You want their significance to last a while.  Here is Los Angeles we try to jazz things up a bit, and arguably the sense of history is short.  There’s a statue of Bruce Lee in Chinatown.

James Dean, up by the Griffith Park Observatory,

Rocky and Bullwinkle on Sunset Strip:

And, for a time there was this statue of Elvis Presley outside a store on Hollywood Boulevard. 

But this is a mass-produced statue, one you can buy.  Here’s a doppelgänger in situ in Great Yarmouth, in East Anglia.

And so t’other day I was walking in the edgelands of Beverly Hills and I came across this memorial to General Don Jose de San Martin, who I admit is not exactly an open book to me:

And of course that’s another aspect of statuary: the ignorant can get a sort of education from statues.  As you see, he was the liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru, though Peru does look like a bit of an afterthought, at least on the part of the memorial-maker.

And best of all, around the back of the memorial there’s this somehow very wonderful map of South America.  You aren’t here.